Saturday, May 12, 2012

Sailor Mouth Saturday: Bend

On the majority of occasions, using the word bend at sea refers to rope, chain and cable in the “old fashioned” sense of those words. When bending rope one is usually attaching it via knot (which itself can be referred to as a “bend”) to another rope.

To bend may also mean tying a rope to an anchor. A Granny’s bend is a pejorative reference to a knot make by a lubber which is, as Admiral Smyth puts it, “a slippery hitch.” This will never do, of course, as a real bend is expected to hold through a gale. Time for an old tar to show the new guy how it’s done.

To bend a sail is to secure it to its appointed stay or yard. A river may have a bend, as in the lower Mississippi’s famous English Turn where British boats were thwarted in their attempt to reach New Orleans during the War of 1812. Men may be exhorted to bend to their oars aboard boats or galleys as well.

Bending ropes means, as noted, to tie them together rather than unraveling their ends and splicing them. Though bending is rarely as secure as splicing, knots have far more flexibility as they are readily tied and untied without the need for cutting and waste. A bowline knot is the most frequent way of bending rope but there are others; The Sailor’s Word Book lists Carrick-bend, hawser-bend, sheet-bend “and cetera” while Richard Henry Dana in The Seaman's Friend gives over a dozen names.

Bending the cable is the similar process of securing cable line to an anchor. As Admiral Smyth notes, this term did not die with the use of actual chains for anchor cable; the shackling of same to the anchor is still referred with such language.

When raising signal flags, a rope known as a distant line was used. This kept the flags separate to avoid confusion in the message, and the act of hoisting the distant line might be referred to as the bend on the tack. One would not want to mistake that England expects that every man shall do his duty.

Bender – though now more familiar in the way of imbibing – originally referred to the coiling of rope aboard ship or at dockside. One might “strike out for a bender” or “look out for a bender” when being told to coil rope or to find a coiled rope.

A bend roll is an old term for a rest used for muskets in the buccaneering days, these guns being extremely long and heavy. The bend proper is the large wedge on which a ship’s bowsprit sits.

The thickest, strongest planks on a ship’s sides were referred to as bends. This term was not used in common parlance among sailors, and is in fact more of a shipbuilder’s term. This part of the ship is more properly known as the wails or wales from which gunwale – gunnel.

And that is enough of bending and bends for one day. Happy Saturday, Brethren; come aboard tomorrow for Seafaring Sunday if you are so inclined.

Header: Going About to Please His Master by V.T. Turner c 1844 via Old Paint


Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! I think I'm going to “strike out for a bender” in the modern sense in a little while. Happy Saturday before Mother's Day...

Pauline said...

Hey, it's good to have a day or two off. Let's celebrate, indeed.

Charles L. Wallace said...

The Bowline is very handy, both for forming a loop, and for affixing the line to a post or spar. I prefer the Sheetbend for tying two lines together.

I would hate to suffer from "the bends" after diving, as a result of returning to the surface too far, too quickly.

Thank you so much, Pauline, as always, for "bending our ear" ;-)