Geeks With Blogs

News
Neat Stuff Read all my hurricane entries While you are here, visit the Geeks With Blogs main feed
Advertising
Links Status of the Navy
Channel 9

.NET Hobbyist Programmer Staying Confused in a Busy World

We use the term "three sheets to the wind" to describe someone who has had too much to drink.  As such, they are often bedraggled with perhaps shirttails out, clothes a mess, and with wild hair.

The reference is to a sailing ship in disarray, that is with its sheets (lines - not "ropes" - that adjust the angle at which a sail is set in relation to the wind) flapping loosely in the breeze.  When loose or let go, the sheets would let the sails go slack.  The ship would then lose speed and control.  It would begin to shudder and stagger, much like a drunk.

Posted on Wednesday, May 26, 2004 6:22 PM Day Job , & Etc. | Back to top


Comments on this post: Nautical Terminology: Three Sheets to the Wind

# re: Nautical Terminology: Three Sheets to the Wind
Requesting Gravatar...
We are at a rehab program and needed the origin of this phrase, thank you for the information. Keep off the grass kids.
Left by James Lempke on Jun 17, 2004 1:01 PM

# re: Nautical Terminology: Three Sheets to the Wind
Requesting Gravatar...
Try this:

3 sheets to the wind means listing quite a bit if the wind is from the side, which it usually is when tacking and especially when turning. THis lean (listing) is like a drunk leaning over, ready to fall, which looks like a ship at full list. If your sheets (sails) are across the wind at an angle- no problem. If your sheets- all of them (3-master), at TO the wind, forward progress is unsteady and almost nil, and list is greatest. A ship like this looks like it will fall over at any second.
Left by Don on Jul 11, 2004 7:05 AM

# re: Nautical Terminology: Three Sheets to the Wind
Requesting Gravatar...
I hate to say this, but that's not correct. A sheet is the line which controls a sail. If all three lines are not secured, the ship is out of control or uncontrollabe because there is no wind in the sails.
Left by jn on Jul 13, 2004 7:26 PM

# re: Nautical Terminology: Three Sheets to the Wind
Requesting Gravatar...
Don: Sheets are not sails, but I'm not sure I understand what you are saying.

jn: Please see what follows.

I guess it would be good to be precise here. Using a square-rigged sailing ship as a reference, a sheet is the line that is attached to the clew (the lower corners of each sail). The sails would be trimmed (adjusted) using the sheets to ensure they remained in the optimal position for the relative wind to generate the best ship's speed. The sheets attached to the courses (lowest and largest sails) had the most adjustment since the sheets (and hence the clews) of the upper sails would be attached to the yardarms below them. Each sail has two sheets. Sometimes the upper topsails and upper topgallant sails don't have sheets; their clews can be permanently fastened to the yardarms of the lower topsail/topgallant yards. For a relatively simple description of most of these terms with some pictures, see http://www.infa.abo.fi/~fredrik/sships/square-rigging.html.

With this as a basis, if a sailing ship's sheets have come loose, the affected course is likely to luff or flap loosely in the wind. The appearance of a ship with luffing sails is one of disarray. The slower a ship goes, the less control you have with the rudder. If you cannot control the ship, you are then at the mercy of the waves. In the worst case, the ship can end up broad or beam to the seas and rolling heavily and .

Hopefully, this explains it a little clearer.
Left by Mark Treadwell on Jul 14, 2004 9:40 AM

# re: Nautical Terminology: Three Sheets to the Wind
Requesting Gravatar...
In retrospect (that state of mind that occurs secons after you hit the Submit button), if you view the "three sheets to the wind phrase" to mean as Don describes, you can picture a ship that is beam to the wind and waves. Having been in such a state on a ship, you will be wallowing or rolling heavily.
Left by Mark Treadwell on Jul 14, 2004 9:55 AM

