Here we go, yawl

Originally published on Butterfly Mind.

My sailing education began Saturday night, on the boat, on the lake, as I asked my husband, “What’s that called? Why are you doing that? Where does this go? How do you know to do that?” And endless other questions.

As a word lover, I am giddy about the new terminology I get to learn in sailing. The language is colorful — and totally foreign to me. “If you can’t run the sheet off the clew, you probably need a boom.” (Ref.)


For my sailing education, since most of my learning time right now has to be on land, I’ll begin with the words I learned on my first sail.

Our boat is a two-masted small sailboat with a mainsail forward and a smaller mizzenmast aft of the rudder post. This makes our boat a yawl. The presence of two masts distinguishes a yawl from a single-masted dinghy, and the position of the mizzenmast (smaller mast, behind the main mast) distinguishes the yawl from a two-masted ketch, where the mizzenmast is forward of the rudder post.

Yawl: a two-masted fore-and-aft-rigged sailboat with the mizzenmast stepped (mounted) far aft, behind the rudder post. The mizzen boom overhangs the stern.

Ketch: a two-masted sailboat with a mizzenmast stepped forward of the rudder; mizzenmast is smaller than the foremast.

Step (v. as in step the mast): mount in the boat

Mainmast: in a two-masted boat, the larger, forward mast.

Mainsail: the larger foresail rigged on the mainmast.

Mizzenmast: in a two-masted boat, the aft mast; smaller than the mainmast.

Mizzensail: the aft sail, smaller than the mainsail; rigged on the mizzenmast.

Boom: a pole along the bottom edge of a fore and aft rigged sail that improves the control of the angle and shape of the sail.

I also learned that the the hardware that holds the oars in position is called an oar lock, and I learned from a question from someone in the boat ramp parking lot that our boat has a sprit boom. I am unclear what this means.

Sprit boom (aka leg-o-mutton) — meaning still unknown  to me. When I looked it up, I read sentences like this in sailing forums:

The sprit-boom is self-vanging, meaning that the geometry between the boom and the sail’s foot (which should generally be cut dead straight to prevent flapping) will keep the aft end of the boom from lifting. The result of aft boom lift is upper sail twist to leeward, spilling wind up there. The sprit-boom’s self-vanging nature will prevent this, keeping the entire sail working at all times all the way up and down it’s height.

Self-vanging? Sail’s foot? Cut dead strait? It wasn’t until the fourth reading of the paragraph above that I kind of, sort of understood what it was saying (something about the sprit-boom keeps the free end of the boom from lifting, resulting in spilled wind and loss of power, I think).

I have a whole new language to learn, and I am eager to learn it.

Author: Andrea Badgley

Writer at Butterfly Mind and Andrea Reads America. Happiness Engineer with Automattic.

3 thoughts on “Here we go, yawl”

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