Sailing Terms


People who sail Bermudan rig boats, or do not sail at all, may find some of the terms we use when describing how we sail Robinetta complicated. For those who do I have included a small glossary of terms. While some of these may have more than one nautical use, in this glossary they are specifically defined as to how they are used in Robinetta.

ANCHOR AND CHAIN. Robinetta uses a fisherman’s anchor, with 50 metres of chain attached. The anchor normally lies on the foredeck when not in use. The chain runs through the deck into the forepeak via a chain pipe. We tie the chain down in the forepeak which prevents the anchor moving too much or the chain being pulled out. If we expect rough weather we lash the anchor to the outside of the bulwarks.
ANCHOR LIGHT. An all round white light that should be lit whenever a yacht is at anchor. Robinetta’s is a cluster of LEDs in a spice bottle at the top of her mast. When this fails to work we use an LED lantern hauled up on the spare halyard. Our anchor light also works as our steaming light.

BACKSTAYS. A pair of wire ropes that run from the top of the mast towards Robinetta’s stern. While in use one will be WORKING, and one will be LAZY, depending on which side the main sail is set. The wire is pulled into position and held by ropes, which run through blocks to allow them to be pulled tight while working. The working backstay keeps the mast vertical and stops the forestay sagging.

BELAYING PINS. 4-6’ long steel or bronze pins round which ropes can be wrapped to be held in place. (Large boats usually have much larger wooden ones).

BITS. Three pieces of wood arranged in an H that hold the stern end of the bowsprit in position when the bowsprit is in use. It also gets used for tying the mooring lines to.


BLOCK. A pulley. Consist of a sheave (a wheel) set into a housing to which one or more connections can be made. Most of Robinetta's blocks have a central iron or steel core (the strap) and wooden cheeks. Some of our blocks have tufnol cheeks and others, especially the ones for wire rope, are all metal. Some sheaves are bronze, others tufnol or nylon.

BOB-STAY. The chain that runs from Robinetta’s bow at the water line up towards the end of the bowsprit. It is tensioned via a single and double block tackle. 
 
BOOM. Spar that holds the sail in place at the foot. Robinetta’s sail is laced to the boom to hold it close. On Robinetta the mail sail is reefed by winding it around the boom.

BOWSPRIT. A spar that extends forward of the bow, allowing more sail to be carried. Robinetta’s bowsprit is quite short, protruding only around 6’ forward of her bow, bringing her Length Over Spars to about 29’, however this is a REEVING BOWSPRIT, which is one meant to be brought inboard easily. We normally reeve it when entering harbour as it makes manoeuvring in tight spaces easier. Since most marinas charge on boat length reeving the bowsprit also decreases costs.

BULWARKS. Wooden planks that run around the boat above the level of the deck. There is a gap between the deck and the bottom of the bulwark which lets the spray run over-board.

BURGEE. A small flag set at the top of the mast to assist in observing the apparent wind direction Robinetta normally flies an OGA burgee.

CHAIN PLATES. Metal plates, about 4 cm wide and 50 cm long. Robinetta has five, two on each side of the hull by the mast and one on the stem post. The shrouds are lashed to the side chain plates and the forestay to the bow one.

COCKPIT. The open rear of the boat behind the cabin, with seats, tiller and engine controls. All the sheets, and most of the halyards are controlled from here.

CRUTCHES. A rest for the boom when in port.

DEAD-EYES. Wooden discs with three holes in them that are used to put tension on the shrouds

FLAG HALYARD. A continuous loop of line that runs from the port rear chain plate to a ring near the top of the mast and is used to raise the BURGEE.

FOREDECK. Area of the deck forward of the cabin.

FOREHATCH. An opening in the foredeck. We can pass sails and their bags up or down through this. It has a wooden lid which must be kept closed while at sea, but can be propped open for ventilation in port. Robinetta’s forehatch lid currently leaks when it rains. A canvas cover is put on when in port.

FOREPEAK. The area below deck forward of the mast. On Robinetta this houses the toilet (HEADS), and is where we keep the unused sails and anchor chain.

FORESTAY. Stainless steel rope that runs from the top of the mast to the bow chain plate (NOT to the bowsprit), and is used to stop the mast being pulled backward.

FRAPPING LINE. Used when in port to tie the halyards away from the mast so they do not slap against it.

GAFF. The spar that runs along the top side of the main sail. Robinetta’s is pulled into position using two halyards, the throat halyard, (attached to the gaff saddle) and the peak halyard (attached about 2/3 of the way along the gaff).

GAFF CUTTER. Gaff cutters have one mast with a gaff-rigged main sail. They have a staysail hanked to the forestay and one or more jibs flown from the bowsprit. The mast is set further forward than on a similarly rigged gaff sloop. The latter usually also has a fixed bowsprit.

GAFF SADDLE. A piece of curved metal covered in leather that sits between the gaff and the mast.

GOOSEWING. Having the jib and staysail out on different sides of the boat from each other and/or the main sail. This keeps the greatest sail area in clear air when the wind is coming from astern

GYBE. Turning the stern of the boat through the wind. When sailing with the wind directly behind (running) this can sometimes happen when Robinetta rolls in the swell. Such ACCIDENTAL GYBEs put excess stress on the rigging and can damage both rigging and sails. They should be avoided if at all possible. Gybing deliberately is fine.

