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Learning the Language of Sailing - Part 3

In our final post on learning the language of sailing, we're exploring more fun and interesting terms from the age of sail, both past and present.  You'll find some great nuggets of nautical etymology here to use on your sailing buddies, so be sure to check out Part 1 and Part 2 in this series.  Enjoy!

Sailing Terms (L - Z)

Landlubber - not to be confused with "land lover" and not a mispronunciation of the same.  Originally two words: land lubber, a lubber was an awkward, butterfingered novice who knew very little or nothing about sailing or the sea (see Will pictured above).  This was/is a derogatory name for a newbie sailor who hasn't developed their sea legs and are generally considered useless until they have proven themselves.

League - is no longer an official unit of measurement anywhere...but it used to refer to the distance a horse or person could walk in an hour.  Most often it was considered to be about 3 miles or 5.6 km when referring to the nautical mile.

Leech - a nasty invertebrate that sucks your blood.  Ewww!  It's also the back vertical edge of a triangular sail.

Leeward - is our favorite nautical word, of course.  This is in the direction the wind is blowing toward or downwind from the point of reference (hence, our tag line "Go with the Wind"). The side of a ship that is to leeward is its "lee" side. If the vessel is heeling under the pressure of the wind, this will be the "low side."

Luff - this is the forward most vertical edge of a triangular sail.  It also means to allow the sail to flap in a controlled manner without trimming or hauling in as the boat turns to windward.

Mooring - a slip or dock where a boat is kept.

Nautical mile - corresponds to one minute of arc of latitude along any meridian or in layman's terms about 1.15 miles.

Poop deck - we didn't make this up.  It is a raised deck platform off the stern of a vessel from which the helmsman/ coxswain would observe controls, provide direction to crew on deck, and watch for obstructions.

Pulpit - something a preacher stands behind...or on a boat, a railing around the bow.

Reaching - reaching can have many meanings on a sailboat, but it's usually a point of sail where the wind is in front of the beam (close reach), directly perpendicular to the beam (beam reach), or further aft/astern (broad reach).

Reef - means to shorten sails for greater control by securing it with ropes set along points above the true foot or base of the sail and lashing it to the boom or forestay, thereby shortening the luff.  It is also a living stone like structure you want to stay well clear of when sailing.

Scuttlebutt - a water barrel with a hole cut into it so that sailors could reach in and dip out drinking water. The scuttlebutt was the place where the ship's gossip was exchanged.

Squall - a sharp, sudden increase in wind speed usually accompanied by weather like rain or snow.

Stem - has nothing to do with plants, this is the leading edge of the bow, hence the phrase: from stem to stern.

Stern - the rear most end of a vessel.

Tack - a miniature nail useful in keeping unwanted visitors off the deck of your boat.  It also means a change in directions when going upwind, where the bow passes through the wind first.  It also refers to the lower forward corner of a triangular sail.

Tell-Tales - small strips of yarn or light fabric attached along the edge or inside of a sail to help indicate if the sail is trimmed properly.  Generally, if the yarn on both sides of a sail are flying straight back, in the same direction, the sails are well trimmed.

Tiller - is not an implement used in farming.  A tiller is a wooden, metal, or carbon fiber handle attached to the head of the rudder and used for steering, instead of a steering wheel.

Traveler - is track or bar which has a moveable block attached in order to control boom or sail trim.

Vang - sometimes called a "martingale", it is used to exert downward force on the boom and thus control the shape of the sail, especially to flatten it and prevent the boat from becoming overpowered.

Weather/ Windward - another dual meaning word.  The obvious reference may be to meteorological conditions but, in sailing, it also refers to the direction from which the wind is originating, as in the "weather" or "windward" side of a vessel. If you are going to windward, you are going against the wind (and you're usually getting wet in the process).  If the vessel is heeling under the pressure of the wind, this will be the "high side."

Winch - not to be confused with the rhyming word referring to loose women, this is a spool shaped metal device with internal gears used to provide mechanical advantage and friction for trimming or raising sails.  It is one of the great innovations of sailing in the last century.

Wind Chicken - a wind vane attached to the mast head that is used to show the direction of the wind at the elevation of the mast head.


1 comment

  • Very nice article informative content thanks we liked it.

    Melissa Johnson

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