"Captains Courageous"

Chapter III

Notes on the text

These notes are based on those written by Leonee Ormond for the OXFORD WORLD'S CLASSICSedition of Captains Courageous (1995) with the kind permission of Oxford University Press. Except where stated otherwise, the page numbers below refer to the Macmillan Uniform Edition of Captains Courageous (1899, and frequently reprinted since).




[October 27th 2003]


[Page 56, line 17] top gallant sails the sails above the topsails on the main mast of a square-rigged ship.

[Page 56, line 20] fly here a ribbon of light canvas at the masthead to indicate the wind direction; modem yachts use a pennant.

[Page 57, line 1] kerflummoxes considers the situation.

[Page 57, line 8] Chat-ham ... West Chat-ham ports on the northern side of Nantucket Sound.

[Page 57, line 27] The Virgin a shoal in the Grand Banks, south-east of Newfoundland.

[Page 59, line 6] thole-pins the pegs in the side of the dory between which the oars are held when rowing.

[Page 59, line 10] rowlocks the U-shaped metal pivot on the gunwale of a light rowing boat which serves the same purpose as thole pins.

[Page 59, line 18] roding rope.

[Page 59, line 19] cleats wooden projections for fastening ropes.

[Page 59, line 20] maul a club or hammer.

[Page 59, line 21] gaff a stout stick with a hook for landing fish.

[Page 60, line 11] stuck him for asked him for.

[Page 60, line 12] slitheroo row in an uncoordinated fashion.

[Page 60, line 15] loom shaft of an oar.

[Page 60, line 28] salt clam shellfish used as bait.

[Page 60, line 29] doughboys lead weights on the fishing line.

[Page 62, line 10] Saranac Lake in the Adirondacks, New York State.

[Page 62, line 14] nippers thick woollen mittens, intended to protect the fisherman's hands. James Conland sent Kipling two pairs for the Devon fishermen: see The Letters of Rudyard Kipling, ed. Thomas Pinney, vol. ii (London, 1990), 259 and 273.

[Page 62, line 16] logy American/Newfoundland slang for heavy.

[Page 64, line 25] windward on the side of the boat from which the wind was coming.

[Page 65, line 13] kelleg colloquial term for `killick', the simplest anchor in the form of a weight.

[Page 66, line 1] hurrah's-nest a confused mess.

[Page 66, line 5] Spanish windlass an improvised windlass. A lever is inserted in one or more of the rope turns round the makeshift roller to haul the rope tighter. It could not be used to haul up an anchor.

[Page 66, line 13] flukes the triangular shapes at the ends of the arms of the anchor, the means of attaching the anchor to the sea-bed.

[Page 66, line 18] caulked caulking is the process by which oakum or rope is driven into the seams of a wooden boat in order to keep out water. Pitch is then used to cover the seam and prevent the oakum or rope from rotting. In this context the term is used to suggest that Penn is not in full possession of his faculties.

[Page 66, line 27] Moravian member of a strict Protestant sect originally from Middle Europe, which spread to North America in the mid-eighteenth century.

[Page 67, line 4] Johnstown Pennsylvania, 50 miles east of Pittsburgh. See note to p. 20 for the Johnstown flood of 1889.

[Page 67, line 7] Ashtabula Ohio, on Lake Erie. On 29 December 1876 a railway bridge crossing the river gorge through the city collapsed in.a snowstorm. Eighty-five people died.

[Page 67, line 21] Alleghany Port Allegheny, Pennsylvania.

[Page 68, line 12] Hatt'rus Cape Hatteras, easternmost point of North Carolina.

[Page 68, line 3] furrer-mould furrow-mould, ploughed earth.

[Page 68, line 1] spigot peg to stop a cask, usually including some sort of tap.

[Page 68, line 19] Exeter New Hampshire.

[Page 68, line 10] jay a showy person.

[Page 68, line 17] 'piscopalian a member of the Episcopalian Church, i.e. of a Church with a hierarchy of bishops.

[Page 69, line 17] the Whale-deep see note to p. 24.

[Page 69, line 25] steeved inclined upwards at an angle.

[Page 69, line 28] the Main Ledge shoal in the Virgin area. See note to p. 33.

[Page 70, line 01] Harwich port on Nantucket Sound in Massachusetts.

[Page 70, line 7] 'Queereau Banquereau, north-east of Sable Island, Nova Scotia, a raised underwater plateau and noted fishing ground.

[Page 71, line 4] jib a triangular sail set on the stays of the foremast. foresail the principal sail on the foremast.

