Basque Sailors Never Died From Scurvy

Samuel Reason | August 5th, 2019

Sailing has always been a major industry and passion throughout the history of humanity, civilizations have been shaped and fallen because of their ability to open up shipping routes or discover new lands. Known as the Age of Sail, which is usually dated from around 1571 to 1862, it was a period during which international trade and naval warfare were primarily made up of sailing ships.

historymuseum.ca

During the Golden Age of Sail where the sailing vessels reached their peak size and complexity, it is estimated that around 50% of sailors died from scurvy on any trip. Scurvy is a disease that happens due to a lack of vitamin C, early symptoms include simply being tired or suffering from sore arms or legs. But without treatment, the decrease in red blood cells start to cause major problems for any patient. As it worsens you will find poor wound healing, personality changes and then eventually death from infection.

It takes at least a month of no vitamin C in a diet to start seeing the symptoms, and this is why sailors during the Age of Sail were so at risk. During this time long cargo hauls or whaling trips would see a sailor being out at sea for months. It took until 1753 for the British Royal Navy to start routinely giving their sailors lemon juice to ensure no scurvy would be present.

But one group of interesting sailors never suffered from the disease at all. These were the Basque sailors, who were very successful in dominating the whale oil trade for some time. They were extremely skilled at hunting whales, and as a result, always had whale oil to trade. One of the ways they achieved this was incentivizing the sailors, they were one of the first sailors to have contracts that ensured payment. And the payment had to be made in some part in oil, this gave them further motivation to produce as much whale oil as possible.

The real interesting part of their contracts though, which was how they never caught scurvy, even though they probably did not know at the time: the contract stipulated Basque sailors had to receive at least 2 to 3 liters of sagardoa each day. Now sagardoa is a type of strong Basque cider, which as a result contained vitamin C, and prevented scurvy.

Next Article
  • Banana Candy Flavour Is Not That Fake

    Whenever you merrily chomp on a candy that is flavored to be a banana, you usually find yourself thinking that they don't taste like bananas at all. Or do they? The story of the artificial banana flavoring is a funny one, and as it turns out they do taste like bananas. ...

    Read More
  • Spiders Can Use Electricity To Fly Hundreds Of Miles

    There is a centuries-old mystery that is known as ballooning, which spiders have been taking advantage of to fly around the world. On October 31, 1832, a young naturalist and now world-famous scientist Charles Darwin walked aboard the deck of the HMS Beagle. He realized they had been boarded by hundreds of tiny red spiders....

    Read More
  • The One Million Dollar Coin From Canada

    Here is one saga from history that Canada may wish to forget, the time they minted a 1 million dollar coin, only for it to be promptly stolen. The massive medallion was made from the purest gold bullion ever refined, and by today’s estimates is worth over $5.8 million. The coin was stolen from the...

    Read More
  • Albanians Sheltered Hundreds Of Jews During Holocaust

    During World War II, there were several European nations where the Nazi slaughterhouse seemed to not get a hold of, but few have as such a remarkable story than Albania. During the holocaust, ordinary Albanians would move Jews around hiding spots regularly. They did it so well that the death count was only five. [caption...

    Read More
  • The Dangers Of The Phenomenon Known As The Square Waves

    If you have ever been out in the ocean or walking along the beach, only to spot a quadrilateral shaped wave pattern moving across the ocean - then you have witnessed a dangerous phenomenon known as square waves. Most of us will know of the waves that reach the shore...

    Read More
  • The Soviet Teenager Who Killed Hundreds Of Nazis

    You would have thought there were age restrictions when it came to fighting in World War II, and there was, but some teenagers always managed to make it through the checks. One of those was a Soviet teenager by the name of Zinaida Martynovna Portnovna, who was a Belorussian partisan who fought the Nazis during...

    Read More
  • That Time When Everyone Went Completely Crazy Over Gin

    During roughly 50 years from 1728 to 1794, there was a period in London where the whole population nearly went completely mad. And the main culprit was gin. The impact of gin on London’s deprived city population is something that is compared to crack cocaine hitting American inner-city ghettos. It's a time in Britain that...

    Read More