A Glossary of Sailing Definitions–Phrases–And
Aback—The wind is coming from the front (wrong) side of the sails.
Abaft—Something that is nearer the stern—further aft than something else
Abeam—At a right angle to something else.
Adz—A tool shaped like an axe, used by a shipwright to shape heavy timbers. It has a long, curved blade.
Aft—The part of the ship that is closest to the stern. The rear part of the ship.
After-Castle—A structure at the stern of an ancient sailing war ship where soldiers stood and fought during battle.
Afterpeak—The back part of the hold nearest to the stern.
Ahoy—A greeting. Hello. From the mid-eighteenth Century.
Alee—the direction the wind is blowing. Downwind.
Altitude—Distance from sea level.
Amidship—The middle of the ship lengthwise.
Anchor—Heavy object used to keep the ship from drifting. Ancient anchors were usually heavy stones with holes drilled in them and a rope attached. Anchors in the Golden Age of Sail were usually made from cast iron.
Anchorage—Any safe place where a ship can drop anchor. Generally in or just outside a harbor
Apeak—When an anchor or oars are straight up.
Apron—A curved timber behind the lower part of the stern to strengthen the connection between the stern and the keel.
Armada—Large fleet of warships.
Arr—A fabricated, Hollywood, movie word indicating agreement. From the early-20th century.
Articles—They are signed documents designating the responsibilities, duty, rank and position of a crew member.
Astrolabe—Navigational instrument used from the mid-14th Century until the early 17th Century when it was replaced by the sextant.
Astern—Any position behind a ship.
Athwart—Side to side, or crosswise to the keel.
Auger—A tool for drilling holes in wood.
Avast—Stop, halt, or cease.
Awash—A ship is riding so low that waves continuously wash across the deck.
Awning—A canopy, usually made from sail material covering a weather deck, gallery, or quarter gallery, for shade.
Axe—Also known as a Boarding Axe. Tool for cutting wood. Also used to cut lines, knock down doors, cut the yards. Also used as a weapon in close contact.
Aye—Agreement. Yes. From the mid 16th Century.
Aye-Aye—A Madagascar lemur. Haven’t found legitimate sailing use.
B is for Burgoo
Balance Frame—The forward-most or aftermost frame of the full width part of the hull.
Balinger—A small single masted boat used in the 15th and 16th Centuries.
Ballast—Heavy material placed in the bottom of a ships hold to help stabilize it. Stone, lead, and Iron have all been used in the past.
Baltimore Clipper—A fore and aft gaff-rigged two-masted boat with square sails on the foremast.
Barca-Longa—A two or three-masted vessel with lugsails. Mediterranean.
Barque-Longue—A small two-masted boat carrying square sails. 17th Century. French.
Barratry—Captain or crew Illegally selling ships cargo and claiming to the owners that it was lost at sea.
Barge—A long and narrow boat propelled by two rows of up to 20 oars. They were often used to transport senior officers. 17th century.
Bark or Barque—A three to five mast ship that is square-rigged on all but the aftermost mast. The Aftermost mast is fore-and-aft rigged.
Barkentine—A ship with three to five masts. The foremost is only one square-rigged, the rest of the masts are fore-and-aft rigged.
Barnacle—a clinging seashell type organism that often attach themselves to ships hulls.
Bar Shot—iron bars with a ball or half sphere at each end that is shot from cannons to damage an enemy’s rigging.
Basilisk—A large cannon shooting 14 ½ shot. 17th Century.
Battens—strips of wood sewn into sails or placed into sail pockets to help keep the sails form. Also strips of wood used to fasten down the hatches in bad weather.
Beating—Sailing close hauled through a series of tacks to get straight upwind of original position.
Becket—A looped rope with a knot on one end and an eye at the other. It is used to secure loose spars, ropes or oars.
Bees—A wood block attached to the bowsprit to guide, and provide tension (reefing) to the forestays. Also a block attached to any other spar to change and hold the spar in position.
Beetle—A heavy iron hammer that is used to drive wedges (irons) into the seams of wooden ships to open them before caulking.
Beakhead—A projection forward of the bow, and below the bowsprit. Frequently decorative.
Belay—To stop an action. Also to tie a rope and secure it. Fasten a line to a ship.
Belaying pin—pin made from wood, iron or brass that is kept in a hole in the ship’s rail. They are used to secure and tie the running rigging. They are also handy weapons in a fight—especially with a boarding enemy.
Belfry—An arched structure from which the ship’s bell hung.
Berth—A place for a ship to anchor. Referral to employment on a ship. A sailor’s bed or bunk on board a ship. Also refers to sufficient space for a ship to maneuver.
Bibb—A wooden bracket supporting the trestletrees.
Bight—A rope loop. It can be used in making complex knots.
Bilander—A small, two-masted boat, similar to a brigantine. Used by Dutch merchants along coastal and canal routes.
Bilge—-The inside bottom of a vessel.
Bilge pump—A mechanical devise to pump out water from the bilge, or lower part of the ship. The wooden ships of old leaked quite a bit and required a means of getting rid of the water.
Billethead—A bow decoration other than the figurehead. Usually curved flowing flowers.
Binnacle—A housing for the ship’s compass. It was usually a wooden box on a pedestal located near the helm.
Bireme—An ancient Greek or Roman galley. They were war ships with two tiers of oars on each side.
