The A-Z of cruising

Feature: Cruising jargon

Cruising Helmsman March 2009

Simon Kent gives us a crash course in cruising and cruising jargon in this fun A-Z.

Ais for anchor

The earliest anchors date back to the Bronze Age and were simply big rocks. Today, there is no shortage of ways to connect your yacht to the sea bed. Hook, plough (CQR), mushroom, Bruce and Rocna are just a few design styles that are popular and all depend on the basic physics of trapping their own weight to provide security to the vessel above via a rope, hawser, chain or combination of all three. Cruisers set off with a minimum of two anchors for obvious reasons.

B is for bilge

Where does water go when it has found its way inside a yacht hull? Into the bilge. This is the lowest compartment of a yacht or ship where the two hull sides meet and the word was first coined in 1523. The water is often noxious, and “bilge water” is a derogatory term often used colloquially to refer to something bad, ruined, or fouled.

C is for coastal

Cruisers have many choices to face when heading off and going coastal is probably the most popular. Coastal cruising, by definition, means you are staying near sight of land and all the benefits that entails. Navigation is easier, the time spent at sea usually shorter and, compared to long ocean voyages, coastal cruising is the first choice of the novice.

D is for dodger

No, not the artful dodger of Charles Dickens’ time, but the curved piece of canvas or reinforced plastic that stands atop and forward of the companionway and keeps the cockpit dry. Well, mostly it does. Dodgers come in many shapes and sizes and really good ones guarantee skipper and crew alike protection from the elements. Bad ones are as useful as a chocolate winch handle.

E is for EPIRB

This is one of the most vital pieces of kit you can take to sea with you on any voyage; open ocean, coastal or enclosed waterways. The letters stand for Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon and work in the same way that emergency locater beacons function on commercial and military aircraft. When activated, the EPIRB will send out a coded signal on a dedicated channel to a satellite.

F is for freeboard

Put simply, a yacht’s freeboard is the distance between the waterline and the toerail. The more the freeboard, the more cabin space one can count on below decks. Want a comparison? The old metre boats that raced for the America’s Cup had a tiny freeboard because they had no need for any work to be done below decks. Everything was topside. A really good cruising design has plenty of freeboard to ensure ample headroom and space for those below. A downside is the difficulty created for those entering and exiting the boat – hence the modern propensity for rear entry via stern duckboard and steps into the cockpit.

G is for galley

A happy cook is a good cook and what better way to ensure an enjoyable voyage than by making sure the galley is well set out and prepared? Of course, the old two burner metho stove on gimbals is the bare requirement and plenty of people have sailed around the world with just this basic galley fitting. With the supply of the ubiquitous gas bottle, galleys have now become more sophisticated and boast full-scale refrigeration systems on top of the old ice-box. Don’t forget that the cruising vessel is not just a mode of transport, it is your home, so choose the galley layout in the same way you’d treat a land-based kitchen.

H is for hatch

A hatch is the seal between the open air and the inside of the yacht. Hatches are important because they let fresh air into the boat and allow sails and assorted gear (including humans) to be transferred to below-deck spaces. When moored fabric wind scoops can be attached to a hatch to maximise the amount of air funnelled below. This helps make below decks more liveable and stop mould and mildew growing. Hatches serve a vital purpose but badly made and fitted ones can create a floating hell of their own and even threaten the integrity of your boat. How many times have yacht owners tracked the source of deck leaks to the surrounds of a faulty hatch?

I is for inboard

The inboard end of an anchor chain is called the bitter end and is the ultimate link between the anchor chain and the boat. The safest way to attach the bitter end to the ring in the anchor locker is via a strong rope lashing. Why rope? In an emergency it is far easier to slip yourself free from a fouled anchor or combination of a dragging anchor and fast approaching lee shore by cutting the rope lashing. A large shackle or even wire rope could prompt a disaster.

J is for jack

Sailors in the Royal Navy were traditionally called a jack tar. These days a jack is commonly used in the form of a jackstaff, a staff at the bow of a vessel from which the jack (flag or pendant) is flown.

K is for keel

Fin keel, shoal keel, bilge keel(s) or centreboard? Take you pick. They all have their devotees, although the racing fin keel would have to be among the less well supported options for a cruising yacht.

L is for locker

The longer your cruise the more stuff you have to take with you. Dry goods and perishables are usually stored in a dry locker around the midships section. Sails and ropes go forward in the sail locker. A locker in the stern section was once called the lazarette and stored things like outboard motors and petrol cans. Many modern designs have sacrificed this space for the benefit of larger cockpits.

M is for mizzen staysail

This is a special sail hoisted forward of the mizzen mast on a ketch or yawl that is tacked down on the weather side of the deck. In some versions it runs through a block at the end of the boom or is tacked firmly to the boom end. This is a terrific cruising sail on larger twin-masted (obviously) rigs and adds terrific horsepower.

