Reply To: Collecting Rain Water at Sea

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Nicholas Blake

    Rainwater was certainly collected by some officers. As with so much of the Georgian navy, it was likely that it was a routine for the more conscientious and zealous ones, and possibly that it was for most, and the ordinary officers left no trace. Captain Pasley, who was an enterprising officer, and left a useful collection of Private Sea Journals, mentions it three times:

    Between the Cape Verde Islands and the Cape of Good Hope, on 16 Mar 1780 the Sybil (28) experiences ‘a heavy and uncommon fall of Rain; on the Coast of Guinea only I recollect to have seen it equalled. Filled several Tons of Water which, altho’ we are not in immedeate want, enables me to give a larger allowance of this necessary Element to the Seamen, than which nothing contributes more to their health in long Southern Voyages. The men drink when, and as much as, they please – restrained only in carrying away more than one Pint each for Breakfast.’ Private Sea Journals, 72.

    On 11 May 1781 in the Jupiter (50) he has ‘Thunder, lightning and Rain in abundance this 24 hours, altho’ we could not from its variableness and our Vicinity to other Ships fill above one Ton.’ Private Sea Journals, 146

    On 6 Feb 1782, in the Jupiter: ‘Still Calm with heavy Rains; filled in the Evening a Ton and a half of Water for the use of the Cooks, being greatly superior to any other for breaking the Pease.’ Private Sea Journals, 229

    On the other hand it is possible that he recorded it because it was unusual. William Hickey notes that when the Castle Eden homeward-bound Indiaman runs out of water and the crew are reduced to a pint a day each, the still is set up for the livestock, but fortunately rain falls and it is not needed (IV, 442)

    Ships had been supplied with a variety of machines for sweetening sea water since at least the 1770s, and later there came machines for recovering water from the steam produced by cooking.

    It was probably an evolution rather than a routine.