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Being A Good New Crew, Part 2, Learn the Lingo

Glossary of Sailboat Racing Terms:

About The Boat:
A sailboat has a slew of words for it's various parts:
  • Bow: the front, or pointy end.
  • Stern: the rear, or square end.
  • Deck: the outside surface of the boat
  • Cockpit: the seating area in the back (usually) from which the boat is steered.
  • Mast: The tall stick on which the sails are hung. Usually there is only one mast, but sometimes more.
  • Boom: The long pole sticking back from the mast.
  • Keel: the heavy metal under the boat to keep it upright and gliding in a straight path through the water.
  • Rudder: a blade in the water under or off the stern that turns the boat
  • Tiller, or Wheel: turns the rudder and the boat.
  • Shrouds: Wires that hold the mast up on the sides
  • Stays: Wires that hold the mast up front and back.
And there are sails:
  • Mainsail: the sail that attaches to the mast and the boom and sits back of the mast.
  • Jib: A sail that hangs from the stay in front (the forestay). Racing sailboats almost never use a jib. We usually prefer a Genoa, which is a larger jib that comes down lower to the deck. There are usually several jibs on a racing boat and selection of a jib is mostly a question of how much wind.
  • Spinnaker: These are big, colorful parachute-like sails that fly out in front of the boat as we sail downwind. More on spinnakers later. Not all boats have them and there are many, many kinds.
And Lines (and more Lines)
On a boat, ropes are called lines although we sometimes call them strings too. And they are legion. Here are some of the main ones:
  • Sheets: lines used to trim sails. There are (usually) one mainsail sheet (or mainsheet), two jib sheets (one on either side), one or two spinnaker sheets and one or two spinnaker guys (which are sheets connected to yet another pole).
  • Halyards: lines that hauls sails to the top of the mast. There is one main halyard (for the mainsail), usually one, but often two jib halyards, and usually two spinnaker halyards (on boats that have spinnakers).
Race Course
A race course is a path through the water from a starting area to a finish (which is often the same place) around predesignated points called marks.  In general, passing a mark on the course involves some maneuver in which the boat is turned to a new heading and the sails are adjusted accordingly. See Mark Roundings.

Upwind or Windward Sailing

Sailboat races almost always involve legs of the course in which the boats must sail in a direction from which the wind is blowing. But a sailboat cannot sail directly into the wind. The best we can do is about 45 degrees off the wind. So to sail upwind, or into the wind, we sail a zig-zag course at angles to the wind until we get there.

Coming About
Also called tacking. To turn the boat so that the bow goes thru the wind, usually to settle onto a new tack. A sailboat cannot point directly into the wind, so we sail at an angle to the wind, tacking the boat from side to side and making steady progress towards the wind.

See Come About. To turn the boat so that the bow goes thru the wind, usually to settle onto a new tack. A sailboat cannot point directly into the wind, so we sail at an angle to the wind, tacking the boat from side to side and making steady progress towards the wind.

Ready About, Helm A-Lee
These are the verbal commands from the skipper that tell you that we are going to tack (or come about).  When done "properly", the skipper will call out "Ready About". The crew gets ready (depending on their jobs) and reponds "ready". The skipper then calls out "Helm A-Lee" meaning we're turning now. There are many, many variations on this and getting the know the crew's dynamic and communication style is very important. But, also be ready for the abrupt, or slam tack. This happens when something unforeseen causes the skipper to have to tack the boat with little or no warning. It could be another boat on a collision course, or getting into water too shallow. Sometimes the wind shifts so far across the bow that we have to tack very abruptly just to stay in the wind.

Downwind Sailing
As with upwind sailing, sailboat races usually contain legs of the course in which the boats must sail with the wind. Most sailboats can sail directly downwind, but it is usually not the most efficient or fastest way to go. And so, like sailing upwind, we sail at angles downwind in a zig-zag course towards our destination.

Turning the boat so that the wind passes behind (astern). The sails must be moved to the opposite sides. Since sailing downwind

Ready to Gybe, Gybe-Ho
Like the commands for tacking, these are the commands related to a Gybe. Similar sequence: the skipper calls "Ready to Gybe", the crew get into position depending on their jobs, the skipper calls "Gybe Ho" and turns the boat. The main thing a new crew needs to do is to duck below the boom as it swings from one side to the other. It's quite dangerous, and in any  amount of wind, can cause a lot of bodily damage. Which is why some skippers use this sequence: "Ready to Gybe", "Duck your Heads". Or some variation on that.

Also, "windward".  The direction from which the wind is coming. Usually used when referring to another boat or an object in the water (like a mark of the race course). "Ballyhoo is upwind of us".

Mark Roundings
It is at the rounding of a mark of the course that all the fun happens. All the boats we're racing against converge on the mark and fight for room to turn around it. There are strict rules about who can do what, and these are way beyond the scope of a glossary. But it is, in essence, a game of chicken. We hold our fastest point of sail and sail configuration as long as we dare and then, very hurriedly, change it all as we go around. This can involve putting sails up, taking sails down, trimming like mad, controlling the snake-pit of lines that somehow always manages to fill the deck, and on and on.

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