Hoist the Baggywrinkle, Boys

There’s nothing quite like a trip to an historic location for an infusion of long-forgotten words. So was my experience on a recent visit to Mystic Seaport in Connecticut.

The day was glorious with bright blue skies and just a hint of breeze.  Arriving early, the grounds were quiet and the water was still. We approached a mooring and learned that the Emma Berry was a smack.   I didn’t know the term, but apparently that’s a kind of sloop, in this case, a Noank Smack made in 1886, and it’s one of the oldest preserved commercial fishing vessels.


As we looked around, there were tall ships in the distance and dories at the dock.

Soon we found ourselves visiting the Rope Walk — an impossibly long assembly line where rope was made. After that, we had more appreciation for the craft as we strolled into a shop where rope was sold.  The proprietor (looking much the part), explained that hawser was a thick rope used for anchoring or towing. He talked about the difference between manila and true hemp. We saw a canister of oakum and learned that this kind of rope was mixed with tar and used for caulking.


When I expressed an interest in words, the merchant shared his favorite word, pointing to what seemed to be frayed rope strung across the front of some wheels. He said it was called “Baggywrinkle” and was used to cushion against friction, just as one might use Bubble Wrap® today.

We strolled the paths, visiting the cooperage, bank, printing office and inn.
A parlor garden at the Buckingham Hall House caught my eye, all quaint and reminiscent of another time, a “riot of color,” as they say, with nasturtiums overflowing a picket fence. Here’s a more expansive gallery.

We boarded the Charles Morgan, the last remaining whaling ship, now under restoration. Descending  narrow stairs and ducking through low doorways, we tried to imagine married life in the Captain’s quarters, but any idea of romance and adventure vanished at the thought of whale blubber rendering on deck.

Perhaps the most vivid image was conjured up by a woman dressed in period garb (bustle, parasol, and a small hand bag suspended at the wrist). She appeared randomly in the crowds. She nodded demurely and made her way to the docks. Occasionally she’d pause at a store window or slip around a corner to a side street. I wondered for a moment if she were real or perhaps a ghost that had arrived to check on her ships.

Emerging from the glory days of seafaring, the walk to the parking lot was uninspired. I glanced behind me, hoping to see the vintage woman gathering her skirts and quickening her pace in order to catch up.  No matter. She was where she belonged. I knew at twilight she’d be pacing a widow’s walk , praying for a mainsail on the horizon.


Other colorful nautical terms can be found here.

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