# re: Nautical Terminology: Three Sheets to the Wind
Requesting Gravatar...
It is my understanding that the term comes from the windmills in Holland the "sheets" were placed over the frames to capture the wind, but if the windmill began to turn berfore the 4th sheet was put on the building would begin to sway,like a drunken person
Left by bill mccarthy on Nov 25, 2004 12:09 PM

# re: Nautical Terminology: Three Sheets to the Wind
Requesting Gravatar...
It is my understanding that I am always but three sheets to the wind, and by that I mean I am a lousy drunk
Left by David Copperfield on Mar 24, 2005 9:15 PM

# re: Nautical Terminology: Three Sheets to the Wind
Requesting Gravatar...
All generally correct. However,
When it is used (most frequently) to describe a person's alcoholic state it refers to him/her having drunk too much and is uncontrollable. Kings Pointers use this term frequently of mariners who have gotten ashore after crossing the North Atlantic on a C-2 in winter.
ie, Down the Hatch!!
Left by dan greaves on Apr 03, 2005 7:31 PM

# re: Nautical Terminology: Three Sheets to the Wind
Requesting Gravatar...
Would it not be safe to assume that you all are correct in a certain aspect. A ship that lost control of its sails would go uncontrolable and turn broadside to the current. Therefore causing the ship to sway (list side to side) heavily. Therefore causing some of the crew or inexpirenced crew to become sick. Therefore this may be how the term "three sheets to the wind" may have come about. Sailors get use to seeing fellow crew members getting sick when all three sheets are loose and flapping in the wind. Therefore they would pull into port, see their fellow crew members get drunk and sick and tell them that they are three sheets to the wind. Keep in mind this is not fact, just the idea that I came up with from reading previous posts.
Left by N/A on Jan 14, 2006 12:55 PM

# re: Nautical Terminology: Three Sheets to the Wind
Requesting Gravatar...
thanks for the info!
Left by peter on Jun 14, 2006 6:12 AM

# re: Nautical Terminology: Three Sheets to the Wind
Requesting Gravatar...
i thank you all for the info, often i've stumbled around telling people 'I'm two shheets to th wined' turns out i was wrong! what a drunken fool i am
Left by smiley on Jul 28, 2006 3:26 AM

# re: Nautical Terminology: Three Sheets to the Wind
Requesting Gravatar...
Don, you are an idiot.
Mark Treadwell, you are a geek whose overtechnical, obviously straight from the textbook definition is superfluous overkill and you are also an idiot.
Bill McCarthy, JHC I won't even touch that train wreck.
Original post is the only origin of the term.
Left by Rockhound on Aug 19, 2006 9:08 PM

# re: Nautical Terminology: Three Sheets to the Wind
Requesting Gravatar...
My my my -- sensitive are you? Since it is my blog, I think I can express things as I wish.
Left by Mark Treadwell on Aug 20, 2006 6:17 AM

# re: Nautical Terminology: Three Sheets to the Wind
Requesting Gravatar...
Rockhound maybe you were "3 sheets to the wind" when you stumbled into this post. Completely uncalled for. Gentz good day:)
Left by Mr. nice guy on Sep 30, 2006 11:39 AM

# re: Nautical Terminology: Three Sheets to the Wind
Requesting Gravatar...
JUST FUMBLED IN, VERY INTERESTING . I LIKE IT.
Left by FPOINT on Feb 04, 2007 2:35 PM

# re: Nautical Terminology: Three Sheets to the Wind
Requesting Gravatar...
I think the number of sheets is misleading. Often, this phrase is attributed to sailors working the decks of three-masted sailing ships, and folks mistakenly assume each mast has but one sheet.

As Mark's thorough post of 7/13/04 indicates, each mast had several sheets for the various sails that would be hoisted. It is entirely possible that a vessel with three loose sheets would not be in dire circumstances. Rather, it might simply sail a bit more sloppily and slowly.

I'm guessing sailors had a ratings system for drunkenness: 1 sheet in the wind = tipsy. 2 sheets = sloppy. 3 = stumbling. 4 = unconscious.

