Saturday, October 1, 2011

Sailor Mouth Saturday: By

The word by at sea generally refers to the status of a ship or to what the ship is doing. As happens so often with “sailor speak”, it also leads us to common phrases used today that originated on wave.

A ship is said to be sailing by the head when she is, either by her nature or by the way her cargo and/or ballast is stowed, deeper fore than aft. Conversely, she is by the stern when she is deeper by the aft.

By the lee, a not uncommon term that has carried over into the modern ship’s vernacular, indicates a ship or boat sailing free due to having been quite literally taken aback by a shift of wind, so that the breeze is now at her stern. This situation can occur either as noted, through a shift of wind, or through poor seamanship. In the latter reference, the term was used in the early 19th century to indicate that someone was flabbergasted or at a loss for words. In O’Brian’s HMS Surprise, Stephen Maturin – recovering from being tortured by the French – asks Jack Aubrey’s coxswain Barret Bonden to write a letter for him. When Bonden does not respond, but stands staring open-mouthed at the doctor, Stephen says: “Why Bonden, have I brought you by the lee?” Of course it comes to light that Bonden does not have his letters, and Stephen undertakes to teach him to read.

An item was said to have gone by the board when it was lost over the ship’s side. On occasion, by the board would also apply to a mast breaking off near its base cap on deck. This term developed into a reference to anything being cast off or left behind: “The gunner had left his wife by the board, and she with three small children to feed.”

By the wind (virtually the same as full and by) indicates a ship sailing as directly as is possible into the wind. As The Sailor’s Word Book notes:

In general terms, within six points; or the axis of the ship is 67 ½ degrees from, the direction of the wind.

This may be the origin of our modern “by and large” meaning generally or in most cases.

So we shall end for today but not before a shout out to the Navy football team who nearly beat Air Force earlier today. Good game, Mids; fairer sailing next time.

Header: Outing on the Coast by Charles Day Hunt via American Gallery


Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! Good post. I liked the O'Brian tie in there... I also like the painting at the header.

Stirring comeback by Navy. Too bad they fell short in OT.

Pauline said...

No one likes to be brought by the lee, after all. Especially not Navy, you'd have to think.