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Fast Track to Sailing

Fast Track to Sailing

by Steve Colgate, Doris Colgate

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The learn-to-sail book for when you are in a hurry to gain your sea legs

At the Offshore Sailing School, the Colgates have taught more than 100,000 adults how to sail. Now they are making their proven instructional methods available to you so you can fulfill your sailing dreams in little time.
Though designed around three days of intensive instruction,


The learn-to-sail book for when you are in a hurry to gain your sea legs

At the Offshore Sailing School, the Colgates have taught more than 100,000 adults how to sail. Now they are making their proven instructional methods available to you so you can fulfill your sailing dreams in little time.
Though designed around three days of intensive instruction, the book adapts easily to any learning pace.
You can master the fundamentals in three days--or over a summer of leisurely sailing.

Product Details

McGraw-Hill Professional Publishing
Publication date:
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Product dimensions:
8.50(w) x 10.80(h) x 0.40(d)

Read an Excerpt


By Steve Colgate Doris Colgate


Copyright © 2009 Steve and Doris Colgate
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-07-161520-4

Chapter One


The language of the sea is deeply rooted in the era of square-rigged ships, and today sailors around the world use a kind of shorthand that has evolved from that period. We were reminded of the importance of sailing language when we raced our 54-footer with crew from various countries. We could all communicate easily during those races—even though we didn't share a common tongue.

To the uninitiated, sailor-talk may sound strange. But it's an essential language to learn. There are times on a boat when the correct action must be taken quickly and at the right moment, or problems will result. You can't afford to say, "Let go of that thing over there!" when you really mean, "Free the jibsheet!" Through repetition, you will learn the necessary sailing terms to help you sail well.

Although there are many types and sizes of sailboats, this book focuses on one type of boat—the Colgate 26, a family sport boat designed for training, racing, and family fun. The Colgate 26 is characterized as a slooprigged keelboat. The word sloop refers to a boat with one mast; the keel is a heavy fixed fin beneath the boat that provides stability. What you learn on this boat can be applied to any sailboat.


This chapter covers some key terms that are important to learn, along with summary lists that will serve as an easy reference.

If you are standing on a sailboat facing forward, you are looking at the bow, with the starboard side on your right and the port side on your left. Conversely, if you are facing the back end of the boat, you are facing aft and looking at the stern, with the starboard side on your left and port to your right. The widest part of a boat is called the beam. Some people confuse stern (the whole back end of the boat) with the word transom, which is the vertical or slanted part that goes from the deck to the water.

When identifying a direction, another boat, or something you need to take note of, the words ahead, astern, and abeam come in handy. A buoy you're looking for may be ahead, or forward of the boat. The dinghy you are towing is astern, or behind the boat. A lighthouse ashore might be abeam, at a right angle off the left or right side of the boat. "Abeam" is a word that takes on special importance when you learn to identify the proximity of other boats, especially at night, as you'll learn later.


Open any sailing magazine and you will find a list of dimensions, usually abbreviated, alongside sailboat designs. These are the terms you use in describing the length, depth, and width of a sailboat.

LOA stands for length overall. This is the total length of the boat from the bow to the end of the stern in a straight line. LOA does not include the bowsprit (if your boat has one), which is a pole that extends beyond the bow of a boat. When you rent or buy a sailboat, LOA is a very common specification—as common as MPG is to a car shopper.

LWL is the load waterline length, or simply waterline length. This is the straight-line distance from the point where the bow emerges from the water to the point where the stern emerges from the water. Sailors need to know the LWL when calculating the potential speed of a sailboat.

Draft is the vertical distance from the water surface to the deepest part of the boat (the bottom of the keel). This measurement will tell you where you can and cannot sail. If your boat touches bottom in 3 feet of water, its draft is 3 feet. Stated differently, your boat draws 3 feet. When you ask a marina for a slip to rent you will probably be asked, "How much does your boat draw?" You will also be asked the LOA of your boat, because slip fees are calculated in dollars per foot.

