When I wrote about Barefoot Sailors, the example I used was the Spanish-American war (during the blockade of Cuba). It really only showed those sailors doing their exercises on deck in bare feet.
But what about real sailing (as opposed to powered) ships?
Well, those sailors when barefoot, too.
For instance, in Under Sail, by Felix Riesenberg (1918), he talks of being on a clipper ship:
Of course we always went barefoot, except in real cold weather, and on the clean decks of a ship, this has much to recommend it. On the St. Mary’s the order to go barefoot was always given when at sea during warm weather, and on the Fuller I found that all hands forward did this as a rule. How beautifully simple it makes things cannot be imagined, except by those who are luck enough to be able to look back at barefoot boyhood days.
There is also a description in The Memoirs of Admiral Lord Charles Beresford (1914):
In my early days, the small-arms companies used to drill with bare feet. Indeed, boots were never worn on board. It was of course impossible to wear boots going aloft, for a sailor going aloft in boots would injure the heads and hands of his topmates. Occasionally the midshipmen went aloft barefooted like the men. So indurated did the feet of the sailors become, that they were unable to wear boots without discomfort, and often carried them when they were ashore.
I’m not surprised that their feet became well callused from climbing on those ropes. Isn’t it amazing what feet adapt to?
The men who particularly went barefoot were the “topmen”, who tended the tops’l. One can find references to this in a lot of places.
For instance, in the Scribner’s Magazine of 1890, we find a piece by Rufus Zogbaum entitled “With Uncle Sam’s Blue Jackets Afloat”. Again, many of the sailors are described as barefoot:
The great ship is waking up, and out of the hatches the men come tumbling one after the other—sailor-men, apprentice boys, firemen, marines, cooks, and “all hands”— each with hammock neatly rolled, ready to be placed in the nettings in the bulwarks. Brawny, bare-chested, bare-footed fellows, most of them; regardless of the cold wind blowing and the wet decks, they run nimbly to their appointed stations, some clambering up and opening the nettings, while the others pitch their hammocks in and stow them away and out of sight for the day.
We even have a nice illustration drawn by Zogbaum:
Bare feet on deck! Why not?