What is a Yankee Tar?

crew of Yankee Tar in Tonga (left to right Hal Holbrook, Dixie Carter, and Bob Rossiter)
crew of Yankee Tar in Tonga (left to right Hal Holbrook, Dixie Carter, and Bob Rossiter)

Several people have asked about the origin of the name of the yacht, Yankee Tar, that Bob sailed aboard with Hollywood actors Hal Holbrook and Dixie Carter across the Pacific to New Zealand. So here’s the story!

Back in the 1600s British sailors were known by the slang term “tars”, and later “Jack tars.” There are a number of theories about the origin of this term, most involving the use of tar aboard a sailing ship. This material was used to waterproof hemp rope rigging, hats, clothing, and the joints between the planks of the wooden deck.

rigging on a tall ship

mast and rigging on a tall ship

Tar was even used to secure a sailor’s ponytail to prevent it from getting tangled in the rigging. Sailors invariably came into contact with the sticky black liquid, so it was natural for this association to “stick” with them and become part of the everyday vernacular.

Over time the sailors from the New England shores become known as Yankee tars, a term that was also commonly used. In fact, this usage is immortalized in a book published in 1840 entitled The Yankee tar, an authentic narrative of the voyages and hardships of John Hoxse, and the cruises of the U.S. frigate Constellation. In his book, John Hoxse relates his adventures at sea, from first signing on as ship’s carpenter aboard the brig Fair Eliza and his eventful history at sea.

Hal took the name of the Yankee tar for his yacht in honor of the hardy American sailors of the past.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s