During these periods of unrestricted liberty, many ran out of money, so innkeepers carried them on credit until hired out for another voyage. When a seaman was booked on a ship, he was customarily advanced a month's wages, if needed, to pay off his boarding house debt. Then, while paying back the ship's master, he worked for nothing but "salt horse" the first several weeks aboard.
Salt horse was the staple diet of early sailors and it wasn't exactly tasty cuisine. Consisting of a low quality beef that had been heavily salted, the salt horse was tough to chew and even harder to digest. When the debt had been repaid, the salt horse was said to be dead and it was a time for great celebration among the crew. Usually, an effigy of a horse was constructed from odds and ends, set afire and then cast afloat to the cheers and hilarity of the ex-debtors.
Now men and women are stationed along the rails of a ship when honors are rendered to the President, the heads of a foreign state, or a member of a reigning royal family. Men and women so stationed do not salute. Navy ships will often man the rails when entering a port, or when returning to the ship's homeport at the end of a deployment.
While many people like to say the 21 gun salute was a tribute to the American Revolution, a number determined as a result of adding together the numbers 1+7+7+6, the truth is the 21 gun salute was an effort to cut costs. The habit of firing salutes became wasteful, with ships and shore batteries firing shots for hours on end. This was particularly expensive for ships, which had a limited space to store powder (which went bad quickly in the salt air). The British admiralty first dictated the policies now in place as a practical matter to save gunpowder. The rule was simple, for every volley fired by a ship in salute, a shore battery could return up to three shots. The regulations limited ships to a total of seven shots in salute, so the 21 gun-salute became the salute used to honor the only the most important dignitaries.
Today, the U.S. Navy Regulations proscribe that only those ships and stations designated by the Secretary of the Navy may fire gun salutes. A national salute of 21 guns is fired on:
In the days of sail, young boys, often as young as nine years old, would sign on sailing ships as cabinboys, usually becoming midshipmen as they got older. Many, particularly on their first voyages, would become homesick, tearfully tending to their duties in their fancy gentlemen's uniform. That uniform had no pockets for a hankerchief, so the young boys would, like all young boys, wipe their noses on their sleeves.
To break his cabinboys and midshipmen of this ungentlemanly habit, Lord Nelson had large brass buttons sewn on the sleeves of all midshipmen and cabinboy uniforms. The decorative value of the buttons were soon realized, and in short order, London tailors were adding decorative buttons to frocks, coats, and dinner jackets. Though the buttons have become less gaudy, the practice continues.
To free her, the order was given to "sally ship". The crew gathered in a line along one side and then ran from port to starboard and back and forth until the vessel began to roll. Often the rolling broke the mud's suction and she could be pulled free and gotten underway.
Such honors are exchanged between ships of the U.S. Navy, between ships of the Navy and the Coast Guard, and between U.S. and most foreign navy ships passing close aboard. "Attention" is sounded, and the hand salute is rendered by all persons in view on deck (not in ranks).
The cloth used then wasn't as well woven nor was it dyed blue, but it served the purpose. Dungarees worn by Sailors of the Continental Navy were cut directly from old sails and remained tan in color just as they been when filled with wind. After battles, it was the practice in both the American and British Navies for Captains to report more sail lost in battle than actually was the case so the crew would have cloth to mend their hammocks and make new clothes. Since the cloth was called dungaree, clothes made from the fabric borrowed the name.
A fathom is the average distance from middle-fingertip to middle-fingertip of the outstretched arms of a six-foot tall man. Even today in our nuclear Navy, Sailors can be seen "guess-timating" the length of line by using the Anglo-Saxon fingertip method; crude but still reliable.
The landlubbing phrases "stick to the bitter end" and "faithful to the bitter end" are derivations of the nautical term and refer to anyone who insists on adhering to a course of action without regard to consequences.
A more plausible explanation may stem from shortcuts taken by early Midshipmen when doing their navigation lessons. Each Mid was supposed to take sun lines at noon and star sights at night and then go below to the gundeck, work out their calculations and show them to the navigator. Certain of these young men, however, had a special formula for getting the correct answers. They would note the noon or last position on the quarter-deck traverse board and determine the approximate current position by dead reckoning plotting. Armed with this information, they proceeded to the gundeck to "gundeck" their navigation homework by simply working backwards from the dead reckoning position.
