Tuesday, July 24, 2012

What's in a Name - Sailing Terminology 101

ter-mi-nol-o-gy (noun) - the system of terms belonging, or peculiar to a science, art or specialized subject.

"Stop using strange terms to describe a rope...it's a rope not a 'sheet'".  Ah perhaps, but the "good gospel according to Wikipedia" would suggest...not so fast landlubber...

"In most cases, rope is the term used only for raw material. Once a section of rope is designated for a particular purpose on a vessel, it generally is called a line, as in outhaul line or dock line. A very thick line is considered a cable. Lines that are attached to sails to control their shapes are called sheets, as in mainsheet. If a rope is made of wire, it maintains its rope name as in 'wire rope' halyard.

Lines (generally steel cables) that support masts are stationary and are collectively known as a vessel's standing rigging, and individually as shrouds or stays. The stay running forward from a mast to the bow is called the forestay or headstay. Stays running aft are backstays or after stays."

For some reason...for which I am sure I'll never understand...some folks have developed a phobia to learning the proper nautical terms for a sailing boat. In fact it's moved beyond phobia and into a down right resistance. I was reminded of this again recently when we compared sailing terminology to other sports. While I agree that "left and right" are easier to relate to that "port and starboard", why does sailing terminology incite such resistance, when soccer terminology or keeping score in tennis, is just common sense?

Give me a break, since when was "zero" synonymous with "love", or a "goalie" a "keeper". Aren't all the players "keepers" or are some more expendable than the "goalie" who is the only true "keeper".

Imagine the ridicule bestowed upon the casual football (football...not soccer) fan, when they referred to the "quarterback" as the "thrower". However, calling the dude throwing a football the "quarterback" makes as much sense to the true fan as referring to the toilet as a head does to a sailor. Golf, "a walk ruined", according to Mark Twain, is full of ridiculous terminology. Who ever dreamt up that a "birdie" was "one under par"...as if "par" makes any sense on it's own. Don't take my word for, but when has Robin Williams ever been wrong?

As confusing as terminology can be to the casual observer, used in context, it avoids a lot of confusion, which on a sail boat...or football field...or the soccer field...or the tennis "court"... is important to the outcome. For example there are lots of "ropes" on a sailboat. There is only one main sheet. There should therefore be no confusion when the crew are asked to pull in the mainsheet. There's only one.

That still doesn't explain why 3-2 in a tennis match (not a game), is 40-30. And I still get confused whether the "deuce court" is on my port or starboard...errr...left or right side.

Terminology can, in some instances, be as frustrating as learning a new language. However, trying to communicate with someone who doesn't speak "your language", is a sign of respect. Just like learning golf terms or how to keep score in tennis demonstrates that you have an interest in the subject and are willing to learn the language. However, I need to remind myself that not everyone is immediately fluent in "sailing" and so a shroud may need to "that wire" for now.

However, there is nothing more pleasing than having someone aboard who wants to learn the "art...or science...of sailing" and is not afraid of learning a new language.


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