What do "high sea" and "carry" mean in this sentence?



This is a line from Google's definition of "poop":

(of a wave) break over the stern of (a ship), sometimes causing it to capsize.

"carrying a high sea, we were badly pooped"

This line doesn't make sense to me. What do "high" sea and "carry" mean here? "High sea" doesn't seem to refer to the high seas. The verbal usage of "poop" here comes from the noun "poop" (in nautical terms refers to the raised area at the rear of a ship).

Eddie Kal

Posted 2019-03-28T22:18:15.210

Reputation: 15 761

There are a lot of meanings of “poop”. This one seems to be a nautical term. Is this the meaning you were looking for? As someone who is not familiar with nautical terminology I am not sure what “carrying a high sea” means in this context, either. – Mixolydian – 2019-03-28T22:22:35.257

@Mixolydian Good call pointing that out. I am adding the definition to the question. – Eddie Kal – 2019-03-28T22:45:19.407



There's a lot of specialist nautical terminology here. I'm not an expert on this, but I've done a bit of checking with people who know more, and I'm reasonably confident.

For a sailing ship to be carrying an environmental condition - sea state, weather, etc - is a term I'm not terribly familiar with, but I gather it just means to be experiencing that condition.

A high sea is referring to the sea state, how rough the sea is.

Being badly pooped is to have a lot of water breaking over the poop deck, or the rearmost, elevated deck on a sailing ship. Even relatively small sailing ships would have this, even if they have no real forecastle to speak of, because it shields the quarterdeck in front of it, where the helmsman (or coxswain) and captain (if they aren't the same person) are, directing the ship.

Now, I tried to find where the dictionaries online might have gotten this quote, and discovered that they missed out a bit of the middle of it that might make it slightly easier to understand, though it's still obscure to the layman:

"As it grew dark I drew away, and headed up for Plymouth. Off Rame Head, carrying a high sea on the quarter, we were badly pooped" (source: Lonely Road By Nevil Shute)

That makes it more clear what carrying a high sea is meant to mean; on the quarter refers to a direction, between abeam (to one side) and astern. Thus the sea state, the high sea, is being driven from a diagonal direction to one side of and behind the ship. Because of that, there was a lot of water breaking onto the poop deck.


Posted 2019-03-28T22:18:15.210

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2In this context, I think carrying is roughly synonymous with weathering or surviving. I doubt you could carry a placid sea, for example. – Kevin – 2019-03-29T06:17:49.027

10@SamBC has it right. I am a master mariner & his interpretation is correct. Every profession has its specialist terminology. To Carry a Sea on the quarter means the sea is coming from either 4:30 or 7:30. To poop badly means that a wave has broken over the stern and there is A LOT of green water on deck. This can be a very dangerous state as the vessel's buoyancy aft is significantly reduced and can lead to a broach where the vessel lies beam-on (across) to the sea and is in danger of being rolled. – pHred – 2019-03-29T10:38:30.670

@pHred what did you mean by “green water”? Why is it green? – Andrew Tobilko – 2019-03-29T14:47:35.930

6"Green water" basically means a significant quantity of seawater, as opposed to just getting sprayed with foam from the tip of the wave (which would be white in appearance). – dwizum – 2019-03-29T14:54:48.500

I've also heard the expression "solid green water", which I just take to mean "yup, definitely green". – SamBC – 2019-03-29T14:57:56.293

My dictionary is of the opinion that a coxswain is unlikely to be found on the quarterdeck, as he is supposed to be taking care of the ship's boat, or the cock, of which he is the "boy", or a swain. I may be ways off with my weak understanding of nautical terms, of course. – Bass – 2019-03-29T19:33:24.950

@Bass: It was also the term for the petty officer who actually manned the wheel of the ship at the direction of an officer. Back in the age of sail, obviously. The name actually came, AIUI, from their official job being on the captain's barge/boat/gig/etc, but that wasn't usually in use, so they did the helm on the ship as a whole. – SamBC – 2019-03-29T20:13:21.327

I can't stop repeating this phrase: "To poop badly means that a wave has broken over the stern..." – barbecue – 2019-03-29T21:45:10.403

@dwizum has got the essence of it. Think about a wave breaking at the beach. White water at the top, strongly aerated, lots of foam. Below that a body of solid water. In a large sea even white water can put a lot of water on deck. Green water however is orders of magnitude more dangerous. The vessel essentially becomes momentarily (one hopes) submerged for a portion of its length. – pHred – 2019-03-29T22:30:59.690

Separate comment, I wanted to address the OP's original question. There are a number of other incorrect uses of / misunderstandings of terms in this thread, most related to differences between historic sailing vessels and modern motor vessels. I do not want to be 'that' pedantic guy. – pHred – 2019-03-29T22:38:51.797


When we say a ship is 'carrying a high sea" we mean that the sea in which it is sailing is very rough, with waves that are large enough to poop the ship (verb, meaning to break over the stern of the ship causing it to capsize, or nearly do so).

Michael Harvey

Posted 2019-03-28T22:18:15.210

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