The word room was familiar to English speaking seamen in various capacities when Drake ruled the waves. As Admiral Smyth notes in The Sailor’s Word Book, the word was interchangeable – or perhaps stood in the stead of – the more modern term large in regard to sailing. The term going room, according to the Admiral, was documented in England as early as 1578. Used in this sense, the phrase meant the same as going large: sailing “with the wind free when studding-sails will draw.” This might also be expressed as rooming or running to leeward.
Larger ships of old and to some degree to this day, had rooms. They were, of course, not proper rooms as in a home or even cabins per se, depending on the type, but were nonetheless referred to as rooms. In no particular order, and doubtless with a careless omission or two, one might find in a frigate or particularly a man-of-war such rooms as:
Cook room: another, more ancient, term for the galley.
Sail room: generally on the orlop deck, an enclosed space where spare sails can be kept clean and – in particular – dry, thus free of mold. In very large ships more than one sail room might be kept.
Light room: attached to the powder room or magazine, this was where flints and slow match would be kept for the great guns.
Powder room: where the volatile black powder was kept for guns and small arms. Like the sail room, dry conditions here and in the light room were absolutely necessary.
Gun room: located on the after-gun deck of larger ships, this was where gun deck officers and/or warrant men would take meals. In frigates and smaller ships, this room might be located in steerage.
Ward room: generally above the gun room, this was where lieutenants and midshipmen slept and ate.
Bread room: another dry room often lined with sheeting of some kind and used to store bread and ship’s biscuit.
Spirit room: often located next to the bread room in the hold, this room contained the ship’s liquor and was frequently kept under lock and key, for obvious reasons.
The term sea room, still used today, indicates a ship running along free of seen or unseen dangers such as shore, shoals, reefs etc. In such case, she is said to have “good offing”.
Happy Saturday, Brethren, and a mug of grog to y’all.
Header: Lee Shore by Edward Hopper via American Gallery