Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Little Known Naval History *

The USS Constitution (Old Ironsides) as a combat vessel carried 48,600 gallons of fresh water for her crew of 475 officers and men. This was sufficient to last six months of sustained operations at sea. She carried no evaporators (fresh water distillers). However, let it be noted that according to her log, "On July 27, 1798, the USS Constitution sailed from Boston with a full complement of 475 officers and men, 48,600 gallons of fresh water, 7,400 cannon shot, 11,600 pounds of black powder and 79,400 gallons of rum."

Her mission: "To destroy and harass English shipping." Making Jamaica on 6 October, she took on 826 pounds of flour and 68,300 gallons of rum. Then she headed for the Azores, arriving there 12 November. She provisioned with 550 pounds of beef and 64,300 gallons of Portuguese wine.

On 18 November, she set sail for England. In the ensuing days she defeated five British men-of-war and captured and scuttled 12 English merchantmen, salvaging only the rum aboard each. By 26 January, her powder and shot were exhausted. Nevertheless, and though unarmed, she made a night raid up the Firth of Clyde in Scotland. Her landing party captured a whiskey distillery and transferred 40,000 gallons of single malt Scotch aboard by dawn. Then she headed home.

The USS Constitution arrived in Boston on 20 February 1799, with no cannon shot, no food, no powder, NO rum, NO wine, NO whiskey and 38,600 gallons of stagnant water. Now these guys knew how to drink!


* Possibly an urban legend...but who cares, it's a good story anyway.

11 comments:

tillerman said...

Hmmm. Let's do the math.

79,400 + 68,300 + 40,000 = approx 190,000 gallons of hard liquor not counting the wine and the rum they also salvaged.

With a crew of 475 that's 400 gallons of liquor for each man during the voyage.

The cruise was just under 7 months, say around 200 days to keep it simple, so that's 2 gallons or 16 pints of hard liquor per man per day.

Let's assume the guys were working at least 8 hours a day and sleeping (it off) 8 hours a day, and had only 8 hours a day to drink the rum etc.

So drinking steadily each man would be consuming 2 (American) pints or 32 fluid ounces per hour, for 8 hours.

It is generally accepted that a 200 lb man will consume a lethal dose of alcohol if he drinks 5 or 6 standard 1.5 ounce drinks of distilled spirits for 4 hours. That's around 9 ounces per hour and these sailors were supposedly consuming at more than three times that rate for twice as long every day for seven months!

Hmmm. Possibly an urban legend? I should say so.

tillerman said...

And another thing. Wasn't the US on friendly relations with Britain in 1798/99? France was the enemy at that time.

Sounds like Old Ironsides raided the wrong country (if this story is true)!

EVK4 said...

Ah crap, I went and built a spreadsheet to determine gallons per day per crew member without reading the comments first. Sure enough, Tillerman called shenanigans before I could get here.

Art said...

Who says the crew drank all the hard liquor?

This was an age of hard currency and currency was scarce. Hard spirits were a medium of exchange or barter.

Why do you think that the U.S. had the "Whiskey Rebellion"?

Wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whiskey_Rebellion

Francis Drake made his reputation and fortune, in part, by raiding ports in France and Spain and taking their wine.

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