Now let's look at the edges of a three-sided sail. The bottom edge
is the foot. That makes sense, doesn't it? But wait. The leading edge
is the luff, and the trailing edge is the leech. If you sail
too close to the wind that is, if the bow of your boat points too
near the direction from which the wind is blowing the luff of your
mainsail will start to quiver. Keep rounding up (i.e., turning into the
wind) and the luff will shake. Then it will flap, and unless you fall off
the wind in a hurry, you'll find yourself dead in the water. This is known,
logically enough, as "luffing," and it's a great way to go nowhere fast.
Getting the hang of it? Good. Things are about to get more complicated.
Not all fore-and-aft sails are triangular. A minority are four-sided. You're
most likely to find these on gaff, gunter, sprit, or
lug rigs. They were once common on small craft. Now they're rare, but
they still crop up from time to time, particularly on older boats. In any
case, four-sided mains have one more point and one more edge than their
triangular ("jib-headed") counterparts. Clew, foot, tack, luff, and leech
stay the same. So far, so good. But the head is no longer a point.
It's now the topmost edge. And the two top points? The forward one is
the throat, while the aft is called the peak. Why? It's almost
always the higher of the two, that's why.
Many sails also have one or more lines of ties across their bellies.
These help you make a big sail smaller in a high wind. This is called
reefing the sail, and a very good idea it is, too. Not surprisingly, the
ties are called reef points.
So much for our rags. On to the
Among sailors, these are known as lines.
A sail does you no good if it's not feeling the breeze. You have to raise
sail in order to get your boat under way, in other words. And what do you
use to raise it? A line called a halyard. Don't let the "yard" in
halyard confuse you. Yards, the massive spars from which the big square
sails on tall ships are suspended, are "swayed up" never "hoisted"
on jeers. Halyards raise sails. Period. The name comes from an
earlier word, hallier. The association with "yard" is accidental,
and unfortunate. In any case, the halyard that raises the jib is you
guessed it the jib halyard. And the one that raises the main?
The mainsail (or just plain "main") halyard, of course.
But raising sail isn't enough by itself. Like a spirited colt, a sail has to
be reined in if you want to get any work out of it, and sailors' reins are
called sheets. This is a fertile source of confusion, I'm afraid.
Sheets are lines that control sails; they are not sails, even though
sails often look like sheets hanging on a clothesline, at least to
landlubbers. In fact, it bears repeating: A sheet is not a sail. The
mainsail is controlled with, yes, the mainsheet. It's typically led
through two or more blocks (pulleys). These give the crew a bit of
help holding in the mainsail when a breeze gets up. And the jib? It has a
two-tailed jib sheet, bent (tied) to the clew of the jib. The two
tails you can think of them as independent jib sheets, if you want
are led aft through separate blocks or eyes (fairleads), one
on the port (the left side of the boat) and the other to starboard (on the
right side of the boat).
And speaking of jibs, they're bent to a forestay, a line running
from the top of the mast to the bow of the boat. The forestay also helps
keep the mast from toppling. (Larger craft have backstays, as well.)
Not all sailing canoes have jibs, of course, and not all masts have stays,
but if your boat has a jib, it almost certainly has a forestay as well. And
there's a further complication. Though stays, sheets, and halyards are all
strings, not all strings are equal. Stays are standing rigging;
sheets and halyards, running rigging. Running rigging hoists, lowers,
and trims sails. It runs through blocks and fairleads, while standing
stands. But it's got a mighty important job,
nonetheless. It helps the mast stand up to the buffeting of gale-force
Ah, yes. The mast. At last we've come to the
These are the wood, aluminum, or carbon-fiber spars that support
the sails. The mast is the most obvious spar, but you shouldn't
ignore the boom under the foot of the mainsail, particularly in a
jibe, or downwind turn. If you should happen to forget the boom while
jibing, however, and if it then comes across unexpectedly, you'll wish you'd
paid closer attention. And you'll have a very sore head, into the bargain.
That's about it for most sailing canoes, though if you have a gaff main
(or gunter) you'll have a spar called the gaff at the head, and if
you have a lugsail, you'll have a yard, reflecting the fact
that lugsails are very much like square sails, even if they're set on edge,
so to speak. (Pedantic sailors will also insist that gunters too have yards,
and not gaffs, but I'm not a pedantic sailor.) And what if you have a
spritsail? Then you'll have a sprit. Now that is it. We've
finished our initial tour aloft. Next time, we'll go exploring on deck (and
below the waterline, as well). Till then, I wish all sailors reading this a
fair wind and a flowing sheet.
A sailboat without sails is just a boat, and sails without spars and
sheets are only badly cut tarps. But to novice sailors, all of this
essential gear is just a tangle of unfamiliar sticks, strings, and rags. And
the tangle of strange words is even worse. Today, however, we've begun the
naming of parts. There's always more to learn, of course, but the hardest
leg of any voyage is getting under way. Now that we've done that, the rest
of our journey through the sea of words should be plain sailing.
Copyright © 2006 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights