Over the next few weeks, this blog spot will be featuring extracts from "Britannia's Glory - A Maritime Story". Each page of that book has verse in the left hand column, and explanatory notes and illustrations in the right hand column. As this format is difficult to replicate here, the explanatory prose, and any pictures, will feature below the verse.
The index has been amended to show all previous book extracts as a single category. These do not, as yet, include the relevant notes.
If it carries too much freight,
A ship is overweight,
And too deeply in the water is immersed.
To stay buoyant, the propensity
Depends on water density,
And on how the onboard cargo is dispersed.
Before a ship embarks,
The captain checks two marks:
For the prevalent conditions these are coded.
He'll have done some careful thinking
To prevent his craft from sinking -
Which was happening, when ships were overloaded.
If you ever thought of him,
It was maybe during gym,
And prompted by those shoes you had to wear.
Samuel Plimsoll's name they bore.
It was he who pushed the law,
That forced owners into taking better care.
Through persistence and concern,
All the credit he would earn,
But it wasn't really his idea at all.
From the history books deposed,
The idea was first proposed
By a ship owner from Newcastle, James Hall.
The new mark must be visible.
What happened next was risible.
It did not prevent ships crammed full to the gunwales.
It had not been specified
Where the line should be applied,
And sometimes it was painted on the funnels.
Parliament had appointed a committee in 1836 to investigate the growing number of shipwrecks, and the Marine department of the Board of Trade was created in 1850 to enforce the laws governing the manning, crew competence and operation of merchant vessels. However, the government avoided direct interference with ship owners.
Still widely used today, the Plimsol mark is located midship on both sides of the hull. It indicates safe levels for various conditions. For example, 'TF' stands for 'Tropical Fresh Water', and 'WNA' for 'Winter North Atlantic'. The marks are one inch wide.
Overloaded, and often heavily insured, vessels were referred to as 'coffin ships'!
Samuel Plimsol (1824-1898) pushed through the Unseaworthy Ships Bill (1876).
Where the marks should be wasn't initially specified - a loophole that was used by unscrupulous owners until 1894, when the positioning of the line was fixed.
Pronounced 'gunnels', the original meaning of the word (15th century) was probably 'gun walls' ie the upper edge of a ship's side.