It’s the time of year when cabin fever has reached intolerable levels and people start looking for some relief. I mean, even the groundhog went back to bed, or south to Mexico for six more weeks, and with snow still popping up in my neighbourhood, I figure it’s past time to go looking for someplace warmer.
Recently I was in the BCAA renewing my insurance and I couldn’t pull myself away from all those posters promoting cruises to Trinidad and Tobago, Cuba, Fiji. I became desperate to inhale the odor of suntan lotion. I want to look into the sky and squint enjoying the sun on my cheeks instead of risking snow-blindness and frostbite.
So for all of you woefully winter weary weather whiners from what used to be Lotus Land (even Mayor Moonbeam is ready to ditch the lotus flower from the logo) let’s consider the vocabulary you’ll need for a few warm weeks below the Tropic of Cancer (that’s tropic, not topic).
The pointy end of the ship (never call it a boat) is called the bow. Origin? Maybe because a bow is a curve. Never-the-less, in olde English it was called a boga. By the time the Middle English came along, it had become bowe. Of course because of the English penchant for brevity, you can’t shorten a four letter word much further, so we ended up with bow. If you’re stuck though, pointy end will do, and for reference later, that end of the ship was referred to as the head end.
The other end is the stern which is the rear or after part of a vessel, opposite the bow or stem – now you know whence the term from stem to stern comes; it means from front to back). It has nothing to do with Howard, or a serious tone of voice. The old Norse word was steering, which makes me wonder if they had a central rudder before everyone else (see starboard) … hmmm!
Starboard a corruption of “steerboard” the real word for the oar-like steering board mounted on the right side of the ship (before the rudder was placed at the stern on the midline of the vessel). Over time ‘steer board’ became starboard. As for the name for the left side of the ship, early on, it was called the bæcbord, likely because the helmsman, in order to steer, often had his back to the other side of the ship. Next it was called the laddebord, the side of the ship where passengers boarded and cargo was loaded (where the steering oar wasn’t in the way). Also because of the oar, the ship was moored with the left side to the dock, the left side was facing the port. It was the British Navy that changed it to port for all of its ships in the mid 19th century, followed two years later by their American cousins.
Getting a-head: Not really over achieving, although…. the head is the nautical term for toilet. The name derives from sailing ships in which the toilet area for the regular sailors was placed at the head or bow of the ship, thus allowing for seas to wash through that area and flush the.. well, you know what I mean.
Three other directional terms you should know to increase our pleasure and security while aboard: Windward, leeward and Posh. Windward because that’s the side the wind is blowing against the ship. It’s very important to know if you urgently become sea sick and must seek out the railing. You don’t want a little blow-back if you get my drift. You won’t have to worry about that on the leeward side, which is the side away from, or sheltered from, the wind and is the side you must find a railing on for utmost comfort. Posh, is the term applied to either the left or right side of the ship, that evolved during the steamship era of trans-Atlantic travel. To travel posh meant to have a wonderful more expensive stateroom, and eventually became the word for all things luxurious. But the origin and real meaning was the secret known to a few elite passengers who wanted to travel on the sunny side of the ship back and forth. POSH was in fact an acronym meaning (when traveling from Britain or Europe to America) Port Out, Starboard Home. That way you got a cabin on the sunny side, coming or going.
So learn your terms and next time we’ll go aboard and talk turkey on the poop deck. But if you can’t wait, Bon Voyage!