Bathing on a Steamship - 1906
THOSE who go down to the sea in ships can, in these good modern days, go as far as they like, or rather, as far as their purse strings will reach, in the matter of bathing. The ship owners and makers have certainly done their part. Every first-class ocean liner nowadays has as many bathrooms as a first-class hotel, and the best and most up-to-the-minute of them provide their first-cabin passengers with all the comforts of home, and more, in this respect.
Electric Light Bath on the Steamship Amerika. GGA Image ID # 1f3d0552c1
The acme of ablutionary luxury was reached by the builders of the "Amerika," the grand floating palace put into commission last year by the Hamburg-American line. The gaping thousands that have crowded its decks on visiting days and oh-ed and ah-ed at its café and its gymnasium, its nursery, and its lift, and all the wonders of its city block of length and its skyscraper height, have won, tied as much at the bathing facilities as anything else.
Nor is there anything that marks it more definitely as the answer to the demands of the present hour. Bathing has become a fad. Not to bathe from one to three times a day—and, it would seem, alas, not to tell of it on every possible occasion—is not to be in fashion.
Bathroom of Imperial Suite on the Steamship Amerika. GGA Image ID # 1f3d29bbb7
And one would as soon think of taking passage on a ship that did not serve meals as on one that did not provide facilities for a bath. The passenger paying his $1,600 for the imperial suite on the "Amerika" could scarcely know, if only the boat would stand still, that he was not in his limb at the Waldorf, his club, or in his own home.
Like everything on the ship, the room is compact, but the floor is tiled, and the walls are wainscotted with onyx slabs. There is hot and cold water for the tub and the stationary washstand, and the nickel finishings sparkle and shine under the electric light.
The other private baths on board the "Amerika," while somewhat less costly in their furnishings, afford equal comfort and number 28. In all, the steamer has 60 baths. An innovation on this ship is an electric light bath, a privilege accorded without charge to all first-class passengers.
Swimming Tank on Pacific Liner. GGA Image ID # 1f3d2a7674
While the big Atlantic liners have spoken the last word about luxury in bathing facilities, the Pacific liners have gone further and added a recreation feature to their equipment.
Every big passenger steamer plying between the west coast ports and the Orient carries stowed away somewhere in its hold a huge canvas sewed in the shape of a tank. On fair days during the voyage, this tank is brought to the main deck and lashed to the deck rails and heavy cross beams. It is then pumped full of seawater, and the passengers are free to don bathing suits at any time and have a plunge.
As the tank holds about four or five feet of water and covers almost the entire space of the main deck forward, it makes swimming possible, and the sport is freely indulged in, to the enjoyment not only of the swimmers themselves but also of the passengers who care to look on from the upper deck. When the voyage is too rough, or the weather is cold, the tank is emptied, folded, and stowed away.
The evolution of the shipboard bath is easily traced. And in its tracing, one becomes aware of how comparatively recent is the widespread popularity of the bath. Nor is it reasonably necessary to go all the way down the line of steamships from these floating palaces with their swimming tanks, onyx-trimmed baths, and electric light cabinets to the little old-fashioned boats plying along the coast, which, like a country hotel, have but one bath for everybody. The whole story is told between the upper deck and the hold of one big steamer.
Saturday Night Is the Time for a General Clean Up. GGA Image ID # 1f3d4577e9
Those to whom the daily bath is as the daily bread pay for a private bathroom. Those others who must consider ways and means, and who, for the week or two or three of an ocean voyage, can content themselves with a sponge bath in their room or a bath in a common bathtub, find this accommodation provided with a cheaper stateroom on a first-class liner, or with the first cabin of a second-class liner.
And by the time you get to the steerage, there is no bath at all, and the people herded there are lucky when they can lurch to a common sink and get a chance to rinse off their faces and hands. While down farther, another deck or two, the same sink is provided for the men who come up all grimy and dripping with sweat from the oppressive heat of the engine rooms.
Perhaps, after all, a sink is all that would be used by these stokers and firemen, who barely have the strength to climb the ladder leading out of the fierce hot hole where they work, wash off the thickest of their sooty mask, being careful the while to avoid any breath of cool air, and then crawl into their bunks to rest till the hour of their shift comes round again.
