Thursday, June 2, 2011

Tools of the Trade: Wind In Her Sails

Aboard a sailing ship, knowing the language of the sea is just as important as being able to get a task done smartly. Though much of this kind of nautical knowledge seems arcane to the average person, it still applies to varying degrees. Even the most lubberly among us is missing something if he doesn’t know a couple of points of sea-speak. As one example, I can’t count the number of times I’ve had people tell me they can’t tolerate the Aubrey/Maturin novels because O’Brian is too “technical”. What an awful lot of incomparable storytelling to miss out on simply for puzzling over the difference between luffing and running.

On that note, here are a few words and phrases that relate to how the wind affects a ship’s sails. Hopefully this will be old news for many of the Brethren and a nice point of reference for others. Like any “foreign” language, once you get the hang of the cant it makes a lot more sense than one originally imagined.

Aback: the wind is blowing against the forward part of the sails. When a sudden wind shift creates this perilous situation the wind is said to be “backing”.

Backing down: similar to backing but in no way as sudden. In this instance, the ship is forced into “stern way” which is literally backing up.

Back and fill: in tight channels or canals and with a strong wind, this maneuver is similar to tacking but in this case the sails are alternately going aback and then being brought around to full again to make headway.

On the wind: here a ship is sailing as close to the wind as possible without being taken aback. The older term for this is close-hauled.

Full-and-bye: all sails filled with wind, although the ship is nearly on the wind, and the vessel moving with speed.

Sailing free: the ship is near the wind, just between full-and-bye and beam reaching.

Beam reaching: sailing with the wind directly on the beam. There is also reaching, in which the wind is nearly, but not quite, on the beam.

Broad reaching: in this case, the wind is on the vessel’s quarter.

Running: the wind is blowing from the stern of the vessel. In running free, the wind is coming almost from astern.

By the lee: the ship is not becalmed, but the wind is coming from the same quarter as her boom lies.

Luffing: the sails are only partially filled with wind. To luff up is to catch the wind out of stays when tacking or turning.

In stays: the vessel is turning directly into the wind.

In irons: as in stays, but without way to allow the sails to catch the wind; a very dangerous position in a chase or in battle.

And that’s just a few of the better used language in regard to sails and wind. No need to study; I abhor tests.

Header: The Brig Mercury Attacked by Two Turkish Ships by Ivan Aivazovsky c 1892


Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! They don't come much more lubberly than me and I'm pretty sure I understand all these... Maybe you're just a good teacher?

Timmy! said...

Oh yeah, I almost forgot. Cool painting too, Pirate Queen.

Pauline said...

Ahoy, Timmy and thankee. It's really easy to get the phrasing confused aboard ship when things are happening quickly. And yeah; that painting is stunning.