Saturday, October 8, 2011

Sailor Mouth Saturday: Work

We've discussed, on numerous occasions, that a life aboard a sailing ship is a life of endless work. From officers to boys, from men to women, from dogs to cats and the occasional monkey or sloth, there is always something to do that looks just like work. But how was the word used in the Great Age of Sail? I am so glad you asked.


The days work was measured, not from sun up to sun down as by land, but from noon to noon. “Calling noon” meant the beginning of a new day aboard ship and the phrase “the days’ work” became so much associated with that time-honored tradition that marking the dead-reckoning and meridian altitude at noon became known as the days work.

Working an observation was the art of divining the altitudes and distances of planets and stars so as to calculate course. Similarly, working a lunar is reducing the observation of the sun and moon or the moon and stars to divine longitude. This is also a colloquialism for a man not listening or literally falling asleep while another speaks – frequently used by land, one imagines, with regard to wives and sweethearts.

A crew is said to work their ship by adjusting sails and rigging to the direction and force of the wind in relation to desired destination. A ship is said to work when she groans and strains in a heavy sea. The sound of her joints loosening is both desirous in new ships and terrible in old.

Working double tides indicates doing the hard work of three days in the span of two or two tides’ worth of work from noon to noon. Working parties were groups of hands given errands to run or work to do away from the ship when in harbor. These were the gangs that only trusted hands could be assigned to as desertion was very much an option when a man was out with one. Meanwhile, back at the ship, greener hands may be put to working up junk, the mind-numbing task of pulling apart old ropes to use for caulking, starting the galley fire or making new rope. Working up is the senseless and sometimes merciless habit of some martinet captains to keep men working beyond their usual hours as a punishment. Such tactics have led to bloody mutiny as in the notorious case of HMS Hermione.

Finally a ship is said to be working to windward when she is sailing against the wind by tacking. This is also known as beating to windward or beating up.

A fair Saturday to one and all; I’ll spy ye tomorrow for Seafaring Sunday.

Header: View of Indian Point by Edward W. Nichols c 1850 via American Gallery

4 comments:

dennisberry said...

Hi - Pauline. I was just sailing by and thought that I'd drop in. You have a very informative and professional site. I'll be back.

Pauline said...

Thankee indeed, Denisberry; I'll look forward to hearing from you.

Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! All good information, as usual.

Pauline said...

Just tryin' to keep it real...