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A small piece of line, made fast at one end to a solid purchase like a bit, which may be temporarily made fast to a working line to hold the strain while that line is made fast. The bitter end of the stopper is often unlaid and braided to provide more surface area for a better hold.

The procedure for making fast the foresail tack provides a good example. It takes the full strength of several men to "board the tack" in any kind of breeze but, for the line to be made fast, those men must release the bitter end. With nothing to hold the tack-line, the sail would flog away or a great deal of the hard-won tension would be lost. Before they release the line, therefore, a man at the head will "clap a stopper on" it. In this case, the stopper would likely be made fast at one end around the knight head. The man would tie a stopper-knot, often a modified midshipman's hitch, onto the tack-line with the stopper. The men behind would ease the tack-line until all of the tension rested on the stopper. When they released the line, one man could make it fast and then release the stopper. The result would be a loss of a few inches or less.

Use in the Canon

The expression "to clap a stopper on" something appears not in frequently among seamen, and even Maturin is able to use it properly at times.[1] For example, Aubrey writes a letter to an attorney who may be keeping one of his sailor's wives from her fair share of prize money, declaring, "that will clap a stopper over his antics."[2] Similarly, the men of La Flèche disliked having their doctor "in the galley at any time, since it stood to reason that he clapped a stopper on any kind of free conversation".[3]


  1. 'The Surgeon's Mate', page 22, from Google Books
  2. O'Brian, Patrick. The Mauritius Command. ©1977. William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd., Glasgow: p. 150
  3. O'Brian, Patrick. The Fortune of War. (c)1979 William Collins Sons & Co Ltd, Glasgow: p. 55
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