Sailing is the art of controlling the motion of a sailing vessel. By adjusting the rigging and rudder, a sailor manages the force of the wind on the sails in order to change the direction and speed of a boat. Mastery of the skill requires experience in a multitude of wind and sea conditions, as well as extensive knowledge concerning sailboats. Today most people enjoy sailing as a recreational activity. Recreational sailing can be further divided into racing, cruising and daysailing or dinghy sailing.

Traditional sailboat

Throughout history sailing has been instrumental in the development of civilization. The earliest representation of a ship under sail appears on an Egyptian vase from about 3500 BC. Advances in sailing technology from the 15th century onward enabled European explorers in Canada to make longer voyages into regions with extreme weather and climatic conditions. Improvements were made in the design of sails, masts and rigging, and navigational equipment became more sophisticated. Ships went further north, stayed longer on the Grand Banks and in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and eventually began to explore the Pacific Northwest and the Western Arctic.

A traditional modern yacht is technically called a “Bermuda sloop” (sometimes a “Bermudan sloop”). A sloop is any boat that has a single mast and a headsail (generally a jib) in addition to the mainsail. The Bermuda designation refers to the fact that the sail, which has its forward edge (the “luff”) against the mast (the main sail), is a sail roughly triangular in shape. Additionally, Bermuda sloops only have a single sail behind the mast. Other types of sloops are gaff-rigged sloops and lateen sloops. Gaff-rigged sloops have quadrilateral mainsails with a gaff (a small boom) at their upper edge (the “head” of the sail). Gaff-rigged vessels may also have another sail, called a topsail, above the gaff. Lateen sloops have triangular sails with the upper edge attached to a gaff, and the lower edge attached to the boom, and the boom and gaff are attached to each other via some type of hinge. It is also possible for a sloop to be square rigged (having large square sails like a Napoleonic Wars-era ship of the line). Note that a “sloop of war,” in the naval sense, may well have more than one mast, and is not properly a sloop by the modern meaning.

If a boat has two masts, it may be a schooner, a ketch, or a yawl, if it is rigged fore-and-aft on all masts. A schooner may have any number of masts provided the second from the front is the tallest (called the “main mast”). In both a ketch and a yawl, the foremost mast is tallest, and thus the main mast, while the rear mast is shorter, and called the mizzen mast. The difference between a ketch and a yawl is that in a ketch, the mizzen mast is forward of the rudderpost (the axis of rotation for the rudder), while a yawl has its mizzen mast behind the rudderpost. In modern parlance, a brigantine is a vessel whose forward mast is rigged with square sails, while her after mast is rigged fore-and-aft. A brig is a vessel with two masts both rigged square.

As one gets into three or more masts the number of combinations rises and one gets barques, barquentines, and full-rigged ships.

A spinnaker is a large, full sail that is only used when sailing off wind either reaching or downwind, to catch the maximum amount of wind.


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