Monday, February 06, 2006

Color me Schooled

In an earlier post, I said:

Melville claimed that the crew had a better voyage than the officers, because the fo'cstle was upwind of everything else on the ship, while the officers where back in the stern. Makes sense, especially on a whaling ship, which had a giant stove for rendering whale blubber in the middle of the deck.

Anonymous Jersey Jim recently commented:
Actually, it doesn't make any sense. The front of a sailing ship is always downwind, because the ship is propelled forward by the force of the wind. That's exactly why the officers lived in the stern - and why, incidentally, the "head" is literally in the head of the ship, where none of its smells will drift through the rest of her.

If the stern was downwind of the stem of the ship (as it is in a ship propelled by coal or oil, of course, which usually move faster than the wind) then the entire waist of the ship would be blotted out by the smoke from the galley fires at mealtimes.


Dang! What Anonymous Jersey Jim says is pretty sensible, and, if my description led anyone to picture Ishmael standing ala DiCaprio at the prow of a steadily-chugging Pequod with the wind streaming constantly past him, then I do humbly apologize.

But, similarily, you shouldn't imagine that ships are like hot air balloons, pushed in whatever direction the wind is blowing. Sailing is the art of dealing with the fact that the wind is almost never blowing in the direction you need to go. Hence all that tacking at odd angles and whatnot... and the occassional starving to death without being able to make any progress at all.

So, while acknowledging AJJ's natical lore as being superior to mine, I continue to defer to the Master:

Finally, I always go to sea as a sailor, because of the wholesome exercise and pure air of the forecastle deck. For as in this world, head winds are far more prevalent than winds from astern (that is, if you never violate the Pythagorean maxim), so for the most part the Commodore on the quarter-deck gets his atmosphere at second hand from the sailors on the forecastle. He thinks he breathes it first, but it is not so.

By the way, the “Pythagorean maxim” referred to is an injunction against eating beans. That’s right, it’s a fart joke.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Actually, modern fore-and-aft boats and ships sail best with the wind on the beam or slightly ahead of the beam and can thus sail faster than the true wind. The sails operate on the same principle as an airplane wing.

A square-rigged ship, such as the Morgan, will have jibs and staysails which are fore-and-aft rigged which, like their modern counterpart, are more efficient with the wind on or ahead of the beam. Also the square sails can be braced around so that they will catch the wind from abaft the beam to on the beam, the wind does not have to be directly from behind.

It would be an unusual situation when the wind would be directly astern.

Dave
Who has made 4 Atlantic crossings on a square-rigged ship.

Joel Priddy said...

Here's an image of the USCG Eagle, demonstrating what Anonymous Dave (Hiya, Pop!) was saying. The American flag indicates which direction the wind is coming from.

Me to Anonymous Jersey Jim: my daddy can outsail your daddy.