Vegetable fibers

Aboard every sailing ship, there was a sail maker/tailor. This tailor's job was to make and repair flags, seal holes in the sails, in the sailor's clothes, and the hole in the bottom of the boat. The tailor would fashion stuffing box 'stopa' material from saved scraps of clothing, old sails and ropes. Out on the high seas, whenever a boat came upon an island, the sailors would disembark to search for food, fresh water, and stopa material. With some luck, the sailors found wild plants of cotton, jute, ramey, linen and hemp. Without luck the sailors returned to the boat with vines, root sprigs, and tree bark. They saved strings from mango seeds, corn shucks, and even the feathers, hair and hides of the animals that they hunted for food. The tailor would take these materials and form threads for sewing. The tailor would weave the threads into patches for the sails. Some threads would be formed into strings and ropes for hanging sails. Other threads and strings would be formed into stopa to seal the rudder shaft. In the port cities, the ship supply agents began selling prepared stopa, formed with linen and cotton lubricated with animal fat and wax, ready to stuff and press into the stuffing box around the rudder shaft. This stopa was resistant to the abrasive rudder shaft and the salty seawater.

Out on the high seas, the sailors would tighten the stopa around the rudder shaft and the friction would hold the tiller steady pointing the boat toward the horizon or a distant star. At times of war, or upon arriving into a port and dock, the sailors would loosen the stopa gland to easily navigate the boat. With the loosened gland, the seawater would enter into the bilge. An apprentice sailor would get a bucket and begin bailing the bilge, hauling the water overboard.

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