Welcome to the Sailor page of the “Royal Navy.” As a new recruit you will be questioned as to your knowledge of basic ships rigging, basic navigation skills and knowledge of life in the 18th century. If you have these skills you will be rated as “Able Bodied Seaman” (A.B.) If you are unskilled in these areas you will be rated as Landsman, but not to worry, Our A.B.’s will teach you everything you need to know to move up to A.B. Do you get more pay as an A.B.? Of course not silly! But you can pass yourself off as a sailor more believably and that is what you probably want. Listed Below are things you will need to gather for your portrayal and below that are some examples.
A basic sailors out fit would include work clothes, cold weather clothes, and a “goin’ ashore rig” which was his best outfit. Since we do not expect everyone to have all this attire, and most people would not recognize you as a sailor in your finest, we ask for a compromise which consists of pants, shirt, vest, and coat with hat. Please avoid the sewing of fabric made by Polly Esther or her friend Nyla Lon as they are unsuitable. REMEMBER, these are only guidelines used to achieve some semblance of uniformity. Exceptions to everyone of the suggestions below can be found and proven.
Pants can be of two types, the most popular being a loose pantaloon which is of ankle length and a wide leg short pair which was originally designed to cover your knee breeches. These were referred to as Galligaskins, slops, works, and several other names. They properly should be worn as work clothes only and only with early 18th century portrayals but usage has made them common for all 18th century reenactments. Both can be made from Canvas or heavier Linen and can be white, off white or striped with blue or red
Shirts can be of cotton or linen, are long sleeved with a closed front, and have short cuffs with a single button. Colors should be white or black and white or red and white checks.
During the 18th century most sailors vests were longer at the start of the 1700’s (mid thigh) and shorter by the end of the 1700’s but should not come to the waistline. They should be single breasted with a flapped pocket on either side which can be functional or not. Buttons would be of bone or wood or cloth covered (most common) with brass buttons being seen occasionally
Wool, period…. tail lengths were as with the vest in being longer in an earlier period and shorter in a later period. Brass buttons on coats were common. Working coats aboard ship were shorter in the tail to facilitate climbing. Avoid the classical “monkey Jacket” as it is more common in the 19th century
Headgear was of an enormous variety in material, color, and construction. For us the basic tricorn is most suitable as it shouts 18th century where a straw round hat (although period correct) might not. Also to be worn would be knit caps, monmouth caps, “apple pasties” and tarred hats. Royal Navy sailors before 1760 or so often painted the crown of their tricorns red.
Shoes should be black leather with a leather sole or a thin modern sole (no waffles please) and have a brass buckle. Bare feet aboard ship and while working is also good.
Cotton or wool in drab colors. Avoid the striped variety or people will think you a Pirate.
Knives and Cutlasses
When working a sailor usually carried a knife to cut lines etc. most knives were not sharply pointed as they would tear sails etc. and are not safe for work. The old wives tale about Captains breaking the points off knives so the men would not fight is sheer nonsense. If you think my blunt point sailors knife won’t slice you to the bone, your wrong. Daggers etc. were used for boarding and as shore defense. These were violent times, or as one wag put it, “Life was short, hard and brutal” Sailors knives were sheathed and carried centered on the small of the back so that they could be reached by either hand while aloft. A marline spike can be sheathed with it although I have seen no period example of this practice. (Yet) the Knife was usually secured with a knotted marline lanyard. Cutlasses were issued by the ship for boarding and shore parties. They were generally straight bladed with an iron hand guard and had a buff or black leather carriage.