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Cruise Humor
Nautical Terms for
Landlubbers and Landlovers

by Mike Blanche

(If you take this seriously, don't expect anyone else to take you seriously!)

Sailor-types speak a whole 'nother language from the rest of us. The following should help you understand the gist of their conversation. Most are relatively unimportant. However, see "sink", below.

ABAFT -- what you can take only in the most luxurious cabins

ABEAM -- a large length of metal, supporting something like a deck or a wall

ABOARD -- same as abeam (see), but made of wood

AFT -- anyplace behind the bow (see)

ATHWARTS -- cross between foot fungus and growths on hands; caused by handling or walking on very active toads

AYE AYE -- expression of surprise, usually followed by "cheewawa"

BEARING -- what goes on around the pool

BERTH -- what you hope does not go on around the pool; also a parking spot for the ship. You have to look very carefully to see the lines painted on the water.

BOW -- bend over in honor; also pointy end of ship, usually passes through the water before the rest of the ship

BRIDGE -- where the Captain rants and rails (see) when he gets stern (see)

BULKHEAD -- very large restroom

CABIN -- closet-like space costing $300 per day, used for sleeping and not much else

COURSE -- what the Navigator is studying in his spare time at night school, hoping to figure out what an astrolabe or a sextant is

DAVIT -- killed Goliath, never went to sea

DECK -- 52 cards, used in casinos

DISEMBARK -- get off the Ark; a good example of just how old most nautical lingo is

DOCK -- member of ship's crew caring for passenger's health

DRAFT -- type of beer served in ship's bar

EMBARK -- get on the Ark

FATHOM -- measure of water depth, somewhere between 6 inches and 20 feet

FREEBOARD -- see abeam and aboard; this one costs nothing

FOR'ARD -- not a Mercury or Lincoln

FUNNEL -- the only place on the ship where you should see smoke, other than the bar; see stack

GALLEY -- where the slaves sit and row, or, in the case of modern ships, turn the screws (see)

GANGWAY -- ramp where groups (gangs) of salespeople await the ship's passengers

HAWSER -- passenger from Indiana

HEAD -- something like a scuttlebutt or scupper, but with running water

HELM -- southern senator; also steering wheel

HULL -- outside portion of a nut

JACOBS LADDER -- song popular at camp

KEEL -- barnacle collector; don't worry, you can't see it, so don't expect to be invited to admire the ship's collection

KNOT -- not a mile-per-hour, but a little more

LATITUDE -- what the Captain will NOT give his crew, when he is stern (see), or ranting and railing (see)

LEEWARD -- in the direction of Atwater, Petty, Greenwood, or Harvey Oswald

LINE -- what can get you in good with that blonde in the bar

LOG -- tree, lying down; could become aboard (see)

LONGITUDE -- like latitude, but longer

MASTER -- another term for the Captain; don't pronounce it Massa', or he may get stern (see)

NAUTICAL MILE -- not a real mile; too far to swim to shore

PITCH -- what the ship's bow (see) does in rough weather; what the passengers do, on the other hand, includes the word "throw"

PORT -- favorite nautical wine; also means "left" (both words have four letters, a mnemonic device useful to many); also city with ship berths (see), designed to create a giant sucking sound in the vicinity of your wallet

PORTHOLE -- the entry to a harbor; OK, it really means a small window that costs an extra $100 per day, but how funny is that?

QUAY -- another word for dock (see); arguing about the proper pronunciation can pass hours (kway? kay? key? kwie? who knows?)

RAILING -- what the Captain does when he gets stern (see); same as ranting

ROLL -- small bread served in dining room; also another motion of the ship in rough weather, but greatly reduced by stabilizers

SCREWS -- propellers; apparently turned by slaves in galley (see)

SCUPPER -- drain at the edge of a deck, to allow water to run off; if water is running in, see "sink"

SKIPPER -- slang term for a flying fish, or a flat stone

SINK -- unless there is a huge amount of frantic activity on deck, large stainless steel unit in the kitchen; also, to quote Bill Dana (Jose Jimenez), "Oh, I hope not!"

STABILIZER -- device to counteract ship's roll; several umbrella drinks will have the opposite effect, in case you want to experiment with what cruises were like before the invention of stabilizers

STACK -- refers to pancakes, funnels (see), or girls around the pool

STARBOARD -- like aboard (see), but pointing at the night sky; also means "right", which has absolutely no mnemonic relationship, so no one remembers it without thinking about "port" (see) first

STATEROOM -- cabin (see) where you can lie in state

STERN -- the Captain, when the crew acts like the crew of the Love Boat; also the roundy (or, on modern cruise ships, squarish) end of the ship. Usually passes through the water after the rest of ship.

TENDER -- how your skin will feel after the first day on a Caribbean cruise; also small boat to take passengers ashore, making them wonder why their port (see) taxes are not being used to construct a dock (see) with cruise ship berths (see)

WAKE -- what you won't want to do at 6 a.m., if you attended the midnight buffet

WEIGH ANCHOR -- complicated operation involving very large scales, necessary before every ship's departure

WINDLASS -- completely still; no wind

YARDARM -- important ship feature, determining if it's time for a rum

I hope this information is totally useless, but at least entertaining.


Would you like to thank Mike for what had to be a great laugh?

No problem. Just click here and Mike will get your email!

Mike Blanche and his wife, Dottie, are long-haul truckers for Werner Enterprises, of Omaha, Nebraska. When they are home, which is about four days per month, they live in a small cabin they built near Waldron, Arkansas. In their line of work, the only "real" vacation for them is a cruise - no white line fever, no required driving, no log books, and real service in a real restaurant!


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