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1965 built, US flagged steamship Pacific Tracker lays at the ready in Portland Oregon, picture by Martin Leduc

Nuclear beerThe Officer's Lounge
...lore, and seafaring mysticism

Marine Engineers have a reputation of being direct, methodical, dry - even boorish. After all, spending four hours clearing the 265 pounds of mussels from the strums boxes does, sometimes, give that appearance. The Officer's Lounge on is a little place online for ship's crew to relax and laugh, as we explore marine and engineering lore.
" Sailors are simple, light hearted souls, whose load of yesterday is airy as thistle-down today."
- Arthur Mason

I would like to submit to the rest of the world that, yes being methodical, careful, even maybe - anal, isn't the best of reputation for a profession. But it's the attention to details that makes great engineers. Really, it is !

This area is here to

...and we do that by...


A toast in the Nelson's Navy era

On the topic of rum...

"grog" was the term use for the British Navy's daily ration of half pint of rum, mix with a quarter pint of water. This tradition started in 1850 with Vice Admiral Edward "Old Grog" Vernon and ended in 1970, officially.

Sailors lining up for their daily grog ration


The seafarer and superstitions


Darren Williams submits the following superstitions from his time fishing...



Originally, the saying was "The devil to pay and no pitch hot." In the old wooden-hulled ships, devil seams joined the external hull timbers with the deck planking; there were also references to a devil seam back aft, where the hull timbers join at the rudder post. Seams were caulked, or sealed, by jamming oakum fibre into the gaps, then smearing the seam with melted pitch or tar. If one of these seams worked open in rough weather, a great deal of water could be shipped before it was repaired. This term is probably the origin of the term 'hell to pay'.

Off watch and need some ideas what book to read?

Well then here are some nautical/marine themed books to look up next time your at your favourite library or bookstore.


The wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald
Gordon Lightfoot

The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they called Gitchigumi
The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead
When the skies of November turn gloomy

With a load of iron ore twenty-six thousand tons more
Than the Edmund Fitzgerald weighed empty.
That good ship and crew was a bone to be chewed
When the "Gales of November" came early.

The ship was the pride of the American side
Coming back from some mill in Wisconsin
As the big freighters go, it was bigger than most
With a crew and good captain well seasoned

Concluding some terms with a couple of steel firms
When they left fully loaded for Cleveland
And later that night when the ship's bell rang
Could it be the north wind they'd been feeling?

mates tideThe wind in the wires made a tattle-tale sound
And a wave tumbled over the railing
And every man knew, as the captain did too,
T'was the witch of November come stealing.

The dawn came late and the breakfast had to wait
When the gales of November came slashing
When afternoon came it was freezing rain
In the face of a hurricane west wind.

When suppertime came, the old cook came on deck saying
"Fellas, it's too rough to feed ya."
At seven PM the main hatchway caved in, he said
"Fellas, it's been good to know ya"

The captain wired in he had water coming in
And the good ship and crew was in peril.
And later that night when his lights went out of sight
Came the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Does any one know where the love of God goes
When the waves turn the minutes to hours?
The searchers all say they'd have made Whitefish Bay
If they'd put fifteen more miles behind her.

They might have split up or they might have capsized;
They may have broke deep and took water.
All that remains are the faces and the names
Of the wives and the sons and the daughters.

Lake Huron rolls, Superior sings
In the rooms of her icewater mansion.
Old Michigan steams like a young man's dreams;
The isles and bays are for sportsmen.

And farther below Lake Ontario
Takes in what Lake Erie can send her,
And the iron boats go as the mariners all know
With the gales of November remembered.

In a musty old hall in Detroit they prayed,
In the "Maritime Sailors' Cathedral."
The church bell chimed till it rang twenty-nine times
For each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald.

The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they call Gitchigumi
Superior, they say, never gives up her dead
When the gales of November come early


Words & Music by Tom Lewis

Poor old landlocked sailor, washed-up on the shore,
Never been so many miles from the sea before,
Is he dreaming of the surging tide, the rolling swell?
Is he dreaming of the ocean? No - is he hell!

He's a happy landlocked sailor living in the trees
He swapped the rolling tide-race for the mountain breeze,
With his wife he lives in paradise in mountains of B.C.,
How I wish that happy landlocked sailor could be me.

