The Crew


This humble vessel (or blog for our purposes) has a modest crew of seven (including the Little Admiral!), all of which participate in some manner or another. Collectively each member contributes to whatever project is on the block, be it with creative suggestion, handiwork or accessory hunting. It’s a team effort; a captain couldn’t haul the anchor aboard without enough hands to man the capstan; as such, this project wouldn’t and couldn’t succeed without the collaborative effort of all involved. There is no hierarchy at Man the Capstan—this is a lateral stage where each member holds no more weight than the other. In addition to their unique contributions, all members of the Capstan team will be participating in costume as reproductions are completed.

With that said, the following are the crew members of Man the Capstan.

David W., The Sailing Master

The Sailing MasterThe Sailing Master was tasked with the efficient navigation and sailing of the ship. He would manufacture the course, based on the captain’s instructions, to best arrive at the ship’s intended destination in a safe and timely fashion. As ship’s instruments and charts were not as accurate as they are today, his job tended to be quite difficult—experience at sea was most certainly a prerequisite. The sailing master was often familiar with the waters around the ship’s position; for example, if the Admiralty was sending the vessel to the West Indies station, they would undoubtedly assign a sailing master who was very familiar with those waters.

Dave is a twenty-three year old university graduate from Nova Scotia, Canada. Having studied at the historic Acadia University in Wolfville, Dave was a history major enrolled in a Bachelor of Arts program. Obviously, being a history major, this project presents a certain allure to him, and he has since dedicated a great amount of energy and enthusiasm to it. Undoubtedly a paper or two in his studies focused on the work and research involved in the Man the Capstan reproductions.

Upon the conclusion of his undergraduate degree, Dave is interested in pursuing a career as a public servant with the Government of Canada.

Dave’s contributions to the project, as the History and Communications Director, are chiefly historical research, input, and authentication of the reproductions. Dave also authors and manages the blog-site and all external communications, as well as the acquisition and management of accessories and accoutréments. The Capstan project is very much a family project, and Dave is joined by his father (Steve) and mother (Johanna), both history advocates, and his sister and brother-in-law (Shara and Tim).

Johanna J., The Ship’s Surgeon

Johanna, crewThe Surgeon was tasked with the medical care and maintenance of the ship’s crew. In many cases a ship’s surgeon would have been a pressed butcher, or barber, and would have some experience with knives, blades and other cutting implements. Very rarely would a surgeon have been a physician or other educated man—there was little profit or compensation for a ship’s surgeon. With a capable surgeon, however, and with well-trained surgeon’s mates, a ship’s crew could expect to be kept healthy, hale and in good spirits.

Johanna immigrated to Canada from the Netherlands as an infant, and is no stranger to the rolling of the sea. Passage to Canada was secured with a large passenger ship from Europe; while her immigration may have been similar to the colonials who crossed the Atlantic centuries past, it may be assumed that there were very few if any capstans. Johanna is a retired nurse, having spent over twenty-five years in that chosen profession.

Johanna is the culprit responsible for fostering such enthusiasm in history among her family—as the designated family historian (for both sides of the family), she is no stranger to the past, both distant and near. Such interest in all eras of history made an impression on her children, resulting in her daughter taking an active interest in medieval and historical reenactments, and her son majoring in history in University. She is very much the model of a modern major general mother.

Johanna, as the Lead Tailor and Assembly Director, is chiefly responsible for the assembly of all cloth and outfit reproductions, including the uniforms and lady’s gowns. She also assists in the acquisition and and management of accessories and accoutréments.

Shara J., The Quartermaster

Shara, crewThe Quartermaster or Purser was an important position aboard ship—they were often in charge of all the victuals, ship’s stores, and the ship’s books. They ensured the ship was well stocked with provisions, spare supplies, fresh water, cordage, spars, sailcloth, gunpowder, charges, shot and more. He often had several mates in charge of specific stores, and it would be his job to relay this information to the captain. Unlike on King’s ships, the quartermaster’s authority on pirate vessels nearly rivaled the Captain’s, and in many cases this resulted in vicious power-struggles and mutinies.

Shara is a graphic designer, and is the lead art and creative director for the Capstan team. Having graduated from college in Ontario with honours in graphics design, she brings a unique and valuable set of skills to Man the Capstan.

Shara is happily married to Tim, and lives no more than an hour’s drive from the rest of the Capstan team. Her parents, as they have done with her brother, nurtured her love of history, specifically the chivalry and Romance of the Medieval Ages and the majesty and imperial allure of the age of fighting-sail. As an avid costumer and past reenactor, Shara has no trouble getting involved in the Capstan project, and remains an enthusiastic member of the team.

Shara, as the Art Director and Creative Lead, is responsible for all the art direction on the Capstan project, from graphic and concept art, to imagery and design of the Capstan blog. Shara has engineered all images and art unique to the Man the Capstan project.

