Life On Deck, cont.

It's curious to imagine laundry day on board a very dirty whaling ship. Laura reported watching Mr. Dougherty, first mate, hanging out his laundry in the rigging on Sunday, Feb. 14. Crewmembers would first soak their greasy clothing in barrels and then boil them in the trypots with lye made by passing water through the tryworks ashes. Surely that didn't smell very good, but at least the process got rid of body lice (referred to as "greybacks") which were common in the fo'c'sle. The crew would use the same lye mixed with sand to wash down the very dirty, very greasy decks of the ship.

The Jernegan family's laundry, however, was not likely to be done in the same manner. Since everything was washed by hand, it was pretty hard work regardless. It's possible that Helen, like other whaling wives, used a recipe for wash day: simmer 5 pints of water to 1 lb. castile soap + 1 1/4 lb. soda + borax until dissolved; then add 9 pints of water to cool it down. Fresh breezes could dry clothing quickly if there wasn't a lot of salty sea spray in the air that kept things wet. To avoid losing items to the wind, sometimes they were sewn onto the line.

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San Francisco National Maritime Park