Sailing Basics – Terminology

 Sailing Terminology

Like many sports or professions sailing has its own terminology. Developed over the last several hundred years with all the richness that comes along with that. At first glance many of our sailing terms may seem to have been assigned in a haphazard manner but, they have all developed out of nautical traditions, mostly from Europe.

For instance, the terms for right and left come from a time when ships used a steering board slung over one side of the boat. With sheer man-power or block and tackle they would apply leverage to the steering board to make their turns. Imagine coming into port and docking; you wouldn’t want to dock on the side the steering board is on so the other side of the boat, facing the port, came to be called ‘port’ and the side of the boat the steering board was on became known as ‘starboard’.

The entries below are copied from the Glossary.

Parts of a sailboat

backstay. A stay (line) that runs from near or at the top
of the mast to the stern of the boat.
boom. A spar that supports the foot of the mainsailSee figure #1.
bow. The forward part of a boat also called ‘the pointy end’.
Figure #1

Illustration showing gooseneck, mainsail, tack, mast, and boom.gooseneck. The fitting that attaches the boom to the mast.

headstay. Also called forestay, a cable /line that runs from the bow to the upper part of the mast. figure #5.
hull. The underbody of a boat. See figure #5.
jib. A foresail (headsail) that fits inside the foretriangle. See figure #5.
keel. An extension of the hull that goes deeper into the water and provides stability from heel and sideways resistance to wind; as in: A well designed keel can provide lift to windward. See figure #5.
mainsail. The main sail of a boat, often the largest sail and raised on the
mainmast. See figures #1 and #5.
mast. A pole made from wood, aluminum, or carbon fiber on which a sail is set;. See figures #1 and #5.
shroud. A wire or cable holding up the mast athwartships (side to side)
spreader. A horizontal support for the stays that sticks out from the mast.
stern. The aftermost part of a vessel See figure #5.

Functions of items on a sailboat

(boom) topping lift. A line that runs from the end of the main boom to the mast in order to hold it up when the sail is not set.

boom vang. A device to hold the boom down; as in: Use the boom vang to
prevent the boom from rising up while on a run.
block. A device used to change the angle of a line, a pulley; as in: Lead the line
through the block.
breast line. A dock line that runs at a right angle to the centerline of the boat; as
in: We’ll bring the boat closer to the dock with a breast line for easier boarding.
cleat. A metal (usually) object around which a line can be fastened. See figure #3.
cockpit. An area inset in the deck where the boat is steered.
cunningham. A line used to put tension in the luff of a sail.
downhaul. Used to place tension in the luff of a sail.
halyard. A line that raises a sail.
jib sheet. A line that controls the jib with one end tied to the clew of the jib.
mainsheet. A single line used to control the main; as in: Trim the mainsheet as we
head up into the wind.
outhaul. A sail control that attaches to the clew and allows tensioning of the foot;
as in: In light air we ease the outhaul.
rudder. An underwater appendage that controls the direction of the boat. See figure #5.

Figure #2

Shackles.shackle. A metal device that secures a line to another object; as in: The outhaul is attached to the clew of the mainsail with a shackle.
Figure #3

Boat at dock showing docking lines.

stay. A wire or cable supporting the mast, also see: “headstay” and “backstay”. See figure #5.
telltale. A fine string or ribbon which may be located on a sail or in the rigging to help determine wind direction and proper sail trim. See the Sail Trim post.
Figure #4
Modern self-tailing winch with handle.

Sailboat terms

abeam. At a right angle to the boat; as in: That buoy lies abeam of us.
aft and after. Direction; as in: Go aft to the stern of the boat.
ahead. In front of the boat; as in: Our destination lies ahead.
astern. Behind the stern of the boat; as in: The competition has fallen astern.
beam. The widest part of the boat.
draft. The depth of the boat underwater
forward. Toward the bow.
heel. The angle the boat sails at.
jibe. To turn the stern of the boat through the eye of the wind. See Tacking and Jibing post.
lee and leeward (pronounced “lee” and “loo-ward”).
port. 1, left side when looking forward.
running rigging. All the lines that control any part of the sails including sheets, halyards, and outhaul.
standing rigging. All wires or cables that hold up the mast.
starboard. The right side facing forward.
tack(ing). To change tacks by putting the bow through the eye of the wind.
weather helm. The tendency of a boat to turn into the wind.
windward. Towards the wind, upwind.

