Saturday, December 12, 2009

Sailor Mouth Saturday: Fly

Fly is a word that the language of sailing cannot get enough of. Born of the Anglo-Saxon verb fleogan and updated in Middle English to flyen, the modern word may have a hundred uses by land but by sea it must have a thousand.

There is the fly, that arrow known as a compass card in land-based parlance that sits on the pin above the magnetic-needle in a compass and points the way north. Then there's the fly-away, a sea going mirage of land also known as Dutchman's cape in reference to the Flying Dutchman. We fly flags thanks to naval language which spoke originally of the fly of the flag meaning it's side to side length. Up and down was the hoist. Note that you can also hoist a flag. Thanks, sailors.

In reference to a ship she may be flying light, meaning that she is unburdened in the way of cargo, provisions or water. This may sound like a boon to fast sailing but in fact a sparsely laden ship is prone to "crank" or lean precariously to one side increasing the risk of capsizing. On the other hand she may be a flyer, a ship that can hurry along before the wind faster than any other. The original American clipper ship (like the beautiful Cuttysark above in a painting from the Hutton Archive) was referred to simply as a flyer.

Virtually every type of sail has it's smaller, higher "flying" version. Looking at Cuttysark you see flying jibs (the smaller of the fore and aft sails at her bowsprit). These, by the way, are attached to the flying jib-boom which is a spare attached to the bowsprit to elongate it. On her fore the top two and on her main the top three sails would be collectively referred to as flying kites. This term encompasses all very high sails, ordinarily set out only in the best weather, such as royals, skysails and cloud scrapers. Imagine setting those puppies. Away aloft!

And then there was the fly-by-night, a square studdingsail set on a fore and aft rigged schooner when the wind was favorable and at night. Flying such sails in darkness was very unusual and indicated a need to get to - or run away from - something at all cost. Thus our modern term fly-by-night for something or someone decidedly untrustworthy.

Finally in football news, Navy over Army 17 to 3. Non sibi sed patriae (Not self but country). Huzzah for the navy blue and gold!


Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! Thankee for another informative post, Pirate Queen. And for sharing the beautiful painting of the Cuttysark. And finally congratulations to our fine midshipmen for their 8th strait victory over Army... "Navy, America's global force for good." Amen to that.

Pauline said...

Ahoy, Timmy! Amen again.