What the %$@$# are they talking about - Deciphering boat speak

Book Review – Mariner’s Guide to Nautical Information, by Priscilla Travis.  Cornell Maritime Press

It is fair to wonder if there is any lingo more alien to a newcomer than the jargon of sailors? “Boat speak” appears to be English (most of the time), but so many terms consolidate reams of meaning and process.  How’s a newcomer to even get started?

A handsome new hardcover book Mariner’s Guide to Nautical Informationby Priscilla Travis, has arrived on the scene to help you out.

It appears at first glance to be simply a glossary of nautical terms and expressions. It takes a second look to realize that many entries go well beyond simple definitions to include expanded explanations, common applications, and relevant advice accompanied by lots of photographs, diagrams and illustrations.

How this book helps you, the newcomer, is that its alphabetical arrangement makes it (as they claim on the fly leaf) “faster than the Internet” when you’re trying to identify what is meant by some word or phrase that has been tossed at you as if you should know.  This, of course, is particularly true, when you are out at sea and have no Internet!

And it is nice for Women & Cruising that this sensible volume has been put together by a woman captain, cruiser and sailing educator.

I’ve always liked reading dictionaries (a habit acquired from my father), so just because this book is organized like a dictionary doesn’t mean you leave it on the shelf until you need to look some one thing up.

Sit back and scan the topic index in the back. Start with a word or phrase you’re curious about, find it in the alphabetized Guide, then scan up and down the page for connected expressions and explanatory material.  Then follow threads to other topics or terms.  It can turn into a fascinating cruise through the pages.

Or, for some fun, use the book over sundowners with other new cruisers for a sailor’s version of the parlor game “Dictionary,”  and see who knows what!  How many know the meaning of “Charley Noble”, “Coriolis effect,” “baggywrinkle, “hockle,” “jumper struts” or “sheet load?”

Absolutely do NOT let any of it make you feel stupid or let the fact of there being 400+ pages of material daunt you.  With just a little effort and this nice reference you will absorb the vocabulary and all the meaning faster than you can imagine, plus, in the back of the book, the author’s personal annotated bibliography can help you take your curiosity further.

In my column Admirals’ Angle, I wrote a piece awhile back about “Nautical Lingo.”  The point of that column was that the very particular vocabulary of seafaring –  which may sometimes seem to newcomers to be “an antiquated language perpetrated by old salts merely to be difficult, to set us late-starters apart from old hands, or to close the door on an exclusive (male?) club,”— actually enables precise communication, often in high-pressure moments, and, once learned, makes all you do aboard go more efficiently.

Plus, knowing your nautical vocabulary allows you to make better sense of what you read, what you hear in seminars, what catalogues are offering, and what is being said around you in conversations on the dock or on the radio.

Indeed, like learning any language, accomplishments here boost your confidence in participating fully the cruising lifestyle and your new floating community. Pricilla Travis’ Mariner’s Guide to Nautical Information  would definitely be a useful tool in this pursuit.

Mariner’s Guide to Nautical Information by Pricilla Travis can be purchased from through this website, Remember, every item you purchase through our Amazon portal benefits this website ….which gives newbie cruisers like you better resources for a better cruising experience!

Read also on this website
  • Nautical Lingo (Admiral’s Angle column #19): Not an arcane language designed to exclude neophytes, nautical lingo allows precise communication for safer and smoother teamwork aboard

Do you have a nautical resource that you would like to suggest to Women and Cruising readers?

Let us know.

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