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Ether Ship Etiquette

A Guide to Interplanetary Ether Ship Etiquette, or Getting There is Half the Fun

by Greg Novak

A Journey To Mars In 70 Days

To anyone planning to ship a party off to Mars, it may come as a shock to learn that it takes 70 to 90 days to make the trip. The average time needed to travel to Mars runs in the range of 80 days for the average liner. The restriction of a small area which the average interplanetary liner has to offer for such an extended length of time caused some problems on the early voyages of these vessels. To avoid future difficulties of a similar type, the companies involved in operating the liners to Mars have evolved an etiquette system that, in itself, provides some interesting background on this period.

The following is a guide to interplanetary ether ship etiquette and uses the trip of the Cunard liner RMS Servia to serve as an example of what a typical passage to Mars would be like to the passengers and crew involved.

See the map of the HMS Majestic, a ship nearly identical to the Servia. The Majestic has doors on both sides of its staterooms, a feature the Servia does not have.

The RMS Servia will depart from the London docks on January 24th, 1889, and to those in the know the ship's name alone gives two important facts. First, the fact that the ship's name ends in "ia" indicates that it is owned and managed by the Cunard line. (Other Cunard liners include the Laconia, Caronia, and Carmania, while the rival White Star liners' names end in "ic" ‹- the Adriatic, Oceanic, Olympic, Majestic, etc.) Second, the letters RMS stand for Royal Mail Ship, which means the vessel was built with the direct support, both in terms of financial aid and planning, of the British government. Thus, one can be assured of a safe voyage in good hands.

Three types of people fill interplanetary ether flyers: crewmen, steerage-class passengers, and first-class passengers.

1. Below are the typical crewmen found on a passenger liner, using the RMS Servia as an example.

Passenger Liner Crewmen

Deck Division


1 captain
1 first officer
1 second officer
1 third officer

Engine Room


1 chief engineer
1 asst. engineer

Petty Officers

3 bosuns (trimsmen)
3 machinist's mates


3 oilers

Passenger Service


1 purser


3 cooks
6 stewards

The liner runs on Greenwich Mean Time, so that London time is kept during the voyage. The crew is divided into three watches: Each has an officer to serve as helmsman, a bosun as trimsman, and a machinist's mate and oiler as engine room crew. The captain, purser, and engineering officers do not stand watches as such, but are on-call at all hours. The first officer and captain are responsible for navigation, and take turns at computing the ship's location to reduce the chance of error. The cooks and stewards do not serve watches as such, but are assigned to duty as needed. Medical services are usually provided by the purser. The ship's day starts at 1200.

Typical Ship's Day

	Time		Activity
	1200-1600	First (afternoon) watch
	1600-1800	First dogwatch
	1800-2000	Second dogwatch
	2000-0000	Third (evening) watch
	0000-0400	Fourth (midwatch) watch
	0400-0800	Fifth (morning) watch
	0800-1200	Sixth (day) watch

The seven-watch system is not really needed in ether travel, as it is always daylight, but has been kept because it allows the crewmen a chance to rotate duties throughout the voyage and allows the ship's crew to eat one major meal per day. While the food is served nearly around the clock, the supper meal is considered to be the major meal of the day by the crew, and the dogwatch system allows all crewmen to take part within a reasonable length of time. In addition, without the dogwatch system, those crewmen and officers attached to the night watches would remain on those duties for the entire voyage, which in the case of the officers, limits their contact with the passengers on-board.

The watch system works as follows: Those crewmen serving the first watch have the following two watches off duty, and return to stations for the third (evening) watch. They are then off duty from 0000 to 0800, and end up their day on duty for the sixth (day) watch. On the following day, they are not on duty until the second dogwatch, then are off from 2000 to 0400, when they turn to and serve the fifth (morning) watch. While this seems complex to the passenger, to the ship's crewman it is old hat by the time he reports on-board an ether flyer, and to him represents an equal sharing of the load by all involved on-board.

Voyages usually start at 1000 and arrive at their destination at 1000. The vessel's basic construction is designed to use remote-control shutters to control the daylight on the passenger decks in such a way as to duplicate the average day on Earth. Thus on-board, dawn "breaks" at 0600, and darkness sets in at 2000. While to the deck and engineering crews day and night are of little importance, to the passenger service crewmen this use of London time is all-important as they carry out their duties.

