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Old 12-20-2014, 08:28 PM   #1
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Origin of "flying bridge."

The term flying bridge, which modern usage has corrupted to "flybridge," has its origins in the naval vessels of the 1800s. For centuries the design of warships included a main deck protected by very high, heavy bulwarks. These bulwarks provided protection (in theory) to the men manning the guns on these decks.

Until the mid-1800s, these ships were propelled by sail, and they were steered by a tiller or wheel from the raised aft deck over the rudder. This deck provided the visibility needed to navigate and steer the ship.

When in the mid-1800s, steam propulsion was added to augment the sails, this posed a new problem. Smoke. Burning coal and not having the benefit of the EPA's stack-scrubber requirements, these ships put out prodigious amounts of thick, sooty, cinder-laden smoke. Given the forward motion of the ship and the fickle nature of the wind, the raised aft helm stations were more often than not enveloped in choking clouds of smoke and cinders.

This drove somebody to come up with the idea to design a platform that spanned the deck with its ends on top of the high bulwarks forward of the stack. This provided a high vantage point for conning the ship and directing maneuvers in battle but was free (usually) of the choking, blinding stack smoke.

But what to call it? Well, it spanned the deck from bulwark to bulwark like a bridge. And the people on it were way up in the air (relatively speaking), flying, as it were, above the deck. And there it was: flying bridge.

Some ships even had a remote helm station up there complete with a big wheel, compass, and so on.

The term bridge stuck around to be applied to the place (usually elevated) from which a vessel was conned. The "flying" was dropped because the bridge was generally on top of a superstructure of some sort so was no longer "suspended" in the air.

How or when the term flying bridge was corrupted to flybridge is something I don't know, although I suspect it was done by the same crowd that came up with the notion of calling a recreational cabin cruiser a "trawler."

Having developed at an early age a major interest in the American Civil War, particularly the fresh and salt water naval aspects of it, many years ago in Hawaii I built a good-sized scale model of the CSS Alabama, the Confederate raider that was built in England and attacked US shipping in several oceans. The Alabama had a flying bridge, which was the first time I'd encountered this term.

My model is long gone. But I came across these photos of other models of the Alabama that show the flying bridge as well as a photo taken on on the Alabama during the ship's visit to South Africa in August, 1863. The photo was being used in a discussion about the origin of the Alabama's cannon, hence the yellow arrow pointing to the gun in the foreground.
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Old 12-20-2014, 08:47 PM   #2
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Thanks Marin. Interesting from many perspectives,

Is that Raphael Semmes in the photograph?
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Old 12-20-2014, 09:13 PM   #3
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Is that Raphael Semmes in the photograph?
It's possible. Here are two photos of Semmes I got off the web. In the first one, Semmes is the officer standing beside the cannon.
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Old 12-21-2014, 02:16 AM   #4
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Interesting, Marin, but you are wrong! It was not the guy who came up with "trawler" but the same guy who started calling the "saloon" a "salon."

If you are ever in Portsmouth, England,you will find moored in the harbour "HMS Warrior," the first iron-hulled, armour-plated warship. She has a flying bridge. In addition, she had probably the first inboard-outboard as she had a well in her hull amidships where a giant bronze 'leg' and wheel could be lowered into the water when she had built up enough steam. With this device she could 'sail' directly into the wind. Strangely she had a manual capstan that penetrated 2 (or more) decks which was operated by sailors exactly as they had done on sailing ships in history. They hadn't thought to install a steam windlass, despite having the power available.

Anyway, a bit off topic, but if you visit the Warrior in the off-season you will likely find a retired British Naval type who will gladly give you an in-depth multi-hour tour, including some machine spaces the public aren't supposed to go and will answer all of your dubious questions about her.

A fantastic opportunity to learn about a fascinating ship.
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Old 12-21-2014, 02:27 AM   #5
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The Alabama had a retractable screw propeller. The propeller was mounted in a frame which slid on vertical rails and could be winched up into the hull to reduce drag when the vessel was under sail. The winch was a hand-cranked affair on the aft deck.

