Nautical Terms Reimagined by Alyssa Alexander

Alyssa Alexander here! I’m doing some research for a new series taking place in the Age of Sail. Because pirates never get old, right? Witness the Dread Pirate Roberts of Princess Bride fame. Or Captain Jack Sparrow. Yum.

By Anonymous (, 19th century)Christie’s, LotFinder: entry 4657349 (sale 4030, lot 1943, London, 25 January 2006), Public Domain, Link

In my delvings into the deep dark hole of research I came up with some interesting nautical phrases. Many make sense, of course, but there are others I stare at and for the life of me, I can’t figure out what they mean.

So I made up my own meanings. Because if you’re going to fall into the rabbit hole of research, you might as well have fun.





Abaft: Toward the stern. Or, I spent too long abaft and now my fingers are pruney.

Aft: Behind the middle of the boat. Or, if I eat too much pizza, the aft of me gets bigger.

Bar pilot: The sailor who navigates a ship over dangerous sandbars at the entrance to rivers or bays. Or, the bartender at the swim-up-bar at my favorite Caribbean resort.

Bear down: Turn away from the wind. Or, what I recall nurses telling me do during labor.

Cringle: A rope loop. Or, that moment when you see someone get hurt and you cringe, but at same time it’s funny and you laugh a little, a la America’s Funniest Videos. That’s a cringle.

Double shot:  Loading a cannon with two balls. Or…well, it seems to me that should have originated in a dockside tavern.

Foulies: Slang for oilskins. Or, you can’t make a foulies out of me. I can spellz.

Gin-Pole: A pole used as a lever to raise the mast. Or, one of those extendable arms with the claw at the end for reaching things far away, such as the bottle of gin in the hold of a ship (or the top shelf of the liquor cabinet).

Kraken: A sea monster. Or, what happens when I make muffins. The centers kraken and I serve imploded muffins.

Longsplice: Sailor’s word for marriage. Or, a sailor’s wife’s reminder that he better not have a girl in ever port, or some bits might be spliced.

Lugger: A ship with lugsails, I guess. Or me, at the grocery store with a small child, a post-surgery Franken-Foot, a shopping list longer than my arm because there is nothing in the cupboard or fridge, and two carts because one isn’t big enough.

Offwind: Sailing away from the wind. Or, that moment when you open the fridge and the smell of something rotting wafts out. (Not that I have ever found unidentifiable substances in the back of my fridge.)

Rhumb Line: A compass line between two points. Or, a line of pirates arm in arm dancing the rhumba.

Scantlings: The dimensions used for shipbuilding. Or, those tiny words you delete when editing. This, that, but, just, only. They are scantlings. You don’t need them, though they sound great when you write them.

Vang: A rope that prevents the gaff or wood holding up various sails from sagging. Or, the sound a vampire makes when zeroing in on his prey. Like “bang”, only, you know. Vampire teeth. “VANG.”

Yeah, I know. I should just take the original definitions and roll with them. But who doesn’t enjoy a bit of fun now and again?

P.S. Many thanks to the Brethren of the Coast for their piratical definitions. They are available here: I make no statement as to authenticity, though I do offer thanks for making the information available online. If it were not for those willing to share information, the world would be a much dimmer place. Right ho, mateys! 

Follow Alyssa Alexander:

Despite being a native Michigander, Alyssa Alexander is pretty certain she belongs somewhere sunny. And tropical. Where drinks are served with little paper umbrellas. But until she moves to those white sandy beaches, she survives the cold Michigan winters by penning romance novels that always include a bit of adventure. She lives with her own set of heroes, aka an ever-patient husband who doesn’t mind using a laundry basket for a closet, and a small boy who wears a knight in a shining armor costume for such tasks as scrubbing potatoes. Alyssa’s debut release, THE SMUGGLER WORE SILK, was awarded 4.5 Stars and Top Pick, nominated for 2014 Best First Historical by the Romantic Times and Best First Book in the Romance Writers of America RITA contest. Her second book, IN BED WITH A SPY, released in December 2014 from Berkley, and received a Starred Review from Publishers Weekly and 4.5 Stars and Top Pick from Romantic times. She has been called a “talented newcomer” and “a rising star you won’t want to miss.” You can find Alyssa at all the usual places! Please stop by and say hello! And you can always reach her by email at

12 Responses

    • Alyssa Alexander

      I was snickering while I wrote it! There were a lot more nautical terms that had me laughing or scratching my head as well. Such fun research!