Saturday, April 30, 2011

Sailor Mouth Saturday: Grain

Since ships for most of recorded history have been built of wood, the properties of timber were a constant concern in a sailor’s world. The ability of wood to remain sturdy while still bending and stretching make it ideal for the stresses of sea and wind. A good sailor knew just how much his wooden ship, masts and spars were capable of, and that meant knowing the wood and her grain.

Of course timber has a grain, but the language at the dockyard differs, at least in some cases, from that used at the construction site. When a tree trunk is cut horizontally two types of grain are revealed. The silver grain is the circular pattern known as “rings” by which a tree’s age can be discerned. The bastard grain is that which radiates outward and is seen in a plank cut from the trunk vertically. Grain cut timber is that cut through the grain when the grain of the wood does not conform to the shape necessary.

A mast that has buckled is said to have had its grain upset. This is generally caused not so much by a faulty piece of wood but by an inappropriate stepping of the mast itself.

Grained powder is that which has been scraped from black powder cakes for various uses. Sometimes this is known also as corned powder and is distinct from mealed powder. A grains is a lance with five prongs used for catching fish.

Grain is also the French seamen’s word for a squall or water funnel. The term translates to English as a tornado-like weather element that is encountered in the English Channel, particularly off Normandy and Brittany. The grain is said to be preceded and followed by unusual dead calms.

A ship is said to be in the grain of another when is goes directly before it in the same direction. A bad grain is someone who is annoying or troublesome and it is also the term frequently used by sailors of the past to indicate a lawyer.

Fair winds and following seas to you this Saturday, Brethren; and do try not to go against the grain.

Header: Ship at Sea by Edward Moran


Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! I think my favorite was a "bad grain" for a lawyer. They can still be "annoying or troublesome" in the present...

Just saying.

Pauline said...

Ahoy, Timmy! Exactly, and anyone who has read O'Brian knows how much trouble a sailor can have with a lawyer.