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Sailing Ships, Additional Subthemes

Subthemes: Wind, Technology, Expressions

The four sections before this address concepts related to Sailing Ships: rebellion on a South Seas voyage, a vacation’s charter ruined, a paean to save an historic warship, and commercial sailing ships in port. Here we add subthemes that do not relate to any of the pieces of art.

Wind: Wind is to sails as water is to mills, the source of power. If a sailing ship were not becalmed, the person at the helm had to read the winds, avoid luffing the sails, keep an eye on the wind indicator and adjust accordingly. When there was no wind to fill the sails, sailors would float with the tide until the wind returned. They would “tide over.” Too much wind brought stormy danger, but the right amount from the right direction could send the properly-spread ship racing across the waves; you had “the wind in your sails.”

Technology: Sailing out of sight of land called for navigational skills and, later, tools. One of the most useful technologies for sailors would be the sextant. To find the ship’s latitude, sailors used one to measure the angle created by the noon sun, the ship, and the visible horizon. They converted that angle to degrees latitude by using charts or tables.

Sailor using a sextant from Marine Sight .

Figuring out a ship’s longitude was harder, until a device called a chronometer was invented. A chronometer could keep accurate time at sea, and by the end of the 18th century nearly every captain had one on board as an aid for finding longitude (the distance from Greenwich, England) .

A much earlier technology, a steering oar was a basic lever – typically an oversized oar or board – attached amidship on the starboard (an etymological derivation of the original ‘steerboard’) side of the vessel or at the stern. The innovation allowed a helmsman to pilot the craft more accurately. This background and the following two come from Yachting & Boating World.

A structural beam that runs from a ship’s bow to its stern and sits lower than the rest of the hull, the keel was invented by the Vikings. Because their sailing ships were square-rigged, they were prone to sliding off course when tacking close to the wind. A keel prevented this slide, increased speed, and made Viking ships more stable. The invention of the lateen or latin-rig sail, a triangular sail mounted at an angle and running in a fore-and-aft direction, permitted a maneuver called ‘tacking.’ Skillful tacking allows boats to make way to windward in a zig-zagging fashion. We might also think of lighthouses as a sailing technology. For millennia, coastal people built lighthouses so that ships could be warned about dangerous coasts or outcroppings. According to Lighthouse Directory, there are more than 18,600 lighthouses worldwide. Finally, hats off to the anonymous inventors and improvers of anchors. An anchor appears conspicuously in the Seurat painting.

Expressions: Here are 178 expressions that use sailing terms in more generalized senses. Nearly all of them came from Tall Tales but I have modified several of the definitions that blogger offered and omitted a few of his expressions. The expressions are listed in alphabetical order.