[Page 71, line 5] Slip 'em in the smother give them the slip in the fog.

[Page 71, line 6] jib-sheet the rope that controls the jib.

[Page 71, line 8] foreboom the foresail boom; for `boom'. See note to p. 5.

[Page 71, line 26] Ease your jumbo a grind the jumbo is the colloquial Atlantic Coast name for the boomed fore staysail in a fore and aft rigged ship.

[Page 72, line 1] windlass brakes `presumably handles' (Inwood).

[Page 72, line 2] Miss Jim Buck the Gemsbok, a gunboat which bombarded Fort Magon, a confederate stronghold off Beaufort, North Carolina in 1862, during the American Civil War. That war was a living memory for many Americans when Captains Courageous was written.

[Page 72, line 6] earnin' my bread on the deep waters `They that go down to the sea in ships and occupy their business in great waters', Psalms 107: 23.

[Page 72, line 6] Reb Short for 'rebel', used by the northern side in the American Civil War to refer to southerners fighting for the Confederate army.

[Page 72, line 19] stays'l a triangular sail, attached to the stay supporting the mast.

[Page 75, line 17] checkers draughts.

[Page 72, line 21] deader-limpsey-idler Comparatives: dead, limp, and idle.

[Page 72, line 26] T-wharf hat Harvey's sou'wester, an oilskin hat which directs water away from the face. T-wharf would have been a part of the port of Boston.

[Page 76, line 7] stump foremast a mast without a topmast.

[Page 76, line 9] peak-halyards ropes used to raise the outer end of a gaff sail, a gaff being a spar used to extend the head of a foreand-aft sail.

[Page 76, line 24] booby the hutch-like structure that protects the hatch entry.

[Page 76, line 29] main-boom mainsail boom.

[Page 79, line 1] crutch an X-shaped device to support the main boom when the sail is down.

[Page 79, line 10] fore-an'-after fore and aft sails are attached to the mast at their fore end on which they pivot, enabling them to receive the wind on either side. They usually operate at an oblique angle to the ship's centre line. Except in unusual circumstances, square sails receive the wind on the after side only. They pivot at their centre point and are trimmed to operate across or square to the centre line.

To Tom Platt, a `man o' war's man', square rig is the only true sailing and he is somewhat dismissive of the foreand-aft schooner rig.

[Page 79, line 14] fore-top a platform at the head of a lower mast. Its principal purpose is to increase the angle of the shrouds supporting the top mast above, so giving it firmer support.

[Page 79, line 17] reef shorten the sail to adapt to an increase. in the wind.

[Page 79, line 26] reef-pennant a rope going through a cringle (reinforced eyelet) in the after leech (aftermost edge) of a boom mainsail, and through a sheave-hole in the boom, with a tackle attached to its end to haul the after leech down to the boom and so reef the sail.

[Page 80, line 1] throat and peak halyards the ropes used to raise the inner or mast end of a gaff sail, the peak halyard being at the outer end.

[Page 80, line 1] after-leach or leech, the after side of a sail.

[Page 80, line 1] cringle `a short piece of rope worked grommet fashion into the boltrope of a sail and containing a metal thimble' (Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea). The eyelet so formed enables the strain of hauling and fastening to be taken on the bolt rope rather than on the sail canvas. A sail is strengthened by having a rope sewn into its edge this is known as the fore leech bolt rope, head rope, after leech bolt rope, .foot rope, according to its position.

[Page 80, line 9] tack-earing the rope used to fasten the sail to the yard.

[Page 82, line 3] fly the Blue Pigeon to heave the lead to take 'soundings'.
When in pilotage waters, in the days before echo-sounders to give the depth of water, depth was found with the lead (which was a 7lb. lump of that metal) on the end of the lead-line, which was marked at intervals.

[for the account below we are indebted to Commander Alastair Wilson, Editor of the Naval Review; Ed.]

You took soundings with either a deep-sea (“dipsey” – 82/17) lead or a boat’s lead – see 124/23. The former weighed 14 lbs., the latter (as RK says) 7 lbs. The deep-sea lead was some 8 to 9 inches long, and about two inches (5 cm.) in diameter at the top, and three inches at the bottom. There was a ring cast in the top, to which the lead-line was secured. The 7 lb lead was proportionately smaller.

