by Randy Piper
All floors are decks, walls are bulkheads, ceilings are overheads, stairs are ladders, ropes are line and the wheel is the helm. Any ideas where you are? This is the terminology of the seagoing vessel.
The front of the boat is referred to as the bow, a term that comes from the old German word meaning "to bend or to curve"?. The bow area is also called the head and that's why the ship's toilet is often called the head, because it is located up front. The back of the boat is called the stern, from the Norse word "stijorn" meaning to steer because the rudder is located at the rear of the vessel. The term rudder itself comes from Old English, rodeo meaning to row, but the steering board was not always hooked on the stern. When one stands at the rear of the vessel, looking forward, the right side is called starboard. This name actually has nothing to do with the stars but rather steor bord, from the Old English, meaning steer board as early ships had a steering board attached to the right side. The left side of the ship was once called the larboard, probably from the word lade, which meant to load, because the ship needed to dock by the larboard side due to the position of the steering board on early ships. Later, in order to prevent nautical confusion, larboard became known as port. The term port comes from the French "porter" meaning to carry and "porte" (a door) because there was a door on the larboard side through which the cargo was loaded onto the ship. The porthole, the ship's window, originally was the opening through which guns fired upon enemy ships.
As nautical people, we exhibit caution by giving any potential hazard a wide berth. To probe a problem we still sound it out and knowing the ropes shows sophistication. A surprise on the seas will leave a maritime person "taken back" which is to have the wind confuse the crew, striking the sails in the opposite direction. In desperate straights, maritime jargon calls it "being at the bitter end". This is the very last piece of the anchor line that is available at windlass. Thus, is a ship is riding out a gale in a treacherous stretch of water with no more line left to pay out, the ship and crew are indeed in trouble when at the bitter end. The term "fathom" comes to us from Old English and meant "to encircle with extended arms". The total length of a person's outstretched arms was determined to be roughly six feet. Thus, Samuel Langhorn Clemens got his pen name of "Mark Twain" from the Mississippi riverboats that needed eight to ten feet of water underneath them for smooth sailing. The leadsman would sing out the depths while in shallow water. The second mark on the lead line was the "mark twain" indicating two fathoms, thus assuring the steamboat safe passage. An American Indian word (scoon-to slide quickly) was used to label the fast, new sailboat design the schooner that was first constructed in Gloucester, Massachusetts in 1721. Later, about 1858, the covered wagon was called the prairie schooner due to it's large canvas top.
Hopefully, now or in the future, when aboard a dive boat you will be an informed diver knowing to enter the water from the back of the boat when the divemaster says to go to the stern. The term landlubber need not be a term applied to you anymore.