Nautical Terms

Ballad = a song that tells a story.


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 steam locomotive.

Bunting = pleated sails.


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.

Currach = Irish wooden-framed boat with an animal skin covering.


Donkey Riding = Not sure.  Either it’s the sailors making fun of the steam donkey engine used to assist in hauling lines, or simply riding a donkey for fun in port.


Feathers on stacks = decorative and functional smokestack terminals designed to arrest sparks.

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.


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

Glass = portable barometer used at sea.

Got us in tow = Sailors thought their favorite women on shore had a line attached to tow them back home.


Heave = push.


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


Haul = pull.

Long Haul = the line to haul up heavy objects (other than yards).

Mollymauk = albatross of the southern oceans.

O'Bruadair = 17th century Irish pirate and smuggler.


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).

Packet = fast-moving cargo ship.

Seven Seas = per Greek literature they are:  Aegean, Adriatic, Mediterranean, Black, Red, and Caspian seas, with the Persian Gulf thrown in as a "sea." 

Shinbone Al = waterfront alley in Bermuda (on the wrong side of the tracks).

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


Sweating up = getting the slack out of the lines.

To me (t'me) = chanteyman's call to signal a response and start the haul.