Clever folks, the British, particularly when it came to ships and later, aeroplanes, and they did a lot of innovative things on both fronts. The Alabama was actually designed and built in England, ostensibly as a merchant ship named the Enrica so as to not arouse the suspicion of the U.S. The CSN took possession of her after she left England and sailed to the Azores. Rechristened Alabama, Capt. Semmes and his crew then installed the guns and other things necesary to turn her into a commerce raider.
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Old 12-21-2014, 08:21 AM   #6
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Interesting,

If you are ever in Portsmouth, England,....
Was there twenty years ago and toured both Warrior and Victory. My big regret was not having enough time to explore them to the extent that I wished as my elderly mother-in-law insisted upon coming on the excursion but didn't have the interest or stamina to spend much time aboard either ship. Next lifetime I guess.
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Old 12-21-2014, 08:55 AM   #7
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Interesting, Marin, but you are wrong! It was not the guy who came up with "trawler" but the same guy who started calling the "saloon" a "salon."
I agree! A Salon is where a lady gets her hair styled and her fingers manicured. A Saloon is where you do your drinking...
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Old 12-21-2014, 10:38 AM   #8
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It was the same idiot who changed "gun wall" into "gunwale". Or "lay board" into "larboard" and then into "port". Or "steerboard" into "starboard". Or "boat swein" to "boatswain" then "bosun".

The language evolves. I'm generally too pressed for time to enunciate the full "flying bridge" when "flybridge" conveys the same message.
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Old 12-21-2014, 02:02 PM   #9
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It was the same idiot who changed "gun wall" into "gunwale". Or "lay board" into "larboard" and then into "port". Or "steerboard" into "starboard". Or "boat swein" to "boatswain" then "bosun".

The language evolves. I'm generally too pressed for time to enunciate the full "flying bridge" when "flybridge" conveys the same message.
or screaming over the roar of 1200 hp diesels on a sportfish...and yes those guys can be just as salty as the rest of all boaters.....flybridge is OK with me and doesn't change boating one iota...

That little shortening of terminology falls way below proper flag etiquette in my book which many don't give a hoot about.
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Old 12-21-2014, 04:19 PM   #10
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That little shortening of terminology falls way below proper flag etiquette in my book which many don't give a hoot about.
Including me. While the use of flags in some situations makes sense, in recreational boating inside the US it's an anachronism and doesn't matter. As far as I'm concerned, fly any flag anywhere on one's boat one pleases. It doesn't matter and nobody official gives a damn.

We've flown a big French flag in place of the US flag a number of times on our boat and the USCG doesn't give us a second glance as they zip by us in their SAFE boats. These days flags are just decoration as far as recreational boats are concerned. If a person feels strongly about flying the US flag in the right place, great, have at it. If they want to fly it somewhere else or not at all, great, have at it.

I have no issue with people calling a flying bridge a flybridge. I don't do it in writing but I often do it verbally although I try not to. But I think the correct use of language is important, understanding that it evolves with time. Flags, on the other hand, particularly on boats like ours, are totally unimportant today other than to the individual boater who feels however he or she feels about them. We don't care about them other than some of them look nice (the Canadian Red Ensign for example) and they make great wind indicators.
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Old 12-21-2014, 04:28 PM   #11
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Like so much here on TF, personality and importance...
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Old 12-21-2014, 04:48 PM   #12
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I does however make me chuckle when I see a US registry boat that has returned from Canada continue to fly a Canadian courtesy flag. Bragging rights I guess.
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Old 12-21-2014, 07:26 PM   #13
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... As far as I'm concerned, fly any flag anywhere on one's boat one pleases. It doesn't matter and nobody official gives a damn. ...
But please do not disrespect your national ensign.

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Old 12-21-2014, 07:28 PM   #14
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I like courtesy flags, if you are in some other country, fly one, it's a mark of respect. I also think if you are a good visitor, you also won't dump your garbage or your poop tank or tie up smack in the middle of the dock so no one else can use it. On my trips to the U.S. I've tried to be as courteous as possible and I always fly a US flag to remind me that I am a guest. If only the silly US Customs would stop confiscating my dog food!

However, I also have a gigantic Canadian flag that was a gift from the guy that owns my marina. I had to extend the staff by double but it's not hard to see where my boat is registered and it's always flapping away whenever I'm am moving!
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Old 12-21-2014, 07:41 PM   #15
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I like courtesy flags, if you are in some other country, fly one, it's a mark of respect....
I was a line handler going through the Canal and the advisor made the captain take down Panama's courtesy flag. It was faded and frayed. His comment was flying a flag like that is an insult.
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Old 12-22-2014, 06:20 AM   #16
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To me 'flying bridge' is an old fashion term that has been largely superseded by the shortened 'flybridge'.

