POWER & SAIL SQUADRON
Celebrating over 50 years of boating safety education
Why Canadians Make Good Sailors, Eh?
We can't be totally sure, but we think it might have to do with the horrible Canadian
habit of tacking "eh" onto our utterances. The difference is that while our
sailor ancestors tacked "eh" onto their utterances, they did it at the start of
words, not the end, and their pronunciation was quite obviously different back then. They
used the "short a" ("a" as in "bat") and came up with an
incredibly rich family of nautical terms beginning with "a".
We all know, I'm sure, that the winds aloft are fairer than the winds
alow, and what
Hollywood director does not know that sailors (and this includes movie industry pirates
and their parrots) frequently say (among other things) "Ahoy!" and "Avast
From time to time other ships could no doubt be seen (and described with "a"
words) as being ahead, abeam, or perhaps astern, and they may have been spotted from a
Abreast and aboard, and, of course, adrift and aground come to mind too easily as
nautical terms, but some of the "a" words have lost their meaning with time and
lack of use and might be less easily recognized.
The quartet of abox, a-bracket and a-Burton and a-peek (or a-peak) fall into the
category of nearly forgotten words. Of these perhaps only the last one could be of any use
at all to us. Its meaning is to have the bow of the ship directly over the anchor prior to
weighing anchor and for this reason could be very useful to most of us on a day-to-day
basis. Does anyone remember the tune "Anchors Aweigh"?
If the head-yards were laid a-box in an old fashioned square rigged vessel, they lay
square to the foremast in order to heave to. The letter "a" in a-bracket should
be pronounced with the long a sound (as in "way") and for that reason should be
excluded from this category of "a" words, for it denotes nothing more than the
triangular bracket extending from the hull of a steam or motor vessel to give support to
the propeller shaft where it extends beyond the hull quite obviously in the shape of a
capital "A" inverted.
Now that you are completely uncertain as to how to pronounce "a", we will go
back to the short a of "bat" in a-Burton. This term applied to the stowage of
casks athwarthsips in line with the deck beams. The aim was to stow as many casks of
water, wine, salt beef or pork, etc., as possible in a way in which they were readily
accessible below decks and at the same time took up the least space.
We might be tempted in foul weather to lie a-hull and if things are too wet on the
foredeck we would probably want to head aft, a shortened form of abaft. Awash is not
something limited to Mondays however undesirable the condition and virtually all yachtsmen
at the helm will shout "Helm's a-lee" in tacking. The crew can get away from a
boom coming over if warned what the helmsman is doing!
"Aback" describes the situation on a square rigged ship when the yards were
trimmed to bring the wind onto the forward side of the sails. ("Lay
aback!" was the command used. The ship would obviously lose way quickly and gather
stern way At anchor, of course, a mizzen topsail could be laid aback to prevent the vessel
surging over her anchor and fouling the rode. Once the anchor was weighed, it would be
a-Cockbill (or a-Cockbell) when hung by its ring from the cathead or from the hawsehole
ready for letting go, and the word a-trip had several quite distinct meanings. Yards were
a-trip when swayed up and ready for crossing. A top-gallant mast (pronounced
"t'gallant") on the other hand was a-trip when it was ready to be struck or
lowered. Top sails in a square rigged ship were a-trip when fully hoisted and ready for
sheeting. and an anchor was a-trip when it was broken free of the ground by the pull of
Courtesty of: 1st/Lt. J. Dawson, J.N.
From "The Wheelhouse", newsletter of the Lake St. Louis Squadron.