A dressing down (tell people directly that their performance was inadequate)
A shot across the bow (give someone a warning; next time, it is worse)
A square meal (an excellent, filling meal)
A1 condition (in excellent shape)
Abandon ship (a hopeless situation that we are retreating from)
All at sea (in a state of confusion)
All hands on deck (urgent call for everyone to help)
All sewn up (all done and completed)
Aloof (keeping your distance in both a physical and emotional sense)
An albatross around your neck (an annoying burden)
Anchors aweigh (getting on our way; departing)
Armed to the teeth (has ample weapons)
As the crow flies (the shortest route between two points)
At a rate of knots (moving quickly)
At close quarters (close combat in confined spaces)
At loggerheads ( serious disagreements that are still not settled)
At the helm (in charge and in command)
Bail out (help others get out of a sticky situation)
Barge in (suddenly and rudely interrupt or disturb someone)
Batten down the hatches (prepare for troubled times ahead)
Between the Devil and the deep blue sea (between a rock and a hard place)
Bigwigs (high ranking executive or politician)
Bolster (support or strengthen)
Broad in the beam (refers to the hips By and large (On the whole, everything considered)
Calm before the storm (we expect conditions to change from smooth to troubled)
Can’t fathom it (get to the bottom if a topic, get a full understanding)
Canteen medals (stains on your shirt caused by spilling food or drink)
Chewing the fat (a casual conversation)
Chock-a-block (completely full)
Clean bill of health (medical as well as economic wellbeing)
Clear the deck (prepare for action by dealing with anything that might hinder you)
Come up through the hawse-pipe (climb the corporate ladder from the bottom)
Copper-bottomed (quality and trustworthiness of the thing)
Crew cut (a very short hairstyle)
Cup of Joe (coffee)
Davy Jones' Locker (the bottom of the sea)
Dead in the water (neither moving forward nor backwards)
Deep-six someone (dispose of someone or something)
Deliver a broadside (powerful verbal attack)
Dire straits (in danger)
Dismantle (take an object apart)
Don’t like the cut of his jib (Not like a person’s general demeanor)
Don’t rock the boat (don’t disturb the good situation)
Down in the doldrums (depressed, feeling blue)
Down the hatch (eat heartily)
Drag your anchor (behaviour is sluggish, unenthusiastic or inefficient)
Drifting through life (without a purpose)
Dutch Courage (A drunk displays bravery due inebriation)
Edging your way forward (moving more sideways than forward, and slowly)
Enough to sink a ship (enormous or very large or in any case more than enough)
Everything is hunky-dory (Everything is going well and without frustration)
Facing a strong headwind (hard times ahead)
Feeling blue (down or depressed)
Feeling groggy (hung over)
Figurehead (someone in charge without real power)
First-rate (none better)
Fits the bill (all is good)
Flotsam and jetsam (bits and pieces without much value or use)
Footloose and fancy-free (a person not constrained by being in a relationship)
Forging ahead (press or keep on, perhaps slowly)
From stem to stern (something in its entirety, from front to back, fully)
Full sails (going quickly)
Full to the gunwales (no space left)
Get cracking (encourage someone to start or speed up procedures)
Get on board (Agree and partake with a concept or plan)
Get underway (begin a journey or a project)
Get hitched (the act of marriage)
Give it a wide berth (provide ample space)
Give me some latitude (allow a person freedom to achieve their goals rather than micro-manage them)
Give me some leeway (some latitude or permission)
Give me some slack (give me a break)
Go by the board (abandon or rejected something you previously supported)
Go overboard (act in an enthusiastic or immoderate manner)
Go the whole nine yards (complete, comprehensive and includes everything)
Go with the flow (relax and take the path of least resistance)
Going Dutch (sharing expenses, often a meal)
Groundswell (a change in public opinion for the better Hand over fist (do something quickly)
Hang tight (hold on under duress)
Hard and fast (a person will not move or wake up in a hurry)
Hard-up (in need)
Having both oars in the water (calm, collected and moving forward with purpose)
Hazing (an initiation ceremony or rite)
Hasn’t got a clue (ignorant about something)
High and dry (abandoned in your time of need) In his wake (behind, things left behind by someone or something)
In the offing (not happening in the next few moments but imminently)
Jack Tar (low rank sailor)
Jump ship (give up on, or leave something often suddenly and without warning)
Jury rig (a makeshift repair with materials that are at hand)
Keeled over (died suddenly)
Keelhaul (cruelly chastise or punish)
Knock seven bells out of someone (beat a person up physically or verbally severely)
Know the ropes (have enough experience and knowledge to get the job done)
Landlubber (a person not comfortable at sea)
