Hoist Blue Peter
Originally published by The Lookout Newspaper, on 13 September 2022, this article is reproduced here in its unedited state.
Blue Peter refers to the maritime signal flag for the letter “P,” phonetically referred to as flag Papa. Consisting of a white square on a blue field, it is also known as the recall flag. A ship flying Blue Peter indicates the vessel is preparing to slip and depart a port. British folks know Blue Peter as a long-running BBC children’s television programme. The name was chosen because the show represents a ‘voyage of adventure.’ In production since 1958, it’s certainly been a lengthy voyage.
In NATO navies, friendly forces are represented by the colour blue, as in the Blue Force in a war game exercise. In the same exercise, enemy forces are usually represented by the colours orange or red, i.e., Orange Force or Red Force. Interestingly, during the Cold War the term Orange Force was preferred as being more neutral, and not to single out the USSR as being the obvious aggressors. The term blue on blue is sometimes used in the instance of unfortunate death or injury resulting from actions of one’s own forces or allies.
The term blue-water navy refers to a naval force with warships designed to operate worldwide, not just in coastal waters, which is referred to as a brown-water navy.
The term Bluenose has a variety of meanings. Canadians would likely know Bluenose as the name of a famous 1920s Nova Scotia–based fishing schooner that was built to ‘out-sail them all.’ The Bluenose is so famous she is featured on a Canadian dime, and Bluenose II, a replica of the original, is homeported in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia to this day. The name Bluenose is derived from a nineteenth-century nickname for the province of Nova Scotia, or in reference to people from Nova Scotia, i.e., Bluenosers.
Blue nose is used in reference to a warship that has operated inside the Arctic Circle and has added blue paint to its bow. Sailors who served in such ships are awarded a Blue Nose Certificate. The Order of the Blue Nose is an honour bestowed upon anyone who has crossed the Arctic Circle in a ship.
Historically, painting a ship’s hull blue was done when a sailing vessel returned to port from a voyage where the ship’s captain had perished. Purportedly, this is how the term feeling blue became known for being sad or in mourning.
Some Canadian warships have blue as one of their official colours. You can always tell an HMC Ship’s official colours through the colours featured in the nameplate area of their badge, e.g., HMCS WINNIPEG, blue and gold; HMCS TORONTO, blue and white.
The modern term, ‘between the devil and the deep blue sea,’ means ‘to be in a dilemma.’ Folklore decrees this term has a naval origin as it was derived from keelhauling, a punishment where a sailor was dragged beneath the ship. This perilous practice took a sailor ‘between’ a wooden vessel’s ‘devil seam,’ located on the bottom of the ship, and the ‘deep blue sea’ below. Now that’s a dilemma!
You will find over 4000 examples of Jackspeak in my book Jackspeak of the Royal Canadian Navy (2nd ed.).