Sailing is the Life for Me

Published on February 11th, 2015

Amy Smith Linton, when not sailing with 2007 Rolex Yachtsman of the Year Jeff Linton (aka her husband), is a freelance writer. Here she considers the language of sailing…

Sailors. They love a good tall-tale metaphor. If the wind is not “blowing the dogs off their chains” or “blowing stink,” well, then “Watching sailboats race is as exciting as watching paint dry.” “…as watching grass grow.” “…as watching iron rust.”

The language of sailing –– salty, and specialized as a secret code –– appeals to me nearly as much as the experience of it.

The arcane vocabulary: Outboard vangs. Gennikers. Mast-abeam! Righting moments and sea-room. Halyards. The headed tack. Sheets and blocks and binnacles. And cabbages and kings.

For additional entertainment value, some phrases have a specific and divergent meaning in another setting. A sailor’s “short sheet” is considerably less comical than a camper’s. Broaches are still out of fashion, but “puff on” might also be describing a fluffy bedspread. And it’s far less macabre than it sounds to “loosen the shrouds” on a sailboat.

Likewise “Head up” is solid advice for equestrians, while “Bear off” simply makes good sense in any setting. And don’t even get my inner 12-year-old going on the whole spinnaker-pole/guy thing. Or “trim.” Or “rhumb lines.”

One of the youngsters of my acquaintance, a feisty little scrapper, used to echo her dad’s call to “Tack!” with a maniacal chorus of “Attack! Attack! Attack!”

Close enough.

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