Lay of the land (the shape and composition of the land)
Leading light (someone who inspires)
Let her rip (launch something explosively)
Letting the cat out of the bag (revealed a secret carelessly and often by mistake)
Limey (sailor in the British Royal Navy)
Long shot (little chance of success but if achieved will reap great rewards)
Loose cannon (unpredictable or hard to control)
Loose lips sink ships (disclosures can be harmful)
Lower deck Lawyer (a “know-it-all” with a bit of knowledge just enough to be dangerous)
Lower the boom (stop someone by physical force)
Maiden voyage (first attempt at something)
Mainstay (a person or thing on which much is based or depends on)
Making up leeway (after falling behind, trying to recover)
Making waves (someone is actively and intentionally is causing trouble)
Marooned (stranded)
Mayday/SOS (need help urgently)
Mind your P’s and Q’s (behave in a manner acceptable for the occasion)
Not enough room to swing a cat (cramped and too small)
Off to a flying start (an auspicious beginning of something) On an even keel (a situation is under control, well balanced and running smoothly)
On the right tack (your reasoning is leading to the correct conclusion or outcome)
On your beam ends (in imminent danger)
Over a barrel (in a bad situation and are not able to improve it)
Overreach (take on too much or go beyond what is wise or reasonable)
Pipe down (be quiet)
Plain sailing (without incident or complications)
Posh (stylish and expensive)
Press into service (force a person to work, corvee perhaps)
Push the boat out (start) Put a new slant on things (change the way we see things, looking at things differently)
Rats deserting a sinking ship (individuals quitting a failing enterprise)
Reef the sails (slow down or prepare for harder times)
Ride out the storm (not harmed by a difficult situation, which will pass)
Round robin (In sports, everyone plays everyone and the one with the most points wins)
Run a tight ship (manage a well-controlled operation or a disciplined business)
Run the gauntlet endure heavy criticism by your colleagues or the wider community)
Sail close to the wind (taking risks)
Scuttle (deliberate undermining of a plan or a proposal)
Scuttlebutt (rumour or gossip)
Shanghaied (you force someone to do something they have not willingly signed up to)
Ships that pass in the night (nearby, but no communication or empathy)
Shipshape (keep things neat, clean and organized)
Shove off (tell someone brusquely to go away)   Show a leg (get up and out of bed)
Showing her true colours (disclosing, after keep signs hidden)
Slush fund (money set aside for unethical purposes such as bribery)
Son of a gun (father unknown of woman who gave birth on ship)
Sound off (express opinions in a brash and vigorous manner)
Start with a clean slate (a new beginning with past issues being forgotten)
Stem the tide (stop the course of a trend or tendency)
Stranded (stuck, helpless and unable to move)
Swashbuckler (a person who seeks adventure)
Take a different tack (try an alternative approach to solve a problem)
Take on board (assume responsibility for)
Take someone down a peg or two (make them realize they are less capable or powerful than they think)
Taken aback (surprised)
Taking turns (everyone helps sequentially to lighten the individual burden of the task)
Tell it to the marines (I do not believe you)
That ship has sailed (an opportunity has passed)
That’s a balls up (a disaster)
The sun is over the yardarm (an excuse to start drinking earlier than is socially accepted)
There she blows (announce the arrival of something that we anticipated for a long time)
Three sheets to the wind (out-of-control drunk)
Through thick and thin (No matter how difficult the situation, we can get through Tiding over (making limited supplies last until replenished Bear down (exert a concentrated effort on a person using authority and swift action)
To hit rock bottom (the situation can not worsen)
To the bitter end (all the way, even if not a desired result)
To turn a blind eye (ignore signals, usually of wrong-doing)
Toe the line (accept authority, especially if we do not want to)
Tow rag (a person with no credibility, social standing or respect)
Trim (being in good order or a well-shaped body)
Turned the corner (got around the difficult part of a task)
Under the weather (feeling sick)
Walk the plank (commit suicide)
We are all in the same boat (we all endure the same hardship)
Welcome aboard (We are happy to have you on the team)
Welcome on board (welcoming gesture to an organisation or group)
What a cock-up (something done wrong or badly)
When someone’s ship comes in (what someone will do if they become rich and successful)
Whipping boy (blamed or punished for the faults or incompetence of others)
Whistle for the wind (wish for something we can’t have)
Wouldn’t touch it with a barge/ten-foot pole (not like something and want to stay well away from it)

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