Saturday, December 3, 2011

Sailor Mouth Saturday: Hail

While fair weather and a hale crew is always to be wished for aboard us, there’s more to be said about hail than hale, at least at sea.

Of course a man can hail from a city, state or country, whether it be his place of birth or where he currently resides, but so can a ship. She is said to hail from her port of origin, generally the place where she is registered. As an example, Renato Beluche’s schooner Spy, a privateer for the U.S. during the War of 1812, hailed from New Orleans as her letter of mark was endorsed by the Commodore there, Daniel Tod Patterson. Thus any prizes she obtained should rightfully be brought in to NOLA, weather and the soundness of the ship permitting. I will note, purely as a family aside, that the two men hated each other; war makes strange bedfellows indeed.

A ship can itself be hailed, and it is not only in naval service that certain rules apply for doing same. In general parlance, the ship doing the hailing will call “From whence do you come, and where bound?” The answer to these questions should be immediate, or suspicion is aroused. Ships may pass within hail when an urgent need for exchange of information precludes putting boats over the side or time does not permit same. In this case the senior vessel – determined by who is in command – heaves to while the junior passes her stern to receive orders or intelligence.

Hailing a ship at sea was done by voice, flag or gun depending on both distance and the situation. Hail shot was very small balls used specifically for hails and salutes. In the 15th and 16th centuries, a small cannon known as a hailshot piece was supplied to ships for this purpose. Its trajectories were small cubes of iron known as dice.

A man’s good friends within his mess, which may be all of them if he is fortunate, would be known to him as hail fellows. In essence, good company and brothers.

Hailing aloft is done to call the attention of those men who are up in the rigging. As Admiral Smyth snidely remarks in The Sailor’s Word Book:

call men in the tops and at the mast-head to “look out,” too often an inconsistent bluster on deck.

And that is enough bluster for one day, I shall say. Fair winds and a following sea to all the Brethren. I’ll see you here tomorrow for Seafaring Sunday.

Header: Clipper Ship by Captain Arthur Small


Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! I suppose a ship can hail from more than one place, if her port of origin is different from the place where she is registered? Kind of like a person who may be born in one place but spend most of their youth somewhere else...

Pauline said...

I believe you've grasped it, sir. And if you're a Laffite privateer, you might hail from four or five ports. Whatever works, right?