N is for Norseman

A Norseman terminal is a patented method of attaching end fittings to wire, strand or Dyform strand without the use of the common swage. Most commonly found in mast rigging. Sta-Lok is another similar system popular with cruisers.

O is for overboard

The two words that will surely strike fear into the heart of any sailor, not matter racing or cruising, are “man overboard”. Have you ever rehearsed a drill with your crew to decide who does what when the cry goes out? Who is assigned to watch the person in the water, who handles the gear and what happens next? Drop sails and start engine? Take reciprocal bearings? Drop the sea anchor? Crucially, how do you get the victim back aboard? So many variables to consider in a genuine life or death scenario that happens more times than it should.

P is for parallel

A set of parallel rules is still a popular piece of the navigator’s kit and has not been totally done away with since the invention of the GPS. These straight-edged rules are hinged together so they always remain parallel and are used for transferring a course to the compass rose on a chart of vice-versa by simple expanding or contracting steps.

Q is for quarantine

Any yacht that enters or leaves an Australian port must be aware of its quarantine obligations. Along with customs requirements, quarantine responsibilities are an everpresent reminder that we remain part of the global human jigsaw as we cruise the globe. Be warned that to try and dodge these restrictions when entering Australian waters can lead to major fines and, just as importantly, may introduce an exotic foreign pest.

R is for Rosehearty

This is the name of the Murdoch family’s own mega yacht, and it is built purely for comfort and not for speed. It is the ultimate expression of the cruising ethos and one that the rest of us wage slaves can only dream about. This fabulous mega-yacht is a product of Perini Navi and Ron Holland excellence. However, it should come as a surprise to absolutely nobody that the Murdoch family finds pleasure and enjoyment on the water. Rupert Murdoch had his first taste of serious ocean sailing in the 29m Illina and there have been many, many keels of different sizes beneath the Murdoch deck shoes since then, with the penultimate yacht being the double-masted superyacht Morning Glory.

S is for steel

Surely steel is the ultimate material for the cursing yacht? It is superstrong, versatile and cost-effective. A steel can (mostly)  withstand a grounding and offers easy repairs if it is dinged – which is very rare indeed. It has long been thought that a steel hull means endless maintenance. Not so. Modern paints and coatings have reduced the amount of upkeep needed on a steel hull. Also, it is not so heavy as some would tell you. A professionally built steel hull will weigh pretty much the same as a similarly sized fibreglass sandwich design. Finally, it is much less expensive to have a steel hull built than any other material.

T is for tender

Many if not all serious cruisers regard the choice of tender as one of the most important decisions you make before setting off. Sure, if you are hopping from marina to marina, you couldn’t care less. What about when you’re travelling long distances to foreign ports and need a dependable way to get ashore? Inflatables offer a huge range of choices. They can be deflated and stored below or hung from davits astern. Ditto, the oldstyle rigid pram dinghy with its snub nose has always been popular and safe for carriage between yacht and shore. This can be lashed to the foredeck or cabin top with oars and rowlocks stowed below.

U is for una

A una rig has one sail only and over the years this concept has been tried with varying degrees of success on cruising yachts. The most common has the main mast set in the bow of the yacht balancing one massive mainsail. With no headsail to keep the boat clawing up to windward, the una rig is hardly a high performance set-up. Still, the sail handling aspects are a breeze and for solo sailors all the work can be done in the shelter of the cockpit.

V is for ventilators

Like hatches, ventilators perform the critical task of allowing fresh air below decks. The best ones do this job no matter what the weather or sea state. Dorade and mushroom vents are the two most designs for the simple fact that they work. They have over taken the old port lights that were a constant source of leaks on older-style cruising yachts.

W is for winch

What did we ever do before the invention of winches? Oh, that’s right. We heaved on lines that ran through multiple tackles and purchases with resulting sails that sagged, rigs that flopped to leeward and hands full of split and blistered skin. If you’re looking to buy some winches for cruising, here’s one hint: it is better to have a few big, powerful winches on deck that can really give you some grunt rather than a host of small snubbing winches that can barely do the job they’re designed for. These days, modern winches have tremendous power-to-weight ratios thanks to exotic materials and techniques.

X is for X-Yachts

This company was established in 1979 in Denmark with a commitment to building high-end production racing yachts. Racing success soon gave way to a whole fleet of cruising designs that are now sought after all around the world. The X-412 was the company’s first cruising design.

Y is for yankee

A yankee jib is a high-cut sail that usually runs to the masthead and is cut high in the clew. It is best flown outside of a larger sail and is perfect for the helmsman because it provides a counterbalance to a bigger sail and can be dropped in a flash to leeward.

Z is for zodiacal

Zodiacal light is a luminous tract of sky often observed at sea in the west just after the sun has set. Also claimed to be seen in the east just before sunrise. Supposed to be the light reflected from a cloud of meteoric dust around the sun.

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