Doctor Eclectic

Doctor Eclectic
Doctor Eclectic

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Port and Starboard

The Christmas Holiday has just passed and on my street all the outside decorations have been stored for another year.  All but those on three of the houses, that is.  And one of those is my son’s.

Last year for some unknown reason the only outside decoration on my son’s home, which is directly across the street from mine, were two lights, entry lights to his garage actually, one was green and the other was red.  I was reluctant to discuss the matter because he was recently off from a divorce and I wasn’t sure what the custody of outside decorations entailed.

I was sure of one thing however.  The lights were reversed.  Red was on the right of the entry and green was on the left.  This was wrong!


Sean, Tim and granddaughter Lauren in Hilton Head
How did I know that?  It might have been because I spent twenty-five years as a Navy Dentist, riding two carriers along the way.  Or it might have been that when I was a teen, my cousin and I competitively sailed a 14’ C Class sailboat on Clear Lake in Iowa for several summers.  It might even have been that when we rented a boat at Hilton Head South Carolina Yacht Club, part of the instruction of going through the locks to the Inland Waterway included which buoy light should be where upon leaving and returning.

Wherever the knowledge came from and however it was reinforced, I know that red (Port) is on the left going in and green (Starboard) is on the right. And so I reminded Sean.  I also asked what the reason for the lights was as decoration.  He responded by telling me the season colors inspired him.

Sea Buoy
They must inspire others too, because my neighbor has done a similar thing (in retrospect, maybe that’s where Sean got the idea) as does a house down the street (when you look, you see).  This year I was pleased to see they all have the lights in the correct order.

I was reminded of a story from my Navy years: a very successful strategist was always noted as going to his cabin and covertly opening a desk drawer where he would read a piece of paper immediately upon casting off.  His shipmates wondered what was on the paper that gave him such tactical success and when he was killed during a battle, his First Lieutenant, rummaged through his pockets, found the key and rushed below to see what was on the paper. He found a single sheet with the single sentence, “Port is left, Starboard, right.”

It turns out the reason for the terms comes from ancient sailing, where the single “steering” oar at the back of the ship was on the right of the hull or the “Star” side because it was needed to keep the ship close to the dock and the manning sailor was usually right handed.  A similar explanation, but not the term explains why Polo mallets are swung from the right and the General’s Aide sits at his left, because both the rider and the aide used to wear swords on the left making mounting a horse or defending a king a factor in custom.

Port side of Queen Mary 2
Both terms were used when the rich sailed from England to India, with the desire being to keep the sun on the same side of the ship for the entire cruise.  To take advantage, the preferred cabins were on “Port going Out and Starboard Hcoming ome” and to have wealth was to be POSH.

The red and green lights are used to stay in the channel, to make one’s way upstream, and to set rules on who has water right of way.  This is codified in navigation through the International Association of Lighthouse Authorities, should you wish to check it out. I have supplied the link.

In my next post I will explain why the closing of a local restaurant, The Cottage, has special significance for me and my family.  I hope you will stop by.
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