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    Lighting above deck.
    From: George Huxtable
    Date: 2001 Nov 17, 11:57 AM

    Lighting above deck .
    Nights at sea can be long, and are often very, very dark. Yet some lighting
    is necessary for various nautical purposes. How was this contrived, in the
    past? Can anyone offer useful references?
    Here are some of the questions for which I seek answers. They cover a wide
    range in time.
    The most vital need for continuous light was to illuminate the compass. Eve
    Taylor, in "The Haven-finding Art" (my edition is 1971) quote Guyot of
    Provins (about 1205) as follows- "... they lay the needle in a straw and
    simply place it in water, where the straw makes it float. Its point then
    turns exactly to the star. There is never any doubt about it, it will never
    deceive. When the sea is dark and misty, so that neither star nor Moon can
    be seen, they put a light beside the needle, and then they know their way
    For practical use as a steering compass, on a wild night out on deck, the
    illuminating flame and the compass needle would need to be protected from
    the wind, in some sort of binnacle. When was such a box introduced? Would
    it have a glass view-port?
    For striking time by the ship's bell, often in the fore part of the vessel,
    at half-hour intervals, the timing would presumably be done by a half-hour
    sandglass. Was this sandglass kept by the binnacle so that it could be seen
    by the light of its candle, and turned at the appropriate time? Or, to
    avoid a sometimes-dangerous journey through the ship's waist, would another
    lantern be kept burning at the fo'c'sle? What form would that lantern take?
    Perhaps it was possible for the watchman on the foredeck to feel or hear
    when the motion of the sand in the glass had ceased, without need for
    light. But to me, this seems unlikely in the rough-and-tumble of a windy
    night at sea.
    Streaming the log was arranged so that it could be done in the dark, as
    there was a leather tag to denote the start of timing, and then the knots
    could be sensed and counted, by feel as the logline passed through the
    hand. But where did they keep the glass (28 or 30 seconds), used for
    sensing the time, and how was it lit?
    For latitude measurements of altitude of the Pole star, how was the
    measuring scale illuminated? Presumably a sextant or octant were compact
    enough to be brought below, if the cabin was illuminated, to be read there,
    and if care was taken might retain its reading undisturbed on that short
    journey. Perhaps a cross-staff could be treated in the same way. For all
    these instruments, some view of the horizon was necessary, so they would
    not be used for altitudes in the darkest period of the night. However, such
    observations would require deep twilight, so that some illumination of the
    scale would be necessary. In earlier days, a mariner's astrolabe would (I
    suggest) have to be read on deck, and at night it would presumably require
    some sort of wind-shielded lantern to provide that light.
    When were suitable candles and candle-lanterns developed, and when did the
    trade of ship-chandler begin?
    These are some questions that I am pondering, Can any reader help in
    pointing me toward answers?
    George Huxtable
    George Huxtable, 1 Sandy Lane, Southmoor, Abingdon, Oxon OX13 5HX, UK.
    Tel. 01865 820222 or (int.) +44 1865 820222.

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