Similarly, when I say of an idiot that, "He's one sandwich short of a picnic," I'm not making assumptions of how many sandwiches should be in his basket. The number used is really irrelavent.
Left by Henry on Apr 02, 2007 4:34 PM

# re: Nautical Terminology: Three Sheets to the Wind
Requesting Gravatar...
"three sheets to the wind".....(continued) Part VIII: there are NO "ropes" on the sailing craft. The LINES that are attached to sails are called SHEETS. "Three sheets to the wind" would not necessarily cause any specific distress aboard the craft, since a multi-sail vessel with only one sail sporting "three sheets to the wind" would probably be able to sail just fine. However, it would NOT be "shipshape" at all to have even one sail up there flapping wildly because there were "three sheets to the wind" ie three sheets simply flopping wildly in the wind, with the sail similarly flapping wildly, causing wear and tear and providing no propulsive power to the vessel. Modern sort of equivalent: motoring out of the harbor OR sailing out of the harbor with a couple of bumpers flopping over the side----you don't need bumpers in the open ocean....
Left by watermarko on Jul 01, 2007 9:27 PM

# re: Nautical Terminology: Three Sheets to the Wind
Requesting Gravatar...
no, there are no ropes on sailing craft,

there are also no *bumbers!*

motor vehichles have bumbers, sailboats carry fenders
Left by burntoutbill on Jun 26, 2008 3:10 PM

# re: Nautical Terminology: Three Sheets to the Wind
Requesting Gravatar...
working sailing vessels built into the early part of the 20th century had four headsails; a fore staysail which was club footed and attached to a traveler by a single sheet; and three outer headsails (inner jib, outer jib, and yankee or flying jib) held by two sheets (lines) running to either side of the vessel. when "coming about" these three sails gave the most problem and were also the most important. in a blow if these sheets weren't handled with the necessary timing, strength, or skill they could get away from the hands, the sails flogging wildly, sheets wipping dangerously about the foredeck and the ship "in irons" and unable to come about. OUT OF CONTROL. fortunately modern sailboats have but one headsail and it is much smaller. but in the times of the barbary coast you could really get out of control
Left by vardon on Jul 06, 2008 3:19 PM

# re: Nautical Terminology: Three Sheets to the Wind
Requesting Gravatar...
macaroni and cheese is where three sheets to the wind originated...my golly
Left by chris on Sep 24, 2008 11:40 AM

# re: Nautical Terminology: Three Sheets to the Wind
Requesting Gravatar...
Vardon put in the post that was most helpful, to me. I believe that the heaving and management of "lines" was, more or less, a sailor's "daily bread." But, even IF you called them by the less-common term of "sheets,"
pulling three headsials over to the "windward side" would be the action that the folks on the poop deck woould order FIRST, when they wanted their ship to "heave to." (for the non-nautical: then "at sea" equivalent of "standing on the brakes.")
How this relates to imbibing alcohol to excess, I am not really sure.
But I am not absolutely sure. Muchas Gracias, Verdon!
Left by arjay on Aug 17, 2011 7:05 AM

# re: Nautical Terminology: Three Sheets to the Wind
Requesting Gravatar...
Adendum (with the accent on "dumb") to the above post: Is it possible that , by focusing down on the management of the SHIP, are we not forgetting that, when ashore, men from the forc'sl often headed for the nearest place they could find Grog? I've been "surfing" on this for a while, and it seems the the earliest use of the "3 sheets" was IN the wind, not TO.
The positioning of the rudder was in the Captain's "sphere of influence," but the sheets or lines were up to the men forward of the mainmast.
Any way you "slice it," this one is all about CONTROL, or the lack there of.
Left by Richard Jensen on Aug 17, 2011 8:19 AM

Your comment:
 (will show your gravatar)


Copyright © Mark Treadwell | Powered by: GeeksWithBlogs.net