Instead of a keel, some boats have a centerboard—a relatively thin panel made out of wood, fiberglass, or metal that can be raised or lowered to change the draft of the boat. In this case, you might hear someone describe the boat as having two drafts: "My boat draws 6 inches with the board up and 4 feet with the board down."

The freeboard of a boat, which is measured vertically from the edge of the deck to the waterline, is an important determinant of its interior space. The more freeboard a boat has, the more headroom there will be in its cabin (assuming the boat has one). Some sailors erroneously use freeboard interchangeably with the topsides of the boat, but the latter term actually refers to the sides of the hull above the waterline.

The beam of the boat described earlier is its maximum width, not its width at deck level as one might expect. The topsides on some boats curve outward from the deck and back in at the waterline. In this case, the beam is measured at the widest part of that curve.


Picture yourself standing or sitting in the cockpit—where the crew sits to operate the boat. The hull is the body of the boat. The keel, which you can't see while you're sailing, is the fin under the boat that is loaded with lead to make the boat stable. The Colgate 26 weighs 2,600 pounds and 40 percent of that weight (1,050 pounds) is the lead in its keel. The boat can lean over in the wind, but it will not easily turn over.

In the back of the cockpit is a stick called a tiller. The tiller attaches to a post that goes through the hull of the boat to a rudder, a fin-shaped blade located underwater, behind the keel. When you move the tiller you are actually moving the rudder, which steers the boat by diverting the water that is moving past it. If the boat is not moving, turning the rudder will not cause the boat to turn.

Aboard a sailboat that has a cabin, you enter the cabin through a companionway—a passageway from the cockpit to the interior. The roof and sides of the cabin house comprise the cabin trunk.


Now that you are able to look at a sailboat and describe its parts, the next step is to identify rigging and what it does. Rigging is all the wire and rope (called line) on a sailboat and is divided into two major categories: running rigging and standing rigging. Because there is a lot of force on sails when they are filled with wind, and sails need something to hang from, rigging is required for sail support and shape.

The mast is the vertical pole (spar) and the boom is the horizontal spar. Together, they support the mainsail. Incidentally, the word boom is Norwegian for tree. Kevin Wensley, an Offshore Sailing School instructor who hails from England, likes to tell his students that the boom gets its name from the noise it makes when it hits you. As you will learn later, when the boom crosses the boat you always want to stay out of its way.

Standing rigging holds up the masts of a sailboat. Made out of twisted wire on small to mid-sized boats, standing rigging consists of stays and shrouds. Stays keep the mast from falling forward or backward—over the bow or the stern. Shrouds keep the mast from falling athwartships—over the sides of the boat.

The backstay runs from the head (top) of the mast down to the deck at the middle of the stern. The jibstay runs from the bow of the boat up to the top or near the top of the mast. If it leads to the head of the mast, it is a headstay, and the rig is called a masthead rig. If it leads to a point partway down the mast, it is a forestay, and the rig is called a fractional rig. Many sailors use the terms jibstay, headstay, and forestay interchangeably. If a wire leads from partway up the mast to the middle of the foredeck, between the mast and the bow, it too is called a forestay; but this is a complication that doesn't concern us for the time being.

Because shrouds lead from the deck edges to attachment points on the mast, the angle they make to the mast is more acute than that of the stays. For this reason, the shrouds that lead highest on the mast—the upper shrouds—run through the ends of a strut or tube on either side of the mast to make a wider angle. These struts or tubes are called spreaders, since they spread the angle the shroud makes with the mast and thus provide better support for the upper section of the mast.

The compression load on the spreaders tends to bend the mast from side to side at the spreader base. To counteract this tendency, most boats have another set of shrouds—lower shrouds—on either side of the mast leading from the base of the spreaders to the edge of the deck. Since these originate lower down the mast, the angle they make with the mast is sufficiently wide to eliminate the need for extra spreaders.


