Saturday, July 7, 2012

Sailor Mouth Saturday: Let

Let is a word heard aboard ship in conjunction with an order, more often than not.  But it is also the first three letters in one of our favorite terms here at Triple P: letter of marque.  More on that in a minute.

Let draw was the order to let the sails draw wind over the lee-side when tacking.  Let go and haul, a similar order, meant it was time to haul the head yards around by the braces to facilitate tacking.  This might also be verbalized as afore haul .  Let run was an order to cast a boat off and let fall to drop a sail in preparation for setting it. 

Let fly is sometimes used in nautical fiction and movies as an order to reveal a ship's true colors or, more commonly, to fire cannon.  This was in fact an order to quite literally let go of or drop a rope.  Let drive is a more period accurate order for firing the guns up until the late 19th century.

To let out a reef, sometimes to shake out a reef, is to untie the points to allow more sail to catch the wind.  Let pass is an order or, in some cases, simply a allowance for one ship to pass another.  This was usually an issue of hierarchy; a commodore's ship would pass a ship carrying only a captain, while a rear admiral's or admiral's flag would pass the commodore's ship.

Let go under foot was a maneuver specific to the dropping of a ship's anchor while she is still moving.  Admiral Smyth describes it in The Sailor's Word Book:

An anchor is often dropped under foot when calm prevails and the drift would be towards danger.  To drop an anchor under foot, is to let it go and veer a little of the riding cable when the coming home, or parting of the one by which she is riding, is feared. 

All navy ships kept and continue to keep what was known as a letter book.  This held copies of all letters and orders written by the captain for the duration of any given cruise.  This would document the captain's performance should any irregularities be found or reported upon returning to port.

A letter of marque, also appropriately referred to as a letter of reprisal or a letter of marque and reprisal is every pirate's fondest dream.  Issued by governments during war time, this document made legal the taking of enemy ships as prizes by any ship holding one.  According to what we might today refer to as international law governing the granting of letters of marque, no ship could hold more than one letter of marque at a time, and only ships from the enemy country state on the letter of marque could be legally taken.  These ships would need to be brought to the home port of the letter of marque ship to be libeled by a court of law.

In practice, of course, the gray area between which ships were legal prizes and where and how they had to be libeled became very broad indeed, particularly during the age of great revolutions.  Roughly from 1775 to 1825, and most noticeably in the Americas, who was a pirate and who was a legal privateer became more of an issue of government opinion than international law.  Because of this, most governments discontinued the practice of issuing letters of marque and reprisal by the mid-19th century.  The last great surge of privateering occurred during the American Civil War, largely because the Confederate States had no navy and needed to rely on private ship owners carrying Confederate letters of marque for such duties.

And that is a good place to let today's post go, so to say.  Happy Saturday, Brethren; swift chases and fat prizes may you always find.

Header: A particularly lovely Caribbean sunrise via our mates the Under the Black Flag team


Timmy! said...

As they say, Pauline, "One man's pirate is another man's privateer." Or, at least, that is what they used to say, I guess.

Happy Saturday to all the Brethren, Pauline!

Timmy! said...

Oh, and I love that picture too. Very beautiful...

Pauline said...

Well put as always, Timmy! and yes; isn't that just the best picture ever?