Sailing Lingo: Three Sheets to the Wind

Yesterday we asked the question: What does three sheets to the wind mean and where did it originate?

In our everyday vernacular most would say three sheets to the wind refers to having one too many glasses of wine or other alcoholic beverage, however, in the sailing world it refers to ropes, not masts as sheets might infer.

These ropes, or occasionally chains — called sheets — are fixed to the lower corners of sails to hold them in place. If one of the sheets comes loose, the sail flaps in the wind and causes the ship to lose power. If two sheets are loose and fluttering in the wind (or “to the wind”), you’re in serious trouble, and “three sheets in the wind” means the ship is uncontrollable, much like a drunken sailor.

Thus “three sheets to the wind” was the perfect metaphor for, at first, a sailor who had celebrated a bit too much on shore leave, and eventually anyone who was too inebriated to walk steadily.

Here's some other fun stuff we dug up:

These days, the phrase is more often given as "three sheets to the wind," rather than the original "three sheets in the wind."

Sailors in days gone by had a sliding scale of drunkenness; three sheets was the falling-over stage; tipsy was just "one sheet in the wind," or "a sheet in the wind's eye."


Introducing Our New Sailing Lingo Feature

Today we're launching a new weekly feature called Sailing Lingo.

The feature is aimed at testing your knowledge of the peculiar and sometimes indecipherable language of sailing. Each week we'll pose a question and see who can answer it most accurately in the comments on the post. The following day we'll post the answer to the question and save you some Googling!

Nautical lingo or sailing terminology can seem like an arcane and esoteric language, but it's alive and well, and often can be found in our everyday vernacular, as you'll notice in our very first Sailing Lingo post.

We're starting with the catch phrase: three sheets to the wind. Do you know what the phrase means and how it originated?

Star Clippers Through the Eyes of a Junior Cruiser

Elli Vandevelder enjoying the turquoise Tahitian waters.

With multigenerational travel continuing to rise in popularity, Star Clippers is attracting more junior cruisers each year. Parents and grandparents are looking to give their children and grandchildren an experience that is filled with more than grand buffets — they’re looking for a memorable adventure on a tall ship from the pages of a bedtime story or latest blockbuster film, with an educational element thrown in the mix.

“I thought it would be cool to go there some day,” said Elli. “When I saw Tahiti and then Star Flyer, my jaw dropped and I thought ‘Oh my gosh, my dream came true!’”

Elli Vandevelder, 11, recently took a seven-day cruise with her parents aboard Star Flyer in Tahiti. The seasoned sailor (her parents have a 35-foot sailboat and she has her own dingy) says she had so much fun she could have sailed even longer, if it weren’t for missing her dog at home.

Visiting Tahiti had been a dream of Elli's since she was 7 and read “The Boy Who Sailed Around the World Alone,” a book about a teenage boy who became the youngest person (at the time) to sail around the world solo. During his journey he visited Tahiti.

“I thought it would be cool to go there some day,” said Elli. “When I saw Tahiti and then Star Flyer, my jaw dropped and I thought ‘Oh my gosh, my dream came true!’”

The exuberant youth, who called the cruise “awesome,” was excited to talk about all of the activities she participated in on board, as well as her adventures ashore. The ship’s open bridge allowed her to visit Captain Bruno at the helm, and she also helped hoist the sails.

The Robinson Crusoe tour took Elli snorkeling, while her dad, Paul, went scuba diving on the reef.

“I stayed in the shallows, but my dad went out on the big reef and got close to a shark!” said Elli. “I even got to feed a butterfly fish from my hand!”

Other excursions took her to the highest peak in Taha’a where she ate pineapple and drank coconut juice that was prepared while she waited. She also sampled other exotic fruits such as guava, papaya and star fruit.

One of Elli's favorite experiences was learning how to hula dance from a local Tahitian woman. She put her newfound skills to good use when the ship brought on local dancers one evening for the guests to enjoy. The natural performer also took part in the guest talent show where she played the guitar and sang a song she made up herself.

Paul enjoyed taking his daughter on the voyage because she was exposed to many nationalities, so it was a global experience for her. He also delighted in watching Elli make so many new friends on board.

“She came home with a lot of new grandmas,” he said with a smile. “And the sports team were really friendly,” Elli added. “If I was bored, I could run and find them and my parents could sunbathe!”

Although it was vacation for the Vandevelder family, Elli still had to complete some homework. Elli’s teacher asked her to keep a journal about her travels to Tahiti. In years to come, she’ll appreciate the assignment and can re-read about her childhood adventures on a tall ship.

Video for Tall Ship Buffs ...

The Grace Harwar was a three-masted ship of 1,816 tons, built in Glasgow in 1889. When she was scrapped in 1935, she was the last full-rigger on the seas. The Grace Harwar began her career sailing under the British flag, and was sold to a Finnish owner in 1913. Captain Gustaf Erikson bought her in 1916 and sailed her for the next 19 years, primarily in the Australian grain trade.