The crew quarters for all crewmen, except for the captain, are very cramped, as usually all officers but the captain must share quarters with another officer, while the petty officers and crewmen use hammocks in place of bunks due to a lack of space. However, pay for a voyage runs two to three times that of a similar position on the transatlantic run, and leave between voyages is generous. As a result, vacancies do not exist, as there is a waiting list for all positions on-board. All crewmen and officers are members of the Royal Navy Reserve, and come to their posts well trained and experienced.

The RMS Servia does not carry any armament per se, although all officers have light revolvers as part of their personal equipment. There is an arms locker on the officers' deck outside the captain's cabin. Chained within are 12 naval cutlasses, six Colt revolvers, eight Martini-Henry rifles, and four Winchester repeating shotguns. There are 50 rounds of ammunition per revolver, 200 rounds per rifle, and 100 rounds per shotgun. This case is kept locked at all times, with only three existing keys to the lock. The captain carries one at all times; the duty officer carries one with him; and a third key is hidden in a location known only to the three senior officers: the captain, the first officer, and the chief engineer.

The weapons are carried for a two-fold purpose: first, in case the vessel is forced down on a hostile part of Mars (or Earth, for that matter) due to engine failure or similar problems; and second, a more important reason in the minds of the ship's crew (although rarely told to passengers and the public), to help prevent any takeover of the vessel by its passengers. As interplanetary ether flyers can land in just about any location, one fear of the British government and the different shipping lines is that a group of anarchists or Fenians might wish to seize a liner to use for their own purposes. Several plots have been foiled already, and this fear remains in the minds of all crews making the run to Mars. (All weapons which are owned by passengers are locked in the cargo hold for the duration of the voyage, except for those sidearms carried by serving military off leers.)

2. This fear brings into focus the second group of people found on such a vessel, those travelling steerage class. Steerage class on an interplanetary ether flyer exists because the subsidy paid to the different shipping lines is due in part to the fact that these vessels can be taken over and used as troop ships as needed by the British government. Each liner of the RMS Servia class can hold, in theory, an 80-man company of troops, as long as no other passengers are taken along. (The RMS Servia's sister ship, the Arabia, carried a company of the Black Watch to Mars back in 1886 as a test of the ship's transport capacity.

The company sergeant major compared the trip to the normal voyage out to India, with the disadvantage that there was far less room to move about on-board the Arabia, but the advantage that it was not as "bloomin' 'ot."

Up to 20 passengers can be carried in the steerage section, with the British government being the major user of this means of travel. While complete units are sent off to Mars in military transports and on-board naval warships, the need for replacement specialists to arrive causes the War Department and Admiralty to send small drafts of men from time to time. Likewise, those specialist workers needed on Mars by the different government offices (i.e., electricians, shipbuilders, etc.) are sent off in steerage.

To supplement these, one finds those men and women who are off to the red planet on a low budget in search of wealth and adventure. And this last group of individuals has, in the past, included elements such as Fenians and anarchists who have made attempts to seize the liner on which they were travelling.

Travelling steerage class is an experience in itself, as the passengers are limited to the steerage deck and the greenhouse deck above it. Meals are sent aft from the kitchen three times a day (0600, breakfast; 1200, dinner; and 1800, supper) and served in the common room in which all steerage passengers live, regardless of gender. While two separate washrooms (heads) exist for the basic needs of those travellers, the ability to take a bath is extremely limited on any voyage when both sexes are present on the steerage deck. (On male-only voyages, a washtub can be set up in the middle of the deck.) Privacy is not an element found in the steerage deck.

The steerage deck can be sealed off from the rest of the ship by use of the ship's bulkhead system. While parts of the rest of the ship can be sealed off by the same system for damage control, the steerage area can be closed by remote control from the bridge for security reasons and connot be opened except by the controls from the bridge. No system of manual override exists for opening the bulkheads in this area of the ship.

The steerage passenger list on this trip of the RMS Servia includes the following passengers (with 18 steerage passengers on-board, the RMS Servia has close to a full load).