Bitt—A deck post used to tie ropes or cables.
Bitter End—The inboard end of a rope, cable, or anchor. The name is derived from being the end that is wound around a bitt.
Blanket—To sail parallel and slightly windward to another ship. This blocks some of their wind and slows them.
Block—Also called pulleys. Wooden or metal case that lines are run through to strengthen the hold of the line or change it’s direction.
Blow Out—To allow too much wind on a sail causing it to rip.
Bluff—Term used to describe the bow of a ship when it is round or flat shaped rather than sharp. From early 17th Century.
Boarding—To board a ship is to do so without consent. To come aboard is to so by invitation or consent.
Boat—Any sailing vessel with two masts or less. Any small open vessel.
Boat Hook—A pole with a hook on one end. Can be used as an aid to for docking and mooring a boat. Has been also used on ancient sailing vessels as a weapon when they were boarded.
Boatswain—Also bosun or bos’n. Officer responsible for keeping the anchors, rigging, cables, and other equipment maintained.
Bobstay—A rope or chain used to steady the bowsprit.
Boejer—A small, single-masted Dutch vessel. It has an extremely rounded stern, tall mast and shallow draft. Used on canals, rivers and lakes.
Bollard—A heavy post on a ship or wharf. It is used to tie mooring ropes or cables.
Boltrope—A rope that is sewn on the outer edges of sails to prevent tearing.
Bomb Vessel—Used high trajectory mortars instead of cannons. Built by French to fight Barbary corsairs. Foremast eliminated.
Bonaventure Mizzenmast—A small fourth mast abaft the mizzenmast. Often seen on larger galleons.
Bonnet—An extra strip of canvas fixed to the foot of a fore-and-aft sail.
Boom—A spar used to hold or extend the foot of a sail. In square-rigged vessels the temporary extensions to the yardarms to allow the rigging of studdingsails are also called booms.
Boom Jack—A line attached to the bottom of the boom and a short distance of the mast. It is used to adjust downward tension on the boom.
Boot—A protective covering wrapped around the bottom of the mast to keep water from going below.
Bow—Front of a boat or ship.
Bowline—Type of knot used to tie a loop at one end of a line.
Bowsprit—A spar that extends from outward from the bow of a boat or ship. It is used to anchor the foremost mast by the forestay and provides a place to attach sails.
Brackish—Water that is combined fresh and salt. Type of water one would find where a river empties into the sea.
Breach—A break in the hull allowing water to enter.
Breaker—A heavy ocean wave. Also cresting wave as it reaches shallow water.
Breakwater—Man-made land extension in order lessen erosion on land portion that it is protecting and calm wave action in the protected area.
Bream—Clean the bottom of a ship or boat of accumulated barnacles and other unwanted deposits.
Breast Line—A docking line attached at the bow or stern of a ship that extends at approximately a 90-degree angle from the ship to the dock.
Brig—A two masted square-rigged boat.
Brigantine—A two masted boat. Only the mainsail is fore and aft rigged.
Brine—Highly salty seawater.
Bring To—Turning a ship’s head (Bow) into the wind to stop it.
Bristol Fashion—Shipshape, high standards, neat, clean.
Broach—Stern sliding down the face of a wave ahead of the bow, causing the ship to be put into a broadside and out of control.
Broad Reach—Sailing from the wind but not directly downwind.
Broadside—Fire all cannon’s on one side of a ship at one time at an enemy vessel.
Brow—Gangplank. A moveable ramp for movement on and off a large boat or ship. *** Real pirates never made anyone actually walk the plank.
Brume—A mist or light fog.
Buccaneer—A pirate or privateer in the Caribbean. Derived from the French word boucanier, which meant user of a boucan, or native grill that was used for cooking meat. Named after French hunters who were driven from their trade by the Spanish and turned to privateering.
Bulkhead—A wall within the hull of a ship. Usually load bearing.
Bulwark—Extensions of a boat or ship’s topsides above the weather deck.
Bunt—Central part of a square sail.
Buntline—A line tied to the bottom of a square sail. It is used to haul the sail up to the yard when furling it.
Buoyancy—Makes an object able to float in a fluid, and the degree that it will float.
Burdened Vessel—The vessel that has to give the right-of-way when the action is required.
Burgoo—A thick, boiled, oatmeal, gruel or porridge. From the mid to late 18th Century.
Butt Joint—The point where two planks join without scarfing or overlapping.
By the Board—Anything that has gone overboard.
By the Head—A vessel that is deeper forward than aft.
By the Lee—Sailing with the wind behind and slightly to the side that the sails are on. Can be risky when it causes a dangerous and hard jibe.
By the Stern—A ship sailing deeper aft than forward.
By the Wind—Sailing close hauled or beating.
C is for Cat O’ Nine Tails
Cabin—A living compartment on a ship. In the Age of Sailing, usually only officers or wealthy passengers, had cabins. And they were frequently shared accommodations. They were more Motel 6 than the Ritz Hotel.
Cable—A rope larger than a 10” circumference. More modern of, course, is a wire rope.
Caique—A small sailboat in Eastern Mediterranean area. Not to be confused with Kayak.
Calm—No wind or sea. You wouldn’t be so calm however if someone with more oars in the water than you was chasing you.
