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  • The Buccaneers of Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean Ride

  • can be heard to sing, Yo, ho, ho!

  • A pirate's life for me.

  • It makes for a catchy lyric.

  • But it was probably written by someone

  • who had no idea how unbelievably disgusting and disease-ridden

  • pirate ships really were.

  • Inadequate nutrition and constant exposure

  • made the sailors highly susceptible to illnesses

  • and that could find living spaces and lack of access

  • to clean water allowed those illnesses to spread around

  • the ships quickly.

  • Today, we're going to take a look at what hygiene

  • was like on pirate ships.

  • But before we get started, be sure to subscribe to the Weird

  • History Channel and let us know in the comments below what

  • other pirate-related topics you would like to hear about.

  • Arr.

  • Now, all handsy wash.

  • We've got pirate hygiene approaching.

  • [MUSIC PLAYING]

  • Pirates were famous for a lot of things.

  • But having great dental plans wasn't one of them.

  • This is probably because most pirates didn't do anything

  • to care for the teeth.

  • And if they did, it was likely to be something

  • like chewing on a wooden stick.

  • They didn't invent the practice.

  • Such chew sticks actually date all the way back

  • to the ancient world and remained a fairly common means

  • of teeth cleaning as late as the 18th century.

  • Of course, finding chew sticks at sea was no easy task.

  • So even a pirate who was conscientious

  • about dental health would often go long stretches

  • without even the most basic oral care.

  • On a ship, fresh water was saved for cooking and drinking.

  • So when it came to bathe, your average pirate

  • probably just jumped into the ocean for a quick rinse.

  • Despite the ease, taking a bath would have

  • been a fairly rare endeavor.

  • This was for a number of reasons.

  • First, salt water isn't great for the skin.

  • And accidentally ingesting it could make a man sick.

  • Second, leaving the ship could be dangerous.

  • Pirates tended to believe in sea monsters.

  • And it was impossible to tell if one might be lurking

  • in the depths beneath the ship.

  • And third, pirates weren't very good swimmers.

  • [MUSIC PLAYING]

  • Despite what pretty much every pirate movie ever made

  • would have us believe, most captains

  • didn't wear fancy waistcoats and breaches.

  • Rather, they typically dressed for comfort and practicality.

  • And could you blame them?

  • They were likely to be wearing the same clothes for months

  • at a time--

  • clothes that would be typically soaked in their own sweat

  • and blood and occasionally the blood of other people.

  • If clothes were cleaned at all, it

  • would be when the pirates were on land.

  • Even then, the wash would only be

  • done with water or saltwater.

  • Soap was unlikely to be involved.

  • In the 19th century, whaling was a massive industry.

  • Whaling ships often carried valuable resources.

  • And this made them common targets

  • for pirates and privateers.

  • Commercial whalers on the Azores Islands

  • had been processing whale blubber since the 10th century.

  • It was the basis for things like oil,

  • lubricant, and most importantly for our purposes here, soap.

  • Pirates likely seized blubber from the whalers

  • to make these items for themselves.

  • That being said, making your own soap from whale blubber

  • is not fun.

  • Processing the animal was incredibly

  • difficult. And by all accounts, smells overpoweringly awful.

  • [MUSIC PLAYING]

  • Although toilets go all the way back to the 16th century,

  • they didn't have any on pirate ships.

  • Instead, they had a head, which was really

  • just a plank of wood with a hole cut through it

  • that emptied into the water below.

  • Why was it called the head?

  • Well, the plank was usually located at the bow

  • or the head of the ship.

  • Sailors called the plank by its location on the ship,

  • and the name stuck.

  • In fact, head is still a fairly common term

  • for a bathroom on a ship and in other locations.

  • Interestingly, royal navy ships had proper facilities

  • but only for officers.

  • The common sailors had heads just like the pirates.

  • And in bad weather, they probably

  • sometimes used a pot instead of the plank

  • and then just threw the filth overboard later.

  • [SPLASH]

  • Movies like the Pirates of the Caribbean

  • make the pirate life seem like non-stop adventure.

  • But that's just because they leave out all the cleaning.

  • Yep, pirates spent a great deal of their time washing

  • their ships inside and out.

  • Decks had to be scrubbed.

  • Repairs had to be made.

  • And blades and side arms had to be cleaned.

  • Every sailor had assigned chores to carry out.

  • And the work was not easy.

  • There was also periodic maintenance.

  • The same way you have to take your car in for an oil

  • change every so often, every few months, a pirate

  • would have to go find a place to careen their ship.

  • This refers to tilting the ship onto its side allowing

  • the bottom to be scraped with barnacles and mollusks.

  • The process prevented the ship from becoming infected

  • with ship worm, which are also sometimes known

  • as the termites of the sea.

  • As you might have guessed, table manners

  • were not a big priority for pirates.

  • The famous Captain George Roberts

  • once described a pirate crew he witnessed

  • at a meal as "like a Kennel of Hounds,"

  • snatching and catching the victuals from one another.

  • On a ship, foodstuffs had to be resistant to spoiling.

  • So the selection tended to be pretty basic.

  • Dried meats, hard tack, and alcohol were common.

  • But they didn't exactly constitute a balanced diet.

  • Therefore, pirates frequently supplemented

  • those staples with turtles, birds,

  • and whatever other protein sources they might happen upon.

  • A wide variety of items, including garlic, olives, eggs,

  • cabbage, fish, oysters, and even snakes

  • might be thrown together in a stew.

  • Seasoning and spices were also likely to be

  • included in the mix.

  • But they weren't always readily available.

  • The sum total of all this was a diet

  • mostly lacking in nutrients, particularly vitamin C.

  • This led to outbreaks of scurvy.

  • And the effects were extreme.

  • A sea surgeon named William Clowes wrote that "The gums

  • would be 'rotted even to the very roots of their very

  • teeth,' the cheeks become 'hard and swollen,' the breath would

  • become pungent and finally the teeth would loosen and fall

  • out."

  • Well, isn't that a nice visual?

  • [MUSIC PLAYING]

  • On pirate ships and nonpirate ships

  • alike, scurvy was common for centuries.

  • By some estimates, upwards of 2 million sailors

  • died of scurvy between the 15th and 18th centuries alone.

  • An unknown surgeon on a 16th century English ship

  • recorded his own symptoms after contracting the disease.

  • He described rotted gums, which gave out

  • black and putrid blood, and legs that

  • turned black and gangrenous.

  • It was so bad, he was forced to cut away his own skin in order

  • to release this black and foul blood.

  • He also apparently had to cut his gums, which

  • he described as livid and growing over his teeth.

  • When he pulled away the decaying flesh,

  • black blood flowed from his mouth.

  • And if you think the story can't get any worse,

  • then brace yourself, because the next thing he did

  • was rinse his mouth and teeth with the closest thing he

  • had to antiseptic at the time--

  • his own urine.

  • Mm.

  • Did you hear that?

  • Somewhere, R. Kelly just like this video.

  • Anyway, scurvy was bad.

  • But at least it was possible to recover from it.

  • The same couldn't always be said of other conditions,

  • like dysentery.

  • Fluxes and fevers were also common on account