The Grace Harwar developed a reputation as a man killer. In 1907, under the command of Captain C.S. Hudson, the ship was sailing from Australia to Tocopilla, Chile. Captain Hudson's young wife was on board. Already suffering from tuberculosis, she died off of the coast of Chile. The ship returned empty to Australia with Mrs. Hudson's body in the ballast. Supposedly, Mrs. Hudson put a curse on the ship before dying — that it would kill one man on every voyage.

Cursed or not, the ship had a run of bad luck thereafter. She was caught in a hurricane while in a Chilean port in 1913, and severely damaged in another hurricane in Mobile, Alabama, in 1916. A third hurricane found her in the South Atlantic in 1919 and badly damaged her again.

In 1929, maritime journalist Alan Villiers and a photographer named Ronald Walker signed onto the ship for a passage around Cape Horn. The Harwar curse got Walker; he was killed in a fall from the rigging five weeks into the voyage. Later, the second mate (who blamed himself for Walker's death) went mad, and to top it all off, the ship ran out of food, but was fortunately able to flag down a steamer in the North Atlantic.

Villiers and Walker shot both film and video of the voyage. Villiers wrote an article on the voyage for "National Geographic" magazine in 1931, and later wrote a book about it. The ship was already on its last legs, and was scrapped in 1935. She was too small to be profitable in the last days of sail (some of the larger four-masted barks could carry nearly twice as much cargo), and could not be expected to make back the cost of any repairs.

While the last ocean-going full-rigger was not preserved, others of the type were, such as the Wavertree in New York's South Street Seaport museum.

Information courtesy of

Port of the Week: Hiva Oa, Marquesas Islands

Hiva Oa, Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia.

Located in the southeastern Marquesas Islands of French Polynesia, Hiva Oa is the second-largest island in the Marquesas. Guests on Star Clippers will arrive to find laid out before them an exotic island framed by majestic mountains and dramatic coastlines.

Over the last 170 years this largely undiscovered archipelago has served as an escape for artists, writers, adventurers and musicians, and is best known as the final resting place of French painter Paul Gauguin and Belgian singer Jacques Brel.

Fans of Gauguin will want to visit Puamau Village where Gauguin's descendents live. The black sand beach of Taaoa and Tahauka Bay provide an ideal place to relax and enjoy the island's beauty.

An island landmark is an 8-foot-high stone tiki, the largest in all of Polynesia, that makes for a fun photo opportunity.

Before heading back to the ship, guests will want to make time to purchase some of the beautiful traditional Marquesan handcrafts sold throughout the tiny island villages and at the port.

Star Flyer will call at Hiva Oa during its 24-night Tahiti to Panama trans-Pacific crossing that departs Feb. 14, 2010.

Who's Your Favorite Crew Member?

A crew member sometimes can make a cruise truly memorable. Recently on Star Clippers' Facebook page we asked for folks to send us photos of their favorite crew members.

The first one we received was this photo from Bianca Nickel. The photo, taken aboard Royal Clipper, shows Claudio Sebastian Bonato, a member of the sports team, with Bianca's younger brother Robert.

Richard and Claudio Sebastian Bonato on board Royal Clipper

Postcards from Isla Tortuga, Costa Rica

Huguette Lubrano, Star Clipper's shore excursion manager, shared these great photos from a recent scouting trip to Isla Tortuga, Costa Rica.

Costa Rica makes it debut on Star Clippers' roster beginning November 2010, when Star Flyer repositions to the Central American country. Star Flyer will call at some of the country's most exciting ports including Isla Tortuga, home to Curu National Reserve. The private national wildlife refuge is located on the southern Nicoya Peninsula. The area offers opportunities to see some of the most sought-after species such as howler and spider monkeys, scarlet macaws, collared peccary, coyotes, iguanas and hundreds of species of tropical and migratory birds.

Huguette Lubrano makes a new friend in Costa Rica.

The pristine beaches of Isla Tortugas, Costa Rica.

Wildlife in Costa Rica.

Port Of The Week: Lerici, Italy

Lerici from the high road, across the bay from Portovenere.

A stunning castle turned museum marks Star Flyer's arrival at Lerici, an Italian seaside town located on the Italian Riviera. The picturesque Lerici is the largest village in the Gulf of La Spezia and its fishing villages and old quarters offer guests a charming area to explore while at port.

While in Lerici literature buffs will want to take a short walk to the village of of San Terenzo a where Frankenstein author Mary Shelley lived. The azure waters of the Gulf of La Spezia have inspired many and the gulf is commonly referred to as the Gulf of Poets because of its attraction to some of the world's most celebrated poets. Another must see is the grotto dedicated to Lord Byron at Portovenere.