Camber—The convex curves of a sail. EXAMPLE: “Did you see the fine looking Cambers on that gorgeous . . .”
Canal—An artificial waterway. Also something with a root that has to be extracted. Ouch.
Cannon Balls—Projectiles used from a distance to damage another ship, or kill its occupants. Yikes.
Canvas—A fabric originally made from hemp, then linen, then cotton. Used for sails or awnings. Also a term for the sails.
Cape—A headland or promontory extending into a body of water. Also a piece of clothing worn by such folks as the Phantom of the Opera.
Capsize—Turn a boat over in the water. Not usually a good idea.
Capstan. A drum-like structure that revolves on a spindle. It is used to reel a heavy line or chain. A mechanism previously used to raise or lower the anchor. Removable bars were placed in the capstan that men pushed as they walked around it. Horses and mules had to be tied to mechanisms similar to this on land, the sailors didn’t. Question: Who’s the smarter beast?”
Captain’s Mast—A hearing on naval ships where the captain dispenses punishment in disciplinary cases. Oh my.
Caravel—A two-masted lanteen-rigged boat used in 15th and 16th century off the coast of Western Africa and into the Atlantic by Poruguese explorers. Not to be confused with a carnival.
Cardinal Points—The four primary points of a compass. Also a high member of the Catholic Church showing people with money around the cathedral.
Careen—Tilt the ship on its side to clean the bottom of barnacles and other debris, or to repair the hull below the waterline. Also called to Heave Down. It’s best to do this in VERY shallow water.
Cargo—Merchandise hauled on a ship. Duh.
Cargo Bay—A large open area on a ship to carry cargo and stow goods. If you ever watched Star Trek you would know this without my having to tell you.
Carpenter’s Walk—A space between the hull and interior bulkheads. It was narrow and used to inspect for hull damage. Actually the carpenters walked pretty much the same as the rest of the crew (depending on how much rum or grog they had).
Carrack—A large 15th Century Galleon. Not to be confused with the sound a musket made when being fired.
Carronade—A short-range naval cannon used by the British Royal Navy in the 18th and 19th Centuries.
Carry Away—An object that breaks loose from another.
Casting Line—A heaving line. Not to be confused with what Show Biz professionals conduct in New York and Los Angeles.
Cast Off—To release the lines that connect a ship to its mooring. Also to release the sheets. Or to be removed from the tribe like on Survivor.
Cat—Hook an anchor with a block and tackle called the Cat while raising the anchor to the Cat Head prior to securing it. Or a thing to swing around by its tail and used as a siren (Not Recommended).
Cat Head—A beam extending from the hull at the bow. It is used to support an anchor when raised in order for it to be secured. Used to protect the bow when raising the anchor. Or the other end of the animal mentioned above.
Cat O’ Nine Tails—A short whip with nine leather straps. It was used for discipline by the bosun’s mate to flog sailors. The term—cat out of the bag—comes from the cat o’nine tails being kept in a baize bag. Or a cat born and raised in a nuclear waste dump.
Caulk—Fill gaps with a waterproof material. Whenever bubble gum isn’t available.
Cay—A small low lying Tropical island in a chain of islands. Also “Key”. Not what you open your buried treasure with.
Ceiling—the inside lining of the hull. Not the low thing tall people bump their heads on.
Centerline—A vertical line that runs from the bow to the stern through the middle of a vessel.
Chafe—Damage to a line by rubbing against another object. Or what happens to pirate’s private areas due to wearing those canvas pants.
Chain Shot—Cannon balls linked together by a chain. They were used to damage the enemy’s mast and rigging. Also to, you know, kill people.
Chain Wale—A horizontal ledge built outboard to spread shrouds and backstays outward.
Chantey, Chanty or Shanty—A song or chant used to help coordinate the efforts of the crewmen when engaged in heavy work such as raising the anchor or hoisting a sail. EXAMPLE from a future Captain Kate Novel:
Way, hay, up she rises,
Way, hay, up she rises,
Way, hay, up she rises,
Early in the morning!
What’ll Kate do with a rowdy sailor?
What’ll Kate do with a rowdy sailor?
What’ll Kate do with a rowdy sailor?
Early in the morning!
She’ll let the cat outta the bag!
She’ll let the cat outta the bag!
She’ll let the cat outta the bag!
Early in the morning!
Chart—A nautical map. Used way before those GPS thingies evolved.
Chase Guns—Cannons mounted on the bow or stern of a ship. They were usually smaller than the ships other cannons, and some were mobile. I have a couple mounted on my Acadia.
Chop—A series of small waves giving a rough up and down ride. Kind of like my Ford F250
Chronometer—A ship’s clock. From 1735. Tick tock.
Chute—Also “Spinnaker” so named because of similar appearance of a parachute. Ever try to parachute out of a ship? I did once and got my knickers a bit damp.
Claw Off—To beat to windward away from a lee shore. Also something nice sailors say to someone they don’t like.
Cleat—A fitting used to secure a line.
Clew—The lower aft corner of a sail. Mr. Green killed Mr. Body with a belaying pin in the lower aft corner of the blasted sail? Impossible.
Clew Lines—Lines attached to the clews of square sails and to the yards above. Also where Colonel Mustard stands in line to get his clues for the next game.
Clipper—A small 19th Century ship. With multiple masts, it was built for speed. Could it also be the ship’s barber?
