What It Was Really Like To Captain A Ship During The Age Of Sail

Chicago
By Chicago 2 Min Read

Going by children’s books and certain nautical movies, like at sea during the Age of Sail seems pretty glamorous, or at least pretty adventurous. And who would be at the center of all that adventure but a brave and highly capable captain? In quite a few tales of seafaring adventure, captains figure pretty prominently, whether they’re barking orders at the height of battle, outmaneuvering pirates, or commanding a pirate ship themselves. And what kid wants to imagine that they’re swabbing the deck or peeling potatoes in the galley, anyway?

But the reality of being a captain during this era could get far more complicated than the likes of “Treasure Island” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” would have you believe. The Age of Sail — generally accepted to span from the late 16th century to the mid-19th century — saw some captains who were hailed as heroes. It also saw captains who were lonely, abusive, killed far from home, and turned into the villains of infamous mutinies. Even the lucky ones would have had to deal with both the hardships of life at sea and the mind-numbing bureaucracy of navies and merchant businesses. Here’s the reality of being an old-time sailing captain.

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