Friday, October 16, 2015

Learning to sail is as laborious as learning a foreign language.

The basics are really simple if you have a knack for mechanics. However, you can go into a tailspin as you learn and understand the specific language.  Terms like fore, aft, head, jib, port, and starboard are pretty simple but halyard, stay, sheet, spreaders, Jibe and Tack might make your head spin right of your shoulders.
First, let’s talk about the directions or making your way about sailing vessel.

Directions around a sailboat


Aft - Is towards the rear of a ship. If you are walking aft, you are walking to the back. The end of aft or the backmost part of the boat is called the stern. If you get seasick easy, this is a great place to be on a motor yacht, it is the most stable due to the engine holding the water. However, on a sailboat, that doesn’t apply so much.

Bow - The front of the ship, also known as fore. Knowing the location of the bow is important because fore or the bow and aft are used to determine the other directions on a ship. The bow is always the front or the direction of the ships movement. Well, at least it should be but in sailing losing ground or going backward isn’t out of the question.

Port - Port is always the left-hand side of the boat when you are facing the bow.  And knowing the bow is important because you need to know which way to go or you are forever lost at sea. Remembering is easy because port and left both have 4 letters. On the port side the lights are red and port wine is always red.

Starboard - Starboard is the right-hand side of the boat when you are facing the bow. Right side is green and right is never green. “S” for starboard is closer to “R” Right. Lots of crazy ideas how to remember these rights and lefts and the associated colors. To make matters more confusing, or hopefully to simplify, I have paraphrased from Wikipedia. At night, the port side of a vessel has a red navigation light and the starboard side has a green light. these lights help to avoid collisions. The International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea state that a ship on the left must give way to a ship on its right. If the courses of two boats are intersecting., the helmsman or persona steering the boat usually gives way to a red light by going around the stern of the vessel. A mnemonic for this is "If to starboard red appear, 'tis your duty to keep clear. Green to green, red to red perfect safety, go ahead."

Leeward - Also known as lee, leeward is the direction opposite to the way the wind is currently blowing, this is also true of islands, and the leeward side is calm because winds across the island.

Windward - The direction from which the wind is currently blowing. Windward. Sailboats tend to move with the wind, making the windward direction. On an island, the windward side is usually windier and has rougher waters.

Parts of a sailing vessel

Deck – Pretty much self-explanatory, the deck is the topside of the boat. The idea is to keep the deck above water unless you happen to own a submarine. Walking around the deck is usually ok but it is a good idea to check with the captain.

Hull – This is the underside of the boat. Most often you cannot even see the hull. However, fiberglass hulls need to be shielded from oceanic sea life that likes to "hitch a ride" to it. Or osmosis, a process where water slowly infiltrates the fiberglass resins and causes blistering. There are many ways to protect a boat's hull but, it is recommended the boat be hauled out of the water every few years, cleaned, inspected, and repainted with protective paint. Some paints contain high levels of copper which act as a repellant for sea life wanting to hitch a ride. The paints slowly wear away protecting the hull and are called ablative paints.

Cabin – This is the main living area of a yacht. Typically the cabin contains seating area, the Navigation station and the Galley.

Head – A pretty common term that many know but it deserves recognition. This is the room where seasick travelers spend a lot of time and most guests visit a few times a day. This is the restroom and may contain a shower if the boat is so equipped.  

Berth – This term, as do others, has multiple meanings. The most common is the room where beds are located. In layman’s terms, the bedroom or stateroom. Berth can also mean a ship's allotted place at a wharf or dock.

Galley – Simple, this is the kitchen, this is where I work my magic.

Stowage – Another word taken from the sailing language, stowing an item means to store it and you stow an item in the stowage or storage area of the yacht. Basically a locker or closet area. Since sailboats are small in comparison to other living spaces, stowage is hidden under and behind just about anyplace that can be found.

Some terms will be the topic of later conversations.
See, I told you it was confusing.

Spar - A stout pole, a stout rounded usually wood or metal piece (as a mast, boom, gaff, or yard) used to support rigging. See this is easy… or not. Think of a strong pole and you are golden.

Mast - Main vertical spar used to support sails and their running rigging and in turn is supported by standing rigging. Maybe we need to talk about rigging next

Rigging – From dictionary.com “the ropes, chains, etc., employed to support and work the masts, yards, sails, etc., on a ship.” Hmm, a bit dry, how about the lines, wires, pulleys or rods which hang all over sailboat and serve many purposes from raising and lowering sails to tuning the way sails operate.

Boom - The boom is the horizontal pole or spar which extends from the bottom of the mast. Adjusting the boom towards the direction of the wind is how the sailboat is able to harness wind power in order to move forward or backward.

Rudder - Located beneath the boat, the rudder is a flat piece of wood, fiberglass, or metal that is used to steer the ship. Larger sailboats control the rudder via a wheel, while smaller sailboats will have a steering mechanism directly aft called a tiller.

Anode protecting the prop.

Anode – When dissimilar metals are placed in a conductive liquid, like salt water, electrical current is formed. As current flows from one metal to the other small molecules are lifted from the source metal and transmitted to the target metal. This is a very simplistic view of the way items are chrome plated. This removal of material is called "electrolysis".  To prevent metal object on your boat such as Motor, shaft, propeller from decaying due to electrolysis, you place a softer metal in the water attached to the metals you want to protect. This softer metal in most cases is Zinc or Magnesium and it corrodes protecting other metals. The term to describe these metals is sacrificial anode.

I hope this works as a starter point for someone to navigate the seas of sailing language. In my next article, being that I am in the process of buying a boat, we will talk about the process of surveying boats. A boat survey is very much like a home inspection and there are a lot of skills you can apply before hiring a surveyor to look at a boat that will give you problems.


May the winds always fill your sails and the sun and moon light your passage.

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