Jibbing, Not Gibing, is My Goal for Sailing
I recently and unexpectedly acquired a Butterfly, a 12-foot sailing dinghy, and immediately signed up for lessons at a nearby sailing club. I’ve always had an interest, but now I need to learn my sheet from my stay and my bow from my aft.
I figured out port vs. starboard long ago when I realized port and left both have four letters and are similarly formed with one vowel in the second position. On Twitter, Leigh Hogan suggested a more romantic way of remembering, tweeting: “I picture ancient Portuguese mariners sailing south along the west coast of Africa. Port always on their left.”
The words starboard, stern and steer are all cousins. Steering used to take place on the right side, though my new scow requires hopping from left to right and back again. Whichever side the skipper sits, the rudder that steers a boat is at the back, or stern.
Bow (rhymes with ow!) means the shoulder of the boat, the same as bough, as shoulder, is what we call the large main branch of a tree. It doesn’t seem to be related to bow (rhymes with go), which means to bend and is applied to a weapon or a fancy presentation for a ribbon. But I remember that the act of bowing (rhymes with vowing) moves the head forward, and the bow is the front of the boat.
When sailing into the direction of the wind, the ship’s crew must tack, or change direction. It’s a common mistake to suggest someone change tact. Tact comes from the Latin word for touch, and it refers to skill and sensitivity in dealing with a situation. The verb tack comes from the noun for a rope that secures a sail, and it probably is related to the small nail or the act of sticking things together, but the etymology isn’t very clear.
In British English, to gybe can also be to change course. A jib is a foresail, and a gib is a bolt or pin. When things agree, they jibe. Sometimes, jibe is used in place of gibe for taunting, but gibe is preferred.