Close Aboard—Near another vessel but not on it. Also how you’ll find shy honeymooners in their cabin.
Close-Hauled—Sailing as close to the wind as possible without luffing the sails. Haul those ashes, lads! Yo ho.
Close Reached—Sailing toward the wind but not close-hauled. Also see Close Aboard.
Close Winded—Capable of sailing well into the wind. Also see close Aboard.
Club Hauling—To drop an anchor at high speed causing you to turn quickly and get a good firing position on a vessel in pursuit. I tried that once with my Acadia, tore the heck out of the asphalt.
Coaming—A raised edge around a hatch to keep water from flowing to the lower deck. Also a vain sailor?
Coil—Lay a rope, layered and loosely in a spiral on the deck. Also a definition for very limber honeymooners.
Collar—A reinforced opening in the deck or the cabin roof that the mast passes through. Or what the captain gets hot under when things go badly.
Combers—Long curling waves. Also a name for surfers after they retire to the rum shack, blow dry their long curling waves, and comb them.
Come About—Tack. Turn the bow into the wind to change course. You want to be upwind after the rest of the fleet had chili for lunch.
Compass—An important navigational instrument for showing direction that came used long before GPS’s came along.
Cordage—Rope. Line. Give a hack writer enough cordage and he’ll hang himself with it.
Corsair—A pirate or pirate ship. A privateer, a Saracen, or Turkish privateer off the Barbary Coast. Someone you don’t want to meet on a dark sea.
Countercurrent—A current that flows next to another current but in the opposite direction. Kind of like the lives of a sailor and his wife.
Course—That be yer intended direction, mate.
Courses—The lowest square sail on each mast. Or what little wanna-be sailors take to learn how do be . . . well . . . little sailors.
Coxswain—Pronounced cox’n. The helmsman. Also might be a sailor who brags about his many conquests on shore leave.
Crow’s Nest—A structure built on the mainmast masthead. It was made with sides and sometimes a roof overhead. Was used to watch for ships, land, floating debris, and other hazards. From the 1700’s. Also where the captain’s wife stays while on board.
Culverin—A long barreled cannon with long range to strike targets at a distance. From 16th to 17th Centuries. As apposed to a short barreled cannon that shoots at everyone.
Cut and Run—To cut the sail bindings or anchor cables to make a quick escape. Or what a sailor on shore leave who runs out of money does when he can’t pay the tab.
Cut of His/Her Jib—This refers to the shape of a sail or sails. Since the sails shapes varied on different vessels it could be an identifier of either a known ship, or as a way to judge the possible sailing abilities of an unknown. Or what you notice when a cute lad or lass (depending on your sex and/or sexual persuasion) wearing tight jeans is walking in front of you.
Cyclone—Also Typhoon or Hurricane. Counterclockwise circular wind motion in the Northern Hemisphere. Clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere. Nasty thing no matter what you call it.
D is for Dinghy
Davey Jones’ Locker—A term used to indicate the dangers at the bottom of the sea.
Dead ahead—Straight in front of a vessel.
Dead astern—Directly behind a vessel.
Deadman—A free line that is swinging in the wind or dragging in the water.
Deadweight—The maximum weight in tonnage a ship can carry. It not only includes the cargo, but also crew and passengers, fuel, water and ship’s stores.
Deck—The approximately horizontal floor of a ship or boat. Decks in wooden sailing vessels were often sloped towards the stern or bow, and always had an athwart camber.
Demi-cannon—A heavy cannon, generally thirty to thirty-six pounds.
Demi-culverin—A long barreled cannon, generally 9 to 13 pounds. From 16th to 17th centuries.
Demurrage—Charges levied for delaying a ship or holding it beyond its scheduled departure.
Derelict—A vessel abandoned by its crew in open water and having no plans to return to it.
Dinghy—A small boat; either rowing or sailing. They have often been used as tenders for larger vessels.
Diurnal current—Having one flood current and one ebb current each day.
Diurnal tide—Having one high tide and one low tide each day.
Disembark—To leave a vessel. Go ashore.
Ditty bag—a small bag for personal items or tools.
Dhow—A lanteen-rigged sailing vessel. They originated it the Middle East.
Dock—A landing pier. Also a term used to place a vessel at a pier (Captain Kate docked her boat at the Eastside Pier.)
Dog—A hinged catch. It fits in a notch of a ratchet and moves a wheel forward, or prevents it from moving backward. A lever-like handle to secure hatches (He dogged the hatch).
Dogger—A two-masted Dutch fishing vessel.
Dog watch—The duty watch between 4:00 P.M. to 8:00 P.M.
Doldrums—Areas near the equator where there is little to no wind and considerable lightning storms.
Dolphin Striker–A short, perpendicular spar sitting under the bowsprit cap and used to counteract the upward pull on the jib-boom of the fore topgallant stay or topmast stay.
Dory—A small rowboat with a sharp prow and a narrow, flat bottom. Its draft is shallow.
Douse—To lower quickly, as in dousing a sail.
Draft—The depth of the curve of a sail. The distance from the bottom of the keel to the waterline. Also the depth or fullness of a sail.
Dressing down—A verbal reprimand. What Captain Kate does to a drunken sailor.
Drift—Amount a vessel is moved by wind or water currents when not under power.
