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K-12

Academics

Packing a Sea Chest

Introduction: Going to sea was an enterprise that could take months or years. Each sailor was allowed only a small amount of storage space in the cramped foc’s’le. If he was careful, he could pack everything he was likely to need in his sea-chest. The sea-chest was often carved or decorated with intricately worked handles, showcasing the skill of its owner. Sea chests held about as much as a modern duffel bag, but the supplies were expected to last throughout the voyage. The ship's store (slop chest) sold canvas, twine, and other supplies to sailors, but the sailor had to know how to construct shirts, trousers, hat, and jacket, as well as how to mend them.

The following verses were found in a log or journal from the whaling ship Ocean Rover and were written in 1859. They would probably have been sung to a popular tune of the time; it works well with the tune to "The Sailor’s Alphabet" (see resources). In the song we are told about what a prudent and experienced sailor would take along on a sea voyage. This song is taken from Gale Huntington’s wonderful resource, Songs the Whalemen Sang (Dover, 1970).

The following verses were found in a log or journal from the whaling ship Ocean Rover and were written in 1859. They would probably have been sung to a popular tune of the time; it works well with the tune to "The Sailor’s Alphabet" (see resources). In the song we are told about what a prudent and experienced sailor would take along on a sea voyage. This song is taken from Gale Huntington’s wonderful resource, Songs the Whalemen Sang (Dover, 1970).

A FITTING OUT

A chest that is neither too large nor too small Is the first thing to which your attention I'll call The things to put in it are next to be named And if I omit some I'm not to be blamed

Stow first in the bottom a blanket or quilt To be used on the voyage whenever you wilt Thick trousers and shirts woolen stockings and shoes Next your papers and books to tell you the news

Good substantial tarpaulins to cover your head Just to say keep it furled N. C. nuff said Carry paper and ink pens wafers and wax A shoemaker's last awls and some small tacks

Some cotton and thread silk needles and palm And a paper of pins as long as your arm Two vests and a thimble a large lot of matches A lot of old clothes that will answer for patches

A Bible and hymn book of course you must carry If at the end of the voyage you expect for to marry Don't forget to take esseners pipes and cigars Of the sweetest of butter a couple of jars

A razor you will want a pencil and slate A comb and a hairbrush you will need for your pate A brush and some shaving soap and plenty of squills And a box of those excellent Richardson's pills

A podeldoe and pain killer surely you will need And something to stop the red stream should you bleed Some things I've omitted but never mind that Eat salt junk and hard bread and laugh and grow fat.

Vocabulary:

Tarpaulins: thick canvas, used for foul weather gear Furled: rolled and folded tightly N.C.: perhaps means "navy custom" Wafers: used to seal letters Shoemaker's last: a wooden form for repairing shoes Palm: a band worn around the hand to push needles through heavy canvas or leather Esseners: perhaps storage tins for tobacco Podeldoe: perhaps a poultice

seachest3.jpg (9601 bytes)Materials:

  • A cardboard shoebox for each student
  • Manila, cotton, or dacron rope, about 1/2" diameter, twisted, not braided
  • Tempera or poster paints
  • Magazines for clipping pictures
  • Glue
  • Fabric scraps, especially cotton and canvas
  • A wide assortment of materials for students to use to pack their sea chests: construction paper, foil, tape, yarn, toothpicks, craft sticks

Procedure:

1. In the context of a class study of whaling, maritime history, or life at sea, introduce the idea that sailors had to pack for long voyages.

2. Ask students to list items they would pack in a single duffel to be used on a three-year journey in space. Assume food and water, but not eating utensils, and a space to sleep, but no bedding, would be provided. How would they choose differently if no electronics, running water, medical help, or communication with the outside world were available? Have them make a modified list.

3. Share the song with the class, and have them identify and list the items this sailor recommends as essential to include.

4. Show the students pictures of sea chests, or take them to a museum to see real sea chests if at all possible. Point out that many sailors carved or decorated their sea chests.

5. Have each student paint or decorate a shoebox as a personal sea chest. Use a paper punch to make two small holes in each end of the box and thread the rope through. Tie a figure eight knot in each end of the rope to keep the handle in place.

6. Have each student pack the sea chest for either a sea voyage of the 1800's or a space voyage of the near future. The students can make miniature equipment to place in the sea chest.

7. Ask students to supply a list of the contents of their sea chest, explaining the purpose of each item. The sea chests can be displayed for the school or community.

Evaluation:

1. Sea chest completion

2. Explanation form

Extensions:

1. Students may wish to use their sea chests after the project to keep desk supplies at school organized.

2. Try to borrow a sea chest from a school family, and fill it as closely as possible with appropriate items.

Resources:

Stan Hugill, Shanties from the Seven Seas 1984, Routledge & Kegan Paul Peter Marston, Songs of the Sea as sung by the Mimi crew 1988, The Barn School

Source: Based on an activity from the New Bedford Whaling Museum

Copyright 1998-2008 by Sea Education Association, all rights reserved.
Compiled and edited by Pat Harcourt & Teri Stanley.

This project was supported, in part, by the National Science Foundation (Proposals # TEI-8652383, TPE-8955214, and ESI-925324), the Henry L. and Grace Doherty Foundation, the Donner Foundation and the Pew Charitable Trusts. Opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily of the Foundations.