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Pine tar was used as a waterproofing material on shipboard during the Age of Sail. The natural fibers from which line was made was vulnerable to mildew and rot if allowed to become wet. Brushing on progressive coats of pine tar would cause the line to absorb the tar and, thus, repel water. Over time, the tar would work out of the line and need to be replaced, so tarring the rigging was a regular task, like painting the vessel.

In great heat, as often described in the Canon, the tar would become more fluid and drip from the rigging. This created a mess of the deck below, as well as anyone who happened to be standing beneath it. It also left the rigging vulnerable and needed to be replaced.

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