Basque Sailors Never Died From Scurvy

Grace Higgins | 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
  • Dog With Arthritis Gets Special Cart

    A dog named Kaylee loves nothing more than to spend every moment with her family. But now that she is 13 years old, she cannot keep up with them as much as she did when she was a younger dog. Sara Morris, who is Kaylee’s owner, says Kaylee has trouble walking now due to the...

    Read More
  • The Secret Atlantic U-Boat Attacks Of World War II

    On January 13, 1942, German U-boats began their campaign on the Eastern Seaboard of North America, targeting merchant ships and oil tankers. And for the next seven months, they dominated the waters off the East Coast. German U-boat captains loved to be assigned to this region as it was an easy place to rack up...

    Read More
  • Humans Are Not The Only Species That Likes To Get Drunk

    Veterinary doctors around Northern Australia are used to the giant influx of parrots found on the streets being brought in for check-ups periodically throughout the year. They have dubbed it the drunken parrot season. A period of the year when the Red-collared lorikeets decide to get completely intoxicated and tipsy off natural brews. They are...

    Read More
  • Puppy Born With Mustache

    A stray dog, a shepherd mix, and her eleven puppies came to the Dallas Animal Services facility in Texas back in July of 2019. When the mother dog and her litter arrived, the staff noticed there was something unique about these little dogs. All dogs are born with hair on their faces, some even having...

    Read More
  • Broccoli Is A Man-Made Plant And Is Never Found In The Wild

    Ever walked through nature and said wow that's beautiful broccoli growing over there. No, you never have, and never will do. That is because you will simply never find broccoli growing out in the wild. Never has anyone walked through a forest and gazed upon rows of wild broccoli. And the answer lies in its...

    Read More