1 The angle, in relation to the perpendicular, of a ship's masts and funnels, which can be raked forward or aft. It is a word also sometimes used to describe the degree of overhang of its bow and stern.
2 As a verb, it describes the operation of manoeuvring a warship so that it could fire its guns down the length of an adversary. The manoeuvre was particularly used during the days of sailing navies when a ship's main cannons could fire broadsides only. This was why wooden ships of the line were built immensely strong on their sides, with oak or teak planking 38–46 centimetres (15–18 in.) thick. Their weakest point was at the stern with its wide galleries and windows. If a warship could manoeuvre to cross the stern of an enemy at right angles, it could fire its guns through the stern, creating immense damage and slaughter, without its adversary being able to reply. Almost equally advantageous was to cross its bows at right angles, as this part of the ship was also a weak point defensively. See also ‘crossing the T’.
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