Have you ever been told that you talk like a sailor, but in a good way? No? Well, if you're thinking of sailing or boating, you definitely need to pick up some of the terminology, along with a nice life vest -- both are important on any vessel that's too big for the bathtub. If you've been out on the water and completely mystified by the vocabulary--why don't they ever say "rope" when they're all over the place -- here are some basic sailing terms you need to know -- so you are more than just ballast.
Serious seafarers realize that any boating comes with risk -- you're out there on the open water, and at the mercy of the wind and the weather -- so a working knowledge of the language is key to your being a safe sailing companion, even if you're not up to first mate status yet.
On a boat, you never say left or right -- it's port or starboard. When you're facing forward, the left side of the boat is port.
See above -- facing forward, the right side of the boat is starboard. There's an old myth that the word posh is an acronym for Port Out Starboard Home when the English gentry took the side of the boat away from the sun on trips to India.
Bow and Stern
The front of the boat is the bow, and the back is the stern. Anything near the front of the boat is also called forward -- you might hear "bring in that forward port line". Astern or aft are other terms for the stern -- the captain will tell you to "go aft" if he needs to shift some weight.
The mainsail is the biggest sail, just aft of the mast (the tall pole in the middle). There's a thick pole that runs along the bottom of the mainsail, called the boom. When you hear "coming about" on smaller boats you need to duck -- the boom, which is carrying the mainsail, is switching direction and swinging hard to its new position.
The sail that's forward of the mast, and doesn't have a boom, is the jib.
A jib is a sail, a jibe is a way of changing direction. The captain jibes when the stern is turning through the wind and setting a zig-zag course -- something you will do a lot in racing, since the sails are always powering the boat in a jibe, it's a faster way to turn.
Tacking is when the boat turns bow first, into the wind. That's when the boat comes about, and it's a little more cumbersome process as the sails are luffing--sort of stagnant and not providing any power -- during the turn. Then the lines are pulled taut and you're underway again.
Don't ever call the big strings on a boat the ropes. They are called lines, and they are pulled taut and locked into cleats on the sides of the boat. If you're asked to tie a knot in a line, unless you know sailing knots, tell the captain you have no idea what you are doing. These knots are magical in that they release with a slight tug in the right place.
Windward and Leeward
Unlike port and starboard, the windward and leeward sides of the boat change with the wind. Windward is the side closest to the wind; leeward is, therefore, the further side out. The Windward Islands in the Caribbean were closest to the wind in old English trading routes, the Leeward Islands were off the wind.
People who love to sail live for a big heel. If you're not sure this is the sport for you, wait for some good heeling--when the boat speeds along on one side, catching the big wind, and you and your fellow sailors sit on the high (windward) side of the boat grinning like idiots. If you can't wait to heel again, congratulations. You're a sailor in the making.
Now that you know Sailing 101, it's time to get on the boat. We'll be happy to further your seafaring education. Contact us when you are ready to cast off.