Saturday, March 27, 2010
Sailor Mouth Saturday: Berth
Berth is one of those words so common to sailors and sailing that people on the water hardly think about it. Lubbers hear "berth" and think "birth" and then you've got a complete morass that needs clearing up fast. So let's do that right now.
A berth can apply to a ship, its company or an individual jack. First, the ship herself. In this case berth means the area where the ship is at anchor. By and large unless they were in for repairs wooden ships didn't berth near a dock but out in a bay or anchorage. A ship is said to lie in a good berth when she is in sheltered water a respectable distance from both shore and other ships. To berth a vessel is to locate such a sweet spot and drop your anchor there.
As regards the ship's company, to berth sailors is to designated the space in which each man's hammock will be slung. Usually this is an area fourteen inches in width so you'll pretty much literally be sleeping with your mates, mate. A berth in the case of an officer can mean his cabin which may, in practice, be no more than a small space draped off with canvas. Again, privacy comes at a premium if at all. A ship is said to be berthen when she has her full company and all stores aboard.
Individually a berth might be a man's hammock at sea or the lodging he takes by land. A snug berth refers to someplace safe and comfortable. A sleeping berth seems self-explanatory.
Then there is the old expression about giving a wide berth, which literally means staying well clear of something. "We shall give that wicked shoal a wide berth." Good idea.
Finally, because I used "jack" earlier and because I haven't done this in a while:
Yes, I am a shameless hussy. See you next week, Brethren. Until then, may your berth be snug and your commander as capable as Jack Aubrey himself. Huzzah!