Trenails and Caulking on Gannet 1878 Sloop and six more phrases!

Posted by a contact I have on Flickr…

This is the deck of HMS Gannet, 1878 sloop built at Sheerness. Scanned from a slide

First, see the round wooden plugs – these are ‘trenails’ (Treenails) pronounced ‘trinnell’. They are round, but the ship’s carpenter only has them in square form, so he has to cut them to shape to make ‘A square peg fit a round hole’

Between the planks is a seam that has been caulked with hot pitch being paid out on top of oakum, which is old rope that has been pulled apart by the oakum boys – this old rope is bought for the purpose, thus the seller gets ‘Money for old rope’

On a daily basis, the decks are scrubbed, not for cleanliness, but to keep the wood moist to prevent shrinkage – this was in the days long before deck varnish. The sailors would ‘Clear the decks’ before starting the chore

Going on a bit further, there is a seam on the hull called the Devil seam that is very difficult to caulk. There are conflicting definitions for this seam – some books say it is immediately below the scuppers, but the person that told me, and who I believe, as he was a naval Commander responsible for such ships for the government, said that it is the seam next to the keel, and the most difficult to caulk, thus the phrase ‘The devil to pay’ (and no hot pitch) came about. This also gives rise to the saying ‘Between the devil and the deep blue sea’ in other words, nowhere to go.

Gannet had a wooden hull, and was susceptible to worm, rot, and other problems, so to improve its life and speed, she was ‘Copper bottomed’ with sheets of copper up to and above the waterline

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