Thursday, August 11, 2011

Rogue's Gallery: The Origins of Dogwatch and Coxswain and Sea Shanties in the Adriatic

“Drink and the devil had done for the rest. Yo Ho Ho and a bottle of rum.” -Yo Ho Ho

I just want to live for adventure and throw my cares to the sea. So… with a couple of shanties from the Rogue’s Gallery, we set sail into the Adriatic bound for parts unknown. Come sail away with me!
“As I was a-walking down Paradise Street, To me way-aye, blow the man down!” -Blow the Man Down

Into the Adriatic Sea we sail along the coast of Montenegro, I awake to such beautiful sunshine. Mix hot water coffee and slice up an orange for my girls, we sit on the little balcony and watch the slow world pass. How could you not be here with me too? In these moments, thoughts turn to old words and long lost songs. Here's a few from the memory banks.
“We’ll rant and we’ll roar like true British sailors. We’ll rant and we’ll roar across the salt seas.” -Spanish Ladies

Coxswain and Dogwatch and a Clean Bill of Health
Coxswain (cockswain for you people keeping score) was initially a swain or boy servant in charge of the small cock (stop laughing) or cockboat that was kept aboard for the ship’s captain which he used to row ashore. Tracing back to the 15th century, this term now applies to any helmsman of a boat.
Dogwatch or “Dodgewatch” relates to two periods between 4 and 6 p.m. and 6 and 8 p.m. when a man must stand watch and not bump into anything. It was a stressful job, and later required a man to get “dog sleep” or sleep like a dog. Cool.
Clean Bill’s of Health were documents issued to ships allowing them to port because they had not sailed from places carrying great infections or epidemics.
“And the land-lubbers lying down below, below, below…” -The Stormy Winds Do Blow

Boot Camp and Down the Hatch
During the Spanish-American War, sailors wore leggings called boots which came to be known as a Marine recruit. Thus, during training…
This famous drinking expression has its origins in sea freight, when cargoes are lowered… down the hatch. Drink up, boys!
“A-rollin’ down, a-rollin’ down, said the bucko mate to the greaser’s wife. Oh, a pumpkin pudden an a bulgine pie…” -A Rollin’ Down

Duffles and Dungarees and Flying Dutchman
In the Flemish town of Duffel, near Antwerp, a rough woolen cloth is made there perfect for the principal clothing of a man at sea. It is also used for the bag in which he carries.
Furthermore, a kind of Indian cotton cloth (I learned this on my travels there) called “dungri” which is tough and strong and perfect for work clothes.
Inspired by Coleridge in his “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” the real Flying Dutchman set sail in 1660 and was a doomed ship that was destroyed in high winds around Cape Horn. Later, it became a white sailed superstition ghost ship full of a white-haired crew sailors feared seeing.
“I say, old man, your horse is dead. An’ we say so, an’ we hope so!” -The Dead Horse Chanty

Fathomless Scuttlebutt
To scuttle is to drill a hole, as in tapping a cask, the scuttlebutt was the water cooler…. So… when sailors gathered around gossiping with a drink, this term became known as the idle banter and damaging rumors that can happen aboard a ship.
When I was in high school, the last song they played at every dance was Journey’s Open Arms… similar to this I the Old English term: Faethm, which means “embracing arms,” defined by British Parliament as: “The length of a man’s arms around the object of his affection.” Isn’t that cool? My embrace is fathomless… Now it is a nautical term meaning equal to six feet.
“You Captains bold and brave, hear our cries. Don’t for the sake of gold, lose your souls.” -Captain Kidd

I know… it’s endless… like Mayday and Port/Starboard… even “Showing your True Colors.” So, basically, we owe a lot to the sea. But for me, today, I owe everything to the salt air on my skin, the dolphins swimming beside us, the wind at my back, and full sails above.
Today was glorious. Hope you are sailing away too.

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