One of the first things I noticed about the professional sailors aboard the Charles W. Morgan during my leg of the 38th Voyage last month was the diversity of their clothing. This was nowhere more evident than in two particular parts of their wardrobes, their shoes and their "rigs," the leather holsters in which each sailor carries several tools.
I suppose I had assumed that there must be some sort of agreed-upon standard for footwear, the best shoe for shipboard work. In fact, there were as many brands and styles as there were sailors aboard the Morgan. Aaron Gralnick told me that he adopted open shoes several years ago because "feet stink downstairs," and that he hates socks because they're just one more thing to put on when you have to get up and go quickly. The soles of these shoes, he finds, wear about about every two years. Nobody goes barefoot. Despite longstanding myths to the contrary, it seems that sailors in earlier periods also almost always wore shoes. You can read more about early U.S. Navy footwear here.
Before boarding the Morgan, I'd never heard of a "rig" in the context these sailors use the term. Each crewmember wore a belt and a leather holster, in which they carried a knife and a marlinspike. As Aaron Gralnick told me, "My spike is a hammer, a finger, a spike, and a fid. My knife is for so much more than just cutting." Cassie Sleeper carries knife, a marlinspike, sometimes a flashlight or a spoon, and a whistle. "You don't want to find yourself in the water without a whistle," she said. She also has a pair of DeWalt clippers for cutting line in another leather holster. In the case of all of these tools, they are tethered to the belt or rig with a line long enough to allow easy use but not so long that, if dropped, the tool might hit and damage the deck.
Rigs show individuality. Some people decorate their rig with embossed designs or elaborate stitching, and some ships have standard patterns new crewmen can use. Aaron had even heard stories of current sailors seeing someone wearing a certain style of rig and knowing which ship they'd come from.
Thanks to the crew of the Morgan for their hard work during our trip and for providing such fine examples of skilled professionals at work. It was great to watch them operate the ship and to see what they chose to wear while they did so.