the gam - ashley  

Yes, that's “gamming” with two mm's, not gaming, though we've done both. There are several definitions for a gam. It can refer to a lady's legs (wrong definition) or a pod of whales which is probably where the seafaring term “gam” originated since whales are pretty social creatures. Among sailors, it's more commonly a social, friendly visit between the crews of whalers or nowadays just boats/ships in general.




I hadn't ever heard the word, other than in reference to a group of whales, until we joined SSCA. They have “gams” quite frequently in different parts of world. These are big get-togethers where like-minded, sea-spirited folks exchange stories, trade goods (treasures of the bilge/flea market), experiences and sometimes tall tales, as sailors are wont to do.

What brought this to mind was our recent visit to the New Bedford Maritime Museum. There were pictures and sketches of old whaling ships at sea, drifting near each other and sending boats between them for visits between the captains and the crews. Whaling ships followed the migratory patterns of the whales they sought and many times would come in contact with other whalers in the same vicinity. The actual whaling portion of the passages was short-lived and frenzied, but the passages themselves sometimes lasted 2-3 years. Life aboard could get pretty boring. You can only do so much scrimshaw. So when another ship was spotted, the boats would hail each other and then commence gamming (and perhaps drinking).


gamming chair


I was especially interested in the gamming chairs that were used by the women aboard. The captain's wife and perhaps even the children would be lowered from the ship to a whaleboat in a gamming chair and then rowed to the other ship for a festive social occasion, visiting with the other captain's wife and family. Other times the gamming chair would be hung from a spar, and swung across as two vessels were side by side. Knowing all the paraphernalia women of those days had to wear, it must have been a wet and hairy ride, but a welcome change from the monotony of ship's life.

If you're interested in participating in a modern day gam, check out the SSCA website for a gam near you. No gamming chairs necessary to attend.