HALYARD. Ropes used to haul sails into position so they can be used. Normally proceeded by the name of the sail it is used for. e.g jib halyard.

HORSE. A metal bar that lets a rope (usually on a block) slide from side to side. On Robinetta we tend to use the term for three different things. The stay sail is controlled by its sheet, which runs through a block on a horse or traveller just forward of the mast. The main sail sheet block runs on a true horse that sits over the tiller. Just behind the mast is a steel frame which holds six turning blocks, which position the halyards that run down the mast then along the cabin roof to the cockpit. We call this a horse but we probably shouldn't.

JIB. A sail that is set from the end of the bowsprit. Robinetta carries two, only one of which is used at a time. The Number 1 is a fair weather sail, and the smaller no. 2 is used in higher winds or when the main sail is reefed.

LAZY JACKS. Two pairs of lines that come down from the topping lifts one third and two thirds along its length. They are tied together below the boom. These help stop the main sail flopping over the deck as it is lowered, and keep the lowered gaff in position on top of the boom.

LEECH. The rear side of a sail

LUFF. The long front side of a sail.

MAKING OFF. A way of wrapping a rope round a stanchion, cleat, or belaying pin so that it can not get loose. This is NEVER done with a knot.

MAIN SAIL. Robinetta has a gaff main sail. This is a four cornered (though not square) sail. It has a FOOT, lashed onto the boom, a LUFF, which is held to the mast by hoops, a HEAD, which is tied to the gaff, and a LEECH which falls from the peak of the gaff to the stern end of the boom.

MAST. Robinetta’s is a solid trunk of wood that sits in a slot at the keel, then runs through a mast collar on the deck where it is held in place by wedges. The shrouds and stays run from the top of the mast to steady it.

MAST HOOPS. Wooden rings that run up and down the mast. The luff of the sail is lashed to them. The lowest hoop has to be untied before Robinetta can be fully reefed.

OUT-HAUL. Most sailing boats have these for putting tension on the foot of the sail by pulling the stern corner of the sail’s foot towards the stern end of the boom. Gaff rigged boats also have them for pulling the top of the sail along the gaff.

OVERFALLS. A sea state encountered where the tidal force pulling the water is hindered by the shape of the sea floor. This can lead to standing waves and whirlpools. Their location can change as the tide does, and they are also affected by the wind direction. If the wind and the tide are working against each other in an area of overfalls very dangerous seas can occur.

PEAK HALYARD. Used to haul the peak of the gaff into position. Ever since Robinetta got new and larger sails she has used a PEAK HARDENER, which is a second pair of blocks at the (normally) standing end of the peak halyard which give extra purchase and allow the peak to be set more easily.

PIN RAIL. A length of wood or metal with holes to hold belaying pins. Robinetta's are wood and she has four in the cockpit, and one on the foredeck.

PREVENTER. A short rope tied around the boom a third of the way along. This is then clipped onto a chain plate to stop the boom swinging across to the other side of the boat without warning.

REACHING SAIL. This is Robinetta’s largest foresail. It is set on the end of the bowsprit in place of the jib in very light winds from astern, and is actually a second hand spinnaker.

REEF. Make the main sail smaller. We do this on Robinetta by rolling the sail round the boom, which rotates on a roller controlled by a rope and pulley system coming back to the cockpit.

ROBANDS. Short lengths of rope used to tie the head of the mainsail to the gaff.

SHEETS. Ropes which run to the corners of the sails, and allow them to be pulled in or let out.

SHROUDS. Four wire ropes that run from the top of the mast to the chain plates. They hold the mast vertical. They are sheathed in plastic to reduce the wear on any sails that come into contact with them.

SPARE HALYARD. A rope with eye splices on each end, which are shackled together to make a continuous loop. This runs up to the top of the mast and is not committed to any one purpose. We frequently use it to hoist an anchor light.

STAY SAIL. A sail hoisted up the forestay. Robinetta has a CLUB FOOTED staysail, which is lashed to a spar (the club foot) and self tacks on a horse forward of the mast.

STEAMING LIGHT. An all round white light set above the running lights when motoring.

TACKING. Turning by putting the bow of the boat through the wind. The sails are then set on the other side of the boat. 
 
THROAT HALYARD. Used to pull the gaff saddle up the mast.

TOPPING LIFT. Used to hold up the stern end of the boom. Robinetta has a pair of these, which are used with the lazy jacks

TOPSAIL HALYARD. A thin strong line that was once used to pull Robinetta’s topsail up. Since she no longer has a topsail its main use is now as a safety line when Alison goes up the mast. It is also used as the reaching sail halyard.

TRAVELLER. A metal hoop covered in leather that runs along the bowsprit to pull the foot of the jib into position.

TRICING LINE. A piece of rope used to pull the bobstay out of the way. Normally used to stop the anchor chain or a mooring line rubbing against the bobstay. 
 
WYKEHAM-MARTIN GEAR. Used to roll the jib up when it is not wanted any more. It makes raising, lowering, and changing jibs much easier.

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