What's the origin of the phrase "'N' sheets to the wind"?

I struggled to find out for a fellow named Mark how many "sheets to the wind" a person could be. (I don't imagine that I have to explain to this crowd that the term refers to being blunderingly drunk.) A quick survey garnered suppositions ranging from three to twelve sheets. Everyone was aware that the origin of the expression was nautical. Proper research (and I don't mean drinking with sailors!) uncovered the fact that you're supposed to say "three sheets IN the wind". The sheet is the line or chain attached to the lower corner of a sail. Tightening or slacking of the sheet controls the set of the sail. When the sheet runs free, the sail is said to be in the wind, and when all three sheets are in the wind, the ship wallows and staggers like a person drunk.

ask mrluckyindex of current questionsindex of archived questionsdocket of unanswered questionsdo your own darned google searchask mrlucky a question!