Nautical Terms

Alabama=One of the Confederate Raiders operated by the South during the Civil War.


Ballad=a song that tells a story.


Belay=An order shouted that the task is done—STOP singing the song immediately.


Bilge pump=a cranked machine to pump water out of the bilges (lowest part of the ship).


Boney=Napoléon Bonaparte, an infamous despot.


Bulgine= A locomotive that ran along the docks used for loading.  But the word may have been used to describe any combustion engine such as a donkey engine to load cargo and work sails. Note that John Bull built one of the earliest steam locomotives in the US.


Bully in the Alley=Steering a sloppy course at sea or weaving down the street when you are three sheets to the wind.


Bunting=The gathering up and overlaying of a sail, see Reefing.

Captain Kidd=A Scoittish 17th century ship captain who unsuccessfully navigated the tricky waters as a privateer and pirate.


Capstan=the turnstile that is used to winch up the anchor and perform heavy tasks.


Chantey=Shanty=a call and response song to perform the many heavy, laborious, and boring work aboard a sailing ship.


Chicken on a Raft= Friend egg on toast served in the British Navy.

Dou Dou=A sweetheart or decked-out woman.

Essequibo River=A river and province of Guyana in South America.  An oil rich region recently contested by Venezuela


Fore and Aft=towards the front (bow) and towards the rear (stern) of a boat.


Forebitter=a song sung during a sailor’s leisure time.  The forebit is large post at the bow that anchors the masts.  It’s also as far away from officers country that a sailor can get.


Forecastle=foc’s’cle= the place below foredeck in the bow where the sailors slept.


Grog=watered down rum.




Halyard=the line to haul up the yards (booms).




Larboard (=Port)=The left hand side of the ship as you face the bow.


Old Horse=A ceremonial horse made of old canvas and straw. Thrown overboard to commemorate sailors paying off the cost off their gear and crimp (agent on shore).

Molly Mawk= Several types of white albatrosses that inhabit the Southern Ocean.


Pawl=A metal lever that rides over sprockets to prevent backlash in mechanisms like the capstan.


Poop, Break of the Poop=No, it’s not what you think.  It’s the bulkhead (wall) that separates the aft (rear) quarter of the ship.  Above it is the Poop Deck and above this deck is the Quarterdeck.


Reefing=Shortening the spread of the sails to reduce the amount of area exposed to the wind.  Too much wind, little sail area, otherwise the ship may be blown over or the sails would be torn away.  A bunting shanty would be used to coordinate the work.


Rio Grande=Not in Texas or the Amazon but the Rio Grande do Sul in southern Brazil.


Shin Bone ‘Al=Shin Bone Alley—a once unsavory street in Bermuda but other places claim it as their own including New York, Nassau, and Flordia.


Short drag=a song to do quick hauls, tension lines, etc. Also known as hand-over-hand.

St. Malo=A fortress and port city in Brittany, France once known for its pirates and whaling.


Starboard=The right side of the ship as you face towards the bow.


Sweating up=tightening lines and adjusting the sails.


To Me (T’ me)=The chanteyman may shout this indicating that the work is just about to happen—be ready and sing the refrain and pull or push with the downbeat.


Towboat=A shallow-water work boat that pushes its load, usually upon a river.  Has two knees on the bow to push its barge.


Tugboat=A deep draft work boat with a pointed bow, deep propellers, and heavy winches.  Used in harbors and on the high seas.


Valparaiso=a port city of Chile.  The first big port on the western side of South America nearest to Cape Horn.


Watches and Telling Time=A four-hour stint when a sailor was working.  Because the ship’s bell was struck every half hour, eight bells is when you “knock off” the job or “turn to” for the new watch.


Western Ocean=the body of water west of the British Isles, i.e. the Atlantic.


Windjammer=A large merchant sailing vessel used for trans-oceanic shipping.


Yard=The horizontal timber attached to the mast that supports the top of the sail.