Some could be bought, but the young sailors make many of the tools themselves, and they pour their hearts and souls into it. On the next voyage, when meeting a new master and ship’s company, both tools and ditty bag serves as a reference. With your handicraft you show what you are good for.
Hard work according to the ship’s rhythm
Holger Stolzman’s tassled canvas bag contains the tools he made himself and used during two round-the-world voyages on board Pommern in the 1930s. His work sailmaker’s glove. An awl. A couple of marline spikes… Once upon a time, he tossed his bag across his shoulder, went aloft and got the jobs done.
For many young men, life at sea were equal parts dream, escape and a chance to get a profession. The ambition was to train to become a mate or master. But on the first voyage most of them were only teenagers. For them it was important to quickly prove you could handle everything from the biggest sledgehammer to the smallest needle.
Tools had to fit perfectly in the hand, but a lot of time was also spent on making them beautiful to look at. Just like the ditty bags, that were decorated with macramé and tassels. One’s handiwork was a way of proving oneself as able and thorough.