How Much Do You Know About Sailing?

By: Torrance Grey
Image: Shutterstock

About This Quiz

Many people have fallen under the spell of the sea -- especially as explored by a classic wind-powered sailboat. How much do you know about sailing's terms, procedures, and world records? Find out with our quiz!

True or false: Is a sailboat steered entirely by its sails?

The rudder helps steer the boat as well -- it creates what is called "yaw" in an airplane. In addition, the movements of the crew on the boat can help it move in the desired direction.

What is a point of sail?

The angle at which the bow is pointed into the wind is your point of sail. "Close-hauled," "beam reach" and "broad reach" are points of sail.

What is the non-sail part of the boat, or its body, called?

The hull refers to the entire body of the boat. Mostly, we think of the hull as the sides of the boat, what you'd see if you swam up to it.

To move in a zigzag pattern across a headwind is called what?

When your destination is upwind, tacking is a way to harness the wind to move in the right direction. Sails are airfoils, and they are trimmed and eased in various ways to use a wind that isn't coming from the preferred direction. This is the case in tacking.

What is the opposite of tacking?

"Jibing" is to move the boat's stern back and forth across the eye of the wind, when the wind is aft. During jibing, the crew manipulates the sails to get the most motive force out of the wind.

What is the best indicator of wind direction?

Wind waves appear perpendicular to the direction the wind is blowing. They're the most common and reliable indicator that sailors use, though the movement of a wind arrow, smoke or other boats is also useful.

What is "heeling"?

Gusts of wind or excessive sails (known as being "over-canvassed" can result in heeling, which is usually inefficient. A solid keel prevents heeling, and if that fails, the crew might move to the windward side of the boat for counterbalance.

What is "running"?

"Running" is keeping the wind behind you, filling the sails. A sailboat running ahead of a strong wind is a beautiful sight.

What is the opposite of "aft"?

"Fore" and "aft" are sailing terms for front and rear, or near the bow/near the stern. You'll also sometimes hear them applied to airplanes, which have "fore" and "aft" exits.

If your boat is "turtled," what is it?

A sailboat that has "turtled" has *entirely* capsized. It isn't just on its side and taking on water -- the bottom of the hull is facing the sky, and the mast is submerged.

What is the opposite of "true wind"?

"True wind" is wind relative to a stationary object. When the perceived velocity/strength of the wind is affected by the movement of the boat, that's apparent wind. (In other words, if the wind is directly aft of your boat, it will appear to be lessened because of the boat's forward motion).

Which of these knots is most commonly associated with sailing?

A "bowline" in sailing is the line used to tie up boats at a dock. The bowline knot, sometimes called the "king of knots," is famously sturdy and easy to untie, even after being pulled tight.

If your boat is "in irons," what does that mean?

A boat pointed straight into the wind has no maneueverability. This is where tacking comes in handy.

Are the tiller and the rudder the same thing?

The rudder is the vertical blade in the water that aids in steering; the tiller is a long wooden handle with which a sailor moves it. Or a boat can have a wheel -- in other words, it can have a rudder without having a tiller. Fun fact: If you watch water-loving dogs like Newfoundlands or Labrador Retrievers swim, you'll see them use their tails as a rudder!

Which of these terms did NOT come from sailing?

The "bitter end" is the far end of a rope, therefore, "the end of the line." The shape of a jib sail identified a ship by its nationality, and even-keeled means "steady," like a boat with a good stable keel. The origin of "dressed to the nines" is, frustratingly, not known.

The opposite of trimming the sails is _____ them.

To trim sails is to pull them in; to ease them is to let them out. Both of these are done to take best advantage of the wind.

The width of a boat at its greatest point is called the ______.

This might be where we get our expression "broad in the beam," for wide-hipped. When the wind is coming from the side, it is said to be abeam.

What is luffing?

The term "luff" has several meanings. It can also refer to the forward edge of the sail or to the motion a boat makes as it turns into the wind. But luffing sails usually means they've been eased too much and aren't working to their best.

What was America's Cup named after?

The "America" won a race around the Isle of Wight. Since then, America's Cup has become one of the marquee events in sailboat racing.

The horizontal strut that supports the bottom of the sail is called the _____.

In Hollywood, many an unfortunate character has been knocked into the water -- sometimes to their death -- by a boom shifting position. But experienced crew members know to stay out of the way.

To a sailor, what is meant by "hiking boots"?

"Hiking out" means to hang over the side of the boat to prevent heeling. A sailor's "hiking boots" add stability during this maneuever.

What is the best definition of dinghy?

A dinghy also commonly has just one mast. They are sleek and fast boats, popular for racing.

At what wind speed do whitecaps form?

Whitecaps are bits of foam that form at the top of wind waves when the wind is strong. It's a sign for less-experienced sailors to head in.

A catamaran is distinctive because of its ________.

A catamaran has two hulls. A trimaran has -- wait for it! -- three.

The lines used to raise sails are called _______.

Almost everything's got a special name in the world of sailing. Maybe this is why sailing has contributed so many slang terms and phrases to the English language.

A metal ring in a sail where you'd attach halyards is called a what?

Basically, a grommet is a circular hole shored up by a metal ring to prevent fraying and tears. If you like camping, you've seen these in tents and tarpaulins.

What fruit is considered unlucky to have on a boat?

No, we can't explain it. But snopes.com verifies that this is a real superstition, and can even extend to not wearing Banana Republic clothing on a sailboat.

Laura Dekker, the youngest person to sail around the world solo, was how old when she made her trip?

Dutch authorities put Dekker under legal guardianship to keep her from making the trip, considering it too dangerous for her age. Fortunately for her, the ban was lifted, and she achieved the unofficial record (governing bodies in sailing do not recognize "youngest" or "oldest" records).

What was the name of Laura Dekker's boat?

Dekker's boat was called the Guppy. Maybe she subscribed to the "underpromise and over-deliver" school of thought.

Paul Larsen holds the 500 meter speed record in sailing. What top speed did he reach?

Paul Larsen is an Australian sailor and proponent of extreme sailing projects. He set the 500-meter record in Namibia, Africa.

Francis Joyon holds the record for fastest west-to-east Atlantic crossing. About how long did it take him?

The preferred crossing route among sailors trying to set this record goes from New York, USA, to Cornwall, in England. Joyon made the trip in a boat unromantically named the IDEC 2.

Where on a sailboat would you find its name painted?

The transom is the nautical term for what most people would call "the back of the boat." It's there that you see all those bad-pun names like "Sea You Later."

A "painter" is another word for what?

A painter is the rope -- excuse us, "line" -- that you'd use to tie up a small boat to the dock. Of course, it's also the professional you'd call to paint "Gone Fishin'" or your chosen name on the transom.

Is it possible to sail on land?

Yep, "land sailing" is a thing. The crafts have wheels like bicycle wheels but get power from a sail. We predict it's the next thing hipsters will take up after they get tired of "fixie" bicycles with no brakes.

What material coated with resin and then hardened is often used in sailboat construction?

Fiberglass is very hard and yet resilient. We'd love to see a kevlar sailboat, though -- you could cast off without fear of pirates! (Which are still a thing on the open seas, though they rarely target private crafts).

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