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Cape Cod A Ship Captain At Twenty-one

When we think of today’s huge ships, we think of vessels with very complex machinery. It takes schooling, college-going and maritime training to know how to captain or “skipper” such a ship. You may be very sure that the captain of today’s ship is a mature man, with years of study and experience behind him.

In early days, up to, say, the start of the 1900’s, when steamers were not too numerous and sailing vessels were still common, a smart youngster could look ahead to being skipper of a ship by the time he became of age. Many did become skippers, or first mates at least, and some commanded, not simply a schooner or two, but square-riggers that went on long and adventurous voyages.

If one wonders how the young men could exact obedience and respect from their crews, many of whom might be old salts far beyond the skippers in age, he must remember that maritime laws were strict to the point of brutal harshness. Reading Dana’s Two Years Before the Mast will yield you a rich understanding of this fact.

The coast town populations up to that time had a generous sprinkling of ship captains, active or retired. Not every male went to sea, though all were pretty well aware that the sea was useful but no man’s trusted friend. Most of the men householders had either sailed on square-riggers or had actually commanded them. A boy who went to sea with no ambition to command his ship one day was looked upon as rather shiftless.

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Cape Cod
Posted by Cape Cod - (website) on 03/22/06
Categories: History
Keywords: history, maritime


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