Seafaring Terms: Background information when reading The Cat's Table

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The Cat's Table

A Novel

by Michael Ondaatje

The Cat's Table by Michael Ondaatje X
The Cat's Table by Michael Ondaatje
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2011, 288 pages
    Jun 2012, 288 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Beverly Melven

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About this Book

Beyond the Book:
Seafaring Terms

Print Review

While the terms used on a ship sound familiar to me, I often don't really know what they mean. Many people recognize that a cabin is a room, and a porthole is a window, but what exactly is a purser, and which direction is the stern? If you're not sure, the definitions of the seafaring expressions below - all used in The Cat's Table - might help you navigate the book.

  • officers' mess: The room where the officers eat.

  • purser: An officer who handles financial accounts and keeps money and valuables for the passengers.

  • pilot: Someone who is brought on to help the ship safely navigate difficult passages, often while leaving or entering a harbor. While on an airplane the pilot is likely the Captain, on a ship he almost never is. The pilot is usually transported to the ship by a small or tug boat and leaves once the vessel has passed through the assigned area.

  • lido deck: The section of the ship that contains an outdoor pool and the accompanying recreational areas. The term lido is Italian for beach.

  • stateroom: The captain's or superior officer's room.

  • billet: The place (like a bunk or cabin) assigned to a member of the ship's crew.

  • the bridge: The raised platform from which a ship is navigated, often including a pilot house and a chart house.

  • bow/stern: The front and back of the boat, respectively.

  • bollard: A short, vertical post used for mooring.

  • gangplank: A small, movable, bridge-like structure for use by people boarding or leaving a ship.

The ship in The Cat's Table is an Orient Line vessel, much like the 1948 P&O Orient Liner pictured below, which Mynah describes as a "castle that was to cross the sea."

Orient Line ship

Article by Beverly Melven

This article was originally published in October 2011, and has been updated for the June 2012 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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