Drag—Resistance caused by wind and water.
Draw—If a vessel has a draft of 10 feet, it’s said to draw 10 feet of water. Sails are drawing the wind when they are fully filled.
Down Easter—A square-rigged merchant vessel used largely for the grain trade in California. It had a large carrying capacity with a sharp hull. They were built in Maine, East and supposedly downwind of the major Eastern ports. From 1865 to 1890.
Dromon—A fast Mediterranean galley of medium size.
Dubbing—Using an adz to smooth wood.
Dunnage—Loose wood in a vessel’s hold, used to raise cargo above the deck and keep it from becoming damaged by water. Seepage was common in the old wooden sailing vessels, and rough seas could also cause water to collect in the vessels’ holds.
E is for Earring
Earrings—Small lines to secure the upper corners of the largest sails on a square rigged vessel to the yardarms.
East Indiaman—A large, well armed British merchant ship belonging to the British East India Company, used for trade between Europe and the East Indies. They also plied the Caribbean routes. Lady Katherine sailed on the Anne on her way to school in London when she was thirteen-years-old.
Ease or Ease Off—Loosen or let out.
Ebb—Tidal current that flows away from shore.
Eddy—A circular motion of the water when opposing currents meet.
Ensign—National flag flown by a vessel. Also a naval rank—the lowest of the low commissioned officers. I had to wear the USAF version of a butter bar, (second lieutenant), for a whole year before I was able to chew gum and march at the same time; thus achieving promotion to first lieutenant.
Equator—Latitude 0 degrees. Position of equal distance from the North and South poles, which divides the Earth into Northern and Southern hemispheres.
Escutcheon—Emblem located on a ship’s stern, bow, or sides with the name, coat of arms or any other symbol designating the owner.
Even Keel—A vessel is floating parallel, and on its designed waterline.
Eye—A loop on the end of a shroud or stay.
Eye of a Ship—Extreme bows of a ship. Comes from an ancient custom of painting an eye on each side of the bow so a ship could find her way.
Eye of the Wind—Directly upwind.
F is for Fireship
Falcon—A small anti-personnel cannon. Usually a 2-3 pounder.
Falconet—A small anti-personnel cannon. Usually a 1-1 1/2 pounder
Fall Off—When a vessel’s bow turns away from the direction from which the wind is coming it is said to fall off.
Fast—Held firmly—made fast or tied securely.
Fathom—A measurement of the water’s depth. One fathom is 6 feet, or 1.83 meters. From the Anglo-Saxon word, faehom, meaning to stretch two arms wide as a rough measurement of six feet.
Fay—Fit together two pieces of lumber so there is no perceptible space between them.
Feather—To change the course of a sailing vessel to windward after being hit by a strong wind, thus reducing the force of the wind on the sails and avoiding excess healing.
Fend Off—To hold away. Get out the pepper spray?
Fetch—The distance over which wind blows across the water’s surface.
Fiddle—A rail on tables and counters to keep objects from sliding off when heeled over in heavy winds.
Fiddlehead—The scrolled stern head of a vessel that lacks a true figurehead.
Fife Rail—A rail around the mast or along the ship’s rails with holes for belaying pins.
Fifth Rate—A sailing warship with 32-44 guns.
Figurehead—A carved image mounted under the bowsprit.
Fireship—A ship loaded with flammable materials and sailed into an enemy port or fleet and set on fire by its crew before abandoning it. A burning vessel used as a weapon by colliding with and destroy enemy ships. Often used in the 17th Century to finish off a disabled enemy vessel
First Mate—The second in command.
First Rate—Classification for the largest sailing warships of the 17th—19th Centuries. (Ship of the line.) They had three masts, and carried over 100 guns and a crew of over 850 on three gun decks.
Fish—To repair a mast or spar with a fillet of wood. To secure an anchor on the side of the ship to prepare for getting under way after catting, or lifting the anchor to the cathead.
Fisherman’s Staysail—A full quadrilateral sail used on schooners in light wind.
Fix—An accurate determination of your position without reference to a previous position.
Flank Speed—The maximum speed of a ship.
Flag—The colors flown on either the fore, main, or mizzenmast to show which nation the vessel shows allegiance to. Also a flag flown on the admiral’s ship to distinguish his ship from the others in the squadron.
Flagship—The sailing warship carrying the admiral or fleet commander and his flag.
Fleet—A number of ships sailing together. The number of merchant ships owned by a shipping company. The entirety of a nation’s navy in a region or territory. Five ships-of-the-line were considered a fleet in the 18th Century.
Flog—Violent back and forth whipping of a sail when the clew has been released in strong winds. Also punishment of a naughty sailor using the cat-‘o-nine-tails. Ouch!
Flood—A tidal current flowing toward shore. Opposite of ebb.
Flotsam—Debris or cargo that remains afloat after a shipwreck.
Fluyt—A Dutch three-masted, square-rigged merchant ship in the 17th Century.Following Sea—Waves or tidal movement directly aft of a vessel and flowing in the same direction.
Foot—The bottom edge of a sail or the bottom of a mast.
Footloose—The foot of a sail is not secure.
Footrope—A rope on each yard on a square rigged vessel to stand on while setting or stowing the sails.
Fore-and-Aft-Rigged—Rigged with sails bent to gaffs or set on stays in the midship line (parallel to the centerline) of a vessel.