Tim N., The Boatswain

Tim, crewThe Boatswain was very much the ship’s supervisor—he would manage many of the ship’s activities and tasks, often while using a rattan rod or cane as an added “incentive”. The boatswain was responsible for the inspection of the ship’s vitals— such as the rigging, sails and anchors—and in making reports to the ship’s captain. The boatswain was also often in charge of administering punishments, on the advice and instruction of the ship’s officers. With the direction of the captain and the sailing master, the boatswain would direct the handling of the vessel’s sails, and would often use a device called the boatswain’s call, a sort of whistle, to achieve this. The boatswain was a fairly influential warrant rank—he was an experienced and respected member of the crew, and invaluable to the necessary discipline required aboard a ship of war.

Tim was born in Ontario, Canada, and it was there that he met his wife, Shara. Tim is employed as a heavy equipment operator—he is the captain of a handsome vessel, a Caterpillar 420D backhoe, and plies his trade on the streets, highways and commercial lots of the city.

Tim is also an avid history enthusiast, with a special interest in maritime history and the age of fighting-sail. Knowing full well the difference between a head and halliard, Tim acts as History Consultant on the Capstan project, as well as the Quality Control Director—he ensures that the greatest care is taken in making this project the best it can be. As boatswain, Tim is also in charge of administering punishment. Fortunately, his rattan cane is on back-order (indefinitely, if fortune favours us).

Stephen W., The Ship’s Carpenter

Steve, crewThe ship’s Carpenter was an incredibly valued member of the crew. He was in charge of the vessel’s wooden components, such as the hull, masts, spars, and yards. The structural integrity of any ship was the responsibility of the carpenter, and his skills, knowledge and ability were sorely tested on a man of war. When in battle, the carpenter was in charge of keeping the ship afloat and in fighting-shape, at his and his crew’s peril. As a highly skilled tradesmen, any competent carpenter was a prized commodity on the sea. The death of the carpenter, by illness or in battle, was a serious blow to the ship’s ability to stay afloat, and the crew’s morale. The ship’s carpenter often had an assistant, the carpenter’s mate, who would be apprenticed as a carpenter (either to be transferred to another ship of war in need of one, or to replace his mentor should he fall in battle).

Stephen, or Steve, was also born in Ontario, but has had the opportunity to live on both the west and east coasts of Canada. He can trace his family line to the coasts of Nova Scotia, where they immigrated to from Yorkshire, England. Many of his ancestors were sailors, either serving as impressed British sailors, navy captains, merchantmen captains or fishermen. Such a salty history is hard to ignore, and it is no surprise that Steve is a bonafide skipper and closer to a captain than anyone else on the Capstan team. He has had the privilege of sailing a vessel in Pacific and Atlantic waters, in addition to the Great Lakes. Steve is also a capable carpenter.

Steve is the husband of Johanna, our Lead Tailor, and the father of Shara and Dave. It is due to his enthusiasm and love of the sea that his children have such an avid interest in everything nautical. Steve also recently retired as a Canadian public servant.

As Event Coordinator and Technical Director, Steve is in charge of the coordination and organisation of any events, outings and public ventures that Man the Capstan pursues. As technical director, Steve’s extensive knowledge and experience in sailing and carpentry make him a valued member of the Capstan project.

Katherine D., The Natural Philosopher

The Natural Philosopher was an intelligent and inquisitive scientific personality of the 18th and 19th century that devoted his or her life to the unveiling of the Earth’s mysteries. Though popularized in Patrick O’Brien’s novels chronicling the adventures of Captain Aubrey and Stephen Maturin, the concept of scientific minds accompanying men-of-war on their journeys across the oceans of the world was far from fictitious. Indeed, on James Cooke’s first voyage from 1768-1771, the bright Sir Joseph Banks accompanied the men of the HMS Endeavour, earning himself a place in history with his numerous scientific discoveries; the investigative minds of Great Britain were a suitable match for the brave captains of His Majesty’s Navy, as the solid wooden ships of England could ferry a natural philosopher to coveted terra incognita. With the requisite wits and ambition an aspiring natural philosopher—with perhaps a bit of luck and a plenty of courage—could also hope to secure a place within history.

Katherine officially joined the Capstan Crew in mid-August, having participated in a Man the Capstan outing that saw four members attend a “19th Century” evening at Nova Scotia’s historic Prescott House. The group’s resident scientist, however, is no stranger to the activities of the Capstan Crew, having followed their course for a couple of years, and having also joined them in a past outing to the lovely Sherbrooke Village.

A university alumni like Dave, Katherine majored in environmental sciences, though emerged from her schooling with a special interest and affinity for entomology (reasonable parallels may be drawn with the illustrious Stephen Maturin of the Surprise). Katherine shares many similarities with her fellow crew-members, possessing a sharp and calculating mind and a passion for Maritime history and reenactment.