Sails and parts of a sail

Figure #5

Sailboat showing names of sails, hull, keel, rudder, bow, stern, forestay, backstay, battens, head, tack, clew, foot, luff, and leech.

batten. A rod or strip used to stiffen the leech of a sail; as in: Some mainsails have
at least one batten that runs from leech to luff.
batten pocket. The opening into which the batten fits; as in: A batten pocket will
have some means of closure at its leech end.
clew. The after lower corner of a sail; as in: The outhaul is attached to the clew of
the mainsail.
foot. 1, the bottom edge of a sail; as in: We can tension the foot of the
mainsail with the outhaul. 2, to sail slightly lower than close hauled; as in: If we foot after tacking we will build up good boat speed.
head. the top corner of a triangular sail.
jib. A foresail (headsail) that fits inside the foretriangle (not extending beyond the
leech. The back edge of a sail; as in: If the leech is flopping tighten the leech line just until it stops.
luff. the leading edge of a sail; as in: We have telltales just behind the luff of our headsail. 2, the flapping of a sail; as in: We can prevent luff in the sail by properly reading the telltales and adjusting course.
tack. 1, To change tacks by putting the bow through the eye of the wind; as in:
We tack the boat with enough speed to carry us through. 2, The side of the boat opposite the side the boom is on; as in: Since the boom is on the starboard side then we are on port tack. 3, The forward lower corner of a sail; as in: We fasten the tack of the jib near the bow.

Rights of Way

give-way vessel. The vessel that must keep out of the way of another vessel; as
in: The port tack boat is the give way vessel when meeting a starboard tack boat.
stand-on vessel. The vessel that has the right of way according to the rules of the road; as in: A starboard tack boat is the stand on vessel when crossing the path of a port tack boat.


Note: Most of the content of this post is from the “School of Sailing” website. You can use the link to pursue building your sailing knowledge at that site.

This post has been edited to remove all, at least most, of the information that is not relevant to our models.

Sailing Basics – True and Apparent Wind


Note: Most of the content of this post is from the “School of Sailing” website. You can use the link to pursue building your sailing knowledge at that site.

True and Apparent Wind

There are two kinds of wind; true and apparent. We call the wind that blows across the land or water, the true wind. This is the wind talked about in the weather forecast of 10-15 knots for instance. It is the wind we feel when we are outside at rest and not moving.

As you might guess the other kind of wind, apparent, is the wind that is generated by our movement in combination with the true wind. The only time there is no apparent wind is when we are at rest and only feeling the effects of the true wind. When we move and the wind also moves the total wind we feel is the apparent wind. Stationary objects only feel true wind while all objects in motion feel apparent wind.

Let’s talk about some examples and start with the situation where there is no true wind. This is a day when it is completely calm with no detectable wind speed when we are standing still.


Boat with apparent wind only.

In this illustration we have calm conditions so we motor ahead at 5 knots producing an apparent wind of 5 knots from straight ahead.



On the next day, tied up at the dock, we have a true wind of 10 knots constant blowing across our port beam.

Boat with true wind only.

No wind from our boat’s forward motion. The true wind is 10 knots and that’s what we feel on the boat. What happens when we go sailing?


Lucky us! The wind will just blow us off the dock. We raise sails and move ahead on a close reach at 5 knots. We know the true wind is 10 knots and, since we will be moving forward we will be producing 5 knots of wind ourselves. How do these combine? We are combining our boat speed and direction with the true wind speed and direction.

boat with both true and apparent wind

We see the combined effects of the true wind and our boat’s motion forward. This produces the apparent wind, what we actually feel while sailing on the boat. Boats always sail in the apparent wind. Here, note the apparent wind is stronger than the true wind (the arrow is longer) and is coming from further towards the bow.

What if we fall off the wind and head down on a run? Let’s see what the combination of boat speed and direction along with the true wind produce now.

boat showing both true and apparent wind on a run.

