Sailing Quiz

Seaward's Boating Quiz.

An occasional page which is hopefully entertaining and occasionally educative. You'll see that it started out as a monthly event but I could never find the time to keep up the aspiration. Check it out from time to time though. I intend to continue posting questions and answers  but can't commit to a regular deadline.

January 2013 (December 2012 answers below)


This month we look at everyday expressions that have nautical roots. Do you know their origins?

  1. Shake a leg

  1. Son of a gun

  1. The devil to pay

  1. Three sheets in the wind

  1. By the cut of his (or her) jib

  1. In the early days of the navy, there were few volunteers. Ships were often manned by ‘pressed men’, taken by force from the streets and taverns from nearby towns and villages. On some occasions a hard pressed naval vessel would even lift crew mid Channel from merchant ships returning home – ships they were supposed to be protecting. Obviously, when in harbour, various means were tried to ensure that the pressed men did not jump ship. One means of keeping the peace in port was to allow ‘wives’ on board to sleep with their husbands on the gun deck. This presented a problem for mates and midshipmen who had to rouse the men for duty each morning. How to tell the difference between wife and seaman under the covers? The order therefore became ‘shake a leg’. If it was hairy its owner was presumed to be a seaman and he was hauled off to work. If it was smooth – the owner was left to sleep.

  1. The custom of allowing ‘wives’ to sleep with their ‘husbands’ on the gun deck often resulted in the birth of a child some nine months after the ship had sailed. A child born in such circumstances was known as a ‘Son of a Gun’. 

  1. This is an old seafaring term meaning something difficult, dangerous or awkward. Seams on planked vessels were ‘caulked’ with ‘oakum’ made from unpicked hemp or manila rope, ‘paid’ into the seam with a hammer and then covered in hot pitch to keep them watertight. This process would have to be undertaken on several occasions during the life of a boat. The most difficult seam to reach was the garboard seam known as the ‘Devil’. As a result whenever a seaman was faced with a difficult or dangerous task he would refer to it as ‘having the Devil to pay’. The full term ‘the Devil to pay and no pitch hot’ referred to a situation so difficult that there was no apparent solution.

  1. A sailing vessel controls its sails by means of ropes known as sheets. Each sail has a single sheet to do the job. The term suggests that someone is so drunk or incapacitated that even if he had three sheets with which to trim his sail he would still be unable to maintain a steady course.

  1. Without radar, or any means of electronic communication it was often difficult to know whether a sailing vessel spotted on the horizon was friend or foe.  Pirates and privateers would often hide their colours in the hope that they could get close in to their prey before revealing their nationality or identity. An experience seaman however, would often be able to identify a ship’s country of origin by the shape and configuration of her jib sails, the ‘cut of her jib’.


IN DECEMBER 2012 We Asked you: (answers below)


  1. Who was the captain of the vessel which hunted Moby Dick?

  1. Who took control of the Bounty as a result of the famous mutiny?

  1. Who was the captain of the Endeavour?

  1. Who was captain of the famous WW2 fighting ship the ‘Bismark’?

  1. Who was captain of the submarine in Jules Verne’s novel 20.000 leagues under the sea and – for a bonus point – what was the name of his submarine?


  1. Captain Ahab

  1. Fletcher Christian

  1. Captain Cook

  1. Captain Ernst Lindemann

  1. Captain Nemo (the Nautilus)


(Answers to November quiz Below) 

November Quiz

So, in November we asked you

  1. What is the difference between a Ketch and a Yawl?

  1. What would you do with a baggywrinkle?

  1. What is a broach – how does it happen?

  1. What is a lee shore?

  1. What does the term ‘fetch’ mean?

Here are the official answers to November's quiz:

  1. Both ketches and yawls are two masted vessels. The difference is that a ketch carries her mizzen mast (the rear mast) forward of the rudder post. A yawl carries her mizzen aft of the rudder post. From a distance you can guess whether she is a ketch or a yawl by the size of the mizzen sail. A yawl’s mizzen sail tends to be smaller.

  1. Stick it in the rigging! Sailing ships on long ocean trade wind passages would set their sails and follow the same course for days on end. Under such conditions, sails would wear and fray in places where the constantly rubbed the rigging. Sailors used to make up parcels of old frayed rope and place them in the rigging to protect the sails where this wear and tear was most likely to happen. These parcels of rope were called baggywrinkles. You still see them occasionally on ong distance cruising boats.

