Jan. 26th, 2012

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Foul wind for England, monsieur.
Winds may change, monsieur.
-French captain and H. Hornblower

As I read up on tall ships and sailing in general, I’m thinking that anyone with a character in Luceti who is or will be a sailor could use some of this information, so I’m starting a series on the basics of sailing and tall ships. In this edition, we talk about the most basic of basics: the wind and your vessel.

Perhaps the best thing is to think of sailing like a game of pool with the wind as the cue stick. The sails are the sides of the ball, and direction of the vessel depends on how the winds hit them. For this reason, you don’t just sail with your wind at your back all the time. You’d go all over the place. Wind changes all the time. No, the yards (the horizontal sticks across the masts) pivot so the sails can catch the wind in different ways.

One obvious thing not to do is sail directly into the wind. That’s useless even if your destination is windward. You’d never hit the cue ball directly away from the target pocket, right? If you try to sail directly into the wind, you slow down. Your ship yaws back in the direction it was tacking from, and you start to sail backwards. Not cool. So. To avoid this, you only sail so close to the wind. Ever. Sailing close-hauled means you’re sailing as windward as you can without the wind hindering you. You can turn the ship about (called coming about or tacking) by relying on momentum to carry you through the no-go zone to windward, as long as you’re skilled and keep going. If your destination is windward, what you want to do is zig-zag. You tack every so often so you’re not going in a straight line to your destination.  This is called beating to windward.  Tacking requires manipulating both the sheets (the lines that control the sails) and the rudder.

Terminology: the term tack is used in a few different ways. As a verb, it’s the same as coming about. As a noun, it can refer to the lower corner of a sail or the position of the ship in relation to the wind. If a ship is close-hauled on the starboard tack, it means she’s sailing nearly in the direction the wind is coming from and the wind is hitting the starboard side.

If the wind is coming directly from the side of the ship or other vessel, you have to be careful that the vessel isn’t rolling too much. If it is, take in some sail.

If the wind is directly behind you (say you’re sailing northeast and the wind is southwesterly), you can square away. This means squaring the yards so they are perpendicular to the deck, or going across it. The wind is now directly behind the sails, creating those gorgeous shots you see in movies of the sails billowed out completely. This is actually kind of tricky, even if it’s the fastest way to travel. It can be hard to tell how strong the wind really is when it’s behind you and you’re traveling with it. You’re not even seeing the crests of the waves since you’re behind them. It’s easy to damage the ship if you’re not careful. More terms that talk about wind and weather can get confusing. If you say the wind is, for example, southwesterly (or sou’westerly), you mean it’s blowing from the southwest. If you talk about a sou’wester, you’re probably referring to a squall coming from the southwest.

Any questions?  Please ask on this entry and not on Plurk so others can see the answers.


NEXT LESSON: Rigging.

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