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Naval Terms and Customs -Continued: Forecastle - Gundecking
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Certain of these young men, however, had a special  formula  for  getting  the  correct  answers. They would note the noon or last position on the quarterdeck  traverse  aboard  and  determine  the approximate current position by dead reckoning plotting.   Armed   with   this   information,   they proceeded  to  the  gun  deck  to  “gundeck”  their navigation   homework   by   simply   working backwards  from  the  dead  reckoning  position. HAWSER Hawser  is  a  heavy  line  of  hemp,  used  for mooring  and  towing.  It  was  formerly  used  as anchor  cable  (before  chains).  It  is  derived  from the  French  hausser,  meaning   “to   haul.” HEAD The ship’s lavatory is called the head because these facilities in the old days were located in the forward  part  of  the  ship. LASHING  BROOM  TO  MASTHEAD A popular custom in the U.S. Navy is that of lashing a broom to the masthead of a ship when it has participated in a complete victory over an enemy  force.  The  broom  signifies  the  ship’s  ability to  sweep  the  seas.  (A  ship  making  the  highest gunnery  or  engineering  record  in  the  fleet  also displays a broom.) As noted earlier for his unusual display of victory, Admiral Tromp originated this custom  (see  Commission  Pennant). LUCKY  BAG Formerly,  a  lucky  bag  was  a  bag  in  which personal possessions that had been left adrift were stored. Today, the term refers to any storage area for  loose  gear  picked  up  by  the  master-at-arms force. MAST The  term  captain’s   mast,   or  merely  mast, derives  from  early  sailing  days  when  naval  justice proceedings were held on the weather deck near the  ship’s  mainmast. MIDSHIPMEN In early days the crew was quartered in the forecastle, while officers lived in the aftercastle. The  title  “midshipmen”  was  originally  given  to youngsters  of  the  British  Navy  who  acted  as messengers,  carrying  orders  from  officers  aft  to the  men  forward.  These  lads,  who  continuously passed back and forth amidships, were regarded as   apprentice   officers.   The   ancient   term   has survived,   and   today   officer   candidates   at Annapolis  (and  other  midshipmen’s  schools)  are called midshipmen. PIPING THE SIDE To  the  new  officer  the  custom  of  piping  the side, a heritage from the British Navy, seems one of  the  strangest  of  all  naval  customs.  It  originated in  the  days  of  sail  when  captains  visiting  one another at sea were hoisted on board in a net or basket  if  rough  weather  prevented  the  use  of ladders. Piping was necessary in setting taut and hoisting away the cargo net or basket containing the  boarding  officer.  Thus,  we  acquired  the custom  of  piping  the  officer  alongside  and  over the  gangway. The officer of the deck ordinarily summoned from the crew several hands to assist the visitor in making the landing on deck. If he were young, a lieutenant perhaps, two men were required to help  him;  if  older,  a  commander  perchance, having  increased  his  girth  as  well  as  his  grade through  the  years,  he  might  require  four.  If, however,  he  happened  to  be  a  captain  or  an admiral,  he  may  have  required  six  or  eight  to enable him to secure a stable footing. Thus, there came  about  the  custom  of  having  “side  boys” to  meet  officers.  When  the  custom  became  a regulation  courtesy,  the  side  was  similarly  attended upon  their  departure. QUARTERDECK There is evidence that the marked respect paid the quarterdeck  aboard ship today had its origin many hundreds of years ago. In the days of Greek and Roman sea power, obeisances were made to the pagan altar, which was placed aft. Later the same respect was paid the shrines of the Virgin similarly  located.  Still  later  the  “King’s  colors,” which  were  a  symbol  of  church  and  state combined,  became  the  object  of  respect.  One  is impressed with the thought that the quarterdeck has always been the honored part of the ship. It retains its “sanctity” today. (The name poop deck derives  from  the  Latin  word  puppis,  a name given the sacred deck where the pupi or doll images of the deities were placed.) AII-6

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