Back in August we talked about the word land at sea. There are so many uses for the word aboard ship that I honestly could not cram them all into one post so today, let us revisit the word land.
A land feather is a typically nautical and poetic way to bespeak a cove in a coast that is well suited for a ship to anchor. I like to refer to Turnagain Arm, which is within view of my home, as a land feather thereby confounding Alaska’s cheechakoes and Natives alike. Sailors, as the Brethren well know, are a tribe unto ourselves.
And speaking of cold places, land ice is flat ice connected to shore with no visible channel running through it. This type of ice can be particularly deceptive. Many a man has fallen through to a painful if relatively quick death in the subzero waters beneath it thinking the ice was part of the shore. On the other hand, this ice has cracked the hulls of both wooden and metal vessels when crews have wrongly assumed it thin and easily plowed through.
Interestingly the originally Dutch word landlouper, which means a man who becomes an expatriate due to criminal accusations or debt, is probably not the origin of the ever popular English colloquialism land lubber. Lubbers are, of course, people other than seamen who are no help aboard ship and better off by land. In earlier times, however, lubber was the term applied by sailors to men ashore who were without gainful employment. Sailors generally (and I personally feel rightly) considered themselves particularly hard working, and to them nothing was worth more disdain than someone who didn’t pull his own weight by land or sea.
Along those lines, and frequent among lubbers cursed by seamen, were the land sharks. True seamen were frequently at sixes and sevens once by land and, since they often came home with money – sometimes a good deal of money – in their pockets they were easy prey for swindlers. These men and women were spoken of as land sharks; people who would take the clothes of a sailor’s back if they had the chance. A good example of the sometimes bewildered nature of seamen at home is Jack Aubrey in O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin novels. He was never quite at home with hard ground under his feet, and more than one attorney or investment strategist took full advantage of his childlike gullibility, land sharks that they were.
A lubber should not be confused with a landsman, which was a rating in most navies of Nelson’s era indicating that the individual had no seagoing experience. By the second half of the 19th century, the rating was Second class ordinary.
A landmark was originally anything tall and visible past shore that did not move and could be used as a reference for navigational purposes. Trees and rock formations were probably the first landmarks, followed by manmade structures like towers and aqueducts.
Finally, a land turn is similar to the land breeze we spoke about in August. It is a wind that blows off the shore at night in the hottest areas of the world, sometimes playing havoc with sailing ships near shore.
Good Saturday to ye, mates. Hoist a mug of grog and stay away from the land sharks. Better safe than sorry.
Header: Paul Bettany as Stephen Maturin and Russell Crowe as Jack Aubrey spend some time on solid ground in the movie Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World