He finds that on the lake he's never bothered by the tide,
All his navigation is done on the mountainside,
Waves of ocean-blue have changed to waves of forest-green,
White horses into snow-capped peaks as far as can be seen.

He used to sail the sea-lanes to exotic ports-of-call,
Now he cruises dusty roads down to the local mall,
His roving days are over, his feet upon the shore,
He's never going back, he's on dry-land for evermore.
(Now you know that happy landlocked sailor's really me.)

Tom Lewis is a retired Royal Navy sailor who is presently
happily landlocked in the mountains of British Columbia.
He has a number of excellent nautical CDs out.


In the heyday of sailing ships, all war ships and many freighters carried iron cannons. Those cannons fired round iron cannon balls. It was necessary to keep a good supply near the cannon, but prevent them from rolling about the deck. The best storage method devised was a square based pyramid with one ball on top, resting on four resting on nine which rested on sixteen. Thus, a supply of thirty cannon balls could be stacked in a small area right next to the cannon. There was only one problem - how to prevent the bottom layer from sliding/rolling from under the others. The solution was a metal plate called a "Monkey," with sixteen round indentations. If this plate was made of iron, the iron balls would quickly rust to it. The solution to the rusting problem was to make "Brass Monkeys." Few landlubbers realize that brass contracts much more and much faster than iron when chilled. Consequently, when the temperature dropped too far, the brass indentations would shrink so much that the cannon balls would come right off the monkey. Thus, it was quite literally, "Cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey!"

...did you know Steve McQueen was nominated for a "best actor" Oscar award for the part he played
as ship's engineer in the 1966 movie, "The Sand Pebble"

The Cadet Chant

Cock TugSuck squeeze bang blow that's the way our engines go! Mar eng HOOH!
You had better lube it up otherwise it will get stuck! Mar eng HOOH!
Up down fore aft that's the way we crank our shaft! Mar eng HOOH!
Round and round the turbo goes watch out we might blow our load! Mar eng HOOH!
Submitted by Dave Steel 10.2004

The Engineer's Song

An engineer told me before he died
A rum, tity bum, tity bum, tity bum
An engineer told me before he died
And I've no reason to believe he lied
A rum, tity bum, tity bum, tity bum
A rum, tity bum, tity bum, tity bum
He met a maiden with a ......................
A rum, tity bum, tity bum, tity bum
He met a maiden with a ......................
She couldn't be satisfied
A rum, tity bum, tity bum, tity bum
A rum, tity bum, tity bum, tity bum
So he built a ____ of steel
A rum, tity bum, tity bum, tity bum
So he built a ____ of steel
Two great balls and a great big wheel
A rum, tity bum, tity bum, tity bum
A rum, tity bum, tity bum, tity bum
and on it goes as I remember and you all know
Ah, great old times!!

the ginger beers

Citizen Kane, 1941
"...newspaper men are almost as bad as sailors" not sure what is means, but it's from the 1941 movie, Citizen Kane


Historical information you need to know about shipping Manure: In the 16th and 17th centuries, everything had to be transported by ship. It was also before commercial fertilizer's invention, so large shipments of manure were common.

It was shipped dry, because in dry form it weighed a lot less than when wet, but once water (at sea) hit it, it not only became heavier, but the process of fermentation began again, of which a by-product is methane gas.

As the stuff was stored below decks in bundles you can see what could (and did) happen. Methane began to build up below decks, and the first time someone came below at night, with a lantern, BOOOOM! Several ships were destroyed in this manner before the cause was determined.

After that, the bundles of manure were always stamped with the term,"Ship High In Transit" which meant for the sailors to stow it high enough off the lower decks so that any water that came into the hold would not touch this volatile cargo and start the production of methane.

Thus evolved the term "S.H.I.T," which has come down through the centuries and is in use to this very day.


What I've learned as I've matured as a Marine Engineer


Submitted by Harry O. - 12.2009

In Cabin'd Ships At Sea
By: Walt Whitman

IN cabin'd ships, at sea,
The boundless blue on every side expanding,
With whistling winds and music of the waves--the large imperious waves--In such,
Or some lone bark, buoy'd on the dense marine,
Where, joyous, full of faith, spreading white sails,
She cleaves the ether, mid the sparkle and the foam of day, or under many a star at night,
By sailors young and old, haply will I, a reminiscence of the land, be read,
In full rapport at last.

