Sailing book explains many nautical terms
Recently I found a little book called "The Sailing Pocket Companion" which contained entertaining nautical trivia.
Among my favorite sections were those explaining commonly used terms that originated on Old World ships. Son of a gun, for instance.
In days of old, women were not officially allowed on ships, but captains often welcomed them aboard anyway. And on a ship full of lonely sailors, guess what happened?
Deliveries of shipboard babies took place between the guns on the gun deck. When a boy was born and the father was unknown, the captain entered in the ship's log that the child was a son of a gun.
Calling someone this name was usually derogatory, but at least boy babies got logged in. Girl babies received no mention.
Speaking of logs, the term comes from the knotted line and log sailors once threw overboard to calculate the speed of the ship. Eventually the ship's log came to mean the journal that contained the captain's notes of speed and distance traveled.
This use of the word "log" warped into deep space with the "Star Trek" captains who might typically say, "Ship's log, Stardate 5667.4. Crew edgy, barely toeing the line."
Toeing the line came from traditional sailing ships' roll calls where crew members were supposed to align their feet with a seam on the wood deck. When the sailors were fidgety, they were ordered to toe the line.
If the men just couldn't settle down, the captain might divert to Yokohama and let the crew visit Hunky Dori. This was the sailors' slang name of the street that once housed Yokohama's red light district. After a stopover there, most sailors felt hunky-dory indeed.
In my reading, I learned some tidbits about the terms port and starboard.
Port is left and starboard is right, but that wasn't always the case. Before the 19th century, the left side of a ship was called larboard, a word so close to starboard it caused confusion. In the 1800s the British and U.S. navies agreed to change larboard to port.
To keep port and starboard straight, the book suggests thinking of Mr. Red who left port. (The red navigation lights go on the port side.) Or this: Port wine is red, and there's none left in the bottle.
If you have trouble remembering port and starboard, you aren't alone. During World War II, when men from every walk of life were suddenly aboard ships, the U.S. Navy gave up and used the words left and right.
Another entry I enjoyed in this very English book, which discusses how to make tea and toast at sea, is the explanation of rivalries among boaters.
Sailors call motorboats stinkpots and consider them loud, smelly wake-makers. But stinkpot captains get sailors back by calling them raggies or WAFIs, Wind-Assisted Flaming Idiots.
The book's explanation for this acronym is saltier.
Another salty-language item my pocket companion pointed out is that if you wander around a British marina, it won't take long to find a catamaran named Cooking Fat. That's not as strange a boat name as it seems, the book says, once the initial letters are transposed.
I came by all these fun facts over a cappuccino in a city cafe where the floor didn't move, the coffee didn't spill and I didn't throw up.
Reading about sailing has some significant advantages over doing it.