Eight Bells of the First Watch (Mac Baren Navy Flake in a Vintage Parker Billiard Military Mount)

2014-08-16 00.01.03

Ever since the 16th century, ships have been marking time with the use of a bell.  Since the time before the Napoleonic wars, the British Royal Navy adopted a standard system of bells and watches.  Ships watches are divided into six, 4 hour segments.  Or rather, five, 4 hour segments and two, two-hour “dog” watches.

Ships time begins at 8:00 PM, which corresponds to eight bells of the second “dog” watch.  Then the watches are; first watch (8:00 PM to midnight), middle, or midnight, watch (midnight to 4:00 AM), morning watch (4:00 AM to 8:00 AM), forenoon watch (8:00 AM to noon), afternoon watch (noon to 4:00 PM), first “dog” watch (4:00 PM to 6:00 PM), second “dog” watch (6:00 PM to 8:00 PM) and finally first watch again.  On ships your duty station often keeps you for three watches, the nightwatch from 8:00 PM to 8:00 AM and the day watch from 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM.

Bells ring out, at a minimum, every half hour aboard a ship, so you soon learned to tune out those bells which are meaningless to you, but become keenly aware of those bells important to your station.

When I served aboard the HMCS Algonquin in the mid-eighties under Skipper, Commander Nadeau, my first smoke break was eight bells of the first watch (midnight).

I think I mentioned before that I’ve smoked a pipe since the early eighties, and even in the mid-eighties you could not smoke at your duty stations in the navy.  So, eight bells of the first watch was my first break to smoke my pipe since my duty station began 4 hours before.

So, coincidentally, I find myself ready to light up my pipe and do this review at eight bells of the first watch, midnight.  My wife and my hubby are just getting ready to go to bed and I open up to tin to load my pipe.  I was immediately greeted by the warm smell of the fermented tobacco sweetened by an obvious rum casing and something that reminded me of, and I later confirmed, honey.

Being a fan of the fold and stuff method, I immediately set out to cram a flake into my Parker military mount, that I recently acquired from Val Shannahan, and strike up a tinder.

As is my habit, as I smoked the pipe I read various reviews and information on the tobacco itself, and I got this from the Mac Baren web site at www.mac-baren.com;


From the moment Navy Flake first appeared on tobacconists’ shelves, pipe smokers everywhere have shown their appreciation of this mixture. There are many reasons why Navy Flake has become a true Mac Baren classic since then. When Navy Flake was developed in 1965, much work went into the composition of the raw tobaccos. Selections of Burley tobacco were made from our extensive stocks and after countless tests the right Burley content was found. Similarly, tests were then carried out on Virginia tobacco. Different qualities of Virginia tobacco were selected and test smoked. Finally, a handful of these were selected for inclusion in the blend. Once the right basic tobaccos had been found, a final important element was added to the mixture: a small measure of original Mac Baren Cavendish was added, and it is this which gives Navy Flake its full body.

The production process starts like any flake tobacco. The selected tobaccos are mixed and then pressed in a large tobacco press. Patience was to prove a virtue, as the pressed tobacco had to be left under pressure for at least 30 days. Having to wait so long before tasting the finished tobacco proved to be a challenge in itself, but a top quality flake takes time to produce. Without this process the tobacco would not develop properly – which would be apparent in the taste. Therefore everyone had to remain patient and await the final result.

Once the 30 days had passed, there was a thrill of anticipation as the pressed tobacco block was carefully cut into 1.4 mm thick slices – so-called flakes. The appearance of the tobacco was as expected, but what about the taste? Pipes were filled and lit, and for a few minutes there was complete silence. Everyone was concentrating on the new tobacco. After a short while the smiles began to appear. The blend had passed its first test and the taste was as it should be: slightly aromatic and full-bodied.

What the tobacco masters did not know at the time was that they had just created a Mac Baren classic.

The composition of the tobacco itself is one of Virginia, Burley, and Cavendish and is presented in very beautiful, evenly cut, evenly mottled flakes.

It is not too moist, and loads readily into the bowl of my pipe, and lights with a promised ease the online reviews would have you believe.

They say smell is the strongest nostalgic memory trigger, and smoking this pipe, I am immediately brought back to the deck of the Algonquin in the south Pacific.  I don’t know if I ever had a chance to sample Mac-Baren Navy Flake back in my navy days, but I know that at one bell of the midnight watch, which is what time it was when I finished the pipe, I’d have seriously liked this tobacco to get me through the next watch.

It tastes fantastic, is strong enough to give you a good kick, lights and burns easily, and leaves you feeling completely sated, ready for your next watch.

You can get this great blend at pipesandcigars.com and smokingpipes.com for about $13.35 USD for a 3.5 oz tin. Pipesandcigars.com also sells a 16 oz box for $43.89 USD.

Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em!

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