Dear Visitor,

Welcome to Port Townsend, where the men are vigorous, the women are smart as hell, and the ferries land hard. The sea runs in our veins, as does beer. Arrgh, ye hearties! PT has a lot to offer, but above all, it’s a quaint Victorian Seaport full of sailors who speak an exotic sub-dialect with which newcomers may not be fully familiar. So, what can you do? Since boating season is upon us and you could encounter a salt-stained specimen while wandering downtown, here are some lessons for avoiding embarrassment as you try to understand the lingo.

Lesson #1 – If you hear something like this on the sidewalk downtown.
Local: “Pay out yer scurvy binnacle abaft athwartships, ye landlubbers!”
Tourist, incorrect answer: “Ooooh, they talk so dirty here!”
Tourist, correct answer: “Aye, matey, let’s maroon ourselves at Siren’s, I’m buyin’!”

Lesson #2 – Know your boating terms.
A course is what you steer on a sailboat when you are going in a different direction from where you really want to go.

Steering a sailboat is accomplished by the skipper yelling commands such as READY ABOUT, HOLD MY BEER, and NO, THE OTHER CLOCKWISE, followed by a maneuver called tacking, which is a series of zigzags deliberately designed to confuse your competitors. (See sailboat race.)

Spinnakers on PT Bay by Nell Allen

A sailboat race is a vicious competition for fictitious prizes sailed by men and women with stiff necks yelling STARBOARD while moving at the approximate speed of banana slugs.

A boom is what you hear when hit by the horizontal spar for which the sound is named.

A boom vang is a piece of stretched cord designed to keep the boom at precisely head level.

A gybe is a deck-clearing maneuver for when the skipper wants a crew change.

A hatch is a random hole in the deck designed to increase insurance rates.

Lesson #3 – They’re only trying to warn you.
Misunderstandings during a casual street contact can cause confusion and breaches of decorum. For example, a “deckhead” is not some rude dude who propositions women. It is the underside of the deck of a ship on which you could whack your head if you’re not careful. So, for example if you fail to stop your car for a pedestrian in a downtown crosswalk, don’t be insulted if some local yells “DECKHEAD!” They’re only trying to warn you to be careful should you ever step aboard a boat.

Schooner Martha by Crystal Craig

Lesson #4 – Sailboats are like zoos.
Sailboats have parts named horses, hounds, rats, cats, dogs, crows, pelicans, dolphins, and turtles in various obscure locations. There are even body parts aboard, like knees, ribs, heads, eyes, throats, shoulders, and, forgive me, a buttock line. When a sailboat sinks, however, it becomes less like a zoo and more like an aquarium.

Lesson #5 – When sailing, do not be confused.
If you are lucky enough to be invited out sailing, it is essential to know the following:

A windlass is not a foredeck bimbo. Do not call a woman that unless you wish to “swallow the anchor.” Swallowing the anchor could entail a visit to Davey Jones’ Locker, which is not a chandlery. A chandlery is not where you’ll find the character Chandler from the sitcom “Friends.” But “Friends” are what you’ll need for your rescue if you don’t refrain from calling a female sailor a windlass.

A jumper strut is not a command; it is a mast fitting. Jumping or strutting on a sailboat is discouraged. (See windlass.)

A spinnaker is a colorful, balloon-like, dual-purpose sail that can be converted to a sea anchor when placed in the water.

When you are on a sailboat and an apoplectic-looking person on another boat yells “STARBOARD!” at you, always smile and politely say, “Port tack overlap.” This buys you time to put your affairs in order while they prepare to run you through. (See sailboat race.)

Thunderbird racing on PT Bay by Crystal Craig

Thanks to all you wonderful tourists for your help in preserving our town’s fun, fascinating maritime heritage!

Sir Isaac and Alcyone by Crystal Craig

Lead Photo of Classic Mariners Regatta by Crystal Craig


Leave a Comment