Saturday, February 27, 2010

Sailor Mouth Saturday: Cable

Cable. It's the thing you're watching the Olympics courtesy of. And by "courtesy" I mean because you pay that bill every month. It is now, of course, but before anyone ever thought of such things as moving pictures on a box in your home, cable was a sailing word.

Back when wooden ships ruled the waves a cable was a thick rope which attached the ship to its anchor. Later on the cable might be made of chain (as one is used to seeing in many depictions of a "foul anchor") but generally rope came to mind when the word was used. Any rope over 10 inches in circumference was rightly a cable; smaller than that and the rope was referred to as a hawser. In our day and age, anchor cable is almost exclusively made of iron.

From that simple beginning - a rope that holds the anchor - come a host of variations.

Coiling a cable is, of course, to roll it in tiers on itself. This can also be termed paying cheap the cable, handing the cable in a pace or throwing the cable over. Knowing how to coil rope well is exquisitely necessary in the small space available for the storing of rigging aboard ship.

"Cable-enough," is the call that goes up when enough cable has been pulled up via the capstan to allow the anchor to be secured to the cat-head at the side of the ship. Prior to that, the calls of "up-and-down" (meaning the cable is vertical rather than horizontal relative to the ship) and "clean and dry for weighing" (meaning the anchor is out of the water) would be heard.

A cable's length equals approximately 100 fathoms. This measurement was used until the mid-19th century to judge the distances between ships in a fleet. It is a confusing term because a length of standard cable was actually between 100 and 115 fathoms.

The cable tier is the place in the hold where the coiled cable is stored.

There's more but the list gets pretty esoteric and only real sailing nerds like your humble hostess could stomach a continued litany, so I'll stop there. We've covered the important terms. I'll send you off to sea with those.

Ah wait. Just one more if you will permit me. To cut the cable literally means taking an axe to the rope and leaving your anchor behind in order to make a speedy get away. It's a desperate move that should not be attempted unless absolutely necessary (anchors are expensive after all). Try to avoid cutting your cable, Brethren.


Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! So, in terms of your books, Dominique Youx would be a "cable" and Renato Beluche would be a "hawser"? Oh, and I will definitely try to avoid cutting my cable. Impotant safety tip. Thankee, Pirate Queen!

Pauline said...

Ahoy, Timmy! Well I guess so. I hadn't really thought of it like that, but...