Early American sea captains were known but not revered for their ability to drive a hard bargain. Dutchmen, who were also regarded as extremely frugal, jokingly referred to the hard to please Americans as "Yankers" or wranglers. The nom de plume persists to this day.
Binnacle is defined as the stand or housing for the ship's compass located on the bridge. The term binnacle list, in lieu of sick list, originated years ago when ships' corpsmen used to place a list of the sick on the binnalce each morning to inform the Captain about the crew's health. After long practice, it came to be called the Binnacle List.
Ingenious marines devised a speed measuring device both easy to use and reliable, the "log line." From this method we get the term "Knot." The log line was a length of twine marked at 47.33-foot intervals by colored knots. At one end a log chip was fastened. It was shaped like the sector of a circle and weighted at the rounded end with lead. When thrown over the stern, it would float pointing upward and would remain relatively stationary. The log line was allowed to run free over the side for 28 seconds and then hauled on board. Knots which had passed over the side were counted. In this way, the ships speed was measured.
Its most outstanding use in the Navy today is for drawing pay and a form used for requesting leave and liberty, and special requests. But the term is currently applied to almost any piece of paper from a pass to an official letter requesting some privilege.
In the days of sail when Sailors were paid a pittance, seamen drank their ale in taverns whose keepers were willing to extend credit until payday. Since many salts were illiterate, keepers kept a talley of pints and quarts consumed by each Sailor on a chalkboard behind the bar. Next to each person's name, a mark was made under "P" for pint or "Q" for quart whenever a seaman ordered another draught.
On payday, each seaman was liable for each mark next to his name, so he was forced to "mind his P's and Q's" or he would get into financial trouble. To ensure an accurate count by unscrupulous keepers, Sailors had to keep their wits and remain somewhat sober. Sobriety usually ensured good behavior, hence the meaning of "mind your P's and Q's."
In the days of sail, it was not uncommon for the Commanding Officers of ships sailing in convoy to convene aboard the flagship for conferences. It was also not uncommon for COs to invite each other to dine aboard their vessels. Unfortunately, there was no easy way to bring visitors on and off a ship while underway. And there was no dignified may for a high ranking officer to scurry up or down a rope ladder hanging down the side of a ship.
Often the boatswain's chair, a rope and wood sling, would be used to hoist the guest onto and off the ship. The Boatswain's Mate would control the heaving by blowing the appropriate commands with a whistle known as a Boatswain's Pipe. The number of "strong backs" needed to bring the visitor aboard depended upon the size of the "load" being hoisted. Somewhere along the line, it was noted that the more senior the visitor's rank, the more Sailors were needed to "man the side." Over time, the need to hoist visitors onto and off of Navy ships went away, but the custom of mustering the Sideboys and piping distinquished visitors aboard ship remains.
Through the centuries the term's connotation has changed somewhat. Today, the Bluejackets Manual defines "carry on" as an order to resume work -- work not so grueling as two centuries ago.
Sailors also believe that these "eyes" help them and their ship through a storm by magically seeing the right of way. One particular Sailor's tale says that on the day before he was to sail, he bought his wife two beautiful, green emeralds for earrings. He was heartbroken when she did not like them, so instead he used them as the eyes of the female "figure head" on the bow of his ship.
His wife had a change of heart that night, and unbeknownst to her husband, removed the emeralds from the wooden figure. She planned to wear them upon his return, but he never did. One day after sailing, his ship steered right into a typhoon and sank. Some say it was because the ship could not "see" as his wife had stolen the ship's "eyes." When the wife heard the news, she cried for days until she fell asleep. When she awoke, she was blind...and the two beautiful emeralds had dissappeared.
From ships, the phrase was extended to apply to men. The nose, like the jib of a ship arriving in harbor, is the first part of the person to arrive at a designated place. Figuratively, it implies the first impression one makes on another person.