Here are our thoughts--voyagers' thoughts,
Here not the land, firm land, alone appears, may then by them be said;
The sky o'erarches here--we feel the undulating deck beneath our feet,
We feel the long pulsation--ebb and flow of endless motion;
The tones of unseen mystery--the vague and vast suggestions of the briny world--the liquid-flowing syllables,
The perfume, the faint creaking of the cordage, the melancholy rhythm,
The boundless vista, and the horizon far and dim, are all here,
And this is Ocean's poem.

Then falter not, O book! fulfil your destiny!
You, not a reminiscence of the land alone,
You too, as a lone bark, cleaving the ether--purpos'd I know not whither--yet ever full of faith,
Consort to every ship that sails--sail you!
Bear forth to them, folded, my love--(Dear mariners! for you I fold it here, in every leaf;)
Speed on, my Book! spread your white sails, my little bark, athwart the imperious waves!
Chant on--sail on--bear o'er the boundless blue, from me, to every shore,
This song for mariners and all their ships.


There is nothing that duct tape or roses can't fix.
- Marty's Mantra


Did you know?

The Slinky was created by a US Navy marine engineer stationed at the Philadelphia Shipyards. He later became an evangelist and Bible salesman in Bolivia, leaving behind his wife, his children, and the Slinky fortune.


***The following cultural insights are provided by Yasrnin Prabhudas, as found in the ITF Seafarer's Bulletin 2008


China has a long seafaring tradition, going back 7,000 years. It reached its peak during the Ming Dynasty from 1368 to 1644. Today there are some half a million Chinese seafarers.

The legend of the Chinese seafaring hero Zheng He

Zheng He lived in the Ming Dynasty. His fleet comprised more than 300 ships, employing 27,000 seafarers and he is said to have voyaged to more than 30 countries and regions in Asia and Africa, between 1405 and 1433. It is believed that the routes he took linked the Western Pacific and the Indian Ocean, sailing as far west as the Persian Gulf and Madagascar. His voyages have been recorded 87 years earlier than Columbus' discovery of the Americas.

SAnatomy of a sailorome Chinese seafaring proverbs



The Philippines is among the largest seafaring nations in the world with approximately 250,000 active Filipino seafarers working on all kinds of vessels. Although they only make up 15 per cent of Filipino overseas workers, they bring in more dollars than any other group in the country.

Filipino seafarers generally prefer:

Filipino myth

Long ago, the earth, sea and sky were ruled by three different gods. The sun god, who ruled the sky, had a beautiful daughter, Luna, the moon. One day she took a path that led her outside her kingdom. She wandered until she reached the place where the sky met the sea. As she admired the beautiful things around her, she was startled by a voice. It asked, "Where have you come from, most beautiful one?"

Turning around she saw a young man. He was smiling at her. She answered, "I am Luna, daughter of the sun god". The man answered, "l am Mar, the son of the sea god. Welcome to our kingdom." Soon the two became good friends. They had many interesting stories to tell each other. When it was time for Luna to go, they promised to see each other as often as they could. They continued to meet. Eventually, they fell in love.

One day, after one of their secret meetings, Luna went back to the heavens full of joy. She was so happy that she told her secret to one of her cousins. The cousin, jealous of her beauty and happiness, revealed the secret to the sun god. He was angry about his daughter's disobedience to the immortal laws. He locked her in the garden and sent a messenger to the sea god telling him that his son Mar had disobeyed the immortal law too. The sea god imprisoned his son in one of his sea caves.
Luna longed to be with Mar again. One day she managed to escape from the garden. She rushed to their meeting place. Mar saw her reflection on the water from inside the sea cave.

His attempts to leave the cave caused the sea to become rough. Luna waited and waited but Mar did not come. She returned home very sad. She tried several times to see him again and went to the meeting place, but he never came. Fishers at sea believe that each time Luna, the moon, appears, the sea gets troubled. "It's Mar trying to escape from his cave," they say.

dh useSome common Filipino terms


Tough female ferry captIceland

Few traditions have a deeper impact on Icelanders than the annual Seafarers' Day, a homage to the heroes of the seas, who generously supplied the foundation on which the country was built.

