Saturday, January 21, 2012

Sailor Mouth Saturday: Furl

When we use words like furl, furling or unfurl, we generally think of a flag or flags. While flags were unfurled at sea – although far less frequently than in the popular imagination – these words refer more often to controlling the bounty of a ship’s fair sails.

To furl is to roll and tie a sail evenly on its yard. This is a far more treacherous occupation in high winds than one might imagine, as more than one scene in well done movies (Captain Blood, Master and Commander etc.) has shown. In such cases, when dirty weather is current or threatening, the men are often set to what is called furling. Here, the sail is rolled close to its yard or stay by hauling on the lines. A cord is then wound over the full length of the rolled sail keeping it even more secure.

For furling, the line used was known as a furling-line from at least the 16th century. By the late 18th century, it was more commonly referred to as a gasket or en Français garcette (a word which is, curiously, feminine). This is a long, flat cord the use of which Admiral Smyth discusses in The Sailor’s Word Book thus:

In bad weather, with a weak crew, the top-sail is brought under control by passing the top-mast studding sail halliards round and round all, from the yard-arm to the bunt; then furling is less dangerous.

Obviously, the ship is dealing with very extreme weather in such a case. It is important to note that by using the word “weak”, the Admiral is indicating a ship short on able hands.

Conversely, furling in a body is a way of storing topsails used only in port. This is done by gathering the loose parts of the sails into the top of their respective masts. This is the opposite, essentially, of common furling or “furling in the bunt” done at sea. When sails have been furled in a body they can be covered with tarps and essentially stored in situ, thus keeping them free from vermin and molds.

So ends another etymological foray. May your furling be only common and in fair winds, Brethren. Happy Saturday to you and your mates!

Header: Engraving of hands furling sails via Cindy Vallar’s History of Maritime Piracy


Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! And happy Saturday to you too...

Pauline said...

And now a happy Sunday (or it would be if the football game was better).