  1. Usually a broach happens when you are in a following sea. Once you’ve experienced a broach, you’ll never forget the term. Both sailing boats and motor boats are susceptible in certain conditions although the causes can be different. For a motor boat, a typical broach occurs when a large following sea lifts the stern of the boat and forces the bow down into the water. The bow, now deep in the water, acts like a pivot while the real rudder ceases to have much influence over the direction the vessel takes so the stern slides across the wave and the boat slides side on to the sea, the real danger is that while the boat is out of control, the next wave may roll and sink her.

  1. A lee shore is the most dangerous shore for a sailing boat. All sailing boats, to a greater or lesser extent, slide sideways under the pressure of the wind. A lee shore is a coastline to the lee or downwind of the boat. Sail too close in along a lee shore and you may have trouble clawing your way back out to sea, especially if you are embayed.

  1. Waves are defined by their height and length. Waves generated by the wind tend to be bigger in proportion to the distance the wind blows across them. A wind blowing off the cliffs into a bay may not generate significant waves, in fact it may help to flatten the water but two or three miles offshore it may have had enough distance to build a lumpy sea. To a seaman ‘fetch’ is used to describe the distance the wind is blowing uninterrupted across the water. The longer the fetch the higher the waves will be.

In September we asked you:

  1. A member of your crew becomes ill during an offshore passage. You need medical advice, what kind of VHF message would you send?

  1. Under what conditions would you send a MAYDAY signal?

  1. Can you list the contents of a MAYDAY signal?

  1. Your vessel is three miles off shore when it collides with a submerged object at night. You are taking on water faster than you can pump it out and your VHF set has been swamped and will not work – what should you do now?

  1. What signal would be sent from shore at night to indicate that your signal has been received?


1.         Transmit a PAN PAN MEDICO message on VHF.

2.         MAYDAY signals should only be used if your vessel is in grave and imminent danger

3.         Make sure your VHF is tuned to Channel 16, switch to high power, listen to make sure the channel is clear. Then transmit:

Mayday           (Three times)
Boatname        (Three times)
Mayday Boatname
My position is ………..
My problem is ……….
I require assistance
There are X number of people on board
We are taking to the liferaft (or whatever)
Mayday Boatname

Then release the transmit button and listen for a reply.

4.         Put on your lifejackets and then fire off two red parachute flares or two red hand flares at two minute intervals ( fire in pairs because people on shore are more likely to react if they see a second flare). It may be necessary to repeat the signal but try to keep one flare in reserve to assist rescuers in locating you. Alternatively signal SOS by light to shore. Prepare to take to the liferaft.

5.         If your signal has been recognized three white star rockets will be fire from the shore at one minute intervals.


Here are the official answers to August's quiz on fog

In August we asked you:- 

  1. In foggy conditions the collision regulations require you to travel at ‘safe speed’ – what is safe speed?

  1. What should you do if you hear another vessels fog signal ahead but cannot see her?

  1. What is the most seamanlike course of action if prior to departure you receive a forecast of fog for your locality?

  1. What course of action should you take if caught out in fog?

  1. What is meant by ‘land fog’?  

  1. The rules state that in restricted visibility every vessel must travel at ‘safe speed’. The definition of safe speed will vary between vessels. For a small boat skipper it is best to assume that it is fast enough to be able to manoeuvre and change direction yet slow enough to stop within the limits of visibility.

  1. If you hear a vessel’s fog signal and it seems to be coming from forward of the beam, you must reduce speed to the minimum requirement of steerage and, if necessary take off all way. Extreme caution is the watchword until all danger of collision is over.

  1. If you are in harbour and planning to leave, the most seamanlike of all strategies is to stay there.

  1. Caught out in fog – all crew should don lifejackets, do all you can to be seen and heard, turn on lights, hoist the mainsail even if you are motoring, sound the fog signal every two minutes, station an additional lookout at the bows, listen for other fog signal or engines, look out for bow waves and cut speed to safe speed. Additionally, consider moving into shoal water away from commercial shipping and using all available means to navigate to a safe haven, preferably a harbour or anchorage little used by large vessels.

  1. Land fogs often appear on rivers and in estuaries on cold nights when the ground looses heat more quickly than the water. Usually it is low lying and you know it will burn off quickly when the sun strengthens. It can roll out to sea however, where it can hover ten or twenty feet above the water. The further out you go, the higher and finer it gets – so you can be confident it won’t last.


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