Extrait :

Le bâtiment, qui s’élevait au plus près contre une assez fraîche brise nord-nord-ouest, ne pouvait être visible des quais de Vitylo. Une distance de six à sept milles l’en séparait encore.

Traduction suggérée :

The ship, which raised closer against the pretty cool breeze from north east, could not see the dock of Vitylo. Distance of six to seven miles separated away.

  • Why not "north-north-west" and "was not visible from the docks of Vitylo"? – LPH Aug 22 '18 at 14:33
  • Welcome here. You're basically asking a translation from French to English and unfortunately this kind of question is not intended for this site, and I'm not quite sure there's any SE site for this. On the other hand If you need any help understanding French, you're welcome to ask your question in English, but know you might get answers in full French as not everybody here is able to answer in English, even when understanding it upon reading. – Laurent S. Aug 22 '18 at 14:44
  1. This isn't really a question for French SE since the answer mainly concerns how to represent French in another language.

  2. None of the translations proposed so far are great English. Here's what I would suggest:

The ship, which was hauling as close as possible into a brisk north-north-west breeze, could not be seen from the docks of Vitylo. A distance of six or seven miles separated them still.

Analyzing the possible sources of confusion:

Le bâtiment, qui s'élevait au plus près contre une assez fraîche brise nord-nord-ouest, ne pouvait être visible des quais de Vitylo. Une distance de six à sept milles l'en séparait encore.

  • s'élever : A ship can be said to "rise", but more normal in nautical terms is "heave".

  • au plus près : I don't believe this has the comparative sense ("closer") but the superlative ("closest, as close as possible, as close as ever").

  • Edit after Papa Poule's and jlliagre's comments: The two terms seem also to work together to mean hauling (instead of heaving) directly into the wind; cf. close-hauling. Without more context it's hard to know which one is being described, but this makes more sense to me.

  • une assez fraîche brise : The qualifier doesn't seem necessary in English because it's hard to find a word that doesn't de-intensify it ("fairly, rather, pretty").

  • nord-nord-ouest : A north-north-west breeze (or "nor'-nor'-west" if imitating sailor speech) is one that comes from the north-north-west in both English and French, so no need to change the direction in translation. "North-north-west" means two thirds of the way between the western compass point and the northern compass point.

  • ne pouvait être visible : Literally "could not be visible", which sounds like a conclusion rather than an observation, but without context I suspect the French is referring to an observation.

  • l'en séparait : Literally "separated it from them (the docks)", but this short, natural phrase in French (one syllable, l'en) is awkward in English ("it from them"), hence my rewording.

  • 1
    @PapaPoule Merci, incorporé ! – Luke Sawczak Aug 22 '18 at 18:36
  • 1
    I can speak for neither sailors nor linguists, but I think the clever way you worked-in "hauling as close as possible" with your edit to cover/(hedge?) the possible meanings of "s'élevait" when followed by "au plus près" could and should satisfy both the expert sailors and the expert linguists out there! – Papa Poule Aug 22 '18 at 19:36
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    Naviguer au plus près means sails against the wind as close as possible to the no-go zone. This looks to be translated by "Close-hauled". I'd rather say une brise Nord-Nord-Ouest assez fraîche instead of une assez fraîche brise... – jlliagre Aug 22 '18 at 21:11
  • Hmm, I just realized I tried to correct Jules Verne's French... – jlliagre Aug 22 '18 at 23:38
  • @jlliagre Indeed :p To be fair, I had a similar thought... – Luke Sawczak Aug 23 '18 at 1:41

You can translate the compass direction from French to English, and some language permit that word by word (for cardinal direction).

You can refered to that beautiful Wikipedia article or watch this beautiful picture below :

enter image description here

so nord-nord-ouest would be north-north-west

Your sentence could be translated as :

The ship, which raised closer against the pretty cool breeze from north-north-west, which could not be seen from the dock of Vitylo. This was separated of a distance of six to seven miles away.


Why not "north-north-west" and "was not visible from the docks of Vitylo"? As for the rest, which can be improved, why not "An expanse of six to seven miles of sea parted it from the land.

  • what does north-north-west mean? It could be a silly question but I really do not understand how a ship could move in north north west direction, usually we say north west or just two directions – THEGreatGatsby Aug 22 '18 at 14:39
  • The same way North-West is in between North and West, North-northwest is in between north and north-west. So if you consider west as being 270°, North-West would be 315°, and north-northwest 337,5°. cfr wikipedia – Laurent S. Aug 22 '18 at 14:44
  • It refers to a sense : it is between north and north west, exactly what "nord-nord-ouest" means; you need hyphens though; I asked as it seemed odd you used "north east". Well, if you can divide the first quadrant of a coordinate plane by a bissector passing through the origin, you can after that draw the bissector of the upper angular sector (sharp angle of 45 °); that new line oriented towards the top correspond to what you call the direction "nort-north-east"; the principle is similar for all the other combinations; you have thus more useful means of specifying position. – LPH Aug 22 '18 at 14:55

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