On Her Beam’s End
This nautical term occurs frequently in accounts of sailing and adventures at sea, and even in accounts of such experiences right in our local Cape Cod waters. And it’s a puzzler to the landsman.
Actually, it bears no reference at all to the “beams” of any craft. To put it simply, just as a ship has length, so it has width or beam - and a vessel “on her beam’s end” has gone so far over, because of wind or wave, that she is completely on her side in the sea. How serious this predicament can be illustrated by the following true incident which took place off Woods Hole fifty or so years ago.
A forty-seven foot cutter-rigged sailboat overturned and sank outside Woods Hole, nearly taking the life of the owner of the craft. The boat was being towed to Duxbury.
Suddenly the tow-line lightened, and prompt investigation showed that the lead keel of the cutter (known as outside ballast on this type of sailboat) had fallen off her bottom because the bolts holding it had corrodded. Almost at once, over she went, over “on her beam’s end.”
As she went over, her navigator was pinned in the companionway (stairway) by the heavy boom, which struck him across the back of his neck and shoulders.
It was night. The powerboat that had been towing her turned on its spotlight, saw the man struggling to free himself from the tangle of sail, lines, and spar, and tossed him a line, by means of which he was rescued.
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