The Mayflower was startlingly short and fat


I visited Mystic Seaport in Mystic, Connecticut, with my daughter this spring.


At Mystic Seaport, you can pay ~$20 and wander around a refurbished 18th-19th Century shipyard and village. One of the things they have there is a replica of the Mayflower, which is also being refurbished.

The replica of the Mayflower is in drydock, so you can see the whole thing.

It's startlingly short and fat:


The Mayflower was about 100 feet long and 25 feet wide. It looks like a wooden bathtub with masts.

Looking at the replica, you can't help but marvel at what it must have been like on the real Mayflower's most famous voyage, the one that transported the Pilgrims across the Atlantic in the fall of 1620.

Some highlights:

* In addition to 102 Pilgrims, the little bathtub with masts carried ~30 crew. That's ~130 people living and working in the space of a single (biggish) house for more than 6 months. (The passengers actually didn't move off the ship until the spring of 1620).

* The ceiling of the passenger deck was 5 feet high. The floor area of this deck totalled perhaps 1,500 square feet, the size of a big two-bedroom apartment. There were no bathrooms or latrine facilities of any kind. There were no windows. The ship also carried goats, sheep, dogs, and chickens.


* The North Atlantic was stormy in September and October of 1620. The Mayflower was sailing against the wind, which it was decidedly bad at. The voyage took much longer than it was expected to. Food and water were in short supply.

* Two Pilgrims died on the voyage.

* During the winter, with passengers and crew still holed up below decks, the ship was hit by the outbreak of a disease. 47 more Pilgrims died. Half of the ship's crew also died.

* When the Pilgrims finally disembarked the Mayflower in March, 1621, there were only 53 of them left.

Here's how Wikipedia tells the story:


In early September, western gales begin to make the North Atlantic a dangerous place for sailing. The Mayflower's provisions, already quite low when departing Southampton, became much less by delays of more than of a month, and the passengers, having been aboard ship for all this time, were quite worn out by then and in no condition for a very taxing lengthy Atlantic journey cooped up in cramped spaces in a small ship. But on September 6, 1620, the Mayflower sailed from Plymouth with what [William] Bradford called "a prosperous wind"...

Aboard the Mayflower were many stores that supplied the pilgrims with the essentials needed for their journey and future lives. It is assumed that among these stores, they would have carried tools and weapons, including cannon, shot, and gunpowder; as well as some live animals, including dogs, sheep, goats, and poultry. Horses and cattle would come later. The Mayflower would also carry two boats: a long boat and a "shallop", a twenty-one foot boat powered by oars or sails. She also carried twelve artillery pieces (eight minions and four sakers), as the Pilgrims feared they might need to defend themselves against enemy European forces, as well as the Natives.

The passage was a miserable one, with huge waves constantly crashing against the ship's topside deck until a key structural support timber fractured. The passengers, who had already suffered agonizing delays, shortages of food and of other supplies, now were called upon to provide assistance to the ship's carpenter in repairing the fractured main support beam. This was repaired with the use of a metal mechanical device called a jackscrew, which had been loaded on board to help in the construction of settler homes and now was used to secure the beam to keep it from cracking further, making the ship seaworthy enough...

On November 9, 1620, they sighted land, which was present-day Cape Cod. After several days of trying to sail south to their planned destination of the Colony of Virginia where they had already obtained permission from the Company of Merchant Adventurers to settle, strong winter seas forced them to return to the harbor at Cape Cod hook, well north of the intended area, where they anchored on November 11. To establish legal order and to quell increasing strife within the ranks, the settlers wrote and signed the Mayflower Compact after the ship dropped anchor at Cape Cod, in what is now Provincetown Harbor...

During the winter, the passengers remained on board the Mayflower, suffering an outbreak of a contagious disease described as a mixture of scurvy, pneumonia and tuberculosis. When it ended, there were only 53 passengers, just over half, still alive. Likewise, half of the crew died as well. In the spring, they built huts ashore, and on March 21, 1621, the surviving passengers disembarked from the Mayflower.


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