Saturday, February 16, 2013
Sailor Mouth Saturday: Lay
Or so Captain Cuttle explained of the merchant service in the 18th century. Lay-days were the express number of 24 hour periods as designated in a ship's bill of lading which said vessels was allowed in port. These days were specifically for the unloading of one cargo and loading of another and not for the convenience of the sailors. The less time this process took the better. The ship's owner had recourse to an overage of days - or even hours - in port by deducting a specified sum from what would amount to the crew's pay. No wonder so many merchant sailors went on the account...
To lay was the sea-speak for to come or go; lay aloft, lay forward, lay aft, lay out etc. As Admiral Smyth notes in The Sailor's Word Book, "This is not the neuter verb lie mispronounced, but the active verb lay." A mistake of semantics seen in unfortunately ill-researched nautical fiction. One may also lay a gun, which is essentially to aim a cannon. Not the easiest thing with a huge 24 in a rolling sea.
To lay in is the order for men to return from the yards or to man the capstan. Taking on provisions was sometimes spoken of as laying in sea stock and laying in the oars was the order from the coxswain to ship the oars of a boat. This would generally be preceded by the order to lay (or lie) on your oars, meaning to stop rowing. Lay out your oars then means the opposite: row harder.
Laying or lying out a yard: to go out toward the yard arms. Laying or lying along: when a ship is down sideways in a gale.
On can lay up; a ship by dismantling her or lay the land by almost losing sight of it. To lay-to is to set only one sail in a rough sea and can also be spoke of as to lie-to. Lay her course: this is the ability to sail in the direction desired, regardless of whether or not the wind is in your favor.
Laying down, sometimes spoken as laying off, is the delineation of the lines of a ship from the draught at the beginning of building her.
And thus we find the end of another Sailor Mouth Saturday. See how that lays with ye...
Header: Gorgeous draught of a French frigate from the late 18th century via my good mates at Under the Black Flag (see sidebar)