As we turn away from the wind the boat slows down. It slows down because the apparent wind drops and the sails become less efficient. In this simple example we are going in the same direction as the wind so we just subtract our boat speed from the true wind speed and that gives us the correct apparent wind speed. If we have a wind speed indicator aboard it would show the same reading.

Sailing Basics – Tacking and Jibing


Note: Most of the content of this post is from the “School of Sailing” website. You can use the link to pursue building your sailing knowledge at that site.

Tacking and Jibing

If our destination or the direction of the wind change we will need to change our course. Many times this means changing the tack of the boat. If you refer back to Points of Sail you will see there are two tacks the boat can be on; starboard or port. Starboard tack boats carry their boom and mainsail on the port side while port tack boats do the opposite. When changes tacks we are moving the boom to the other side of the boat and usually move the head sail there also.


Tacking the boat is putting the bow through the eye of the wind. Sailboats can’t sail directly into the wind so if our destination lies upwind we will need to tack back and forth to get there. Let’s look at what a tack looks like.

Tacking a sailboat.

Some boat speed is required to insure we make it all the way through our tack. This is especially important for catamarans and slow, full keeled monohulls. If you do get stuck part way through it’s called ‘in irons’, just push the boom out and get the boat going backwards, if even a little. In short order you’ll be able to sail again. Tacking is a basic sailing skill, proficiency comes with a bit of practice.









Jibing is putting the stern of the boat through the eye of the wind. Here, we must be vigilSailboat jibing.ant about an accidental jibe. Unlike the tack above where the boom is moving slowly, when we jibe the boom is given to violent move and if we are not prepared damage can be done to boat equipment and any bodies that get in the way. Let’s take a close look at how this maneuver can be carried out.


Unlike tacking where we need boat speed to carry us through in jibing it is better to do it slowly until you’ve become very proficient. The boom coming across the boat is dangerous and must be done in a controlled manner.

Practice tacking and jibing often. A good way to do this is to practice lots of crew overboard recoveries. You can learn more by going to Crew Overboard.











Sailing Basics – Weather Helm and Lee Helm


Note: Most of the content of this post is from the “School of Sailing” website. You can use the link to pursue building your sailing knowledge at that site.

Weather Helm and Lee Helm

Balancing the boat between weather and lee helm creates the most efficient and effective way to sail any boat. Weather helm is the tendency of a boat to turn itself into the wind (weather). Lee helm is the tendency for a boat to turn itself away from the wind or downwind. Too much weather helm and she’s not only hard to steer but slower than if balanced. Too much lee helm and she wants to sail down wind. To understand how a sailboat balances we’ll take a look at a simple weather vane.

Weather vane illustrating effects of wind.

Weather vanes are designed to always point into the wind. They do this because the back vane is larger than the forward vane. Another important factor is where the axis of rotation is located. Here, it’s located in the middle. Since the vane in the back is larger the point at which the two vanes balance each other is behind the rotation point. Move the axis of rotation further and further back and sooner or later you’ll reach the balance point of the two vanes and the weather vane will no longer point into the wind. Instead, it will swing back and forth never really coming to a direction. Move the rotation point even further back, behind this balance point, and the weather vane will point down wind.


Illustration showing weather vane pointing downwind.

Here, the weather vane points downwind because its point of rotation has been moved to the very back. With the weather vane there are two variables at work: 1) The relative size of the two vanes and 2) the position of the axis of rotation. Sailboats work exactly the same way, let’s see how.





Sailboat showing centers of effort for sails.

The sailboat here shows the center of effort for the jib and the main and the combined total CE for the sail plan. On the keel is labeled the CLR or center of lateral resistance which is the turning axis for the boat. The CE is calculated for each sail by drawing three lines; one from each corner to the middle of the opposite side and where the lines intersect is the CE. Then, the CEs are combined to find the overall CE. The CLR is calculated by the designer but you could figure it out by pushing on the side of the boat at different places until you found the spot that, when pushed, would produce a perfect sideways movement.

To have a perfectly balanced sail plan it would seem that, as in the weather vane above, the CE and the CLR should line up. What actually happens is the sailboat will automatically, because of the shape of her hull, develop weather helm as she heels. The CE will then need to slightly ‘lead’ the CLR to create a boat with initial proper balance.

