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"Did British ships really have white decks?? " Topic

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Stew art Supporting Member of TMP22 Feb 2018 1:29 p.m. PST

so did they? : )

I've been reading a lot AoS fiction lately (and some non fiction, currently reading 'Nelson at the Nile') and there always seems to be a mention that the ship's weather deck was scrubbed white.

I imagine that this is just the effect of scrapping and sanding.

I'm about to paint up another ship, so was thinking about what color to do for the deck, was thinking a very light tan might do it, but is this close to the reality?

Personal logo Virtualscratchbuilder Supporting Member of TMP Fezian22 Feb 2018 1:40 p.m. PST

I cannot answer that as fact and I have wondered that myself. I cannot imagine anything walked on staying white for any length of time without constant maintenance and thus cost. My understanding is that captains footed the cost of paint so if it were me I would leave them natural. I also remember reading the insides of bulwarks, gunwales, and gun trucks were painted red so as to lessen the shock of seeing blood, so that to me is another strike against white decks.

That being said, I mix mine up… some white, the rest various shades of light tan. Helps break up the monotony of a long line of like-panted near-clones.

MajorB22 Feb 2018 2:11 p.m. PST

The decks weren't painted they were holystoned.

Not only British ships but in the US Navy too:
PDF link

22ndFoot22 Feb 2018 2:13 p.m. PST

Until the early 1800s, the decks of His Majesty's ships were holystoned – scrubbed not painted – every day (sometimes twice if Jervis had his way) and were thus very light, almost white in colour. The frequency was subsequently reduced as injurious to the ship's company's health in bad weather and recognised as being a way to keep the hands busy rather than serving any particular purpose. It also creates excessive wear and tear on the decks.

Stew art Supporting Member of TMP22 Feb 2018 3:20 p.m. PST

(holystones, that's it! thanks!)

thanks a bunch! I think I'll try a light color for the next ship then.

Ed Mohrmann Supporting Member of TMP22 Feb 2018 3:43 p.m. PST

'Holystoning' was also a form of punishment meted out
for mild infractions in the USMC in the 1930's.

Bricks and sand were applied to the barracks' 'decks'
as they'd been applied back in the days of sailing

Personal logo ochoin Supporting Member of TMP22 Feb 2018 4:52 p.m. PST

Not necessarily an old practice. Boats with timber decks today may still holystone them. I know my grandfather had to holystone the deck of his dreadnought battleship in 1917. I believe the wood was placed over steel decks for the look of the thing. And to keep the sailors busy.

A technical discussion:

"White" decks, however, are a bit of an exaggeration. Oak, with a dirty top layer ground off, would be a "whitish" light beige.

BTW given the rigging was coated in tar, spots dropping onto the deck, especially in hot weather, was a trial to the "holystoners".

attilathepun4722 Feb 2018 8:49 p.m. PST

It should be borne in mind that after the scrubbing with holystones and sand, the decks were rinsed down with seawater. As this dried, it would have left a residue of salt crystals, which would have added some degree of whiteness.

Martin Rapier22 Feb 2018 11:52 p.m. PST

The effect is similar to that of sanding the accumulated crud off your untreated pine table. It comes out very light, but soon dulls down again.

Which is why they made the sailors do it every day.

StarCruiser23 Feb 2018 6:53 a.m. PST

Wood was applied to the decks of "modern" ships (i.e. ships after the age of sail) for traction purposes. Same went for Linoleum…

In neither case was it done just for looks as both were a bit of a fire hazard.

Personal logo ochoin Supporting Member of TMP23 Feb 2018 11:19 a.m. PST

Wood was applied to the decks of "modern" ships (i.e. ships after the age of sail) for traction purposes

Possibly but I don't think this was the major reason in the RN.
I believe Great War sailors wore either rubber soled boots or non-slip metal studs.

See here:

"Heart of Oak are our ships,
Jolly Tars are our men,
We always are ready: Steady, boys, Steady!
We'll fight and we'll conquer again and again."

The RN was a very traditional service and wooden decks resonated with a glorious past. In his diary, this was implied by my grand dad, a Battle of Jutland veteran.

14Bore23 Feb 2018 2:08 p.m. PST

Patrick O'Brian goes through this explanation a lot in his Aubrey/ Maturin series

gamershs23 Feb 2018 2:28 p.m. PST

Steel decks under sun would get HOT. I suspect the wood decks would stay cooler.

John Tyson27 Feb 2018 10:23 a.m. PST

Another thought. When cleared for action and at quarters, there was sand on the deck. Not all sand is the same color.

Stew art Supporting Member of TMP03 Mar 2018 6:59 p.m. PST

Follow up question, obvious now but just occurred to me…

did the French also Holystone the decks?


Pontius20 Nov 2018 5:49 a.m. PST

I believe this little rhyme originates from the RN in the early 20th century:

For six days shalt thou labour,
and do all that thou art able.
On the seventh holystone the decks,
then scrape and paint the cable.

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