Which wear?

I was trying to remember exactly what it means to “wear” a ship as in the sea shanty lyric

She would not wear, she would not stay
Leave her, Johnny, leave her!
She shipped green seas both night and day
It’s time for us to leave her!

and in the process I came across this marvelous document:
Questions for Young Officers from Examination of a Young Officer, The New Practical Navigator (1814). They are study questions for the young men in the early nineteenth century who wanted to be made captains of one of Her Majesty’s ships. It makes me think of anxiety-provoking grad school qualifying exams. Imagine how you’d answer this question: “The sheers are along side, how do you get them in?” Sounds simple enough. I’m sure your answer would be quick and correct, as follows:

Par-buckle them in with their heads aft on the poop, and get the fore and main runners on them for guys; lash on two four-fold blocks, reeve the masting-falls, get girt-lines on the head of the sheers to steady the mast-head, and put heel-lashings on the sheers.

I love the metrical rhythm of incomprehensible technical jargon. Every age has its geeks, and I can just imagine an argument between two fifteen year old sail geeks of 1814: “You idiot! I can’t believe you would get the girt-lines on the head before you reeve the masting falls! Nobody does it that way. Geez, what a loozer!”

If you want to learn more about any of these terms, this website comes with a good glossary. And by the way, sheers are spars lashed together, and raised up, for the purpose of getting out or in a mast. And to wear ship is to change a ship’s course from one tack to the other, by turning her stern to windward. But you knew that already.

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