Monday, April 2, 2012

Beach Tale: Origins of the Phrase "Fair Winds and Following Seas"

At a recent Hail and Farewell (a party wherein new reports to the command are welcomed and those departing are bid a fond adieu), the Lieutenant heading off to Norfolk was offered the traditional wishes of “Fair winds and following seas.”  Since I’ve been around the Navy world for almost 30 years, I’ve heard this phrase uttered hundreds, if not thousands, of times.  But (and this may be a sign of maturity on my part) this time it got me to wondering what exactly it meant.  So I let my fingers do the surfing through the cyber world, and I thought I’d save y’all from duplicating my efforts and today seems a good opportunity to share my newly acquired knowledge.

Wishing someone Fair Winds and Following Seas is a nautical phrase of good luck, a blessing as it were, as a person, group or thing (ie a commissioning ship) departs on a new voyage in life. 
But what exactly does it mean?
According to some sources, the full expression offers the departing person “Fair winds, following seas and long may your big jib draw.”  It references ideal sailing conditions.   
But for those of us who aren’t bilingual in sailor-speak, let’s break that down into ideas we can understand.
“Fair winds” offers the sailor a wind that will take you to the places you want to go at a safe speed. 
A “following sea” will ensure the most comfortable passage on your journey by having a current be behind you to push you along.  (From personal experience I will tell you that sailing against a choppy current can result in seasickness, so a following sea is indeed a blessing!) 
“Long may your big jib draw” refers to the jib sail (the one that catches the most wind thus pushing the vessel faster) remaining full with wind and not, for lack of a good stiff breeze, flapping like flounder in a catch cooler. 
These sentiments are often expressed to a departing sailor.  Granted, no navy ships rely on wind anymore, but it remains a poetic way to wish them well in the next chapter of their navy lives.

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