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May 2017    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 43, No. 5   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Are You a Wreck Diver or a Liveaboard Diver?

either way, itís not a bedroom, itís a cabin

from the May, 2017 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

With the increasing popularity of liveaboard diving, we get reports that describe a craft as if it were a hotel, with bedrooms and bathrooms and floors and kitchens. Even some experienced wreck divers rewrite ship descriptions. So, we thought it might be useful to give landlubbers less familiar with being at sea clues to terminology used historically.

Vessels don't have kitchens, they have galleys; they don't have bedrooms, they have cabins. The corridor that links the cabins is a companionway, not a hallway or corridor.

From the times of medieval sailing ships, the lavatories have been called heads, just as the raised section of the deck (floor) at the bow is known as the fo'castle (pronounced folk-sole), a corruption of forecastle. The foredeck (the forward deck) normally carried the winch or windlass for hauling in lines (not ropes) or anchor chain. It's no place to be if you have no job to do there, because there will be cleats and fairleads - things to trip over! The hawse pipe is the tunnel down which the anchor chain passes out on larger vessels.

The hull is the main part of the vessel that gives buoyancy and keeps everything afloat. The gunwale (pronounced gunnel) is the upper edge of the side of the hull, a ridge for guns on old ships. The keel is the backbone of the hull.

The bow is the front pointed end of the boat, while the stern is the blunt end at the rear. You walk fore and aft. Facing forward, the right side is called the starboard side because the steer-boards of ancient vessels were on that side, whereas the port side on the left is laid against the dock away from the steer-board. The port side carries a red light at night and the starboard side has a green light.

Portholes are opened for ventilation when in port. They form a watertight seal, but if you open a porthole while at sea, water may enter. Of course, that can depend on how much freeboard there is, the distance between the main deck and the water.

Lockers are storage spaces. The chain locker is where the anchor chain is stored. If you have a cabin near the bow, the noise from the winch and chain locker when the anchor is deployed or recovered can be disturbing. The locker under the deck at the stern is known as the lazaret.

The saloon, now so often called the salon by non-nautical marketing men that the name has entered the maritime lexicon, is the public room. You may enter the officers' saloon of a wreck you have dived and then talk about it afterwards in your own vessel's salon!

It's best not to enter the engine room unless you are invited by a crewmember to take a look.

On traditional ships, the bridge passes from one side of the vessel to the other to give the coxswain, captain or pilot a proper view of all parts of the ship. The bridge bears the wheelhouse from where the vessel is controlled, but nowadays, often the wheelhouse of motor yachts is called the bridge.

No liveaboards have a poop deck, but many wrecks you might visit will have this raised section of deck at the stern that prevents the vessel from being pooped by a following sea. However, most liveaboards with dive decks at the stern have a transom, a transverse structure of the hull. The propellers are sometimes called 'screws' by old sea dogs. If you are in the water and they are turning, stay away from them. If the captain reverses the vessel, you could be drawn into them.

Don't think you won't get a beer on a dry vessel. It just means that the craft is not prone to take water over the bow in heavy seas.

A davit is a device for lowering a small boat while shrouds are the lines that support a mast. The flagstaff at the stern carries an ensign; if there is a flag at the bow (as with naval vessels), it's called a jack staff (hence the Union Jack on Royal Navy vessels). Finally, a knot made by tying lines is called a bend, whereas a knot is a nautical mile, which is the distance over a minute of latitude (slightly more than a land mile). The speed of vessels is measured in knots or nautical miles per hour.

Now, let's go diving!


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