Saturday, July 16, 2011

Sailor Mouth Saturday: Under

Many people with even a passing interest in sailing have heard phrases like under sail or under way (not “weigh”, by the way, but we’ll talk about that in a minute). The uses for the word under aboard ship are myriad and, in some cases, a little bit amusing if not down right curious.

Under can refer to the state of a ship’s canvas and/or rigging. She is said to be under bare poles when she has no canvas aloft as when she is in port or in a very heavy storm. Under canvas is the same as under sail; this is the opposite of under bare poles with sails set and at the ready. Under way means the ship is beginning to move under sail. As noted in The Sailor’s Word Book, this is sometimes erroneously spelled “under weigh” which actually means that the ship is in the process of weighing anchor. In such a case she may have no canvas spread at all. As the authors point out: “This is a moot point with old seaman.” That said, it is not a moot point for those writing about ships, shipping or in the line of nautical historical fiction.

A ship may be under manned, as in not enough hands to run her, or under masted, in which case her masts are too small and/or short making her slow and sluggish for want of sail. She may be found under the lee, sheltered from the wind by land, a spit, a mole or even a larger vessel. This is sometimes also referred to as under the wind. A ship that is under the sea is caught in a bad gale, and not succeeding much against the wind.

Under deck is the floor of a cabin or deck. Under foot is said of an anchor that is directly beneath the ship; not always an advantages position for such a device. A cannon is said to be under metal when its muzzle is pointed downward with the breach above it. This is the common way to store guns aboard us to keep moisture out of the chamber.

An under current is similar to an under tow, with the surface of a body of water flowing in one direction and the under portion of the water ebbing in another. This is not only dangerous for swimmers but for boats as well which can be make no headway despite oars and sails working to the best of their ability. Similarly an under set occurs near the shoreline of large harbors and stretches of coast wherein the wind hurries waves – and anything caught in them – along to crash against the land.

I’ll end with the word underwriter, a profession that was quite familiar to those dealing in ships by the dawn of the 19th century. From The Sailor’s Word Book:

The parties who take upon themselves the risk of insurance, and so called from subscribing their names at the foot of the policy. They are legally presumed to be acquainted with every custom of the trade whereon they enter a policy.

Header: USS Constitution under bare poles via Bone in its Teeth


Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! Well, at least I know a little about the last one... That, and being "under the influence".

Cool picture, too. Bone in its Teeth has a pretty nice site there. Thanks for sharing, Cap'n.

Pauline said...

I figured as much. And yeah; I like the BIIT site quite a bit.