Steerage Passenger List

War Office Travel Warrant

Sergeant Joshua Oliver RE (Royal Engineers)

Government Warrant

Harry Hansom, shipbuilder
lan Robinson, shipbuilder
Alex Stewart, shipbuilder

Admiralty Travel Warrant

Chief Petty Officer Michael Smith
Gunner's Mate David (Dusty) Rhodes
Gunner's Mate Alex Unroe
Machinist's Mate Eric McKenzie
Machinist's Mate lan McGregor
Seaman Bertie Brown

Purchased Passage

Mary Martin
Abby Green
Bessie Johnson
Klaus Kliest
Helmut Rommel
Kerry Conolly
Michael Collins
Patrick O'Flynn

3. The third group found on a liner like RMS Servia is the first-class passenger. The first-class fare on RMS Servia of £60 translates into a fare of $300 -- at a time when the average wage earner in the United States is being paid from $1 to $2 a day for a 12-hour day. Travel to Mars first-class is worth that both in cost as well as in experience. The RMS Servia has 10 firstclass compartments, lettered A through J. Compartments A, B, C, D, and E open to the starboard promenade, which is known as the "Ladies' way." Staterooms F, G, H, I, and J open to the Port Promenade, which is known as the "Bachelors' Walk." (Stateroom J is not always rented, as on some voyages the purser and a junior deck officer berth here, thus allowing the first officer and chief engineer their own private cabin.) Staterooms are divided in this manner to better provide the services expected by passengers who are travelling first class. Single ladies are berthed first in cabins A, B, and C, followed by married couples in D and E. Single men are berthed in the remaining cabins, with the result that on the average voyage the port promenade (Bachelors' walk) holds males only, while the starboard side is a mixture of representatives of both of the genders.

While basic sanitary facilities are found in the cabins for the occupants, better facilities are found at the head of each passage, with the men's washroom on the port side, and the ladies' on hte starboard side. There one may find bathing facilities and, in the case of the men's washroom, a barber chair and steward for such duties as shaving or hair trimming. To allow for the best possible use of these facilities, at set hours dunng the voyage the vessel goes into "purdah." During purdah hours, portable screens are set up in several places to block off the vessel into two sections. The stewards place two sets of screens on the Ladies' Way, the first between the single ladies and the married couples' territory, and the second between the married couples and single men's territory. The doorways into the private dining room and the Ladies' Way are locked, and one additional screen is placed on the stairway leading down from the officers' territory. The area enclosed within this section is considered off-limits to all males, though the screen arrangement at the married couples' end of the Ladies' Way will allow the married men the ability to reach their cabins, as long as they do not mind having to go through the steerage area of the ship to reach the aft end of the passage. The closure of the private dining room during the purdah hours allows this area to be used as a ladles' lounge, in the same manner as the library is used by the men.

For the men on-board, the billiard room, library, and Bachelors' Walk are likewise reserved for male use only during the purdah hours. Those male passengers who are married, or whose cabins are found on the Ladies' Way, can usually be found during purdah hours in the library or billiard room. (It should be pointed out that no woman who wished to keep her reputation would ever be found in the bar, library, or billiard room on shipboard, but some exceptions have occurred.) The vessel's dining room and gallery remain open during this time, and serve as a neutral ground in which meetings and classes may be held by passengers in mixed company.

Purdah hours are usually morning (0600-0800), midday (1000-1600), and evening (1800-2000).

In addition to the purdah hours, the meal times regulate life on-board the RMS Servia. Four meals are served per day on the following basis for first-class passengers. Breakfast and tea are considered minor meals, which can be served in one's cabin if a passenger wishes, while for dinner and supper all first-class passengers meet in the dining room. Breakfast is served in the dining room from 0800-0900 and is available from cabin service from 0900-1000. Luncheon is served in the dining room only, from 1200-1400. Tea is served in the dining room from 1600-1700 and is available from cabin service from 1600-1800. Dinner is served in the dining room only, from 2000-2200 (formal dress is considered mandatory for supper‹ uniforms or black tie for gentlemen, evening dress for ladies).

Dinner and luncheon are both multicourse meals, and attendance in mandatory attire is considered socially correct, although no actual punishment occurs to someone who misses H one of these meals without good cause. The purser is responsible for seating arrangements and makes every effort to move I people about to prevent the formation of cliques.