So what does all this mean? A boat that has proper balance between weather and lee helm will be easy to steer and will also make her way efficiently through the water. Imagine steering a boat with no detectable helm in other words she has a perfect balance; there would be no ‘feel’ to the steering wheel or tiller. For a couple of reasons it is good to have a slight amount (about 3°) of weather helm. This gives the needed ‘feel’ to wheel or tiller, the rudder works most efficiently, and, in the case of the helmsperson falling overboard, the boat would have a tendency to round up into the wind.

What’s wrong with too much weather helm? Think about this: how do you counteract the tendency for the boat to turn into the wind? What do you do when you want the boat to go in a certain direction? You turn the rudder. So, the more weather helm the more you need to turn the rudder. Not only is this quite tiring but it is slowing the boat down. When you drag a large appendage sideways through the water it takes a lot of force to make it move. This force could be going into driving the boat faster but you are now using it turning the rudder sideways slowing you down.

Properly balanced. How do you reduce weather helm to the correct amount? Too much weather means that the CE is too far aft, how can we bring the CE forward? If we made the main smaller by reefing it that would bring the CE forward. If we move the traveler to leeward that also brings the CE of the main forward thus bringing the combined CE forward. We could rake the mast forward by tightening the forestay and easing the backstay. We could induce mast bend by tightening the backstay.

You might not think we could adjust the CLR of the boat but, on smaller boats, it’s pretty easy to do. Too much weight in the bow creates weather helm by bringing the CLR forward. Move weight aft to decrease weather helm.

When you are making adjustments try to keep in mind where the CE and CLR are and how you want to adjust their relationship.

What might we use lee helm for? We know lee helm means the boat will naturally want to sail itself downwind. How about if our destination lies downwind and we’ll be traveling on a run or close to it? We might very well choose to be lazy and just use a large sail forward such as a cruising spinnaker. Maybe not quite so fast as if we also used the main but the boat will be easy to control and sail with no possibility of an accidental jibe.

Sailing Basics – Sail Trim


Note: Most of the content of this post is from the “School of Sailing” website. You can use the link to pursue building your sailing knowledge at that site.

Sail Trim

Air should flow smoothly across both sides of the sails. Ideally, you would only notice a bit of disturbance in the forward part of the mainsail because the air there is in the shadow of the mast. The sails will look as if they were rigid, with no puffiness or flopping. We call this flopping of a sail luffing because it starts at the luff (leading edge of a sail) and works its way aft. Adjustments to sail shape are required to keep the boat in balance and sailing as efficiently as possible.

A more sensitive way to judge the correct trim is through the use of telltales. These are strings of yarn on each side of the luff of the head sail (forward sail) and on the leech of the mainsail.

Boat with telltales flying.

Here we see the telltales in blue are streaming back nicely. Think of the head sail and mainsail as one airfoil and trim accordingly. Head sail and main work together to increase their efficiency. The head sail increase the flow of air over the main; in effect funneling more air across it than would otherwise be the case.



Mainsail in section.

Left we are looking down on the main from directly above showing how air flows across the sail.



In light to moderate winds we focus on powering up the sails making them fuller with greater curve, or draft. In stronger winds, 15 knots or more apparent, we are making the sails less powerful by flattening them or reducing their size by reefing. Less powerful sails reduce heel and keep weather helm at an appropriate level.

Let’s start out on a beam reach and see what that looks like from above the boat. All the points of sail are covered in Points of Sail.

Sailboat on a beam reach

Even though we are on a beam reach (the apparent wind is coming directly over the beam of the boat) trimming the sails for a close reach, broad reach, and run is somewhat similar. We ease the sails out until the telltales flop around (stall) then trim in the sails just until the telltales stream straight back. We aim the boat where we want it to go and adjust the sails accordingly. On a broad reach or run we may choose to use the boom vang to hold the boom down. Otherwise the vang is kept loose.

If our destination lies straight upwind then we will need to go as close to the wind as possible. This point of sail is called close hauled or beating. Here, we set the sails to their close hauled position and adjust the course of the boat to achieve our goal of streaming the telltales straight back. By making small adjustments the sails will fill with air and become full or, by steering more towards the wind, they will start to luff and lose power.

