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Crossing the Channel - Handy French Vocabulary for Sailors

French vocabulary for British sailors

Sailors Jargon in French

The French you learn at school is not always the vocabulary you want when surrounded by French sailors at a festival, or trying to talk to red trousered locals on the quayside in a seafaring Breton port. If you want to brag about your adventures crossing the Channel, force 7 won't mean much, even to a french sailor.

Equally trying to explain to a taxi driver in a big French port that you need taking to accommodation that is not a hotel but a bateau grande called 'Morgenster' in a French port could create an international incident, especially if you sound a bit German.

Another moment when you might have to stand your ground and shout something 'technical' in a language we can all understand is out on the water at a maritime festival with an over friendly bowsprit bearing down on you.

Swear words are not what we mean.....

Types of Boat

  • Sailing yacht – voilier
  • Gaff Cutter – Cotre franc or aurique
  • Brig (like Morgenster) – Brick
  • Schooner – goelette
  • Long keel  - quille longue

Exaggerating about the weather

  • Gale – coup de vent
  • Storm – tempete
  • Hurricane – ouragan
  • Lightning strike – foudre
Crossing the Channel on Brixham Trawler Provident

Pesky Port Officials

  • Harbourmaster – Capitaine du Port
  • Harbour dues – Droits de port
  • Customs - Douanes
  • Length overall (LOA) – longuer hors tout
  • Waterline length – ligne de flottaison
  • Draft – tirant d’eau
  • Next port of call – prochaine escale
  • Crew list – list d’equipage

Scrounging from Boat Builders

  • Bolt – boulon
  • Nail – clou
  • Screw – vis
  • Wooden dowell – cheville
  • Scarf joint – écart

Sails – See Provident Line Drawing

  1. Mizzen – artemon, tape-cul
  2. Mainsail – grand voile
  3. Topsail – fleche
  4. Staysail - Voile d’etat
  5. Jib – foc

Roller furling headsail – génois â enrouleur

Brixham Sailing Trawler Provident - Sail names in French
Brixham Sailing Trawler Provident - Sail names in French

Crewing on a French Boat

  • Head to wind – nez dans le vent
  • Port tack – babord amures
  • Starboard tack – tribord amures
  • To go about – virer au vent
  • “ready about?” – Paré a virer
  • Lee ho – Envoyer
  • Full and bye – au pres bon plein
  • Running (downwind) – vent arriere
  • To gybe – empanner, gambeyer
France is a good place to buy rope and traditional boat gear
France is a good place to buy rope and traditional boat gear

When it gets too crowded in an anchorage or port

  • Bowsprit – beaupré
  • Mast – mât
  • topmast – mât de fleche
  • Boom - bome
  • Gaff and gaff jaws – corne et machoires
  • Yard – vergue

Things that should have been in the Bosun’s Bag

  • Shackle and pin – manille et vis
  • Jubilee clip – coullier de serrage
  • Spilt pin – goupille fendue
  • Marlin spike – épissoir
Bosuns bag for rope and sail repairs
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