From Byron's Don Juan:

'T was a rough night, and blew so stiffly yet,
That the sail was becalm'd between the seas,
Though on the wave's high top too much to set,
They dared not take it in for all the breeze:

Each sea curl'd o'er the stern, and kept them wet,
And made them bale without a moment's ease,
So that themselves as well as hopes were damp'd,
And the poor little cutter quickly swamp'd.

What is the meaning of that the sail was becalmed between the seas? The wind was very strong, so how could the sail become calmed? And what is the meaning of between the seas?

I think that the meaning of the entire bolded passage hinges on the meaning of "that the sail was becalmed between the seas", but I don't understand the second bolded line either.. What is set on the wave's high top? I can't even start to untangle this. "Too much" - of what?

  • 1
    I'm no sailor but I read a lot of nautical fiction. I understand that, when waves are very high, a vessel can be sheltered from the wind when it is in the trough of the wave. When it gets to the crest of the wave, because the wind is so strong even having a small amount of sail set could be dangerous. Commented Jan 3, 2018 at 16:13

1 Answer 1


Any sailboat between seas, i.e. large waves, does not react to wind since the wind is not hitting the sail when you are in the trough between waves, especially in very rough weather with large waves.

The sail is not filled with wind. The poem goes on to describe the wave's high top (peak or crest), which is when the wind is felt strongly. When the boat rises onto the crest of the wave, the sail is again filled with wind. A sea is an old-fashioned word (think Moby Dick, it is full of the word seas to mean waves) for a wave.

The online Merriam Webster says large swell or wave.

losing the wind in wave troughs

  • And when they were up they were up ... and the wind so strong in the sails it was too dangerous to send men up to furl them. Commented Jan 3, 2018 at 17:44

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.