(From The Wrecker by Robert Louis Stevenson and Lloyd Osbourne, Chapter XII, published 1892)

From these signs, I gathered that all was not exactly for the best; and I would have given a good handful of dollars for a plain answer to the questions which I dared not put. Had I dared, with the present danger signal in the captain's face, I should only have been reminded of my position as supercargo—an office never touched upon in kindness—and advised, in a very indigestible manner, to go below. There was nothing for it, therefore, but to entertain my vague apprehensions as best I should be able, until it pleased the captain to enlighten me of his own accord. This he did sooner than I had expected—as soon, indeed, as the Chinaman had summoned us to breakfast, and we sat face to face across the narrow board.

“See here, Mr. Dodd,” he began, looking at me rather queerly, “here is a business point arisen. This sea's been running up for the last two days, and now it's too high for comfort. The glass is falling, the wind is breezing up, and I won't say but what there's dirt in it. If I lay her to, we may have to ride out a gale of wind and drift God knows where—on these French Frigate Shoals, for instance. If I keep her as she goes, we'll make that island to-morrow afternoon, and have the lee of it to lie under, if we can't make out to run in. The point you have to figure on, is whether you'll take the big chances of that Captain Trent making the place before you, or take the risk of something happening. I'm to run this ship to your satisfaction,” he added, with an ugly sneer. “Well, here's a point for the supercargo.”

What does . . . and have the lee of it to lie under, if we can't make out to run in mean in this context? I take it to mean they can sail to the lee side of the island (Honolulu). But then, what does to lie under mean? That seems to be nautical language - maybe it means to lie in the roads because the following if-clause reads if we can't make out to run in. Maybe there is a Jack among us who can crack this problem :).

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    Given whether you'll take the big chances of that Captain Trent making the place before you (which is not "nautical language", but certainly no-one today would ever use the highlighted expression), it seems there's some kind of race going on. "Having the lee" of the island means they can anchor their ship on the sheltered side, away from strong winds. But I'm guessing if we can't make out to run in means If we can't see our way clearly / safely enough to sail into the actual harbour, but that's definitely not normal phrasing today, if it ever was. Oct 18, 2023 at 15:50
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    @FumbleFingers Agreed, I was about to write an answer making exactly the same points, when I spotted your comment … drat! The style reminds me of the days when newspapers paid by the word, but not in this case, The Wrecker was first published as a book. Oct 18, 2023 at 17:04
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    as she goes means: the way the ship is sailing right now. The lee of something is the opposite of windward. It is the sheltered side of the island.
    – Lambie
    Oct 18, 2023 at 21:24

1 Answer 1


It's the verb "lie", meaning to remain in one place, and the preposition "under", used metaphorically to indicate a shelter provided by the island.

A modern version of this phrase would be:

... and have its lee to stop in...

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    Reminds me of one definition of "Ambassador" - "Someone who lies abroad for their country" With the obvious double meaning. Although "to lie" in the meaning of remain is, IMHO, somewhat archaic in the 21st century. Oct 18, 2023 at 21:31

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