January 14, 2007
As a French person, calling the ship a “she” is very strange to me. In fact, I have always seen English as a very logical language because what is female will be feminine, what is male will be masculine and what is neither of them will be neutral. For instance, in French, a plane is masculine but an aisle is feminine, a chair is feminine but an armchair is masculine, and as a matter of fact, there are no rules when it comes to the gender of things. So why is a ship a “she” in English? I asked the bosun the question and his answer was very interesting.
A ship is feminine because she acts just like a woman, if you take care of her, she will be good to you, if you don’t, she may not listen to you and do whatever she feels like. You have to love her or she will let you down, if you make her happy, she will do the same for you. At the time when sailors were only men, she was their girl.
Moreover, the bosun told me that they are many parts of the ship that are named after body parts. Toilets are called the heads because before toilets were installed, sailors used to go on a little plank at the bow of the ship, and the name just stuck. The ribs are the structure of the ship, the middle part of the ship is the waist, the outside parts of the blocks are called the cheeks, some parts of some lines are called the eyes, etc …
The bosun is probably the fourth person in the hierarchy of the ship, after the captain, the chief mate and the second mate. The mates are mostly in charge of the sailing, whereas the bosun has to take care of the ship as his priority. Michael, the Picton Castle’s bosun, has his captain’s license and was first mate on the last ship he sailed on, but he wants to get some experience before starting as captain on another training ship next fall. He has lots of stories to tell us, with a very calm voice, and lots to teach us too. He told me his favorite part of the training is when people have just figured out the lines, and that for the first time they realize that they have pulled on the right rope at the right time.