From time to time, readers have suggested that it might be appropriate for us to explain some of the nautical terms and expressions that are used in these pages. We have concurred that this would be in order, for it is likely that some of our readers will not be familiar with all of these terms. Until now, however, we have not had the space to be able to follow up on this idea.
Accordingly, we now present our own explanations of some of the more interesting nautical terms that appear in "Scanner". It should be borne in mind that these terms may not be entirely universal in their usage, and that some have a very distinct meaning on the Great Lakes that may not be attributed to them elsewhere. As well, some of them are items that fall directly into the category, of slang, and these are probably the most restrictive as far as usage is concerned.
Boilerhouse: In traditionally-designed vessels, a small deckhouse, usually placed forward of the after accommodations cabin and sometimes attached to it, which provided access to the boiler room and into which the upper portions of the boilers frequently protruded. The coal bunkers normally ran up through this house to a hatch on the boat deck, through which the coal was loaded. An "indented boilerhouse" had its sides recessed inboard of the rest of the after cabin (as on the steamers built by Capt. John Mitchell).
Cussing Box: On ships with an open navigation bridge where the officers stood watch, the wheelsman was usually located in the pilothouse below. The cussing box was an opening in the pilothouse roof through which helm orders were relayed.
Doghouse: A small cabin, generally set athwartship on either the spar deck or boat deck, to provide additional crew accommodation, especially in ships not originally equipped to house the larger crews subsequently required.
Fairlead: An opening through which mooring cables pass from the deck over the side. A "Port Colborne Fairlead" (required on all ships transitting the Seaway) has a sheave set in a rotating mount so that a taut cable can adapt to any angle forced on it during the rigors of canalling or docking.
Fidded Mast: A tall wooden mast equipped with crosstrees and a topmast, usually found only in sailing vessels or in early steamers equipped with auxiliary sail. The "fid" was the square wood or metal bar that took the weight of the topmast when it was stepped.
Forecastle: (Pronounced fo'c'sle.) Technically, the space beneath the short raised deck at the bow of a ship, but generally the entire raised area forward, usually containing storage space and crew accommodation. A full forecastle is raised a complete deck level above the spar deck; a half forecastle is raised only half a deck in height and entry is gained by descending several steps into the hull. The forecastle head is the deck which covers the forecastle area.
Forepeak: That area of the hull in the immediate vicinity of the forefoot, where the stem joins the forward end of the bottom plating. Often the term is erroneously used as a synonym for "forecastle", referring to the upper rather than the lower end of the stem.
Gross Tonnage: This term has nothing to do with the actual weight of a ship. It is a measure of the total cubic capacity of all enclosed spaces below the upper deck, divided by 100 (100 cubic feet arbitrarily being considered to be equal to one "ton").
Guards: The outboard extensions of a sidewheeler's main deck beyond the hull to provide protection for the paddlewheels and additional deck space. It was the guards that gave some sidewheel steamers their exceptionally broad beam.
Hawsehole: An opening through which anchor cables pass out through the side after running down through the hawsepipe from the anchor winch or windlass, notably in ships not equipped with recessed anchor pockets (q.v.).
Monkey's Island: The open space on the pilothouse roof. On early ships, an open navigation bridge was usually placed there. On modern ships, the area is usually occupied by equipment such as radar scanner, searchlight, etc.
Net Tonnage: A measure of the total cubic capacity of all enclosed spaces below the upper deck, less the cubic capacity of spaces allotted to crew accomodation, stores, bunkers, machinery, etc., again divided by 100.
Puffer: A heavy steel bowl-shaped fitting sometimes located at the top of a scape pipe (q.v.) in a ship with non-condensing machinery, designed as a crude sort of muffler against the distinct puffing sound produced by such machinery.
Rabbit: A small wooden steamer with engine and cabins aft, usually built for the lumber trade. They were often called "coffins", because of the frequency with which they foundered, often with much loss of life. Such accidents usually resulted from poor construction, overloading, or operation on open water in inclement weather, for which they were totally unsuitable.
Repeat Names: When more than one vessel has carried the same name, we give each ship a number in chronological order. The first ship of any name carries the designation (I) after her name, the second is (II), etc. (Some other publications use lower-case Roman numerals for this purpose.)
Sheer: The longitudinal curve of the deck. The deck of a ship with sheer will normally rise at bow and stern and dip amidships. A vessel with "reverse sheer" is one whose deck curves downward nearing the bow and stern.
Stemwinder: A ship (usually built of steel, whereas the "rabbits" were wood-en),whose engine and bridge are located aft. The term was used more frequently when such ships were less common than today. The term's origin is obscure but probably developed from the appearance of such vessels when riding light , when they held their bows very high and their sterns low in the water.
Texas: The lower house in a ship's bridge structure, usually containing the master's cabin and office, and sometimes the cabins of other senior deck officers. In a ship with a turret pilothouse (q.v.), generally the small house set on the forecastle behind the lower pilothouse.
Turret Pilothouse: A small rounded pilothouse. A ship so equipped originally carried a small pilothouse on the forecastle with an open bridge above. Later, an enclosed upper pilothouse was added, usually of much the same shape as the lower house. In most cases, a walkway with a closed rail was eventually constructed around the upper house. Very few such pilothouses still exist today.
Ed. Note: We caution readers that the above explanations are purely our own, and others might describe the various terms in a slightly different manner. We have, however, tried to explain them in the same context as that in which they are generally used in this particular publication.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.