Over here about the only people you hear referring to flying bridges are the older seafaring gentlemen who own Halvorsens.Mind you those glorious old boats should be shown a certain respect, so if I am ever fortunate enough to own one, flying bridge it will be for captain and crew alike, or else it will be the plank for the scurvy mutineers.
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Old 12-22-2014, 07:25 AM   #17
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Visiting boater respecting a foreign country.

I try to conceal my true reaction and attempt to express sympathy when some boater who doesn't give a hoot about flag etiquette is slammed by a Caribbean Country's authorities for not flying a courtesy flag or for a US boat for flying US Yacht ensign instead of the US ensign.
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Old 12-22-2014, 10:28 AM   #18
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Including me. While the use of flags in some situations makes sense, in recreational boating inside the US it's an anachronism and doesn't matter. As far as I'm concerned, fly any flag anywhere on one's boat one pleases. It doesn't matter and nobody official gives a damn.
Which explains why so many don't know it when they should.

With that mentality, why ever turn on the Radar or GPS until dark or it's needed.
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Old 12-22-2014, 10:42 AM   #19
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I was a line handler going through the Canal and the advisor made the captain take down Panama's courtesy flag. It was faded and frayed. His comment was flying a flag like that is an insult.
I like large courtesy flags, as I am appreciative of being here.
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Old 12-22-2014, 01:33 PM   #20
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Which explains why so many don't know it when they should.

With that mentality, why ever turn on the Radar or GPS until dark or it's needed.
I admit I don't have much patience for silly stuff. It's a flag for Christ's sake. A piece of cloth (these days most likely made in China) with a design on it. Unlike radar or GPS, it has zero effect, purpose, or value in operating a boat. Other than the remaining legalities one might find in a foreign port where flying a particular flag it still required, it's about as important and useful on a boat as an empty tube of toilet paper.

While I understand the sentiment behind flying flags (which is their only reason for existance other than designating something from a distance like quarantine or whatever), it's still just sentiment. And that's fine, I have no issue with that. If one is the type that likes to get all serious about the proper place to fly a club burgee or a national ensign, then they should get all serious about it if it makes them happy.

In this day and age of digital communications and information flags are totally unnecessary. When we were boarded once by the USCG I asked them what kind of information they already had on our boat before they came aboard. They said they punch the boat's name into a computer on board their SAFE boat and things like the state registration number and documentation number (if the boat is documented, which ours is) and all the associated information with those numbers comes up. They don't need a flag to know where our boat is registered, who we are, what our address is, etc.

We usually pull into a Canadian port of entry with no flags flying at all. And the customs folks couldn't care less. All they care about are our passports and the answers to the usual questions about liquor and firearms and fruits and vegetables and how long we're going to be in Canada. We and our boat and our past guests are all in their data base. They've even told me the passport numbers of guests we had on board who had made previous cruises with us into BC.

And it's no different clearing customs back into the US. Again, we generally arrive at the POE we use with no flags up at all. And again, the customs folks couldn't care less. Everything they want to know is in their computer.

We do fly the Canadian courtesy flag when we're in Canada. Not because the Canadians give a hoot in hell about it-- they don't-- but because they're good wind telltales. We use our club burgee for the same purpose.

We fly the US flag sometimes, occasionally we fly a French flag, and once we bought and flew a big Scottish flag as the national ensign because our guests were from that country. But more often than not we don't put any national flag up at all. The rules say having a boat like ours documented allows us to fly the national ensign, it doesn't say we have to.

I personally feel that getting all into what flag goes where and when to fly it is waste of energy. Outside of the foreign exceptions, nobody official cares anymore. They're going to get what they want to know about you from a computer screen, not from some pretty bits of colored cloth stuck about in your rigging.

Flags are a bit of nautical tradition and history, and a lot of people enjoy carrying on the old traditions. There's certainly nothing wrong with that and I don't fault folks for doing it. What I do take a bit of exception to is folks coming down on other folks about how they're wrong for flying a flag in a way they want to because it's against the "rules." If someone wants to fly the national ensign from the jackstaff on their pulpit because they like looking at it, fine. They should do it. They're not going to get in trouble for it and outside of sentiment they're not bothering anyone else by doing it, so who cares?
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