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(From The Wrecker by Robert Louis Stevenson and Lloyd Osbourne, Chapter XXIII, passage 371, published 1892)

“Now, boys,” he said, after a pull at the hot coffee, “we're done with this Currency Lass, and no mistake. One good job: we made her pay while she lasted, and she paid first rate; and if we were to try our hand again, we can try in style. Another good job: we have a fine, stiff, roomy boat, and you know who you have to thank for that. We've got six lives to save, and a pot of money; and the point is, where are we to take 'em?”

“It's all two thousand miles to the nearest of the Sandwiches, I fancy,” observed Mac.

“No, not so bad as that,” returned the captain. “But it's bad enough: rather better'n a thousand.”

“I know a man who once did twelve hundred in a boat,” said Mac, “and he had all he wanted. He fetched ashore in the Marquesas, and never set a foot on anything floating from that day to this. He said he would rather put a pistol to his head and knock his brains out.”

“Ay, ay!” said Wicks. “Well I remember a boat's crew that made this very island of Kauai, and from just about where we lie, or a bit further. When they got up with the land, they were clean crazy. There was an iron-bound coast and an Old Bob Ridley of a surf on. The natives hailed 'em from fishing-boats, and sung out it couldn't be done at the money. Much they cared! there was the land, that was all they knew; and they turned to and drove the boat slap ashore in the thick of it, and was all drowned but one. No; boat trips are my eye,” concluded the captain, gloomily.

I take "got up" there to mean something like "get up" in the sentence Although the wind was obviously getting up and with it the sea, the foolish couple left the harbour in their flimsy catamaran - that is (in our context) they "increased in strength", they became overjoyed or, as captain Wicks says, "they were clean crazy" . Maybe this is a kind of sailor's parlance because it's similar to phrases like the wind increases and becomes violent etc.; maybe the meaning of "get up" in this context is even more emphasised than the words "increase in strength" can convey.

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    I don't think it would make any sense as a prepositional verb meaning "increase in strength". The context seems to suggest it means something like "when they reached land". TBH it's all a little obscure. I don't know if this is some kind of sailor's parlance or or some outdated colloquialism from that era. Colloquial English has changed quite a bit since 1892.
    – Billy Kerr
    Jan 10 at 19:18
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    I think it expresses something about relative location. E.g. if you change "with" to "to," it means "arrive at," as in "I saw an oasis from a distance, but when I got up to it it was a mirage." Since it describes the boat not as actually successfully landing but simply as drawing near the land, perhaps "with" is a sense similar to "abreast with" or "level with." Jan 10 at 19:49
  • When they got up with the land: When they were parallel to the land but not facing it. Later, in the paragraph, they have to turn towards it. "they turned to and drove the boat slap ashore"
    – Lambie
    Jan 10 at 20:47

2 Answers 2

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In Patrick O'Brian's historical novels, the expression come up with is often used of one ship coming close to, or catching up with, another one. It looks as though this get up with is a variant.

The merchantmen were crowding sail to come up with the privateer.

Ajax came up with the Méduse off La Hogue.

So (to spell it out), I would understand they got up with the land to mean they approached the land.

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  • Would you say it's similar to the more modern idiom draw (up) alongside?
    – ColleenV
    Jan 11 at 13:46
  • Sure, but "got up with the land" here means sailing parallel (broadside) to it since they later turned toward it.
    – Lambie
    Jan 11 at 14:55
  • @ColleenV You draw up alongside a dock or wharf or jetty, not the land. They are running broadside to it and then turn and sail directly towards it.
    – Lambie
    Jan 11 at 14:56
  • @Lambie - It seems to me to mean simply 'came near to the land'. Yes, they would have sailed parallel to the coast while they were making up their minds whether it would be safe to try to go ashore or not, but I don't think that is necessarily implied by got up with. Jan 11 at 16:31
  • @KateBunting I am just saying it means "one side of the ship came near to the land" but then they turned directly towards it. Also, there is no second ship here.
    – Lambie
    Jan 11 at 16:38
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The OED has as a meaning of "get up"

6.a.1577– To come up, come close to (also †unto, †with).

This means there was a now-obsolete usage of "get up with" to mean "come up to" or "come close to" something.

They have various examples including the following nautical one:

1801 It is easier to cripple a mast, or a yard, than to get up with a ship that sails nearly as fast as yoursel [sic]. (Knight & Mason vol. I. xvii. 186)

More commonly it's used without "with" (just "get up") or as "get up to", but as the definition and example show, "get up with" can be used to mean "get close to" a ship.

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  • Yes, this is right. They came close to the land, but not facing it. Read down in the paragraph. After they got up to, they turned toward it.
    – Lambie
    Jan 11 at 14:58

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