The bar is open to serve drinks Monday through Thursday from 1300-2000 and from 2200-2400; Friday and Saturday from 1300-2000 and from 2200-0200; and Sunday from 1600-2000 and from 2200-0000. While the male passengers are free to take their drinks in the bar, a steward will deliver drinks to the library or billiard room, or, in the case of the ladies, to the dining room or the gallery.

The hours at which the meals are served, as well as the times the bar is open, help regulate the times that everyone on-board is together. The rituals of purdah and the watch system act upon this to break up the interaction between the ship's company and passengers, as the watch system means that an officer will only be present at any given meal once every three days (except the captain), while purdah means the ladies and men are not together all the time. Often classes in Martian languages are conducted en route, or passengers may entertain the crew with lectures and other amusements. Card games are popular, although gambling is not allowed for high stakes. Several of the stewards can play musical instruments and can function as a band if needed, and from time to time passengers have organized amateur shows with their help. An important part of every Sunday is the church service (Church of England) held by the ship's captain in the gallery between 1000 and 1200.

First-Class Passenger List

Ladies' Way

Cabin Occupants Notes
A Miss Emily Johnson and her maid Miss Johnson is a noted London dance hall performer
B Miss Katriana Wolff and her maid Miss Wolff is author of Canal Life of the Martians
C Mr. and Mrs. Robert Grant First Secretary of the Boreosyrtis League British Legation
D Dr. and Mrs. Alan Hay Royal Medical Corps (major)
E Henri LaBorquet and his manservant French Merchant

Bachelors' Walk

CabinOccupants Notes
FMr. Robert Burke and Mr. Richard Thornburn American Merchants
GCpt. Michael Smyth and Lt. Harold Jones Royal Engineers and Royal Artillery, respectively
HCameron Robinson and his manservant Gentleman companion for Miss Wolff
I Baron Hans von Schmidt and Thomas von PrinceMajor, Guard Jaeger Battalion, and captain, Guard Fusilier Battalion, respectively, both of the Imperial German Army
J Sub-Lt. Ian Gordon and Sub-Lt. John Masters Royal Highland Regiment (Black Watch), and Rifle Brigade, respectively

A "crossing the line" ceremony is held halfway to Mars. "Winged Martians" ind uct those who have not yet crossed the line. Merriment and practical jokes abound. And those who already crossed the line are put through various ordeals.

One interesting group of people found on-board in first class are servants, maids, and batmen, though their social class does not allow them to travel in first class on their own. As it would not be proper or fitting for them to travel in steerage, they are berthed in first class, but dine in the gallery or the kitchen. They are welcome guests in the crew's quarters and even steerage, and are known to help out with the job of keeping the first class passengers, especially their employers, happy. (It has been suggested that they as a general rule have a more enjoyable voyage out than their employers due to their freedom to roam the vessel.)

Because of the lack of gravity during the voyage, certain steps must be taken to preserve decorum. All passengers are required to wear shoes fitted with magnetic soles (the steamship line makes these available at reasonable rates, but passengers of breeding prefer to have theirs custom-made). Practically everything on the ship is either magnetized or designed in such a way as to remain fastened in place. Loose objects present a hazard, and the ship's crew collects and deals with them. Gentlemen are required to keep control of their hats, canes, and other loose personal items by whatever means they find most convenient (hats are usually dispensed with).

Clothing presents particular problems in the lack of gravity. Gentlemens' coattails tend to float about in a most comical manner if they are not properly secured, but a few strategicalIy placed hooks, buttons or magnetic fasteners solve this problem. Ladies' skirts tend to fly about in a most improper manner if not secured in some way, also. A number of unique costumes have been designed to solve this problem (of which the most famous is the bloomer-like shipboard costume worn by certain members of the fast set), and some libertines actually have gone so far as to wear trousers! People of breeding, however, make use of more conventional solutions. Most women simply have a number of small and inconspicuous magnets sewn into their hems, which are attracted towards the deck, and keep everything in its proper place. In steerage, passengers sometimes dispense with such restraints, and the high jinks and rough sport which take place belowdecks are legendary. A number of variations on popular games are played in steerage, especially when there are few passengers and is, therefore, room for such activities.

What To Do With This Information

If you need to send your characters to Mars, consider the RMS Servia. Just bump from the passenger list anyone you need to displace. Consider the following en route adventures.

Posted Monday, 04-May-2009 19:52:01 EDT

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