Shipboard Games

img_2161Found in The Ocean as a Health-Resort (A Handbook for Tourist and Invalids) by William S Wilson (London 1880) this guide to shipboard games. The author start by saying that study on board a ship is nigh impossible and recommends light reading. Is Cricket still played on cruise liners? Certainly there will no longer be shooting or climbing the rigging…

Those who expect to be able to study in the sense of reading hard will almost always be disappointed. There is something in a sea life that seems to be antagonistic to work of this kind, and it is generally seen that those who started with high resolves in this respect very soon subside into light literature or idleness. There are of course exceptions, but they are rare. The prevailing inability to study is, however, scarcely to be regretted in the case of invalids, who cannot do better than provide themselves with a supply of light literature, and direct all their energies towards deriving the greatest possible benefit from their voyage.

There are several open-air games which can be played on board ship, and which furnish a capital means of obtaining that exercise, the want of which is one of the drawbacks of being shut up within such narrow limits.

Of these, one of the most universal is a modification of the game of quoits. The quoits are made by the sailors, and consist of circles of stout rope about six inches in diameter. Each player has two quoits, and there are several ways of playing the game. One of the most usual is to throw from a given distance at a dot chalked on the deck, which takes the place of the peg in the original game. The two quoits that are nearest the mark each score one, unless one of them is directly over the dot, in which case it scores three, A great point in the game as played on board ship is to attempt to drive an adversary’s quoit from an advantageous position. It requires some little skill to allow properly for the force of the wind and the roll of the ship; and a good match between champion players always excites a great deal of interest. Other modifications of the game are — playing into circles with numbered divisions ; endeavouring to throw the quoit over an upright wooden peg fixed in a stand ; and (in rough weather)throwing the quoits into a bucket placed at some little distance from the player.

A good deal of exercise and considerable amusement may be obtained by playing cricket, with such modifications as are necessary to adapt it to a ship’s deck. The single-wicket game is the one usually played, and the wicket is fixed on a wooden stand, but has loose bales. As the balls are necessarily very frequently lost overboard, they are made by the sailors of “spun yarn,” and are supplied to the passengers at so much a dozen. The bats are generally either roughly made by the players themselves, or are supplied by the carpenter. Much amusement is caused by the strange localities into which the ball is sent, and by the difficulty of making the runs if there is much sea on at the time.

Another game sometimes played on board ship is called “bull-board.” It consists of a sloping board marked off into nine divisions, all of which are numbered except the two upper corner ones, which have a bull’s head painted upon them. The players are provided with flat pieces of lead covered with leather, and these they throw upon the board, standing at a distance of a few feet. Each player has four throws, and his score is reckoned according to the value of the squares upon which the leads pitch. Any lead, however, pitching upon either of the squares marked with a bull’s head, deducts ten from the score. Leads lying upon a line do not count.

The number of sea birds which, in some parts of the voyage, constantly follow the ship, prove a great inducement to passengers with sporting tastes to try the qualities of their guns and rifles. But as it is almost always impossible to obtain the birds that have been shot, this form of sport cannot but be regarded by most people in the light of a cruel and useless destruction of life. For this reason some captains will not allow shot to be used, — permitting the guns to be loaded with bullets only, which,while furnishing a far better test of sldll, do comparatively little execution. When a bird is hit, it is but seldom killed outright, and it is always sad to see it floating away astern with a broken wing or leg, to be pecked to death by other birds, or perhaps to linger on in agony for hours or days.
When once the passion for shooting has set in amongst the passengers who possess fire-arms, the perseverance with which they aim at everything, animate and inanimate, is truly surprising. Empty bottles or tins are thrown overboard, or are towed astern, to act as targets for rifles and revolvers. The motion of the ship and of the sea combined make it very difficult to hit these floating objects. I have seen a large target made from the head of a cask and suspended from the yard-arm, and as this follows the movements of the ship, it answers very fairly for rifle shooting.

In the evenings, when the weather is fine, the midshipmen and those whose tastes incline in that direction frequently indulge in athletic sports of various kinds, such as jumping, boxing, singlestick, as well as various strange games and feats of agility such as one sees only on board
ship. Some of the more adventurous passengers are on such occasions tempted to make excursions in the rigging; but those who have not been aloft before must bear in mind that they are Hable to be lashed to the rigging by the sailors until they have paid, or promised to pay, their “footing ” — viz., the price of a bottle of rum.

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