Avalon Waterways - Frequently Asked Cruising Questions

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What are some nautical terms I need to know while river cruising? What are the origins of river cruising nautical terms?
What should I know about locks and the canals?

What are some nautical terms you need to know while river cruising?

AFT toward the stern of the boat

ASTERN in back of the boat

BILGE the interior of the hull below the floor boards

BITTER END the last part of a rope or chain; the inboard end of the anchor rope

BOW the forward part of a ship

BRIDGE the location from which a vessel is steered and its speed controlled

BULKHEAD a vertical partition separating compartments

BUOY an anchored float used for marking a position or a hazard on the water and for mooring

CLEAT a fitting to which lines are made fast

COURSE the direction in which a ship is steered

CURRENT the horizontal movement of water

DISPLACEMENT the weight of water displaced by a floating vessel

DRAFT the depth of water a boat draws

FATHOM six feet

FLOOD an incoming current

GALLEY the kitchen area of a ship

GUNWHALE the upper edge of a ship's sides

HELM the wheel or tiller controlling the rudder

HULL the main body of a vessel

KEEL the centerline of a boat running fore and aft

KNOT a measure of speed equal to one nautical mile (6,076 feet) per hour

LEEWARD the direction away from the wind

NAUTICAL MILE one minute of latitude; approximately 6,076 feet—about 1/8 longer than the statute mile of 5,280 feet

PORT the left side of a ship looking forward; a harbor

SCUPPERS drain holes on deck, in the toe rail, or in bulwarks or in the deck itself

SOUNDING a measurement of the depth of water

STARBOARD the right side of a ship when looking forward

TRIM fore and aft balance of a boat

WINDWARD toward the direction from which the wind is coming

YAW to swing or steer off course

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What are the origins of river cruising nautical terms?

The most common method of punishment aboard ship was flogging. The unfortunate sailor was tied to a grating, a mast, or over the barrel of a deck cannon.

There were miles of cordage in the rigging of a square rigged ship. The only way to keep track of and to know the function of all of these lines was to know where they were located. It took an experienced seaman to know the ropes.

Thin and worn sails were often treated with oil or wax to renew their effectiveness. This was called "dressing down." An officer or sailor who was reprimanded received a "dressing down."

The bottom portion of a sail is called the foot. If it is not secured, it is "footloose" and dances randomly in the wind.

In 1740 British Admiral Vernon (whose nickname was "Old Grogram" for the cloak of grogram which he wore) ordered that the sailors' daily ration of rum be diluted with water. The men called the mixture "grog." A sailor who drank too much grog was "groggy."

The poop is the stern section of a ship. To be "pooped" is to be swamped by a high, flowing sea.

When lost or unsure of their position in coastal waters, ships would release a caged crow. The crow would fly straight toward the nearest land, thus giving the vessel some sort of navigational fix. The tallest lookout platform on a ship came to be known as the "crow's nest."

If a captain of a smaller ship encountered a large enemy vessel, he might decide that discretion was the better part of valor. He would order the crew to cut the lashings on all the sails and run away before the wind. This term also meant to cut the anchor cable and sail off in a hurry.

When called to line up at attention, the ship's crew would form up with their toes touching a seam in the deck planking.

If a crewman is standing watch on the weather side of the bow, he will be subject to the constant beating of the ocean spray. He will be "under the weather."

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What should you know about locks and the canals?

Navigational Locks

Navigational LockThe diverse and fascinating geography of the European Continent has blessed it with magnificent and varied natural sights. Mountain ranges such as the Swiss Alps, the French Vosges, Germany's Fichtelgebirge and Black Forest region have given birth to the great rivers of Europe which have provided most important transportation links since ancient times.

Before the advent of highways and road transportation, the rivers were the only efficient method of carrying goods from one place to another. Those most important trading centers located on a river soon grew into some of Europe's most important cities—Budapest and Vienna on the Danube, Strasbourg and Cologne on the Rhine, Mainz and Frankfurt on the Main, Coblenz and Trier on the Moselle, to name but a few!

The challenge facing the early navigators was how to tame the rivers and make them navigable along their entire lengths. One of the answers was the invention and development of the lock.

Normally, water levels on each side of a navigation lock are different, so a lock has to work like an elevator. This is accomplished by using two sets of gates to enclose a chamber.

The lock starts with one set of gates open, and the water level in the chamber is the same as the water in the channel on that side. A vessel enters through the open gates.

Once the vessel is moored inside the lock chamber, the lock operator closes the lock gates behind the vessel.

With the vessel securely tied up and the gates closed, the lock operator can then open the valves at the opposite end of the lock. To adjust the water level in the lock chamber to match the water level of the waterway on the opposite end, water is allowed to enter into the chamber from the high-water side, or drained out of the chamber to the low-water side, thus raising or lowering the ship.

Once the water levels are equalized, the gates at that end are opened and the vessel can continue on its way.

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The Main-Danube Canal

Main-Danube CanalThe Main-Danube Canal is an old dream of humanity. Charlemagne started the construction of its "Fossa Carolina" more than 12 centuries ago, and while his construction effort failed, parts of the canal are still visible in southern areas of central Franconia. King Ludwig I of Bavaria built the first fully functioning Main-Danube Canal in only 10 years of construction from 1836-1846. Yet, the Ludwig-Main-Danube Canal as it was called, with its 101 water locks was rather narrow and its practical use for shipping was highly limited. Its operation came to an end in 1945, partly due to damage from the war.

The planning of the present canal dates back to 1922. A project of this magnitude caused a lively debate over the environmental and economic consequences of its construction. Economic planners gravely overestimated its potential, while environmentalists largely underestimated the positive aspects of its construction for the biotope—and the fact that the canal actually provides 1,25 million cubic meters of water to the dry Northern Bavarian region every year.

It was not until September 1992 that the present-day Main-Danube Canal was opened for traffic. It stretches for a length of 106 miles from Bamberg, in Germany, via Nuremberg to Regensburg.

The canal reaches its apex 1,332 ft. above sea level. 16 water locks facilitate safe passage of vessels. 11 water locks were needed to overcome the ascent of 574 ft. between the Main in Bamberg and the apex and 5 additional locks facilitate descent from the apex. The canal is 180 ft. wide and 13 ft. deep. All traffic water locks are 40 ft. wide and 623 ft. long.

Thanks to the canal, it is now possible to navigate from the Rhine Delta at Rotterdam, Holland, to the Danube Delta at the Black Sea—a stretch of 2,200 miles.

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