Saturday, February 11, 2012

Sailor Mouth Saturday: Box

Technically a box aboard ship is not a storage vessel. That would more properly be termed a locker or sea chest, both of which would hold not goods but the private articles of an individual sailor. Aboard a sailing ship the box is a designated area on one of her small boats. This is the coxswain’s domain; the space between the backboard and the stern post, where he sits to man the tiller and shout orders to the oarsman.

Compasses may be boxed by the young gentlemen learning their way around same. Midshipmen would be expected to say by memory the names of the 32 points, both in order and backward, and answer specific questions about the divisions between the points asked by their captain or another superior officer. No small task, as anyone who has used a compass can tell.

A boxing is a piece of hardwood, almost exclusively in the shape of a square, used in shipbuilding and repair to connect the framing timbers. Boxing off, on the other hand, is an emergency procedure to correct the direction of a sailing ship when she has got herself “in irons”. This is the ill-fated situation by which a ship has come up in the wind and is in danger of losing her momentum. In such cases, the helm will not answer alone to change her course. Then the head sheets must be hauled to windward while the head yards are laid back to try and release her head from the wind.

Another rarely desirable maneuver along the same vain is boxhauling. In this case the ship is turned very sharply on her heel when it is necessary to avoid making the usual large and time-consuming arc to change her course to the opposite direction. Again the head yards are braced flat but here the helm is put to leeward. When the ship gathers sternway, the helm is shifted and the sails trimmed. This is a maneuver to be avoided if at all possible due to its extreme danger in anything but the most favorable conditions. Capsizing is not unheard of when boxhauling in weather.

The pumps of a ship, those blessed instruments that – though torturous to work – keep her bilge and lower deck free of water and filth, have boxes as well. A common pump will have an upper and lower box, one attached to the lower chamber and the other to the piston rod. In the center of each box is an upward-facing valve. Pumps are and were rather complex mechanisms, for all they were run simply by the power of men for most of their existence. They should really have a post in their own right; allow me to see to that.

And so we will bring another SMS to a close, Brethren; fair winds, sweet bilges and clear skies to you all.

Header: Relets sur la Mer by Arsene Chabanian via Old Paint


Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! "Boxhauling" sounds pretty dangerous if not downright crazy... just saying.

Happy Saturday to you and to all the brethren.

Pauline said...

I've never seen it done, which in all fairness means nothing since - to my knowlege - I've never been aboard a sailing vessel pre-mid-19th century but yeah; potentially horrible consequences.