Now when I was younger I knew very well what was being said when one talked about being "three sheets in the wind". It was not conveying anything positive. For one to be "three sheets in the wind" one would be as out of control as an inebriated sailor. Well, just recently I have experienced what "sheets" are and where the term came from.
For the last two days, we have shared the company of some old friends who love to sail. My wife and I were invited to spend the day with them sailing Lake Stockton in S.W. Missouri. Ed and Pat have a sailboat similar to the ones pictured. Lake Stockton has been rated as one of the top ten lakes for sailing in the U.S. and Ed gave us a delightful and, thankfully, uneventful, peaceful four hour sail down and around the North Island and back to the State Park Marina. (approximately 11 miles as a drunken crow flys or a "tacking" boat travels; about 8 miles in a straight line) Pat did the bulk of the sailing while Ed and I controlled the "sheets". The weather was perfect and the wind was cooperative.
I had always supposed that the term "three sheets in the wind" had something to do with the sails. I was wrong. Ed informed me that the term actually refers to the ropes or lines that hold the corners of the sails so that the wind is able to be harnessed. Without the rope to hold the corners, the sail will simply flutter helplessly in the wind and the boat will be out of any control, thus the term "three sheets in the wind". "The sheets were as vital in the days of three-masted square-rigged sea-going ships as they are today, since they trim the sail to the wind. If they run loose, the sail flutters about in the wind and the ship wallows off its course out of control." (Worldwide Words) Early sailors must have noticed the relationship between an inebriated sailor and an out of control sailing vessel.
Since we are now into the New Testament in our journey through the Bible, I feel I can more closely relate to the stories that involve Christ and the disciples on the Sea of Galilee, and for that matter all of the nautical terms throughout the Bible seem to have come alive now, thanks to Ed and Pat. "What kind of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey Him." (Matthew 8:27) And the OT, "your tackle hangs slack, it cannot hold the base of its mast firmly, nor spread out the sail. (Isa 33:23) "He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still. Then are they glad because they be quiet; so he bringeth them unto their desired port." (Ps 107:30) John Ortberg has written a book entitled, "If You Want to Walk on Water..You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat". Those in leadership positions hail this as a wonderful new concept and a cure for "couch potatoship" in the laity. That may be true, but after our little trip down Stockton Lake, I have no desire to "walk on the water". I like it in the boat! I think our job is IN THE BOAT. (the boat being the situation or place where God has planted us) Arthur Fallon wrote, "It took more faith to stay in the boat than to walk on the sea. For years I had been waiting for God to perform the spectacular...when living miracles were all around me. My daily prayer now is, "Lord Jesus, help me stay in the boat and let me accept Thy promises...because Thou art the Christ." With Arthur Fallon, I give a hearty, Amen! Keep the "sheets" taut!