Splice th' Main Brace!

Rob Temple
Splice th' Main Brace!

Ahoy shipmates!  Once again it be International Talk-Like-A-Pirate Day!

“Already?” you say....

Well, as the sayin' goes: “Time flies when you're havin' rum!”

In case ye've already forgotten what I told ye last year, ye can hoist it all back aboard by clickin' here.

But its time once again for old Capt. Greybeard to take ye in tow for some piratical enlightenment.

Remember: me motto is “eschew obfuscation” so let's not muddy the waters by lookin' alee when the real quarry's to wind'ard. 

We all know the reason for some scurvy swabs to come up with such a clam bake as ITLAP Day in the first place was just as an excuse to go sojerin' off duty and do some celebratin'.  An' what celebratin' involves is mostly FOOD (pronounced “wittles”) and DRINK (pronounced “grog.”) And aye, well... maybe some (consensual) wench-gropin' but that's a boat load to cover in a short voyage so we'll lay a course to cover the drinkin' part and let the rest go by the board (for now!).

So when ye might deem it appropriate to have the fist nip o' the day, ye might announce that “the sun's over the yard arm.”  Let's clear up two general misunderstandin's right here.  A “yard-arm” is not a horizontal spar from which a sail is suspended on a square-rigged ship as many believe, but rather the outer three feet of such a spar, usually painted white.  Some lubberly swabs believe that the sun bein' over the yard arm refers to late afternoon when the sun has gone below the yard arm when viewed from the quarter deck.  Rubbish! It was long the custom in the royal navy for the first grog ration of the day to be issued when the sun had risen above the highest yard on the foremast, usually around 10:30 to 11:00 a.m. local time.

When that happens, it's time to “splice the main brace”  (have a drink).  Nobody seems to know for sure where this expression started.  One possibility is that when a main brace (a large, heavy and important rope for trimming sail) parted, it required that all hands and the cook turn out to lend a hand for the difficult task of splicing it back together.  When the job was completed, a double rum ration was issued as a reward.  The task has long since been forgotten but not the reward!

So then we break out the “grog.”  Before 1740, the British navy used to issue liberal rations of straight rum to the sailors on a regular basis.  But in 1740, Vice Admiral Sir Edward Vernon, realizing that most of the navy's discipline problems were caused by over-served seamen, introduced the practice of diluting the rum with water and issuing it in half servings twice daily instead of all at once.  Since Vernon was known by the grogram cloak he traditionally wore as “Old Grog,” the new beverage was given his name by the disgruntled sailors who soon broadened the term to refer not only to rum but to any alcoholic drink. 

Grog is sometimes referred to as “Nelson's blood.”  When Lord Nelson “slipped his cable” (died) at the Battle of Trafalgar, his body was placed in a cask of brandy to preserve it for the voyage home.  According to legend, some of the sailors put straws of sorts into the cask for a bit o' unauthorized main-brace splicin' and when the admiral arrived in England he was hard aground! 

No doubt those sailors were “three sheets to the wind, gunnels-under and listing to starboard”  but I'm losing me drift here, sagging to leward and getting' off course.  Time to tuck below for a dram.  So “bottoms-up and fair winds” to ye now and have a safe and fun ITLAP day … wherever ye AAHHHRRR!



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