Fore-and-Aft Sails—Sails that are set parallel to the centerline of a vessel.
Forecastle (foc’sle)—A partial deck above the upper deck at the head of a ship. Ancient war vessels had a castle-like structure for archers to shoot down on their enemies.
Foredeck—The forward part of the main deck.
Foremast—The forward mast of a vessel that has more than one mast.
Forepeak—The foremost part of a ship’s hold.
Foresail—Any sail set before the mast—jib, genoa, gennaker, spinnaker, etc.
Foresheets—The part of the boat forward of the foremast thwart.
Foretriangle—The triangular area formed by the mast, deck and bowsprit, and forestay. If a foresail is equal to or smaller than the foretriangle, it is a jib; if it is larger, it is a spinnaker, genoa, or gennaker.
Forward—Toward the bow.
Foul—Equipment that is jammed or tangled.
Foul an Anchor—To hook an underwater object.
Founder—To fill with water enough to sink.
Fourth Rate—A ship of the line. A warship with 50-60 guns on two gun decks.
Frigate—A warship. During the age of sail, a frigate was usually a long, low, lightweight, full-rigged ship built to fight. Built with only one gun deck. They were also used as escorts and patrols.
Full and By—Sailing into the wind by, but not close-hauled, so the sails are kept full. Provides a margin of error to avoid being taken aback in a tricky sea—A serious danger for square-rigged vessels. It can also mean doing a job in a steady and relaxed way, without undue urgency or strain.
Full-Rigged Ship—A sailing vessel with three or more masts, all square-rigged.
Furl—To fold or roll a sail and secure it.
G is for Gollywobbler
Gaff—The spar attached to the upper edge of a fore-and-aft mounted sail. Also a long hook with a sharp point to haul fish aboard.
Gaff Rigged—A fore and aft sail mounted on an upper spar or gaff that extends aft from the mast.
Gale—A strong wind. It is classified on the Beaufort scale as one of four (7-10) wind speeds from 32-63 mph (5-102 kph).
Galeas—A large, three-masted galley/galleon hybrid. Used both oars and sails for propulsion. From 16th to 18th centuries.
Galleon—A large, multi-decked vessel of the 16th to 18th centuries. They had 3 to 5 masts with a lateen sail on the mizzenmast.
Gallery—A platform at the stern of a ship. They could be open balconies or closed.
Galley—Kitchen aboard a ship or boat.
Gallows—A frame used to rest the boom on when the sail is furled.
Gammoning—A heavy rope securing the bowsprit to the stern.
Gammon Iron—The bow fitting that clamps the bowsprit to the stern.
Gangplank—A moveable walkway from ship to shore used in boarding and leaving a vessel.
Gangway—An opening in the bulwark of a ship to allow passengers to board and disembark.
Gantline—A rope rove through a single block hung from a mast to hoist workers, tools, flags, etc. It is also called a girtline.
Gasket—A light line for securing a furled sail to a boom. A sail stop.
Gate—A hinged, semicircular, metal band attached to a thwart on a sailing vessel to help stay a mast.
Gennaker—A foresail larger than either a jib or a genoa. It has greater camber for generating larger amounts of lift when reaching.
Genoa—A large foresail that reaches aft past the mast and overlaps the mainsail.
Ghost—To sail along slowly when there appears to be no wind.
Ghost Ship—Either a ship that appears as a ghostly apparition, the Flying Dutchman, or a ship that is found floating at sea with no sign of a crew aboard, the Mary Celeste.
Gig—A light boat rowed with four, six, or eight long oars. Usually reserved for the captain.
Gimball—A pivoted device that suspends a compass, stove or other devise so that it remains level when its support is tilted.
Girtline—A rope passing through a block hung from a mast or masthead to hoist light loads such as a flag, tools, and weapons. Also called a gantline. From the mid-19th century to present.
Give Way—To yield the right of way.
Give Way Vessel—Burdened vessel. The vessel that has to yield to the privileged vessel in a right of way situation.
Go About –To tack a vessel. To change course by turning the bow into the wind so that the wind comes from the other side of the vessel. To come about.
Gollywobbler—A full, quadrilateral sail used in light air on schooners. It is flown high, between the fore and main mast. Also known as a fisherman’s staysail.
Gooseneck—A swiveling device that connects the boom to the mast of a sailboat or ship, allowing the boom to swivel vertically and horizontally.
Goosewinged—To sail wing-on-wing with the headsail on the windward side.
Grapeshot—A type of anti-personnel ammunition fired from a cannon to injure personnel and damage rigging and sails instead of ship structure. It consisted of a mass of loosely packed metal slugs, or chain links, shards of glass, rocks, etc. They are loaded into a bag. On firing, the bag disintegrates and the shot spreads out from the muzzle at high velocity.
Grapnel—Lightweight anchor with a claw –like hooks or barbs. They were used as an anchor, or in dragging, or grappling. Also called a grappling hook.
Graving—Cleaning the submerged part of the hull to protect it from weeds, shipworm, and decay. Performed at a graving dock.
Grog—Watered down rum consisting of half a gill of rum with an equal part of water. From 1740.
Gross Ton—A British unit of weight equivalent to 2240 pounds. Also called a long ton.
Ground—The bed of the sea, or other body of water.
