When people first hear the name of our book, Beer in the Bilges, they usually have one of two responses. For sailors, it is one of confirmation, and for non-sailors it is one of confusion. After having read the book, everyone gets it, but since you might be wondering, and are too shy to ask, we thought we’d better tell you. But first some history.
For hundreds of years, British sailors depended on alcohol to make the brutish task of sailing bearable. Whether they were volunteers or pressed into service, a sailor’s lot was a hard one, and being slightly sloshed soothed their demeanor and made them easier to manage. The British navy had the bright idea of giving the sailors a daily ration of a gallon of beer each to keep them suitably intoxicated. The problems with beer, though, were that it took up so much space and tended to go off after too long in the keg, especially in the warmer climates. In 1655, however, the navy discovered the benefits of rum, and continued the practice of the daily tot of an eighth of a pint until 1970.
While not so formal a tradition in the recreational sailing world, beer has persisted as a necessary cargo for many sailors. Even though today’s voyages are usually shorter than a naval assignment, the problem with temperature is still present for the many boaters who do not have the luxury of refrigeration. The solution today, as it was centuries before, is to place the beer in the coolest part of the boat, which is below the waterline.
Here is where knowing a little bit about the construction of a ship is important to solving the puzzle of the book’s name. In a ship, the lowest part of the inside space is called the bilge. In a modern yacht, this is the space under the cabin sole –the nautical name for the floor—where the water tanks are often located and where other goods are stored. It did not take long for modern day sailors, too, to realize that this was the coolest place on the boat, hence the general practice of keeping the “beer in the bilges.”
The credit for naming the book goes to Bob and Hal. They came up with it one Christmas early on in the book-writing process. I don’t think we could have hit upon another title as emblematic as this. We will have a challenge to find as good a title for the second memoir.