Monday, May 20, 2013


Ship's timbers mid 13thC  Museum of London
Today's research snippet. This is 12thC chronicler Wace on a ship getting underway.

When they were all manned, they had tide and a good wind. Then you would see the anchors raised, the puling taut of stays, the tightening of shrouds, the sailors climbing over the vessels to break out the sails and canvas. Some work at the windlass; others are at the luff and the halyards. The pilots are aft – the master steersman, the finest – and each does his best at the steering oar. ‘Avant le hel!’ (‘Hard on the helm!’) and she goes to the left. ‘Sus le hel!’ (Up on the helm!) And she goes to the right. In order to gather the wind into the sails they make the outer edges taut and fasten the boltropes. Some pull on the ratlines, and some shorten sail, in order to get the ship to proceed more slowly. They fasten clew lines and sheets, and make the ropes fast; they slacken the runners and lower the sails. They pull on bowlines…they make fast the brails to the mast, that the wind may not escape underneath.

Brails are lines which goes from top to bottom of the sail. 

Luff In the mediaeval period the luff was not the belly of the sail, but seems to be a sort of pole which was applied to the lower edge of the sail. 

Ratlines – a form of nautical ladder – thin ropes tied between the shrouds.

Clew lines are ropes attached to the outer corners of the sail.

Boltrope - A line sewn into the belly and foot of the sail. The boltrope slides through a groove in the mast for hoisting the sail.

Sheets – rope used to control the moveable corners of a sail from Anglo Saxon ‘sceata’ meaning the lower corner of the sail. Lose those ropes and you may become ‘three sheets to the wind.’

Halyards – used to hoist the sail.

Stays – ropes used to support the weight of the mast – stabilisers basically.

Shrouds – ropes that hold the mast up. Rigging.

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