Saturday, May 21, 2011

Sailor Mouth Saturday: Sound

Let's just get the idea out of the way: the velocity of sound was thought to be around 1,142 feet in the mid-19th century. This was without taking into consideration factors, such as wind, which might inhibit the travel of sound. Aside from that, I shall note that we won’t be discussing sailors shouting at one another on deck. Although that was (and is) not an unusual occurrence, aboard ship there is more to sound than, well, sound.

An arm of the sea over which soundings may be obtained throughout is known as a sound. This is possibly from the Anglo-Saxon word sund which meant to take readings of the depth of a body of water. By extension a sound might be a deep bay; in Scotland the word used to refer to a strait or narrow channel. As an aside Puget Sound in Washington State, which I have navigated a time or two, is named after Lieutenant Peter Puget, Royal Navy, who accompanied George Vancouver on his expedition to the Northwest in the 18th century. Puget was in charge of taking soundings of the coast and coastal inlets along the way.

Sounding is, of course, the ascertaining of the depth of the ocean or sea and the properties of the ocean floor. Both of which are necessary information to keep a ship running and in good condition afloat. This is done through the use of a lead line. The line has a weight tied to the end and the weight has a hole at the bottom into which sticky tallow has been placed. When the weight – lead – hits the sea floor the tallow picks up some of the sand, shell, mud or what have you which can then be analyzed when the line is pulled up. In whaling, sounding is also the word for the diving behavior a while exhibits once it has been hit with a harpoon.

To be in soundings a ship is within 100 to 80 fathoms of water near shore. The expression literally means that a ship is so close to shore that a deep sea lead will touch bottom without letting out much line, but practically the above is the case. Soundings are also the term for the muck brought up from the sea floor with the lead, which by the way is pronounced like the metal not like something you do at the front of a line.

Soundless is a pre-20th century term for parts of the ocean that were thought to be bottomless because no deep sea lead could find their floor. We know now that there are no bottomless areas of the ocean, but the depth of some bodies of water is staggering to think of.

A sounding rod is a skinny rod of iron on which feet and inches are marked. This is dipped into a groove in a ship’s bilge pump to determined the level of bilge water and whether or not pumping is necessary. Interestingly, sound dues were a toll collected from merchant ships by the people of Denmark when the ships passed in or out of the strait between the Baltic and the great North Sea. Clever Vikings.

And that concludes Triple P's 600th post, a milestone of which I am rather proud.  Happy Saturday, Brethren. May your soundings find nothing but deep water and soft sand and may your ships run fast and true.

Header: Sunrise on the Bay of Fundi by William Bradford


Charles L. Wallace said...

600. Might I christen tonight Quadruple P, then? Prolific Pauline's Pirates and Privateers. I like that SOUND ;-) Well done, ma'am.

Pauline said...

Ahoy, Charles! Merci beaucoup, mon ami. It's a labor of love, and folks like you make it worth the while.

Munin said...

I never realised the lead line was used to pick up samples of the sea bed as well as determining depth. How wonderfully simple and effective. And congratulations on your 600th post. Such an interesting and growing mass of information and tit-bits to delve into.

Timmy! said...

Ahoy Pauline! And Huzzah! for post number 600...

Sorry you are under the weather today. I guess we'll have to wait until Monday for post number 601.
Get better soon, Pauline.

Pauline said...

Ahoy Munin and Timmy!

Thank you both so much for your kindness and your encouragement. It means a lot. Here's to 600 more!