View Full Version : Three Sheets to the Wind

11-08-2004, 04:02 PM
This weekend my wife asked me about the nautical origins of the term "three sheets to the wind" for drunkenness. The phrase sounds like it could be nautical, but I can't figure out what its nautical origins might be. Any ideas?

Bruce Hooke
11-08-2004, 04:15 PM
The explanation I've heard is that a square sail has four sheets, one at each corner, so if three are blowing in the wind then you haven't got much control over the sail...

Andrew Craig-Bennett
11-08-2004, 06:12 PM
A square sail has a yard at the head, a tack on the windward lower corner and a sheet on the leeward lower corner.

I do not know, but I suggest, that when, in the normal course of putting a square rigged ship through the wind, by bracing the foreyards aback, the command "raise tacks and sheets - mainsail haul" was mis-timed, so that instead of the three three tacks of the course, topsail and topgallant, the three sheets of those sails were in the wind, the result might have been messy.

Chris Stewart
11-08-2004, 06:29 PM
Have her read Patrick O'Brian's Master and Commander. I'm pretty sure it was in there somewhere, and she'll enjoy the book 'til she gets her question answered.

Bruce Hooke
11-08-2004, 06:38 PM
I had this vague recollection that the explanation I had heard did not live up to the true details of a square-rigged vessel...and I clearly should have listened to that recollection! Based on Andrew's description I am quite certain that the explanation I had heard is wrong, but I have come across it in a number of places so it has certainly seen wide circulation. Of course it should surprise none of us that modern writers might mess up on the workings of a square-rigged vessel!