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Trapped On Board Ship

Brief trips ashore were the ultimate reward for sailors of the New Steel Navy. But despite the fact that ships of the period spent most of their time anchored in port, liberty was rarely granted. It was generally accepted that liberty was to be tightly controlled, and used as an incentive for discipline. Regulations mandated at least one liberty every three months per sailor, and the worst behaved sailors were allowed only this minimum. Thus, the most common form of interaction with locals was on board ship, when small craft loaded with vendors selling goods — known as bumboats — came alongside. A typical vendor is seen here on board the cruiser USS Baltimore, while visiting Morocco in 1904.

Local Spectacles

When sailors did get the chance to go ashore, they made the most of it. The cliche of drunken, rowdy sailors in a foreign port is not a creation of myth. With time ashore being so rare, and life at sea so grueling, sailors used liberty to vent their frustrations. Sailor Frederick Wilson, granted leave in Japan in 1900, wrote:

Oh, how we longed for liberty, which was so slow in coming. You who can put on your coat and hat and go where you please, where fancy pleases, don't know what freedom means. I resolved this time, being so long on board, to get a good jag on when I got ashore, not knowing when liberty would come again.

Sailors on liberty ate enormous meals, drank large quantities of alcohol, and paid visits to brothels. They also played the role of sightseers. In this photo, sailors of the Great White Fleet line the stands and roof of a bullfighting arena in Lima, Peru, during a stop in their worldwide cruise.

Ancient Wonders

One of the age-old appeals of life as a sailor is the chance to see the world. As the United States assured its place on the world stage during this era, the reach of the Navy was expanded. This afforded its sailors the chance to visit the natural and man-made wonders of locales across the world. Shown here are sailors of the Great White Fleet posing astride camels, in front of the Great Pyramids of Egypt.

On Asiatic Station

With the growth of Western colonialism in the Pacific, there was a strong Navy presence on what was known as Asiatic Station. Sailors had the chance to visit ports in Japan, China, and the Pacific islands, interacting with people from cultures dramatically different than their own. In this photo, sailors on leave in China in 1908 pose in a rickshaw with a local man who does not seem pleased to be having his picture taken.

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