The leadsman, standing in ‘the chains’, a platform projecting from the ship’s side near the bows, swung the lead backwards and forwards until it had got sufficient momentum to carry forward, describing an arc as it fell into the sea some yards ahead of the ship. The skill of the leadsman lay in keeping the lead line just taut, as it became vertical with the lead itself just resting on the seabed, and reading off the mark at the waterline, as the ship passed the position where the lead had entered the water. The lead had a depression in the end which could be ‘armed’ with tallow. On recovery, the tallow would have bits of sea-bed adhering to it: sand, shells, mud, etc., and this could help to give an indication of the bottom, because the nature of the seabed is also recorded on a marine chart, as well as the depth of water.

On board the We’re Here, there would not have been 'chains', on which the leadsman stood to heave the lead. In the navy I joined, the 'chains' had become a platform projecting from the ship’s side, protected by a chain, but in the sailing navy, the chains were the lower portion of the standing rigging of the foremast, where iron links connected the bottom of the rope shrouds to the ship’s hull. The leadsman stood there, well away from the ship’s side, with a lashing round his waist so that he did not fall overboard. Tom Platt would have stood somewhere up towards the bows, on the port (left hand) or starboard (right hand) side as was most convenient – a left-handed man would tend to stand on the port side with the lead in his left hand, a right-handed man on the starboard side (a really able seaman would have taught himself to be ambidextrous). He would have leaned over the bulwarks to heave the lead, or even stood on the bulwarks, by the shrouds of the We’re Here’s foremast, passing a line round his waist to stop himself from going overboard.

Assuming we’re doing it on the starboard side, you took the coil of lead-line in your left hand, and the lead itself on the end of the line, with about six feet scope of line – i.e., it’s dangling from your hand on the end of about six feet of line (that would be about the height of Tom Platt’s hand above the waterline in the We’re Here – maybe eight feet). You swung the lead backwards and forwards, as described above, or even whirled it in a complete circle above your head ('flying the blue pigeon') to give it momentum to carry as far forward as possible. The point is that, if the ship is moving forward, it will not be over the spot where the leadsman released the lead when the latter reaches the sea-bed unless the lead is flung some distance forward. Having swung and released the lead, the leadsman then concentrates on the line running out from his left hand (you have coiled it up very carefully indeed so that you do not get any tangles/knots), and as soon as you feel the lead hit the sea-bed, you gather in the slack of the line, so that the line is taut as the ship passes over the place where the lead is on the sea-bed. The lead-line was marked at given distances, 2,3,5,7,10,13,15,17 and 20 fathoms – e.g. the mark at 13 fathoms was a piece of blue serge. So, if as the ship passed over the lead, the piece of blue serge was just there at the waterline, the leadsman would call out “By the mark thirteen”. If he judged that the depth was an intermediate one, between the blue serge and the piece of leather with a hole in it which was the ten fathom mark, he would call “By the deep twelve” – or whatever. (Whence, as readers may know, Samuel Langhorne Clemens’ pen name of ‘Mark Twain’ :A.W.)

[Page 82, line 11] Fire Island off Long Island, New York State.

[Page 82, line 17] when your dipsey lead's all the eye you're like to hev When the deep-sea lead is your only way of navigating or knowing whereabouts on the fishing ground you are.

[Page 83, line 6] Green Bank bank south-east of Newfoundland.

[Page 83, line 13] headsail the jib.

[Page 83, line 19] Poke-hooked has swallowed the hook.

[Page 83, line 26] keel the lowest timber of the boat, the backbone to which all the ribs or frames are fastened.

[Page 84, line 14] Fundy Bay of Fundy, between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

[Page 84, line 16] trawl here the term is used as understood in North America, a long line buoyed at each end, with shorter, baited lines along its length.

[Page 84, line 21] freeboard the distance from the water to the upper deck.

[Page 84, line 22] dead-hauling hauling a dead weight, i.e. without the water supporting the fish.

[Page 85, line 18] a tub or so o' trawl a length of the trawl line, sufficient to fill a tub.

[Page 85, line 27] gum-blunt toothless, no longer sharp.

[Page 86, line 6] shag-fishin' a shag is a crested cormorant, which dives for fish. Disko seems to mean that they will be as successful if they fish without conventional bait.

[Page 86, line 19] tatting lace-making by hand.

[Page 86, line 24] skates flat, cartilaginous fish.

[Page 86, line 27] three-hundred fathom 1,800 feet.

[Page 87, line 4] putterin'est, slimjammest `puttering' means `pottering', and `slimjammest' seems to be a dialect word for `fiddling'.

[Page 88, line 4] lanyard short length of rope, used to secure or act as a handle.

[Page 88, line 23] Nary snarl no knots or tangles in the line.


[L. O.]