"More than one way to skin a cat."

In the Royal Navy of the 18th and 19th centuries flogging was a common form of punishment.  This punishment was metted out with a special whip ending in nine thongs each tipped with a piece of lead shot.  This whip was called a cat of nine tales, or mearely a "cat."

When punishiment was given, the entire crew was mustered and held at attention to witness the punishment.  The Boatswain, or Bos'n, would lay on the cat.  If he laid it on to lightly, in the Captain's oppinion, the Bos'n would take the malefactor's place and receive his lashings.  So of course the Bos'n was careful to put on a show.

He could lay on the cat of nine so it would open up the man's skin and make lots of blood, but not cut too deeply.  Or the Bos'n could lay it on hard and bare the man's back down to the bone.  Often a man died from this last type of lashing.  The Bos'n had a wide spectrum of how he "skinned the cat."

of Nautical Interest