William S., The Little Admiral

William SChildren were often found aboard a man-of-war—they could serve as young “gentlemen”, appointed by the Admiralty to learn the craft and trade of a sailor, and who would soon become midshipmen in His Majesty’s Navy, or they could fill the more mundane role as powder monkey, a dangerous occupation of rushing powder charges to and from the grand magazine for the crews at the great-guns. Powder monkeys were, more often than not, children of no great lineage, and in many cases were either the prodigy of poorer, lower-class families, or perhaps even orphans. Many of the higher-class children serving aboard men-of-war (such as the midshipmen alluded to above) often became powerful captains and admirals in the Royal Navy. Though the Navy was very much an “equal opportunity” service (and I use that term very lightly), those servicemen who had connections with those in the Admiralty often scaled the lists in a far more expedient manner.

In January 2009, William S. joined the Crew’s company, having been honoured with rank of Admiral (and by virtue of his stature, going by the honourific Little). William will be well over six months old during Tall Ships 2009, and will gallantly lead the members of Man the Capstan as they ply to-and-fro from ship to ship.

Honourary Members of the Crew

Here at Man the Capstan, we’ve decided that any friends or family members passing through may be inducted into the Crew as “honourary members”, if they decide to get dressed up in one of our dresses or uniforms. Let’s face it—it’s fun to get in costume, whatever the circumstances, and have a picture taken! With relatives visiting from British Columbia (See the By Jove! Updates?! post), we have our first two honourary members!

Sjoukje H., The Dowager Duchess

The Dowager DuchessMany women of the 18th and 19th centuries were powerful and influential among the social circles of Great Britain, with some having been endowed with stately fortunes from their husbands and their own families. Elderly women of great distinction, wealth and social influence were often referred to as a dowager, i.e. the dowager duchess, or the queen dowager. These women were respected, admired, and sometimes feared by their contemporaries as women of influence and great social mobility.

Sjoukje traces her lineage to the Netherlands, where she immigrated from in the late 1950s to Canada. Her husband and family eventually settled in western Canada, though they moved frequently from one municipality to another. Sjoukje is the mother of Johanna J., the lead tailor here at Man the Capstan. Thus, the legacy of the Dutch, and the history of the Netherlands, is important to this family (and especially so, as Tim N. is half-Dutch as well). In the period where Man the Capstan is set, the Dutch lived in tumultuous times. Indeed, the long-standing Dutch Republic, established in 1581, crumbled in 1795 with the creation of the Batavian Republic. The stadtholder, William V of Orange, fled to England. The Batavian Republic was the result of a popular movement to revolutionize the Netherlands in imitation of the French Republic, established just a few years before.

This new Republic did not last long, however; in 1806 the French under Bonaparte compelled the Dutch to accept his brother, Louis, as the monarch. Until 1810, the Netherlands was known as the Kingdom of Holland. Louis, however, turned out to be more of an ally to the ethnic Dutch than his brother Napoleon anticipated; the Kingdom was annexed by Bonaparte after Louis pursued policies that benefited the Dutch over the French.

Finally, in 1815, the Congress of Vienna, in the aftermath of Bonaparte’s empire, created the United Kingdom of the Netherlands. Indeed, the past 25 years for any Dutch national would have been confusing and dangerous. The face of the Netherlands would look very different today if not for the dissolution of Bonparte’s empire, and the efforts of those who resisted him should indeed be celebrated.

Miranda W., the Traveller

crew_mirandaIn the height of the Napoleonic Wars, it was dangerous to travel outside of the British Isles to her possessions overseas—but it did happen, on occasion, and indeed many military men would bring their wives and families along with them. If, say, an Admiral or Captain of some distinction was being posted to the North American station, he may wish to bring his wife along with him (especially if that posting required him remaining there for three to five years). These wives and children may embark to such a posting with that Admiral or Captain, but in some cases they would take separate passage on a faster vessel, a packet for example, or even on an East Indiaman. And in some rare instances, these women were single, travelling aboard these vessels in the spirit of exploration and discovery.

Miranda, Shara and Dave are all cousins, sharing Sjoukje as their grandmother. Miranda and her family hail from western Canada, along with many members of Johanna’s immediate family; Johanna and Steve are aunt and uncle to Miranda. During her stay in Nova Scotia in April of 2009, Miranda was able to try on both the English Rose and Passage to India (in which she is pictured), inducting herself into the Man the Capstan honourary crew. Miranda is fully Dutch, with her father sharing Sjoukje’s lineage, and her mother also hailing from the Netherlands. Her history, if placed within the period of the early 19th century, would be very similar to Sjoukje’s—politically dynamic, dangerous and rife with conflict. It would be no surprise, then, that a young lady of some distinction would desire to disembark from the French-controlled Netherlands, to perhaps see more of the world outside of Bonaparte’s influence.



One thought on “The Crew

  1. Hope you all had a great time in Halifax.
    The ” The Tall Ships ” event !

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