Boating Terms: Why? Where Did They Come from?

There are certain things to avoid so as not to embarrass yourself on a boat. You don’t go to the front of the boat – you go “forward” or “to the bow.” You never go upstairs or downstairs. You go “above” or “below.” You certainly never go “downstairs to the restroom.” You go “below to the head.”

Port and starboard? Why not left and right? Bow and stern? Why not front and back? Is it a boat or a yacht? Or a ship? So, other than to make rookies look foolish, what is the purpose of all these unique terms – and where did they come from? Believe it or not, there are actual reasons for the terms, most of which actually make sense – or at least they did once upon a time.

Starboard: it’s the right side of the boat, but unlike “left” or “right,” it doesn’t change dependent upon the direction you are facing. That’s just a little aside from me. It has nothing to do with the origin of the term. Back before there were rudders – and long before there were outdrives – early day sailors used a large board on the right side of the ship to steer it. A steer board. Actually, in the old English – a steorboard. Eventually, the term became shortened to starboard. (By the way, it’s not pronounced “star board.” It’s “starb’d” or “starbid.”

Port: Naturally, early day sailors didn’t want to damage the critical “steorboard,” so they always docked the boat on the other side – putting it “in port.” That was smart, because the unloading ramps and hatches were on that side of the boat, as well. So, that’s the side that docks at the port – the port side of the boat.

There are some unsubstantiated tales that actually claim the term “posh” describing luxurious accommodations or surroundings actually came from the “port” and “starboard” references. As the story goes, the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, which was the major steamship carrier of passengers and mail between England and India from 1842 to 1970. The P. & O. route went through the Suez Canal and the Red Sea. The cabins on the port side on the way to India got the morning sun and had the rest of the day to cool off, while starboard ones got the afternoon sun, and were still quite hot at bedtime. On the return trip, the opposite was true. The cooler cabins, therefore, were the more desirable and were reserved for the most important and richest travelers. They changed cabins mid-trip – Port out, Starboard home – POSH. It’s probably not true, but it’s a great story. 

Bow: why not just the “front,” right? Like most terms, this one has an ancient history dating to the early days of boating and construction of ships. Since the forward part of the boat took the roughest weather and water, it had to be the strongest. The term actually comes from the word “bough” – the branches of a tree directly attached to the trunk of the tree. They were the strongest branches, so their wood was used to build the form of the ship. The “bough” – later shortened to “bow.”

Stern: Yes, it goes back to that same construction plan. The “sternpost” – the rearmost wood on a ship, typically held the rudder. So, where would a “sternpost” be, other than on the “stern?”

Head: it’s obvious why it’s not called a “bathroom” (no onboard baths in the old days), but why not the “restroom?” We’re back to construction and early-day logic. The most forward part of the old ships was the figurehead – often extending beyond to bow. Since the wind was always (hopefully) coming from the back of the ship forward, the facilities to allow sailors to relieve themselves without offending others was at the very front of the ship – at the figurehead. So that’s where they went to take care of those important bodily functions – the facilities up by the figurehead – the head.

The universal plea for help is, of course, “Mayday.” This was actually made official worldwide in 1948. It is the anglicized version of the French Word “m’aidez” (help me).

Lots of terms in common use today were actually nautical terms originally.

Footloose, for example, the term we use to describe folks who do whatever they want no matter what anyone else thinks, was originally a sailing term. When the sails are not attached at the foot, they become difficult to control as they move with the wind. Out of control.

If “footloose” behavior is made considerably more difficult to control because someone is actually “three sheets to the wind,” that has its roots in nautical terminology, as well. When all the sails are loose, the boat becomes unstable and uncontrollable. When all three sails are loose, it leaves all “three sheets to the wind.”

Do people sometimes turn a “blind eye” toward your wishes? That happened with Admiral Nelson in the Battle of Copenhagen in 1801. He was blind in one eye, and would intentionally put his telescope to his blind eye so, while appearing to pay attention, he actually avoided seeing the commander’s flag signal to stop the bombardment.

So, do you have a boat? Or is it a yacht? Or is it a ship? Here are the technical rules – a boat becomes a yacht at 34-feet. I would suggest, though, that you continue to refer to your 34-foot boat as a “boat” unless you want someone at the yacht club to buy you a tee-shirt with “arrogant jerk” printed on it. Yachts are typically built with luxurious accommodations for multiple passengers on long journeys. Hundred-footers? Sure. That’s definitely a yacht. But 34 feet? It’s a fine line.

When you see a large yacht, it’s tempting to whistle and say, “Wow! That thing is a ship!” Well, probably not. Technically, that breaking point is 500 tons. Anything less is a boat. Anything more is a ship. Ships can carry boats. Boats cannot carry ships. That’s an easy way to tell the difference (if you don’t have a 500-ton scale to check it out).

So, don’t embarrass yourself. Use the terms properly and enjoy your time on the water. But do not – do NOT embarrass yourself on a cruise by telling the Captain he has an awesome “boat.”

Happy boating. Or yachting!

