Saturday, April 21, 2012

Sailor Mouth Saturday: Seaman

This is a term seldom bestowed among seafaring men upon their associates, unless they are known to be pre-eminent in every duty of the thorough-paced tar; one who never issues a command which he is not competent to execute himself, and is deemed an authority on every matter relating to sea-craft.

Thus begins Admiral Smyth’s definition of the often improperly used word seaman in The Sailor’s Word Book. In the terms used by seasoned mariners, a seaman in a sailor’s sailor. Almost without fail he is an officer who has come up through the ranks, if not starting out there, he has at least spent time as a foremast jack where he learned to heave a lead and haul a cable like any other tar. In his capacity of command he has not lost the memory of those days and, indeed, continues to embrace the work of running a ship. He pushes on the capstan, reefs the sails and works the pumps alongside those he commands. He is sound in judgment; no flogging captain has ever been called a seaman. This type of commander runs a happy ship.

From the annals of history, the names of such captains tend to spring to mind more readily than those of a different nature. Horatio Nelson, James Cook and Thomas Cochrane are all premier examples when discussing the Royal Navy. On the other side of the Atlantic, John Paul Jones, Stephen Decatur and David Porter are names that only scratch the surface of such a list. Then too, perhaps to many’s surprise, there were such men among pirates and privateers: Bartholomew Roberts, for instance, was known as an artist, the word used in his era for an expert navigator, and a sober if initially reluctant captain. Woodes Rogers was a right seaman as well, and I would be remiss as an admirer and a descendant to go without including the Baratarians Dominique Youx and Renato Beluche.

In mentioning those last two names, which I always do fondly, the perhaps unfamiliar term seaman-gunner comes to mind. This is a man who has such thorough knowledge of guns and artillery that he is well qualified to both lead a gun crew and train men to the guns. As both men proved on Rodriguez canal that fateful week in 1814-1815, they were both veteran seamen-gunners.

Seamanship is, as Admiral Smyth advises:

The noble practical art of rigging and working a ship, and performing with effect all her various evolutions at sea.

Finally, albeit reluctantly, I must mention that to this day the seaman’s disgrace is another term for that worst case scenario known as a foul – now frequently spoken as fouled – anchor. And a shame it is, too.

Happy Saturday, Brethren; may you all, in your lifetimes or only shortly after, be remembered by your peers as able seaman.

Header: Crow’s Nest by Scott Waddell via American Gallery


Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! Huh-huh... You said "seaman". But seriously, it's what every sailor aspires to be. While I will never be remembered by anyone as an able seaman, I do appreciate the thought.

Pauline said...

Don't sell yourself short; they already do in your own field :)