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Sailing Language
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The Publisher

Sep 9, 2012, 12:42 PM

Post #1 of 2 (14938 views)
Sailing Language Log-In to Post/Reply

Sailing Language
By Bob Denby

Sailor talk: "Windward vs weather; leeward vs lee."

We don't sail "to weather"!

If the words, port and starboard, enjoy clear and universal understanding, then, I submit, we can all benefit by a common and more accurate use of the words: windward, weather, lee and leeward as well.

Some definitions...

Assuming there is wind, think of a buoy or other object, (a defined race course is an object), anchored or adrift. The buoy has both a weather side and (opposite) a lee side. Similarly a racecourse, being an object, has a weather side, farthest upwind, and a lee side (or end), facing away from the wind. The upwind mark is the weather mark. The downwind mark is the lee mark. Weather and lee are opposites. When sailing "on the wind", towards the weather mark, we are properly said to be "sailing to windward" ("wind'rd", in sailing parlance) but not "sailing to weather". Sailing downwind (or "off the wind"), toward the lee mark, we are properly said to be "sailing to leeward" ("loow'rd") and not "sailing to lee". Remember, the opposite of "weather" is "lee". "Windward" ("wind'rd") is the opposite of "leeward" ("loow'rd").

The side of an island facing the wind is its weather side. The side away from the wind is its lee side. The same applies to a race course (defined by marks). The mark that is farthest upwind, is it's weather mark. And you sail to windward (not to "weather") to fetch it.

A boat, as with an island, or a race course, also has sides named by the wind, regardless of the boat's compass heading or the direction of the wind -- weather and lee. The side onto which the wind blows (port, starboard, bow or stern) is always its weather side and is opposite to its lee side.

Think of the spinning earth. It has a light side and a dark side (the sun being analogous to the wind in this case). Regardless of the names mankind has given to the land masses and seas (Could we call them Port or Starboard?), they have no bearing on which side is the light side or the dark side at any time.

In other words, when working upwind, we are properly said to be sailing to windward (not to "weather"). In racing we usually work hardest clawing our way up the weather leg in order to fetch the "weather mark".

When, and if, you spit over the side of the boat its best to spit to leeward over the lee side of the boat. That is, you spit (downwind) to leeward over the side of the boat that is opposite its weather side. If you spit to windward you may not "clear" the weather rail (with unfortunate consequences!) Weather and lee are the names of sides of the boat (or an object) in consideration of their relationship to the wind, without regard to the boat's compass orientation.

It follows that when sailing to windward, towards, say, an island, we're sailing, upwind, towards the lee side the island and may enjoy its shelter by anchoring in its lee. However, if we're disabled in a storm and, at the mercy of wind and current, being blown, downwind, towards the island's weather side, we're in danger of being driven, downwind, onto a lee shore, so named because the shore lies in the lee of our boat (although it is the island's weather side) -- not a good thing!

In summary, we work a boat upwind, up the weather leg, to fetch the weather mark, which lies to windward, so that we can bear away and sail, downwind, to the lee mark, which lies to leeward.

This might seem a lot of over-the-top quibbling, but accurate usage (particularly in print) drives the fog of obfuscation away (and makes for better, and clearer, post-race bragging too!)

We can talk of aloft ("up there"), below, ("down there") forward ("up front"), aft and abaft ("rear" and "behind") another time.


Sep 12, 2012, 11:45 AM

Post #2 of 2 (14912 views)
Re: [The Publisher] Sailing Language [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

So we can sail to the lee mark but not the leeward mark? This will come as a surprise to a lot of sailors.
Tony Johnson

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