“For those in peril on the sea!” – sailing toasts and alcoholic beverages

Sailing and living on the sea are related to many traditions and ceremonies. I will pay my special attention to the oldest custom – proposing toasts and drinking alcoholic beverages. I think there is no other alcohol which could be associated with sailing than rum. From the beginning of history this alcohol, which replaced the perishable beer was indeed one of the favourite alcoholic beverages of sailors. Rum was drunk for fun and for health.

However, captains noticed that the crew under the influence of alcohol delayed performing deck duties and put up fights. To restrict drinking rum on ships, it was thinned down with water. And that’s how grog was invented – a beverage popular in many countries nowadays.
Interestingly, grog was also mixed with lemon or lime juice to improve the taste and provide the sailors with a daily dose of vitamin C in order to protect them against scurvy, a frequent illness in the past.

Nearly 200 years of drinking rum and grog on the sea gave rise to many customs and ceremonies, like sailing toasts for each day of the week: on Mondays – sailors drank for the homeland, on Tuesdays – for mothers, on Wednesdays – for themselves, on Thursdays – for the king, on Fridays – for the old port, on Saturdays – for wives and mistresses, so that they never meet, and on Sundays – for the absent friends and those who were in peril on the sea.

Those toasts have survived with small changes almost until today. Unfortunately, in time everyday drinking of grog was prohibited, but there were sailors that in a low voice proposed a toast for “wives and mistresses”, with love… to tradition.

Probably the oldest and very appreciated custom on boats is the way of proposing toasts – in a sitting position. There are two versions of the reason why it was established. The first says about the King William IV who once stood up with a cup quite suddenly and hit the ceiling beam with his head. The king ordered to propose toasts in the sitting position, and those who agreed added that a ship can be unstable even in the port, especially when more toasts must be proposed. The second story says about King George IV. He is said to have ordered the officers on the ship who stood up to propose a toast for him: “Gentlemen, please sit down – your loyalty is true.”

As far as the principles of drinking alcoholic beverages, there is a superstition that when proposing toasts on a ship, people should not clink glasses as one sailor’s soul escapes from the body with every sound. You must drink a round for those who are in peril on the sea, and the captain, as the most important person on the deck, proposes the toast first and commences the meal.

As a reference to contemporary tradition of toasts and drinking alcoholic beverages, I will recall a story from my first sailing trip. We were just setting sails. 10 people: 9 participants and the captain. The half of the crew sailed for the first time. One of the experienced crew members disappeared in the mess after the captain nodded at him. We had heard glass clink and rum appeared on the table in line with the custom. The captain ordered: “To Neptune!” The crew performed the order. We poured the rest of the liquor out of the glasses to water, for Neptune. The next toasts were: for the crew, and then of course: to the captain. The tradition was honoured and we set off in the first cruise in sailing moods. The performances during cruises are diverse… For the dolphins, for the white bear, the sails and the rudder or for the sewage treatment plant in Szczecin.

And finally, two recipes for grog – a la admiral Edward “Old Grog” Vernon:

  1. Ingredients (4 portions): 500 ml of water, 40 g of sugar, 125 ml of dark rum.
    Procedure: Pour boiling water to 4 glasses. Divide the sugar into each glass. Mix it up so it dissolves. Pour the rum into the glasses. Serve with a cinnamon stick.
  2. Ingredients (1 portion): 50 ml of dark rum, 150 ml of hot water, juice from 1 lemon, 1 teaspoon of sugar (cane sugar would be perfect), 3 cloves, a pinch of cinnamon.
    Procedure: Pour the rum into a glass, add the sugar and the cloves. Pour everything with hot water and add the lemon juice. Mix it up. Finally, pour the beverage over with a pinch of cinnamon.

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