There were literally miles and miles of cordage in the rigging of a square rigged ship. Keeping track of and knowing the function of each of these lines and then being able to know which to use in a particular instance took great skill. It took an experienced seaman to know the ropes.
Many a captain ordered the decks to be holystoned and then holystoned again until the decks were bright and clean. Holystone is a soft sandstone that was often used for scouring and whitening the wooden decks of sailing ships. The term may have come from the fact that the unpleasant task of 'holystoning the deck' was done by sailors down on their knees as if in prayer. Small holystones were often called "prayer books" and larger ones "Bibles”. Others suggest that the term came from the use of stones taken from the ruined church of St Helens on the Isle of Wight as tall ships would often anchor not far from there to take on provisions and fresh water (and perhaps stones).
"A man in the chains for to swing the lead."
As a ship neared shore, soundings were taken. This involved having a seaman heaving a sounding weight, which was a bell-shaped lead mass weighing about five kilograms attached to a line which had graduated markings at fixed intervals. This line was used to determine the depth of water. Also, on the concave bottom of the lead, tallow was often spread. When the lead was brought up, some of the material from the bottom came with it stuck to this tallow. The colour and consistency of sand, mud or gravel stuck to it provided vital information for those getting ready to drop anchor and also often told a knowledgeable navigator where on a coast he was.
Sailors have for centuries used the term fathom ( six feet ) to determine the depth of water available for navigation. The British Parliament once passed an act defining a fathom as “the length of a man's arms around the object of his affections." In fact the word is derived from the Old English word “faethm” which actually meant “embracing arms".
The Beaufort Scale
"From now on I shall evaluate the force of the wind in accordance with the following scale, since nothing gives a more indefinite representation of the wind and the weather than the previously used expressions like moderate wind or cloudy weather", so wrote Admiral Sir Francis Beaufort in his journal in January1806. He was referring to his Wind Force Scale that today bears his name. He came up with the scale in 1805 and based it on the effects of wind on a full-rigged navy frigate. Captain Robert Fitzroy was asked to test the scale on his famous voyage with Charles Darwin on HMS Beagle in the early 1830’s. The Royal Navy adopted the scale in 1838 and made its use mandatory for all ship's log entries, for, as it was defined, “the Scale had no ambiguities for the sailors and officers of the day”.
Beaufort Wind Force Scale
As Communicated to Commander Fitzroy (1831) of HMS Beagle
0 Calm -
1 Light Air - Or just sufficient to give steerage way.
6 Strong Breeze - Single-reefed topsails and top-gallant sail
2 Light Breeze - Or that in which a man-of-war with all sail set, and clean full would go in smooth water from 1 to 2 knots
3 Gentle Breeze - 3 to 4 knots
4 Moderate Breeze - 5 to 6 knots
5 Fresh Breeze - Or that to which a well-conditioned man-of-war could just carry in chase, full and by Royals, etc.
7 Moderate Gale - Double reefed topsails, jib, etc.
8 Fresh Gale - Treble-reefed topsails etc.
9 Strong Gale - Close-reefed topsails and courses.
10 Whole Gale - Or that with which she could scarcely bear close-reefed main-topsail and reefed fore-sail.
11 Storm - Or that which would reduce her to storm staysails.
12 Hurricane - Or that which no canvas could withstand.