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
  • Spare Hair Is Being Turned Into Mats And Can Clean Up Our Oceans

    Some researchers have concluded that the solution for cleaning our oceans is actually growing right on our heads. When you get a haircut or your pet gets a trim and all those strands are covering the ground well this can be reformed into saving the planet. So don’t just through your waste hair in the...

    Read More
  • The Incredible Invention Of The Stethoscope

    In 1816 the invention of the stethoscope in the Hospital Necker in Paris was hailed as a new age of medical invention that would bring forth improved diagnosis for all patients. Created by Rene Laennec he went through a long and painstaking process of matching all the sounds he would hear during his assessment of...

    Read More
  • Ronald McNair The Astronaut Who Dreamed Big

    Ronald McNair was one of the astronauts that were tragically killed when the Challenger spaceship exploded on Tuesday, January 28, 1986. It was a tragedy of the NASA space program that will never be forgotten. McNair though battled his way through life, always dreaming big and was always exceeding the boundaries he found in front...

    Read More
  • The Woman Crowned King Of Poland

    In 1384, Jadwiga of Poland who was just 10 years old at the time was crowned King of Poland. One thing though was the daughter of Louis I of Hungary and Elizabeth of Bosnia. So why was she not crowned Queen of Poland? Well, that is a whole story of political disputes and royal family...

    Read More
  • The History Of The Burned House Horizon

    During the archaeology of Neolithic Europe, researchers discovered an area of Europe where it appears there was a widespread phenomenon of intentionally burning settlements. This section of land is known as the burned house horizon. No one knows why this a tradition but it was widespread and was a long-lasting tradition around now Southeastern and...

    Read More
  • Myrtle The Story Of The Four-Legged Girl

    Mrs. Josephine Myrtle Bicknell died just one week away from her sixtieth birthday and she was buried not far from her home in Cleburne, Texas in 1928. It was a strange burial because her husband along with other close family members watched the grave filled with a thick layer of cement. They then waited for...

    Read More