• Mark S. Cookman

20 Things the Lookout Spots from High Above


We continue our week focused on sailing with a look at the lookout high in the crows nest. We're going to examine how far the lookout can actually see, what he does besides just looking ahead for the ship, and why he's often a target of the enemy. Oh, and of course there will be a list of 20 things at the end, as promised by the title. Let's get started.

First of all, a lookout can only see as far as the visibility of the air will let her/him see. If there is a mist or a light fog, then you may not be able to see more than a mile or so. A moderate fog would cut that distance down to the point that reducing sail and moving slowly and cautiously would be required. Ships don't generally sail in a heavy fog.

Secondly, assuming the skies are clear and visibility is 100%, a lookout can only see about 1 and 1/3 miles at sea level before the curvature of the earth starts limiting what can be seen. The basic formula for figuring out how far one can see is to multiply the square root of the height of the crows nest of the deck (100' = 10 which is about right for a sloop of war) by 1.32. The resulting number will be the number of miles that the lookout can see to the water. Keep in mind that he/she might see only the tops of masts of a ship a little farther out. I would explain all of the math, but I'm terrible at that sort of thing. It'd be best for you to check out Pennsylvania Jack's Page for the full scientific-like explanation. ; )

The lookout is responsible for much more than just watching for other ships and land, however. The lookout can see the entire ship from a different perspective, he may be able to spot potential problems and call out corrections for the rigging that others would fail to see. In addition to this, he is responsible for raising and lowering the flags for communication both with unknown ships and with ships in your own fleet. Finally, the lookout was often a sniper with a keen eye and a steady hand. This last trait is why the lookout is often a target of the enemy in battle.

As always, the 20 items listed below are far from an exhaustive list and are primarily meant as suggestions to encourage your own creative thoughts. Here are 20 Things the Lookout Spots from High Above. Happy Gaming!

  1. The smoke, flame, and ash cloud from a volcanic eruption on an island maybe 50 miles away.

  2. A battle between two enemy ships perhaps 10 miles away. It will be over before you get there, but you could still check it out.

  3. A vast undersea creature swimming just below the ship.

  4. A pair of shipwreck survivors, floating along without hope, on a make-shift raft.

  5. A pod of Right Whales so large that it stretches as far as the lookout can see towards the horizon to port.

  6. The signal fire denoting danger from a small settlement almost 20 miles away or so. It is being raided by pirates; if you get there quick enough you might trap their ship in the bay.

  7. A large and mysterious fog bank moving off the starboard bow at about 7 miles out.

  8. A ghost ship that sails across the water and then up into the clouds, while on night watch. There is a slight possibilty you may have fallen asleep, but no one need know that.

  9. Floating wreckage and dead bodies dead ahead! The remains from some recent attack. There may be some treasure or much needed simple supplies here (rope, wood, sails, pitch, etc).

  10. A small, uncharted island lies 12 miles off to port. There are signs of some sort of settlement.

  11. The reason why the bosun's mate always wins the big pots; he and Deaf Tommy are working together. Why those cheatin' barsturds. . .

  12. The bosun needs to know to ease the jib lines because the bowsprit is developing a crack. The captain (or officer of the watch) must also be notified of the developing crack so that it may be entered into the log and addressed.

  13. Numerous underwater attackers have swum up from below close to the ship. As they break the surface, you realize they are amphibious and that they intend to take your ship.

  14. A multi-colored feathered serpent flies above and behind the ship; it's not a place you usually look, so you are unsure how long it's been there.

  15. The flash of a spyglass aimed at your ship from somewhere close by. Near enough that you should be able to see people, but there's nothing there but the quiet, night air. Something is VERY WRONG. The captain must be made aware of the situation immediately.

  16. A three mile stretch along a little-known coral reef that is littered with shipwrecks of various sizes and types. Some that lie less than 50 below the water.

  17. The signal flags from another ship that is sailing towards you. They want you to indentify yourselves and express your purpose for coming into this area.

  18. You've got to be seeing things. If not, then the ship is about to be attacked by some vast underwater monstrosity that looks like a cross between a shark and a squid. Let's hope that it's just heat stroke.

  19. A flock of seagulls just flew over and did their business all over you. Damned dirty birds. . .

  20. An emergency signal flag on a high tower warns that it's not safe to come near the Pirate Isles right now, so you'll have to cool your heels for at least a few days before heading home.

#dmadvice #rpg #pirates #DnD #dnd #gmadvice #pirate

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