Grounding—When a ship afloat comes in touch with the bed of the sea, it is considered grounded.
Ground Swell—A long ocean wave or series of waves that start a long distance away and increase in height, and shorter distances between each due to the gradient of the bottom as they arrive in shallower waters.
Ground Tackle—The anchor, chain, and rode.
Growler—A small iceberg, a piece of an iceberg, or any other sea ice that is large enough to be a hazard to shipping, but small enough to avoid detection.
Gudgeon—A socket for a pintle of a rudder. Also Gudgin.
Gun—A term for a carriage mounted cannon in sailing warships. By the 18th century guns were rated according to the weight shot they fired. Anywhere from 1 to 42 pounds.
Gunner—An officer in charge of the artillery and ammunition on a sailing warship. He was also responsible for training sailors on how to handle and fire cannons.
Gunner’s Daughter–A means of disciplining bad behavior. The sailor requiring discipline would be tied down to the barrel of a cannon and the cannon would be fired. What’s that ringing in my ears?
Gunter Rig—A triangular sail hung from a yard that slides up a shortened mast and raises to vertical, allowing the peak of the sail to be much higher than the mast. Similar to gaff rig, but the yard raises all the way to vertical.
Gunwale—Or gun’l. The upper edge of the sheer strake or hull of the boat at deck level.
Guy—A controlling line attached to the end of a movable spar.
Gibe or Jibe—A change of tack going downwind that brings the stern through the wind’s eye.
Gybe Ho—A warning that a gybe has been initiated by the helmsman, and a warning to the crew to watch out for movement of the boom.
H is for Hooker
Hail—To call another vessel.
Hair Bracket—A molding in the back of, or runs aft from a figurehead or billethead.
Half Beam—A short beam running from the side of the ship to the coamings (raised border on the deck) of hatches. Half Frame—A floorless frame fore and aft with futtocks seated directly on the keel.
Halyard—A line used to hoist and lower a sail. or a line used to hoist a flag.
Halyard Rack—A toothed rack on which the halyard may be tensioned to adjust the luff of the sail.
Hammock—Used as beds for the seamen. It was often made of canvas and hung longwise (fore and aft) under the above deck.
Hance—A step by the drop of a hand-rail along the top of a ship’s side to a lower level.
Hancing Piece—A Hence bracket. They were often carved elaborately and sometimes ran several feet down a ships side.
Hand—A unit of measurement of 4 inches .
Hand Lead—A weight on a line lowered into the water to measure depth.
Handsomely—To do something slow and careful.
Hanging Knee—A wooden brace that attaches to the side of a hull and supports the deck beams or decking.
Hank—A fastener attached to the luff of a headsail that attaches the headsail to the headstay or forestay.
Handspike—A wooden lever to turn a windlass or capstan. They had a rectangular or square end to fit into a hole in the barrel of a windlass or capstan. They were also used as a lever.
Handy Billy—A loose block and tackle with a hook or tail on each end. They can be used wherever needed.
Harpins—The bow part of the wales where they are attached to the stem.
Harbor—A body of water where ships can shelter from the weather or be stored. They can be natural or man-made.
Harbor Master—The person in charge of docking spaces, anchorage, refuse collection and other functions in a harbor.
Hard Alee—The command given to inform the crew that the helm is being turned quickly to leeward into the wind when tacking.
Harden Up—To steer closer into the wind, usually by tightening the sheets.
Hard Over—As far as possible in one direction.
Hardtack—A cracker or biscuit made from flour, water, and sometimes salt eaten when perishable foods were scarce on long sea voyages and military campaigns. Derives from British sailor slang for food (tack).
Hatch—A covering for a hatchway.
Hatchway—An opening in a ships deck for access below decks.
Haul—To pull on (haul a line). Also said of the wind (the wind hauled occasionally to the southward).
Haul Around—To change from a run to a reach.
Hauled Flat—The condition of the sails when they are running almost directly fore-and-aft but still drawing wind.
Haul Out—To remove from the water.
Hawse—Location of the hawseholes at the bow of a ship. A ship is said to be riding at hawse when it is moored with both port and starboard anchors.
Hawsehole—A hole in a ship’s bow that an anchor cable (hawser) passes through.
Hawse-pieces—Large pieces of wood that were attached to the bow where the hawseholes were cut.
Hawser—A cable or rope used to moor or tow a ship.
Head—The top edge of a four-sided sail. Also the area forward of the forecastle and beak. The toilet (latrine) on board a ship. In the age of sail it was located at the bow over the water.
Header—A shift in wind direction closer to the bow of the vessel that causes you to Head Off in order to keep the sails from Luffing. Opposite of a Lift. Also what one takes when he/she falls head first off of something. (Ouch)
Headfoil—A metal fitting on a Forestay used to secure the Luff of a sail by holding the Bolt Rope in place.
Heading—The direction the Bow of a ship is pointed.
Head Ledges—Vertical timbers at either end of a centerboard Trunk or Case that attaches to and stabilizes the planks of the trunk.
Heads Up—Danger. Watch out.
Head Off—Turn downwind of current course. To Fall Off.
Headroom—The vertical space between the deck you stand on and it’s ceiling.
Headsail—A sail forward of a foremast (ex. a jib).
Headstay—A line attached to the masthead and running to the bow or bowsprit. The Luff of the Jib might be attached to the headstay.
