The butt cleat

Originally published on Butterfly Mind.

Sailors have a reputation for colorful language, usually in relation to swearing and storytelling. I admit, this is one of the aspects of sailing that tickles me most: the vocabulary. The terminology is filled with unfamiliar words that I’m slowly learning — words that sound old and nautical, like shroud and sheet, halyard and cleat.

In our two-day course, we learned both official language and unofficial, equally colorful, language. Like the chicken jibe.

Jibing can be dangerous. It happens when the  wind is at your back, and the stern of the boat turns through the wind. If uncontrolled, jibing can bring the boom hurtling across the cockpit with great power, knocking unprepared crew in the skull and potentially breaking the boat.

If a skipper judges conditions or their skills unsafe for jibing, they can opt to chicken jibe: to chicken out of a jibe and instead take the safer route of putting the bow through the wind and tacking through 260° (rather than jibing through 90°). Our captain indicated no bravado about choosing a true jibe over a chicken jibe; the chicken jibe is totally acceptable if a skipper judges it to be necessary or smart. But it’s still called the chicken jibe.

At one point, Captain Sara went through the different cleats on the boat.

“You’ve got the jam cleat, the cam cleat, the clam cleat, and — ” she looked at the dock cleat, hoping for a rhyme. “And the dock cleat — the damn cleat — the one you’re always stubbing your toe on.”

She glanced at the bench where the crew sits with the lines that control the jib. The jib sheets end up on the seat where the crew sit when tacking, and on the floor of the cockpit.

“Then there’s the foot cleat.” She pointed at our feet. We had deployed the foot cleat on accident through at least one tack, when we tried to release the jib and one of us was stepping on the line.

She gestured at the seat itself, where a jib sheet lay. We both knew what the final cleat was going to be. We had been warned against this one several times the day before. It is easy to deploy on accident; without care and intention, the lines end up right where the sailor sits.

“And a’ course,” she said, “there’s the butt cleat.”

As I did through every tack yesterday, when Captain Bill said, “Watch for the butt cleat!”, I giggled. Butt cleat is my new favorite sailing term.

Author: Andrea Badgley

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

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