March 23, 2014

A lack of seagoing trucks

SOMEONE WHO signs herself “Persephone” says she was reading a book that described a small boat as “a real sea-going vessel from truck to keel.”  Now she wants to know what the truck is.
“My guess is that it’s the mast cap,” she says, “the bit that the stays are attached to. Can you confirm?”

Well, Persephone, you’re close, but the fact is that most sailboats don’t have a truck these days.

There are, in fact several meanings of the word truck. There’s the vehicle, for a start, such as the well-known pick-up truck. There’s also the noun that indicates “dealings with” someone: “That boatyard robbed me blind. I’ll have no truck with them in future.”

But the truck we’re concerned with here is a flat disk of wood fitted horizontally on the extreme upper end of a mast of a sailing ship. On ships with more than one mast, it was found on the tallest mast.

It usually had holes bored down through it for flag signal halyards, or small sheaves instead, if it was a fancy truck. In old navy days men used to man the yards as a salute in honor of a visiting sovereign or high official, or in celebration of a national event. In ships of the line this display was topped off by a man standing on each truck.

If you know how the movement of a ship is exaggerated and quickened at the top of a mast, you’ll understand that this was an onerous duty for the poor soul chosen to man the truck, especially when you consider that the only way he could stand on this lofty perch for hours at a time was by steadying himself with the help of a small iron rod temporarily inserted in a hole between his feet.

There are very few sovereigns who need saluting these days, and probably just as few private yachts  with mast trucks big enough for a person to stand on — but I think that’s something for which we can all be truly grateful.

Today’s Thought
No man will be a sailor who has contrivance enough to get him into a jail; for being in a ship is being in a jail with the chance of being drowned.
— Dr. Samuel Johnson

“Any sovereigns in your family?”
“No, but I had an uncle who was a Peer.”
“Really? I had an uncle with bladder trouble, too.”


Tillerman said...

Hmm. Must try saluting my sovereign by standing on the "truck' of my Laser some time.

Don P said...

I thought the sovereign went under the mast for luck!
Keep on Truckin.

John Vigor said...

Well, Don, some sort of coin ought to go under the mast for luck to pay the ferryman for the trip across the Styx, but a sovereign is a bit over the top with the price of gold being what it is these days. An old thruppeny bit would do the job. Those old ferrymen don't know nuffink about inflation.


John V.