Head to Wind—When the bow is turned into the wind with the sails Luffing.
Head Up—To turn upwind of your current course. It’s the opposite of Bearing Away, Bearing Off or Falling Off.
Headway—Forward motion of a ship.
Headwind—A wind coming from the opposite direction you are sailing.
Heave—Up and down movement of a ship. Also to throw or pull a line.
Heave Down—To turn a ship to its side. To Careen it.
Heave To—Taking a ship into a position where there is little or no headway. This is usually done with the bow into the wind or Close To.
Heaving Line—A light line used to pull a large line such as a Hawser.
Heavy Weather—Stormy weather accompanied by rough, high seas.
Heel—The lower end of a mast. The aft end of a ship’s keel. And the Leeward lean of a sailboat caused by the force of the wind on its sails.
Helm—The mechanical apparatus by which a ship is steered. It can be a wheel, tiller, yoke, or rudder. Also the area around the steering mechanisms.
Helm’s-A-Lee—The warning given that the tiller has been moved toward the lee side of the ship by the helmsman to turn the vessel upwind to tack. It is a warning to watch out for the boom while the ship is tacking.
Helmsman—The crewman who is steering the ship.
Hemp—The material to make cordage or rope. They are made from tough, coarse fibers of the cannabis plant. Ever wonder why sailors smile so much?
High Tide—The maximum height a tide reaches in a tidal day.
Hitch—To tie a line to an object. Also the name of a type of knot.
Hoist—To raise aloft.
Hogging—When a ship’s keel arches up because of structural weakness.
Hold—A large compartment below decks where cargo and ship’s stores are stowed. Booty too. Arr.
Hollow Shot—A hollowed-out ball filled with gun-powder.
Holystone—A soft sandstone used with sand to scrub the decks. (From the early 1700’s origin of name undetermined, perhaps because of the holes in the stone.
Hooker—Quit grinning. It’s a small single or two-masted fishing boat with square sails on the mainmast.
Hoop—The wooden hoops that secure a sail’s luff to the mast. They slide up and down to hoist or lower the sails.
Horn—Fixtures that secure gaffs to a mast. They can slide up and down the mast.
Horn Timbers—They are timbers that rise from the sternpost to support the stern and stern gallery overhang.
Horse—A wooden rod or iron bar that runs athwart the deck to allow the sheet of a fore-and aft-sail to move side-to-side when tacking.
Horsing Iron—A caulking iron for caulking deck seams.
Hound—A large timber support bracket location directly below the head of a mast and supports the trestletrees and top.
Hourglass—A fouled spinnaker that is twisted in the middle so that only the top and bottom of the sail will fill.
Hoy—A European coastal merchant and fishing boat. It could have anywhere from one to three masts. From 17th and 18th centuries.
Hulk—A medieval ship with the ends of the planks fitted parallel to the stern and sternposts. Or a really ugly cartoon character.
Hull—Hull: The main body of a ship not including the masts, rigging and internal fittings.
Hull Worms—Small destructive salt-water bivalves that attach to the hull, then bores holes and tunnels. Also known as Teredo Worms.
I is for Idlers
Idlers–General specialist tradesmen (carpenter and sailmaker) who are not required to stand watch.
Impress–To force a person to serve aboard a ship. Also Shanghai.
Interscalm–Minimum distance between rowers or oarsmen (approximately a meter or yard). Could be used to estimate the length of a rowed vessel.
Inboard–Inward – Closer to the centerline of the vessel. Varies when a vessel is moored to a pier – the side against the pier is inboard; the side away from the pier is outboard.
Irish Pennants–Rope yarns or loose ends that hang about the rigging or deck. Considered sloppy. This writer would have surely been referred to as an Irish pennant in the age of sailing.
Ironclad–A warship with a wooden hull and an outer layer of iron.
J is for Jolly Boat
Jack–A sailor. Jack Tar is also another name for sailors of old due to the large amount of tar they used as water-repellant preservative on sailing ships. Jack is also a term used for a small flag attached to the ship’s bow, which usually designates it’s nationality.
Jack Staff–A pole attached to the bowsprit cap used to fly the Jack (The flag not the sailor.) .
Jackyard Topsail–A triangular topsail above the mainsail in a gaff-rigged ship.
Jacob’s Staff–An instrument to measure altitude.
Jeers–Heavy tackle used to hoist the lower yards in square rigged vessels.
Jerry Iron–(Also called Meaking Iron). An iron tool used to remove oakum, which was used for caulking the decks and hull, from the seams.
Jib–A triangular fore-and-aft sail from the fore-topmast head to the bow or bowsprit.
Jib-Boom–A continuation of the bowsprit to stay the foot of the outer jib and the stay of the topgallant mast. A flying jib-boom is an extension that the tack of the flying jib is attached to.
JIGGER–A piece of rope approximately five feet long with a block at one end and a sheave at the other. It is used to pull the back of a cable to bring it aboard ship with a windlass.
Jolly Boat–A small all purpose boat that is carried aboard ship.
Jumper–A stay going from the outer end of the jib-boom to the dolphin striker.
Jury Rig–A temporary rig used to replace a damaged mast or spar.
Jute–Fiber from either the Corchorus capsularis or Corchorus olitorius plants from Asia that is used for cordage and to create oakum.