The Saturday Night Clean Up on a Lumber Schooner. GGA Image ID # 1f3d52e958
Perhaps, too, disgusting as conditions in the steerage seem to a person of clean habits, the lack of decent bathing facilities is not a very great hardship to the average steerage passenger, who is of that class of European peasants that know no better use for the bathtub of his new tenement home than the storage of odds and ends of household rubbish.
Going on down the line of ocean craft, the very worst of the bathing facilities afforded on the big ocean steamers is better than the best on sailing vessels. Get any old-time sailor to spinning yarns, and he will tell you of days when all the men had to depend upon, in the way of water, was what they could catch when it rained.
And when the voyage ran on into months with never a sight of land and rains were scarce, many a man has had his allowance of water cut down to a quart a day for all purposes—his slop, his drink, and his bath. And it is a safe guess since sailors are men, and hungry men at that, that the larger part of that quart of water if not all of it, went to regale the inside rather than refresh the outside of him.
Only when a man was found to be "crumby" would they hustle him out to the fo'c'sle and scrub him down with a scrub brush and all the water they could spare.
It was always a great day on those long voyages when the clouds gathered above, opened up, and let the rain down.
If the latitude was low enough, every man jack aboard stripped down to his last stitch and took a shower bath right from the sky. Meanwhile, they plugged the scuppers and let the water collect on the deck, and a general wash-day was declared. Trousers, blouses, socks, and all that a sailor wears were scattered about the deck, and as the water backed up and covered them, the men stamped them with their feet or got down on their knees with soap and brushes and scrubbed the clothes sailor-fashion. Then they put them on again wet or hung them on the rigging to dry, as the state of their wardrobe allowed.
And all the while, the scuttlebutt and every tub and cask aboard was set out to catch what fell from the roof of the fo'c'sle and the officers' quarters. to help eke out the water supply until the next rain fell.
Sailors Taking a Swim When the Ship Is in Port. GGA Image ID # 1f3dce3c12
It is similar now on board sailing vessels. The only difference is that, for the most part, the voyages do not cover so many clays or weeks, and enough water can be carried to last from port to port, with the rains to help out. Besides, the men who ship on sailing vessels are not men to whom a bath is the most vital thing in the world, and a cleaning up once a week is enough au satisfy most of them.
Now and then, some youngster who has run away from a home where he has heard that cleanliness and godliness are akin, and has had, perchance, a little too much of both of them, find that sea-going men go a bit too far the other way and vents his spells of homesickness by stealing a little extra water from the scuttlebutt—only it would be called "taking," not "stealing"—and sneaking off to an unfrequented side of the deck to rub out a shirt or a pair of socks a little more often than sailor law allows.
In port, Saturday night is the time for a general clean-up. On every other night in the week, a sailor's only thought is to get ashore when his work is done, and no sooner have the whistles of the port town ceased blowing for five o'clock than the procession of sailors is crossing the gangplank, scattering in all directions toward the various saloons that line every waterfront.
Sailor work is like clockwork, and no man stops to finish what he may be doing but quits with a crank half turned, a rope half hauled, or with a barrel, crate, load of timber, or whatever the cargo may be, swinging in midair from the jib. On Saturday night, it is the same as any other, and save that everybody goes to the forward deck just outside the fo'c'sle for the general clean-up instead of breaking at once for his favorite saloons.
Sneaking off to Rub Out a Shirt or a Pair of Socks. GGA Image ID # 1f3dce816a
Off come blouses and undershirts, and the men take turns hosing each other down while those who don't want to wait for the hose lather their heads and stick them down into buckets, tubs, or whatever sort of vessel is handy. Some get to work with scrubbing brushes and washboard and get some clean clothes ready for Sunday, Jack Tar's day for courting.
How many attend this Saturday's seance on the forward deck depends significantly on the weather. When it is cold, attendance is much reduced, for there is a big hurry in the direction of barroom cheer, but when summer comes, there is much splashing out by the fo'c'sle.
And, when the schooner is docked in a bay where the water is clean and inviting, many men strip to underdrawers and shins and go overboard for a swim in the sea. This is also a sailor's favorite method of tubbing when his ship is becalmed out in mid-ocean, always provided the weather is warm. In winter—well. in winter Jack Tar waits for wann weather.
Bertha H. Smith, "Bathing on Shipboard," in Modern Sanitation: Devoted to the Advancement of Sanitary Plumbing, Pittsburg: Standard Sanitary Manufacturing Company, Vol. III, No. 4, September 1906: pp. 5-10.