A short ferry ride from Lerici is the breathtaking Cinque Terre, comprised of five villages. The cliffs are terraced and planted with vineyards and vegetable gardens. It is easy for guests to imagine what this area must have looked like two centuries ago, for the houses and terraces have not changed.

Star Flyer will call at Lerici on it’s 7-night Tyrrhenian itineraries beginning in May 2010.

Postcards from the Far East — Part 2

Here are some more wonderful photos from Tom Baylis' trip aboard Star Flyer in the Far East. These truly show the grandeur of sailing on a tall ship.

Postcards from the Far East — Part 1

We sailed aboard Star Flyer in March 2006 along the southern Thailand/Malaysian coast. It was a grand adventure, and we loved every minute of our trip!

Here are a few photos from that trip.


Tom Baylis

Portland, Oregon

Postcards from a Royal Clipper Cruise

I saw the "Postcards" request on Facebook and thought you all might like seeing a few pictures from our trip with Star Clippers. We sailed on the Royal Clipper in February 2009 and had a fantastic time! We can not wait to sail again!


Elizabeth Zardeskas

Age is Just a Number

Hi All,

Once again, my 82-year-old mom and I are looking forward to joining everyone on a Royal Clipper cruise again this winter. In reading your Facebook page, you’ve asked for some photos of guests climbing the mast. There is one of me — but the most exciting are of my 82-year-old mom preparing to climb the mast. Just goes to show that with the wonderfully helpful crew, everything is possible!

All the best, and we’ll see you again this winter!

Julin Lynn (and Barbara Loney)

Barbara getting on her gear to climb the mast.

Climbing the mast at 82 ... a true inspiration.

Julin taking in the view from the Crow\'s Nest.

Oh, What a View!

Here are just one or two pics of me ascending the mast on the Royal Clipper, sitting with my husband on the viewing platform and then descending again. I did this in the morning and then ascended Mount Etna in the afternoon! A scary day all round but oh so worth it! A fantastic cruise. Thanks to all the crew and guests who made it so special. How will we top that next year??!!!

Stephanie and Michael Bettinson

Preparing to climb the mast.

Almost at the top.

What a view!

Climbing back down.

More Beautiful Sunrise Photos from the Med

Guest Sue Parham sent us more sunrise photos from her summer Mediterranean cruise aboard Royal Clipper.

Marine Biologist Mariano Peruzzo gets an early start.

Star Flyer Looking Elegant and Regal

Guest David Hoptman took this photo of Star Flyer in the Far East several years ago. The ship looks as elegant today and she did back then.

Port of the Week: Golfito, Costa Rica

The town of Golfito is located on the southern Pacific Coast of Costa Rica near the border of Panama. From the northern section, trails go up to the Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre Golfito (Golfito Wildlife Refuge) on the hill, which extends across to the other side of the bay and is part of the national parks of Costa Rica. The area has some of the highest rain forests in Central America, and much of the region surrounding the town is characterized by tall evergreen forest.

Beautiful beaches such as Playa Zancudo and the surfing paradise Pavones are within easy reach from Golfito by car, boat or bus.

Star Flyer will call at Golfito on it's new round-trip Puerto Caldera, Costa Rica, itineraries beginning in Nov. 2010.

Sunrise in the Mediterranean

This is one of my favourite sunrise pictures from my cruise - I took quite a few! I loved the ship. And the crew were great. Thank you, Sue Parham.

This photo was taken on a Mediterranean cruise aboard Royal Clipper.

Regal Royal Clipper

Guest Abbie Hilderbrand sent us this photo of Royal Clipper that she took on her sailing.

Port of the Week: Shark Island, Myanmar

Star Clipper will call at Shark Island on the new Myanmar itineraries in 2010.

Located off the Southeast coast of Koh Tao, Shark Island is one of the most popular dive sites in the area. In 1997, the waters were opened to foreigners after being closed for 50 years. The three dive sites surrounding the island include Shark Drift, Coral Gardens and Anemone Gardens.

In deeper waters, divers may happen upon Leopard sharks or blacktip reef sharks, but cow-tail rays, turtles, honeycomb moray eels, puffers, bat fish, and blue ringed angels are more commonly seen in the shallower waters.

For those who prefer not to dive, the sandy white beaches are ideal for relaxing and sunbathing, and snorkeling is always an option. For a great view, tourists can hike up to the top of the island.

Knot Tying 101: Sheet Bend

Captain Gerry demonstrates how to tie a Sheet Bend knot:

The Sheet Bend knot is recommended for joining two ropes of unequal size.

1. Form a loop in the thicker rope and hold it in one hand.

2. Pass the thinner piece of rope through the loop, then round the loop.

3. Take care to go round the short end first, then round the long end.

4. Finally, tuck the smaller rope back under itself to finish the Sheet Bend.

Thanks to for the instructions on how to tie the knot.