The Glass, Bells and Watches

The Glass, Bells and Watches: The sand in the glass timer ran through in 30 minutes. The officer of the watch turned the glass as its last grain of sand emptied out, thus keeping time as accurately as possible. A naval day was divided into eight segments called watches: five of four hours each and two of two hours each, called the dog-watches. O’Brian has Stephen Maturin say that these shortened watches are called Dog-watches, because they are curtailed, a pun which, according to Dean King, was first used by Smyth’s Sailor’s Word-Book (1867).

Dog-watches ensured that everyone stood watch at night, over a period of two days. During each watch, the bell was struck every half hour: four pairs of two gongs at noon, hence eight bells. At 12:30 it was struck once, twice at 13:00, three times at 13:30, four times at 14:00 and so on to eight bells at 16:00 when the watch would change and the other half of the crew would take their next stint. Thus the men slept for four hours at most, in any one stretch. Given that ‘all hands’ would be roused for some maneuvers, that eating and other duties required time, the hands seldom slept for more than a few hours while off duty. To ensure that the time was maintained accurately, the ship’s clock was set at noon each day, when the angle of the sun was measured to determine local noon. See the section on GPS, in the Chapter Notes.
The first photo below is of the USS Constitution’s bell, and is followed by a photo of the Cutty Sark’s bell.
USS Constitution - ships bell Ships Bell

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