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Cruising Tales: Teaching Nautical Lingo to Guests and Crew

Have you noticed that through the years the nautical lingo has changed? Nowadays the skipper is the Captain; the mechanic, the Engineer; the cook, the Chef; the swabbie, the Deckhand. There’s more!

Parts of the boat – whoops, the yacht – have also changed. Here is an abbreviated list which is by no means complete:

  • Pointy end = bow
  • Square end = stern   However, if you have a double-ender, you’re in trouble. Nobody can tell if you’re comin’ or goin’.
  • Bowsprit = bowsprout (a child told me that was the correct name)
  • To your right = starboard
  • To your left = port; However, if your captain is standing at the bow facing the boat and shouting at you at the helm to “turn to port, you imbecile!” (…they do that a lot, don’t they?), then starboard is really port because that is the way He is facing. In this case, go the direction he is pointing and forget his screaming threats to do something not nice to your anatomy.
  • When you push off from the dock, you have sprung off, not shoved off.
  • Bumpers = fenders, as in fending off all those spectacular ladies (yeah, don’t you wish!)
  • Ones’l = jib, twos’l = fores’l, threes’l = main. Sometimes there is a fours’l which is the mizzen. But on some schooners, the main is called the mizzen. Er, don’t worry about that!
  • Ropes = sheets most of the time. There are definitely ropes on a sailboat, but we won’t get into that.
  • Things on board that you don’t know the name of = thingie or that thang
  • Toilet = head
  • Head = bow of boat. Huh?
  • Bunk = berth (Another term used more often, on stinkpots – oh, sorry, motoryachts, are king-sized beds)

Then there are all those nautical flags with different shapes and colors that mean something. You can ignore them except for the flag of your yacht flying at the stern which, by the way, you should never fly upside down because that signals that you are in real serious trouble or very drunk.

The “Q” flag means that you wish to clear customs, not that something queer is going on. Courtesy flag – the flag of the waters of a country other than your yacht’s registry in which you are sailing. Don’t fly it upside down even when it looks the same either way. Officials can be offended. Perhaps the meaning of that term was the reason why bumpers are called fenders?

On charter boats it is important to fly flags because they look pretty and make the yacht look nice. In the charter trade, it might be good to have a set of warning flags for other skippers – oops – captains to let them know the “quality” of guests you have aboard so that they may wish to either visit you or stay far far away.        Here are some suggestions. All flags must be discrete and use only initials.

For warning flags:

  • MOG = most obnoxious guest
  • CHP = champion head plugger
  • WTG = will trade guests
  • NRQ – no redeeming qualities

There should also be bragger flags, such as:

  • BGA = best golfer aboard
  • BDA = biggest drinker or drunk aboard
  • BBA = bodacious bosom aboard
  • TIB = tiniest itiest bikini

If a guest should ask you what these flags mean, you can excuse yourself quickly by saying that you are needed in the galley, engine room, whatever!
Then there’s AAARRRRGG! = an all-purpose word denoting displeasure, especially at having to get up in the morning to wait on charter guests.
One more word: AVAST = stop this nonsense.

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