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Tell'in Bell Time Aboard a HMS Navy Ship

6 months 2 weeks ago #43903 by Two Shackles Bill
Two Shackles Bill created the topic: Tell'in Bell Time Aboard a HMS Navy Ship
TALL TALES & TRUE by Two Shackles Bill

Ahoy thar me’hearties ! tis ol’ Two Shackles Bill back ter give yer a wee insight inta how yer be tell’in time at sea. See’in this years very successful ASRL Open was again sponsored by the HMAS Navy, aye thought it would be a good idea ter explain how a sailor on a HMS Ship tells the time when out at sea on duty.

Yer canny jest take a wee peak at yer wrist watch when yer are out in the “Big Blue”, well yer can take a wee peak at yer watch but it will be of no use ter yer.
Because yer see me bucko’s yer could ave been sailing in an Eastly or Westly direction fer days or weeks & unless yer ave access ter the ship’s chronometer & yer understand navigation calculations & ave charts yer be all at sea.

Here’s how an ol’ sea dog like meself knew the time whilst serv’in on board the HMS SURPRISE under Captain Lucky Jack Aubry during the England & France sortees in the early 1800’s.

Although many things ave changed aboard a HMS ship since those days, like floggings & keel hauli’in, a good example of change is that bach in those days we used a knotted rope thrown overboard astern & egg timer tee tell yer the ship’s speed in knots. However one thing that thar hasn’t changed is that Bell Time remains the same aboard a HMS Ship ter this very day.

All time on a HMS ship begins at Noon & not at Mid-Night like landlubbers time, thus a nautical day begins 12 hours before a civilian day. Noon be chosen as it is constant not like sunrise or sunset set that varies season ter season also Noon can be determined with a sextant when at sea by measuring the angle of the Sun.
The ship’s bell is wot be used ter indicate time aboard a ship, but unlike civilian clocks the strikes of the bell do not relate to the hour of the day, instead the tolls relate to the time a watch has been on duty on the ship.

Dur’in me time at sea next ter the ship’s bell was a large wooden tumble turn egg timer that took 30 minutes to shift the sand from glass section to glass section. The egg timer was turned every half hour by the Duty Watch Officer. When the sand had completed shifted from one side ter the other the ship’s bell was rung as many times as needed to be.

So to conform to this Maritime time a ship’s crew & officers (not the Captain) are divided into a Port Watch & Starboard Watch, a Watch period is 4 hours & there are 6 Watches in a 24hr day. There may be other duty watches needed on occasions but these special assignment watches are delegated out on a specific needs basis only.

Although ship’s time starts at Noon, ship watches start at Midnight & change every 4 hours. During a watch the ship’s bell is struck every half hour by the Watch Officer on duty, one clang means half an hour into that watch, 4 bells meant 2 hours into a watch, 7 bells was 3 and a half hours into a watch.
The watch’s comprise of First Watch (Midnight-4am) Morning Watch (4am-8am) Forenoon Watch (8am-Noon) Afternoon Watch (Noon-4pm) Middle Watch (4pm-8pm) Dog Watch (8pm-Midnight).

Under normal conditions a sailor will stand too fer two watches a day & will be on duty a total of 8 hours out of 24. The assignment of crew members to a watch is adjusted so that no man serves two consecutive watches.

Now if yer understand the ship’s duty watches yer should be able ter get a grasp of tellin time on a ship. It’s just an easy process of translating a group of bell claps into a time of day that should be obvious ter most people. It's an ol’ as they say “quick step sailor’s jig”, so be yer ready ter dance;

Note the watch on duty & think of wot time it started duty. For example:-If the Morning Watch is now on duty, it started duty at 4:00 a.m. If you hear two bells, one hour has elapsed since 4:00 a.m.; it must now be 5:00 a.m. If the Afternoon Watch was on duty, yer know that it went on duty at 12:00 noon, so if you hear six bells, it must now be 3-o'clock in the afternoon.

The name of the watch doesn't really matter for telling time. So long as you take a fix on the number of bells and the approximate time of day, you'll have all the information you need.

Sailors do it by such means as scanning the sky, looking at shadows cast by the sun, or noting the smells from the galley, whether it be dinner or breakfast that is cooking or looking at the food that has just been served.

Another clue for example as to the period of the day it is, look to the Sun, if the Sun is about 30 degrees above the horizon in the east, the current time must be later than dawn and earlier than noon. If you then hear 7 bells, you shood know the time must be 7.30am.

The Watch on duty if the sun is just starting to peep above the horizon in the east would be the Morning Watch & if you hear 3 bells it would be 5.30am. Therefore this watch now on duty would be the second watch in the 24 hour/6 cycle rotation period, it started at 4.00am & will quit at 8.00am.

So whatever numbers of bells you hear during this watch jest add the bells up allowing half hour a bell tone & add that to what time the watch started. When it comes to telling bell time, common sense rules the day.

OK got it me’hearties!, here’s yer Quiz Test ter see if yer been nodding off whilst readin me ol'days HMS Navy days yarn:-

The watch now on duty is the Forenoon Watch, yer know this because yer ate yer breakfast with yer mate who had to turn too fer Forenoon Watch. When yer finish yer breakfast yer head back ter yer hammock ter read a book. Yer manage ter drift off lazing about in yer hammock, yer are awaken by 6 bells, wot be the time?

So thar yer go me’hearties tis eazzee-peazee ter tell the time aboard a ship, oh nearly forgot in an emergency & its all hands on deck the bell rings furiously & continually if yer be on downtime yer dinny get any hours back & that me bucko jest be ‘ardluck’.

When a sailor dies it is said that he is at 8 bells. Now as fer me, aye nay be dead but aye be at 8 bells fer this thar tale, so til next time “keep a weather eye ter the horizon fer me sails” . Ohhh nearly forgot me bucko’s the answer to the Quiz be 11.00am.

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