I am pleased to have Irving Itzkan write today's blog. If any of you have ever been fortunate enough to have Irv as your instructor then you will understand my enthusiasm. A life long sailor, volunteer and instructor at CBI, Irv also dabbled, on the side I think, in physics having held research positions at MIT and Harvard, just to name the two I am familiar with. Regardless of Irv's interests outside of sailing I am thrilled to have Irv offer today's blog which I'm sure you'll find interesting. Thank you Irv!-c
In my sailing classes at Community Boating, many students are often fascinated by those sailing terms that are completely new to them and some want to know their origin. The one that seems strangest is “boom vang”, the tackle that keeps the boom from riding up, and I usually have to repeat it and even spell it. I explain, using the very old joke, that the boom did not get its name from the sound it makes when it hits your head, (slipping in an oblique cautionary note), but is actually Dutch for “tree” (in German, “baum”), and that “vang” comes from the same Germanic root as “fang” and the root means “to grab” hence “boom grabber”. The device was originally used on the aftermost fore-and-aft sail on large ships which is called a spanker. The spanker is stretched between two spars, the lower one is called the boom and the upper one is called the gaff. The original vang was attached from the end of the gaff on the spanker to the rail, and its purpose was to act as a preventer to keep the gaff from accidentally gybeing (crossing over to the other side of the ship) and causing the sail to “hourglass”, that is, to have the boom on one side and the gaff on the other.
“Painter”, the line attached to the bow of a small boat, always seems strange because of its English meaning of “artist”. However it comes from the old French “pendoir” (modern French “pendre”) which means something which hangs, as in pendulum or depend. The pendoir was a line that was hung from the stern of a ship at anchor to enable the crew of arriving small boats to grab it and tie up, and from this a line which ties up a small boat became a painter.
The origin of starboard and port is always of interest. In the early days of sail, ships were steered with a steering board, which was mounted on the right side of the ship, and that side of the ship became the steering board, or starboard side. Then, in order not to have to unship the heavy steering board, ships were always parked with the unencumbered, that is the left side, towards the port. A board to facilitate the off-loading and on-loading of cargo, called the lading board, was then rigged on the left side, and that side of the ship became the lading board, or larboard side. However larboard and starboard sounded too much alike, and created dangerous confusion, especially when shouted orders competed with strong winds howling in the rigging. So “larboard” was changed to “port”, since it was the side of the ship towards the port.