Land-lubbers and Sea-dogs


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One useful benefit of word-fowling is the ability to use impressive terminology to mask shortcomings in the practical department. Or to put it in another way, as politicians so often demonstrate, sounding knowledgeable is excellent cover for ignorance.

Thus when Prose & Cons went to sea last weekend a glossary of nautical terms was enough to convince the landlubbers on board that here was an old salt, wise in the ways of the ocean and seasoned by several voyages round Cape Horn in a square-rigger.

Meantime, the novice crew members learned the ropes (as the saying goes) attending to the hard work of hoisting and lowering sails, enabling Wordworth to relax and splice the mainbrace while giving forth on the derivation of port and starboard, and the now obsolete larboard.

Avast, belay, caught in stays, taken aback...all were experienced by the crew until eventually- as the grog ration became depleted- they became three sheets to the wind as well.

The wealth of sea-faring terms which are now in everyday English usage has been discussed in previous columns but during last weekend's off-shore deliberations an interesting specimen arose which is worthy of closer examination.

That is regatta: commonly applied to an organised series of yacht races.

In the original Italian dialect from which it stemmed, it meant " a strife or contention or struggling for mastery." Eventually it came to be applied to gondola races in Venice.

The first recorded usage in English dates to 1652, when an early package-tourist observed: "The rarest show that I ever saw as a costly and ostentatious triumph called a 'regatto' on the Grand Canal."

The first English regatta was held on the Thames in 1775m when the Public Advertiser noted:" The regatta will keep at home many of our Nobility and wealthy Commoners."

Less than a century later, regattas had become firmly established and a publication called British Rural Sports recorded in 1856: "Sailing regattas are held in many of our rivers and lakes, but chiefly in Cowes, Kingstown, and other seaport towns"

With Point Yacht celebrating its centenary this year moment, Durban will have shortage of its own regattas over the next few months. If you see a strange-looking gondola on the horizon, you'll know it's the Prose & Cons flagship demonstrating the true meaning of the word. Me old shipmate Henry Field is welcome on board at any time.


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