Sailboat sailing close hauled

We are trying to sail as close to the source of the wind as possible because we want to go somewhere that lies upwind of our present position. Here, trim in the main so the boom is close to the center line of the boat and trim the head sail in all the way. Then, make small course changes as you go upwind to keep the telltales streaming straight back. If weather helm becomes a problem then move the traveler to leeward. The mainsail is adjusted with both the main sheet and traveler. Using the traveler alone allows us to change the angle of attack of the sail without changing its shape. If there is still too much weather helm it may be time to reduce sail by reefing.

Sailing Basics – Points of Sail


Note: Most of the content of this post is from the “School of Sailing” website. You can use the link to pursue building your sailing knowledge at that site.

 Points of Sail

You will find the definitions of each of the points of sail following the diagram.












close hauled. A point of sail, sailing as close to the wind as possible, also known as beating; as in: Sailing close hauled can be challenging.

close reach. A point sail between close hauled and a beam reach; as in: Returning to the crew overboard, she sailed the boat on a close reach.

beam reach. Point of sail with wind coming over the beam; as in: Fall off to abeam reach from a close reach.

broad reach. Point of sail with the wind coming over the boat’s quarter; as in: Falloff from a beam reach to a broad reach.

running. A point of sail; as in: Falling off from a broad reach we will be running.

port. 1, left side when looking forward.
port tack. A sailboat is on port tack when the mainsail is on the starboard side (the wind will usually, but not always, be on her port side); as in: When we’re on a port tack we must give way to starboard tack vessels.

points of sail. Close hauled (beating), close reach, beam reach, broad reach, and run; as in: Sailing a full circle we will cover all the points of sail. See illustration below:






PMYC History – 2010 – 2014

PMYC Beginnings

(Original by Bill Brown 2/18/2014 and modified by other members over time)

As with the birth of many special interest hobby and sport clubs, PMYC was born over three cups of coffee. On October 3, 2010, in the presence of a Monday morning coffee group, three individuals discovered that they had a common interest, if not passion. Bill Brown, was the past owner of six sailboats, and was actively crewing on a racing sailboat in the Seattle,WA. area. Jerry Walker, had, earlier in life, spent a significant number of years passionately club racing Olympic Class and smaller sailboats. Jerry Robertson, the third cup of coffee in the group, was/is nationally recognized for his competitive success in model radio control sailplane construction and sailing. With his yeoman mastery of model construction and RC control electronics, he rounded out the new clubʼs founding trio. Each individual brought to the table a nautically oriented interest in model sailboat construction, radio control, and competition.

 Bill Brown, the first Commodore, agreed to coordinate the direction of its three founding members. Jerry Walker enthusiastically volunteered to chair our publicity efforts. Since the club was founded in the Tucson community of Civano, it was decided to name the club: The Civano Model Yacht Club,CMYC. It was initially agreed that the designated club boat would be the American Model Yachting Association (AMYA) sanctioned Soling 1 Meter. However, due to its 10 pound weight and heavy weather oriented characteristics, this decision was later reconsidered.

On the left are the first three yachts in what would become the Pima Micro Yacht Club, and it’s first two Soling 1M yachts owned by two of its charter members, Jerry Walker and Bill Brown.
On the left are the first three yachts in what would become the Pima Micro Yacht Club, and, on the right, it’s first two Soling 1M yachts owned by two of its charter members, Jerry Walker and Bill Brown.

With the start of the clubs first winter sailing season (2010-2011) and with Jerry Walker at the helm of our publicity effort, the club membership quickly grew to 11. One of our new members was Ryan Wilkins. Ryan, having previous experience with two other struggling clubs in the area, proposed that CMYC adopt the smaller, AMYA sanctioned Victoria as its club boat. This was done.  In November 2011, the rapidly growing club placed a blanket order for nine Victoria kits.