Seafarers' Day in Iceland dates back to 1937, when the seafarers' unions in the capital, Reykjavik, and neighboring Hafnarfjordur founded the Seafarers' Day Council. Its purpose was to celebrate Iceland's seafarers by dedicating them one day a year. The first Seafarers' Day was celebrated the following year, 1938,and has been held on the first Sunday in June ever since. It has become such an integral part of the society that it was made constitutional in 1987and is one of only 11 flag days in Iceland.

On this day Icelanders pay tribute to the country's founding industry. Festivities in towns and villages along the country's coastline include an introduction to seafarers' work and a tribute is paid to seafarers who have lost their lives at sea and to retired sailors and pioneers of the industry. On a lighter note, there are rowing contests, craft shows and songs and dance. All fishing vessels are in harbour on the day, as the seafarers join with friends, family and the community in the celebrations.

The Seafarers' Day Council expanded its role in 1939.The board wanted to support seafarers in every possible way and found it worrying that, because of the strain of seafarers' work, their occupational life was relatively short. "To lessen the burden, the council embarked upon building and operating an old people's home in Reykjavik and the Home of Elderly Sailors was opened in 1957", says Gudmundur Hallvardsson, Chair of the Seafarers' Day Council. "Another home was opened in Hafnarfjordur in 1977. Around 700 people live in the DAS-homes, which are the front runners in care for the elderly in Iceland today".



Russia's seafaring tradition goes back to the time of Peter the Great in the late 17th century. Today there are more than 120,000 Russian seafarers.

Special Russian holidays

On 16 June, Russians celebrate Neptune Day. According to tradition, seafarers who cross the equator for the first time must be initiated. The beginner is made to bathe in the sea or others throw him into a swimming pool. The hapless seafarer must then crawl through a compartment on board a vessel that has been deliberately daubed with machine oil. Once he has undergone this ceremony, the seafarer receives the "Neptune" stamp and an initiation certificate. The next time he crosses the equator, he will be able to avoid this ritual, on presentation of the certificate! Mercantile marine and inland water transport workers also hold a celebration on the first Sunday of July.

Toast to seafarers

It is common for Russians to make a toast to seafarers during an occasion. This usually happens after the main toast of the event.

mermaidRussian proverb

To drink beer without vodka is to throw money to the wind.

Some common Russian words and phrases


Seafarers' slang

Seafarers from English-speaking nations such as Australia, England, New Zealand and the US have developed a seafarers'slang, which includes some rhyming slang. Here are some examples:

Sea shanties

These are songs that are sung by sailors to make working life a little easier. They are based on a "call and response" lyric and usually involve a whole team of seafarers. The tradition developed out of the Anglo-Irish and African-Caribbean cultures. The songs evolved as the seafarers came into contact with other cultures so that Irish melodies mixed with African and Polynesian rhythms, which in turn blended in American stories.

The kind of shanty that was sung depended on the job that was being carried out. For example ...

That perfect word for the occasion

The marine industry is a global one, and as such, there is many different cultures and language onboard a modern ship. And when the wrench, your fellow engineer is holding, slips off the nut, and jams their knuckles into the gear box they were trying to fix, a magical thing happens, you start laughing normally, and a long series of strange and perhaps rhapsodic chants are emitted by the victim. Wouldn't be great to find out just what was said, in the heat of the moment?

Fear not, has the tools for you to do your job, and communicate more efficiently with your peers. Behold, the universal library of insults and swear words. You can download it here, and start jiving with the best of them, wherever in the world they may be from!


Other Areas of the Officer's Lounge Other areas of
- Play practical jokes on unsuspecting mates - Top of page
- Telling jokes - Officer's Lounge
- Learning about seafaring lore and culture - The Common Rail - our forum
- Telling funny stories about seafaring - The Monitor - our blog

- Learn about "nerdy" stuff

- @dieselduckster on Twitter
Can you help ? Do you have any jokes, superstitions or things like those found here ? If so, shared them with the world.

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