Daedalus and the Deep glossary – part 1

The following is a glossary of some of the main technical terms used in Daedalus and the Deep, roughly in the order in which they appear. I would recommend trying to get by without it – most of the meaning should be apparent from the context, and in some cases terms might be explained later on. Having said that, not everyone has spent a lifetime reading Hornblower and studying the ships of Nelson’s Navy, and might be forgiven for feeling all at sea – in which case I’d suggest only looking up a term you find confusing rather than reading the whole thing first!

The following glossary is for Part 1 of the novel, and is aimed at people who have read little or no historic nautical fiction.

Chapter 1

Boom – defence across a river to prevent boats passing

Bosun – ‘Boatswain’, a non-commissioned officer responsible for the components of the ship’s hull

18/24 pounder – cannon, rated according to the weight of the balls they fire (the bigger a gun, the more damage it can do and the longer its range is)

Carronade – a lightweight, short-range cannon

Cannister shot/Langridge – a form of ‘case shot’, where instead of a single, solid ball, a cannon would fire a bundle of small fragments

Midshipman – a trainee officer

Ball shot – literally that, a solid ball fired by a cannon

Chapter 2

Quarterdeck – the deck towards the rear of the vessel from which the ship was commanded

‘Luff’ – slang for lieutenant

Flag lieutenant – an officer on an admiral’s personal staff, rather than one attached to a ship

Schooner – a small ship, usually two-masted, often fast

Sloop/corvette/frigate – warships among the smaller of the Navy’s vessels, which would usually act as scouts or lone cruisers preying on enemy merchant shipping. RN ships were rated according to the number of guns they carried, and many ships like Daedalus were re-rated from frigate to corvette or sloop when their battery was changed to a smaller number of larger weapons

Bulwark – the upper portion of the ship’s hull, above the deck

Sailing master – non-commissioned officer responsible for matters to do with the sailing of the ship. (This stemmed from the days when officers were not professional sailors, and would need trained seamen to carry out their orders)

Coxwain – pilot of a small boat

Orlop deck – the lowest deck above the hold of a ship (a corruption of ‘overlap’)

Chapter 3

Wardroom – the space for the ship’s senior officers to live, dine and relax – usually a long space towards the rear of the ship with cabins either side

Warrant officers – men ranked between basic seamen and commissioned officers, usually with technical roles

Bosun’s pipe/bosun’s call – a whistle used to communicate orders or signals

Tack ship – turning the ship so its bow swings through the eye of the wind, a sometimes difficult manoeuvre in a square-rigged vessel

Tacks/sheets/clewlines/braces – lines (ropes) used to control the sails

Close-hauled – sailing the ship as close as possible to directly into the wind (A square-rigged ship would be able to sail perhaps 50-60 degrees off the wind. That way, by zig-zagging back and forth, the ship could effectively sail directly upwind)

Starboard tack – whenever the wind is blowing from starboard (the right hand side), the ship is said to be on the port tack whenever the wind is blowing from port

Waist – the mid part of the main deck between the quarterdeck and the forecastle. Up to the mid-18th century this would have been open to the air, but by the 19th century the forecastle and quarterdeck had evolved into an almost-continuous upper deck, with a large central opening all that remained of the ‘waist’

Chapter 4

Screw – propeller

Chapter 5

Leeward – downwind (as opposed to windward – literally the direction the wind is coming from)

After-chains – the point where the rigging for the mast reaches the deck (the after-chains will be for the rearmost, or mizzen, mast – there will also be fore and main-chains)

Reefing points – sails can be reduced in size by ‘reefing’, tying a portion of them up. The sails have eyes sewn into them for this purpose

Taffrail – the rail across the stern of the ship

Chapter 7

Courses/Topsails/Topgallants – Courses are the lowest sails on a square-rigger (also known as mainsails), topsails are the sails immediately above them (confusingly as they are not the highest sails, though originally they were), and topgallants (usually pronounced ‘t’gallants’) are the sails above them. (Royals are the next highest, and some of the largest ships even had one more set of sails, called skysails for obvious reasons)

Top/fighting top – the platform in the middle of each mast (often erroneously referred to as the ‘crow’s nest’)

Yard/yardarm – the spar along the upper edge of each square sail

Gaskets – the strips used to tie a sail up when reefing or furling

Buntlines – lines used to gather up the fabric of the sail (most of the work would be done on deck by men pulling on ropes that lead up the mast – the men on the yard itself would mainly be there to secure the sail)

Waisters – the less skilled sailors who did not specialise in working up the rigging (‘topmen’) or working the guns. They would primarily be used to pull ropes to raise, lower or trim sails. As these ropes tended to be led down to the waist of the ship (see Chapter 3) the men were known as ‘waisters’

Chapter 8

Beat to quarters – signal that the crew have to go to their action stations by a drum-roll

Weather-gage – the advantage in a battle conferred by the wind direction. A ship with the weather-gage had more choice as to when and how to engage or disengage

Weathering/fore-reaching – gaining ground to windward, and in the direction of sailing, respectively

‘Everyone forrard of the mainmast’ – the ordinary crew berth in the forward part of the ship, the officers to the rear

Chapter 9

Bow chaser – guns pointing forward rather than on the broadside (see also stern chaser, guns pointing to the rear)

‘borne up a point’ – bearing up means steering closer to the wind’s direction. Points refer to points of the compass – in the 19th century, the Royal Navy used the 32 points of the compass to dictate direction rather than degrees as today

Beam reach – sailing with the wind at 90° to the ship’s direction

Bar shot/chain shot – two balls connected by a hinged bar or a chain, designed to damage a ship’s rig rather than its hull

2 Comments Add yours

  1. rjr says:

    Thanks. This is so helpful. What about waist and waister, please?

    1. Thanks – now added in the sections on chapters 3 and 7 respectively. (I’ve also added a picture in the ‘Pictorial Guides’ section)

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