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Cape Cod Shooks & Flukes

The days and nights, month after month, spent on the famous whaling ships of Cape Cod were filled with hours of excitement, adventure, of times when men and small ship were pitted against the churning sea and mammoth bull whale.

The whaling days of the Cape gave us many things… the wonderful “scrimshawed” articles — hundreds of stories that fascinate young and old, and a seafaring heritage of which the narrow land will always be proud.

The whaling men gave us something else, too… a jargon that is fast disappearing into the past. These phrases and words speak of a race of men and a way of life long past. Here are a few of the more commonly used whaling terms:

Gamming — Gossiping

Calf — Baby whale

Lay — Used to designate pay, term of employment on a ship.

Waif — Red flag on a stick used to mark dead whales when more than one whale was in the vicinity. Small boats would go on to kill other whales and return to find floating ones so marked.

Spoke the Ship — Hailed the ship.

Raised Flower Head — (used instead of the word “saw”) This term came into use because as a ship approached a port or an island it actually rose up on the horizon.

Shooks — Staves that were taken aboard bundled up to save space and then made into oil barrels.

Wore the Ship — To turn the ship around by keeping off before the wind and coming up on the other tack, to jib in a sail boat.

Clewed up the Sails — To put a sail on the yard arm by the clew lines preparatory to furling.

Prudent Sails — Carrying a prudent amount of sails.

Gallied the whale — Used to describe a whale that is moving around in circles or seems to be bewildered. The same expression is applied by sailors to people.

Opera glasses — Marine opera glasses are so-called to distinguish them from the old-time telescope spy glasses. There are many references to opera glasses in the old log books.

Breaking out — Opening a cask or barrel.

Right Whale — Produced oil.

Sperm Whale — Produced most head oil.

Bowhead Whale — Known also as the Arctic Whale, produced most bone.

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Cape Cod
Posted by Cape Cod - (website) on 03/09/06
Categories: History
Keywords: whaling, history


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