Phrases from the Sea

Once you have spent time on a boat, you realize that many terms and everyday expressions actually originated out on the sea. We all know words like head, galley, port and starboard.However, there are other phrases and terms that have been coopted into everyday language you may be surprised about. Here are some of my favorite examples:

  • Clean bill of health: this phrase actually meant that the ship in question had documentation to prove that there was no epidemics or infections at the ship’s port of departure. This information helped prevent the spread of disease. Now it usually denotes a good visit to the doctor or conquering an illness.
  • Mayday: this distress call is actually a version of the French words m’aidez, which translates to ‘help me.’
  • As the crow flies: Sailors would literally release a caged crow if they were lost or could not locate the shore. The bird would fly toward land, which would help the ship orient itself. Now it usually denotes the fastest, straightest route somewhere.
  • Down the hatch: Although this is usually a drinking term now, it originally was an instruction on sea freighters to lower cargo into the hatch.
  • Showing their true colors: many warships often carried flags from other places in order to misrepresent themselves. They would wait until they got within firing range of another ship and then, in order to comply with civilized warfare rules, show their true flag (also known as colors) before they took their first shot. We tend to say this now when someone has betrayed us in some way.
  • Toe the line: when we say this, we are typically speaking about someone who behaves properly. However, it was more literal when it was strictly a nautical term. Warships had parallel lines on the deck, and the sailors would have to muster with their toes at the lines.
  • Footloose: The bottom part of the sail is called a foot. If it breaks free or isn’t secured, it is deemed footloose. This will cause it to flap and dance randomly in the wind.
  • Three sheets to the wind: A sheet is a rope line that controls tension on a square sail’s downwind side. If the sails were loose, they will flap—known as ‘in the wind’. When that happens, the ship would stagger and drift aimlessly downwind. A drunken person stumbling around moves in a very similar manner, hence the expression.
  • Cut and run: this expression means to take your losses and get yourself out of a situation. Originally it was a self-preservation strategy on the high seas—cutting the anchor rope and running away from a fight you could not win.
  • Aboveboard: typically denotes that everything is on legal and upfront. On a ship, it means everything on or above the open deck.

I found a lot of these to be incredibly interesting. If you feel the same way, let me know and I will write up another one of these sometime.

Nice Day for a Sail

I have been wanting to get out on the water for weeks now but either work or the weather would not allow it. I did get my boat out this past weekend, though. I should have been at work, dealing with yet another account, but I chose not to. The account will be there on Monday. The good weather would not.

The wind was reported to be around 10 knots, the sky was forecasted to be clear and sunny. As soon as I heard the report, I knew that I would not be making an appearance at work. It was a good choice.

I took Nordic Breeze out on the water when there was still relatively nobody out on the water. It was so quiet and peaceful. I turned my phone to silent and just listened to the wind and the water lapping at the hull. I found a nice spot to sit for a bit and had a snack. It was so nice to be out there with no computer and no phone. All I had to do was pay attention to the weather and my boat. I brought a book with me and sat up top to read it and enjoy the day without being disturbed.

After a few hours, I started to get hungry again so I had some lunch. I sailed around a little bit after that to find a less crowded location—I had gained some neighbors as I was reading. I probably would have moved anyway. The wind was good and it gave me something to do. Sometimes I find myself just wanting to go through the mechanics of sailing whether I am settled or not.

I found another great location to settle and so that is what I did. It was closer to the shore so my internet connection was working again. I checked my phone and there were a few emails from work. I decided that I would wait until the next day to answer them since none were really urgent. I had a text from my wife to remind me to reapply my sunscreen, so I did that. She knows me so well and knew I would start to burn right about that time. I had another sandwich and some salad for dinner and got back to the dock just as the sun was setting. I would have liked to stay out on the water to see the sun go down but I had to be back home for a movie date with my wife.

The weather turned overnight. It got very overcast and humid, with almost no breeze. There was some lightning. I know because I saw it from the window at my office. I was so glad that I had gotten out on the boat the day before instead.

Long Day on the Water

I finally convinced my wife to come out on the Nordic Breeze yesterday. The weather was supposed to be nice, I had cleaned the boat from top to bottom, and I even packed us snacks and a nice lunch to eat onboard. She tried to say no but I persuaded her with a bottle of wine and a reminder that she probably wouldn’t find a quieter place to read that great novel she’s been trying to get started. She really could not argue with my logic, and reminded me that I am a pretty good salesman when I am turning on the charm.

My wife is not the best early riser, so I had a cup of coffee waiting for her when her alarm went off. The ride to the boat was nice and quiet—there really was nobody on the roads and she wasn’t much for conversation. The pier was pretty quiet too. My wife knows enough about sailing to help me get the boat away from the dock and it was refreshing to have some help for a change. We got underway and she immediately went below decks for a nap. That was fine by me. I had us set up and moving at a good clip shortly after. It was a great day to be out on the water and we were rolling along at a good clip.

I found a nice quiet spot and settled in with a book for a while and waited for my wife to wake up. She stumbled back above decks about two hours later, mostly because she was hungry. We ate breakfast (her)/lunch (me). We had some nice conversations and enjoyed the scenery. It was nice to be able to talk without the daily distractions that go on at home. The tv, cellphones, that sort of thing. I probably dozed off in the sun after our little chat and she probably cracked open her book, which is how I found her when I woke up.

We mostly just relaxed. It was a really nice change of pace. We decided to go out to eat at a seafood restaurant that wasn’t too far away from our location. We got the boat situated and headed that way. We made it there just before sunset, so we stayed aboard to watch the sun go down. It was a beautiful sight and my wife took quite a few pictures. I chose to tell myself that was a good sign and proof that she was enjoying herself. Maybe she will come out with me more often. The restaurant wasn’t very crowded, so we were able to get a table outside. The breeze was nice and the evening was warm. Our food was delicious, too. It was a perfect evening, really.

After dinner, we headed back to the boat. I wanted to head back but she pointed out that I had made her a promise. I opened the bottle of wine, although if we drank two glasses total, it was a lot. I avoid drinking when I am on a boat, especially when I am the one steering, and she doesn’t often drink when I don’t. We docked and headed home for hot showers and to finally finish that bottle of wine.

I couldn’t have asked for a better day.