Provisions at Sea

Sea Tack or Hardtack - A hard bread made from flour and salt. It was baked a long time so that all the moisture was gone and it would not mold quickly. Sea biscuits were hard and thick, and most sailors dunked them in water or some liquid to soften them up. Many teeth were lost when biting into one of these biscuits. Bugs also enjoyed the sea biscuit. Weevils and other insects could be found in a barrel of sea biscuits. Sailors started putting a dead fish on top of the barrel to draw the insects out and then throw the infested fish away. This bread was the staple of the sailor's diet.

Salted Meat - Meat was salted in a barrel of briny water to preserve it. Beef, pork, and even horse was used. The salted meat was added to the sea biscuit and water. The salt added flavor to the meal. The salted meat eventually went rancid.

Dried Peas - Dried peas and beans were given as rations on long voyages as a change to the regular diet. The dried peas lasted longer on a voyage than fresh vegetables.

Oatmeal - This dried meal was also given to the crew to vary their diet. It too lasted on long voyages but attracted insects.

Cheese - Before refrigerators, cheese was sealed in wax and left at room temperature. Since it was sealed, many voyagers took cheese with them. Most likely the officers on the trip received more cheese rations than did the crew.

Butter - It was a perishable item taken aboard and given to the crew until it went bad. The spoiled butter was then used to grease the ropes of the ship.

Sauerkraut - Chopped cabbage fermented in brine (salt water). Sauerkraut would last over long voyages. Captain Cook discovered that it helped prevent scurvy among the crew.

Fresh Fruit and Vegetables - Taken on long voyages and eaten in the first months of the trip. When travelling to the tropical areas, the fresh produce spoiled quickly. When near land, the ships would stop and the sailors would pick up fresh fruits and vegetables.

Lemons and Limes - Captain Cook discovered that feeding the crew lemon or lime juice helped keep down the number of cases of scurvy. (This practice was adopted by the British navy. The British sailors were then given the nickname of "Limeys".)

Water - Water was stored in barrels and after a few weeks it would become slimy and turn green with algae. The crew still had to drink it even though it was stale. When on shore, one of the first items collected was fresh water.

Beer - Because beer contained alcohol, it would not spoil as quickly as water. The sailors would get a ration every day until it ran out. Then it was back to water.

Wine - As with beer, the alcohol in wine helped to preserve it for a longer period of time. But, exposure to heat in the tropics often turned the wine into vinegar. The vinegar was used to disinfect the ship. On the voyages to tropical climates, one wine, Madeira, got better tasting in the heat and developed into a new type of wine.

Rum - Water was added to rum, and it was called "grog" by the sailors. It was felt a weekly ration of rum helped with any health problems the crew had. It also made many sailors drunk and unable to do their job.