Grand Lake Boating: Danger Spots and Navigation Aids

Grand Lake O’ The Cherokees is one of the safest inland boating venues anywhere. It is a large and boater-friendly lake, even though it is actually the third largest lake in the State of Oklahoma (behind Lake Eufaula and Lake Texoma).

It boasts 45,000 surface acres of water and 1,300 miles of shoreline along with its 66-mile end-to-end measurement. Unlike other lakes in Oklahoma, Grand Lake is a deep and mostly rock lake. Although areas near the Pensacola Dam are more than 100 feet deep, the average depth is about 36 feet.

Since it is a man-made lake it is fairly simple to gauge the water depth. Just look at the shoreline. The contour below the water is very much like the land at the water’s edge. If the shoreline has a steep embankment, the water is deep right up to the shoreline. If there is a gentle slope along the shoreline, it continues under the water in the same fashion, and water is likely shallow at the shore.

For the most part, all areas of the lake are easily navigable for virtually any vessel. Behind “Governor’s Island” near the southwest edge of Monkey Island, the water is extremely shallow and boating behind that tiny island is not recommended. The same is true of the areas near Patricia Island on the opposite side of Monkey Island toward Sailboat Bridge on the north side of Grove.

As you approach Sailboat Bridge from Monkey Island, pay attention to your depth finder. The old river channel is not where you would think it is. The water is still navigable, but if you get out of the old river channel in that area, you may find yourself in seven or eight feet of water instead of thirty or forty feet.

The Horse Creek area south of Bernice is very shallow along the eastern half of that long finger of water until you get closer to the main lake. The bridge at the town of Bernice is also very low clearance and many boats don’t have adequate bridge clearance to get under it, especially if the water is high.

The main lake areas are all easily navigable and plenty deep until you get north of Grove toward Elk River and the Twin Bridges area where the Spring and Neosho Rivers merge to form Grand Lake. The most popular boating areas of Grand Lake are the main lake areas and the coves between Sailboat Bridge and Honey Creek Bridge, at each end of the City of Grove, and the Pensacola Dam.

If your boat has a GPS system, that’s always a useful tool, especially if you boat at night. Believe me, Grand Lake looks very different at night than it does in the daylight hours. The Grand River Dam Authority has done a fabulous job of putting lighted buoys at dangerous or shallow areas. There are also marker buoys indicated no-wake zones and directional travel requirements (in Duck Creek, Woodard Hollow, and Grays Hollow (Dripping Springs).

There are several Grand Lake maps available at marina ship stores and visitors’ centers. Some are better than others, of course – but my recommendation is the Grand Lake Chart Book, available at most marina ship stores. Unlike many of the maps, it’s not free, but it is not expensive – and it shows all the water depths at virtually all areas of the lake.

You will enjoy your boating experience on Grand Lake. There is a lot of water to cover, and many fun stops along any route you choose. Always be careful…but have fun. You’ll love Grand Lake!

Membership News

Have you met Katelin Threet? You may recognize her from Shangri-La’s Facebook Videos or maybe you met Katelin when you became a member at Shangri-La.  Katelin is your “Go-To” person when it comes to all things Membership. As the Shangri-La Membership Director, she will provide you with all the information you need to get the most out of your Shangri-La Membership. 

So stay tuned into this blog for the latest in Membership news and information! 

Renting Your On-the-Water Fun at Grand Lake

Renting Your On-the-Water Fun at Grand Lake

By Mike Williams

Not everyone owns a boat, of course, but almost everyone enjoys a day or more of fun on the waters of beautiful Grand Lake. Several marinas on the lake have a few vessels for rent, but there are four facilities that offer a wide variety and a significant number of boats, personal watercraft, and accessories.

The oldest rental facility on the Grand Lake – and the one with the most offerings of water-fun-for-rent – is Sail Grand located at Shangri-La Marina (at Shangri-La Resort on Monkey Island). In addition to pontoon, tritoon, runabout, and personal watercraft rental, Sail Grand also offers Grand Lake’s only Yacht Charter (a 64-foot Bluewater Yacht) and the only parasailing adventures in Oklahoma.

H2O Sports Rental has two locations – one at Candlewyck Resort in Grove and a second location on Monkey Island. They offer pontoons, tritoons, runabouts, and personal watercraft.

Duck Creek Boat Club & Rentals located at Safe Harbor Harbors View Marina in Duck Creek offers rental of pontoons, tritoons, and personal watercraft, as well as paddleboards, kayaks, and bumper boats.

Serenity Point Resort rents a variety of vessels and accessories, as well, including pontoons, tritoons, a unique double-decker pontoon with a slide, and a 10-passenger ski boat, as well as kayaks and paddleboards.

All these rental operations have water toys available, as well, including tubes for the kids. Some offer skiing equipment, as well.

If you enjoy your time on Grand Lake as much as I think you will, many Grand Lake Boat Sales operation will be happy to accommodate you with virtually any brand of boat you can think of. Nichols Marine at Shangri-La offers Chris-Craft, Chaparral, MasterCraft, Bennington Pontoons/Tritoons, and Robalo Center Console boats.