 At our January 2012 Monthly Meeting, it was recognized that our membership was extending well beyond the Civano community. It was at that meeting that those in attendance elected to change the name of the club from CMYC to The Pima Micro Yacht Club (PMYC). Also, at the January meeting we proudly displayed the first eight Victorias. Shown, left to right is Ryan Wilkins, the person who introduced us to the Victoria, Tom (need a last name), Keith McAlister, Fred Seckor, Jerry Robertson, Jerry Walker, Richard Mosby, Mead Almond, and Bill Brown.

Our newly named club needed to identify itself with a specific sailing pond. During the 2010 through 2012 sailing seasons, the club sailed on a variety of ponds in the Tucson area. Lakeside Pond, in the South East corner ofthe city, was the most frequented. It fell from favor, however, due to highly variable winds and accessibility challenges. The Sahuarita and Silverbelle ponds,while wonderful venues, were logistically too far for the membership to travel. Reid Park, with its centrally located two ponds, gradually prevailed. By the opening of the 2012-13 winter sailing season, the small lake at Reid Park was adopted. During the 2013-14 season, however, low water levels in the pond made it not navigable. The club opted to sail on the more desirable and larger Reid Park Pond. On January 2014, the large Reid Park Pond was officially designated the PMYC Club Pond.

PMYC has not grown without sustained interest and effort. Jerry Walkerʼs publicity initiatives included articles in the Star Newspaper, contacts with the City Parks Department, establishing official membership in the AMYA, and the development of a Yahoo Web site along with Jim Haines, . Bill Brown, with pictures and commentary, provided almost weekly communication for the membership. Jerry Robertson helped the “newbees” discover the world of glues, epoxies, aero/fluid dynamics, and radio control electronics. By the end of the 2012 sailing season, our membership had grown from 3 to 34 skippers; the largest active club in Arizona.

In January of 2014, both the Tucson Boys and Girls Club and the local Council of the American Boy Scouts expressed an interest in an affiliate membership in PMYC.

With the opening of the 2013-14 sailing season, Jim Haines, with JerryWalker, initiated the monumental task of establishing our own PMYC Website. The site was published in February, 2014. In the same sailing season, Jim took our club finances from a home shoe box to the world of formal banking and spread sheets.

At the November 2013 monthly meeting, a need for formalizing club officers and their respective responsibilities was identified. The offices of Commodore, Vice Commodore, Secretary/Treasurer, and Race/Education Coordinator were established. Jerry Walker, Bill Brown, Jim Haines, and Fred Secker filled these positions respectively.

PMYC competition and education venues have grown and continue to expand. Fred Secker, with extensive use of current audio visual formats, compliments our monthly meetings with current and very appropriate building, and sailing information. Jerry Walkerʼs relentless pursuit of racing education and rule compliance has benefited the membership and has taken the club to the highest level of informed skilled seamanship. Individually, members of the club have actively contributed to the club’s organization, growth and direction.

The PMYC membership and current club officers enthusiastically offer to individuals, families, and the community an opportunity to discover the exciting and competitive world of micro yachting. In the process, you too are invited to contribute to the history of PMYC.

How do I register my boat?

Call the AMYA Class Secretary corresponding to your boat class. Click here for the Micro Magic. You can request and will usually get the last two digits of your sail number. Make an arrangement to pay for the registration (about $7). Your full sail number will be sent to you via email with instructions on how to use them. 

PMYC Hosts the Tucson Jewish Community Center (JCC) Special Needs Group

August 22, 2016

Today we hosted a group of Tucson Jewish Community Center special needs folk at the pond. In addition to interacting with them, and showing them our boats, we provided everyone in attendance with ice cream. It was a big hit with our visitors. Our racing stopped for about 45 minutes as all of our members got involved. Yummy Life, a local ice cream vendor at Reid Park, supplied the ice cream treats.

PMYC's Jim Haines took an active role in the activities
Jim Haines and Dave McVey took an active role in the activities

Here is a brief description of the activity provided by its staff.

JCC mission: The JCC hosts the Taglit Day Program, which provides a small supportive group of young adults, with special needs, a full-day program designed to explore, cultivate, and maximize each individual’s potential. By emphasizing wellness, social action, education, and fun, we work to meet each individual’s unique needs through a program spirited by Jewish values and communal harmony. This day program for young adults, post high school onwards, is comprised of social, leisure, and vocational activities both in the community and at the JCC.