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Steven R. Van Hook

Sailing Terms Every Sailor Should Know
Call a 'sheet' a 'rope' and you'll mark yourself a landlubber
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 by Steven R. Van Hook

Steven R. Van HookLearning to sail takes mastering a second language; a collection of salty words cobbled from tongues ancient and scattered, and rarely seems to describe what a part actually does.

Here's a sampling of a work in progress:

Ropes, lines sheets: a rope is a rope on the dock, a line once you bring it aboard your boat, and a sheet once you attached it to a sail.

Windward: Toward the wind
Leeward / Lee: Away from the wind

Beam: Width of a boat at its widest point

Port: the left side of the boat (think both have four letters)

Starboard: the right side of the boat (notices all the r's in starboard)

Stern: the rear of the boat

Bow: the front of the boat

Knot: 6,076 feet or one nautical mile per hour

Displacement: Weight of water displaced by a boat

Points of Sail

Close Hauled: Most windward point of sailing, about 45 degrees; sails in tight

Close Reach: between close hauled and beam reach; sails at 25%
Beam Reach: wind across the beam, sails at 50% degrees
Broad Reach: wind from behind, sails at 75%
Running: lee wind, sails full, sailing on the lee
Heading Up: turn towards the wind (windward)
Falling Off / Backing Away: turn away from the wind (leeward)
Sail Terms
Jib (Headsail)
Genoa (Headsail)
Spinnaker (Chute)
Head: Top of a sail (also the onboard potty)
Tack: Forward lower corner of a sail, where luff and foot meet
Clew: Outer corner of a sail
Luff: Forward vertical edge of a sail
Foot: Bottom length of sail
Leech: After edge of a sail
Battens: Pocket strips in leech of sail to help hold its form
Draft: Depth or fullness of a sail

Heave to: backwind jib on close reach
Lying to:
beam to wind with sails luffing


Standing Rigging

Shrouds (Sidestays)
Running Rigging
Jib Sheets
Topping Lift
Block (Pulley)
Internal & External Halyards
Main Halyard
Jib Halyard
Turning Blocks
Wench Handle
Boom Topping Lift
Toe Rail / Jib Track
Jib Fairlead
Boom Vang
Boom Vang Preventer

Right of way:

Starboard tack stands on while port tack pouts (gives way)
Downwind tack stands on while upwind tack gives way
Overtaking vessel gives way to passed vessel
Coming to or jibing vessel gives way to tack vessel

Steven R. Van Hook has cruised California waters since 1976, 
starting with a 19-foot Glen-L powerboat in Santa Barbara Harbor, 
and currently sails a Hunter 326 out of Channel Islands Harbor. 

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