Flags have been an important part of seagoing life for centuries. They are used to identify nationality and allegiance, also for courtesy and out of respect. They are used to salute, to celebrate, commiserate and above all communicate. The art of communicating through signal flags is described in detail in a set of volumes with the title Allied Tactical Publication 1, an unclassified military document that allows navies of NATO to understand how to communicate in a common way using signal flags hosted at the mastheads of their ships.
Last week we were sailing in the islands of the BVI with a common, and apt flag hoist raised in our yards that invited our crew and all who were able to decipher it to “Splice the Main Brace…” (Flag Code AD28).
I was surprised that I had more questions from fellow boaters about the meaning of the hoist than I had recognition - disappointed really as I had stocked the fridge onboard to share with anyone who was prepared to take me up on the offer!
In the days of 'ships of the line' the main brace was the principal fore and aft support between the masts. It was a critical part of the standing rigging and as such was a key target of the gunners from enemy vessels. When the main brace was parted the stability of the ships overall rig was severely compromised. The task of splicing a parted mainbrace was therefore of utmost importance to the ships ability to continue to fight and move. Those sailors who were able to complete the task were rewarded with a double ration of the daily tot of rum, which was a prized reward. In later years the term 'splice the main brace' was used as an order to be issued when a particular unit had done a good job, and were deserving of a free drink!
In the future, should anyone see my Lagoon 450 sitting in a marina, or on a buoy, with the flags AD28 hoisted, feel free to come and share a beer, or a tot of rum!