Running rigging consists of all the lines on a boat that adjust the sails. Halyards raise and lower the sails. Sheets adjust sails in and out.

Halyards and sheets take the name of the sail to which they are attached. For example, a main halyard raises and lowers the mainsail. A jibsheet adjusts the trim of the jib.

The trim of the jib or any sail is the angle of that sail to the wind direction at a given time. The word trim is also used as a verb in sailing. For example, the sailor to the left in Figure 1-4 is turning a winch (more on this later), which is moving the corner of the jib in, and he is therefore trimming the sail.

When you trim a jib, you are pulling the sail in with the jibsheet. When you ease a jib, you are letting it out.

When you're sailing you adjust the sheets a lot; but halyards are seldom changed after the sails are up. When you're preparing to go sailing, you raise the halyard to hoist the sail. Actually, you are pulling down on the halyard as the woman on deck is doing in Figure 1-5. When you are finished sailing, you ease the halyard out to lower the sail. (The halyard is actually going up.) The word halyard is a derivation of "haul the yardarms," from tall-ship days.


Today's mid-sized to large sailboats are designed with your precious time in mind, as well as your desire for an easy-to-sail boat. Regardless of size, they usually have a mainsail and a jib. On a sloop like the Colgate 26, the mainsail (pronounced mains'l but more often just called the main) is the large sail behind the mast, supported by the mast and the boom. The jib is the sail carried on the headstay or jibstay in the front of the boat.

On the Colgate 26, as on many boats these days, you control the jib with a furling mechanism that allows you to roll the sail up on its headstay when you're not using it. When a jib is on a roller-furling headstay like this, the jib halyard is always up. Not long ago, when you were finished sailing for the day you had to lower the halyard to bring the jib down, take the jib completely off the jibstay, fold the sail carefully to avoid wrinkles, and place it in a bag to stow below or ashore. This is still the case on most small boats and many large ones. But on some big boats, even the mainsail can be rolled up inside the mast.

Most mains and jibs are made of Dacron, which doesn't stretch much and, therefore, holds the shape of your sails. A sailmaker cuts and sews a sail to create a desirable contour for maximum speed when the sail is filled with wind. Since it is important the sail retain this shape when wind creates pressure on the cloth, sailmakers choose cloth with a predictable stretch factor, the least amount possible.

When you see a sailboat gliding along the horizon with a dazzling white sail, you're looking at Dacron. More exotic sails that are steely gray, brown-tinged, or even translucent are made of Mylar, Kevlar, or Spectra cloth. With even less stretch than Dacron, these pricey materials are in demand by highly competitive racing sailors to whom "go-fast" ability is more important than cost.

A finished sail is triangular in shape, and each corner has a name. The head is the top corner, the tack the forward lower corner, and the clew the aft lower corner. The luff is the leading (front) edge, the leech is the trailing (aft) edge, and the foot is the bottom edge.

If you draw a line from the head of a mainsail to its clew, you can see that the leech is convex. When the leech of a sail is curved or rounded so as to incorporate more area than the equivalent straight-sided triangle, that extra cloth is called roach, and its purpose is to give you more sail area, which results in more power. To remember where the leech and roach are located on a sail, instructor Kevin Wensley says: Nasty critters like roaches and leeches hang out at the back of the sail.

To support this extra cloth and hold its shape in wind, thin pieces of wood or fiberglass called battens are inserted in pockets that are evenly spaced along the leech. A typical batten for a 26-foot boat might be 1 inch wide by 24 inches long. Some sails have full-length battens running all the way from leech to luff.

Sails that are furled up when not in use, rather than taken off and folded, don't have battens because they cannot be wound around a headstay or furled up inside a mast. Sails without battens do not have extra cloth (roach) along the leech. When you're out for a lazy afternoon sail or cruising off to wondrous spots, extra sail area doesn't matter that much. Ease of managing

Key Sailboat Terms

On the sailboat above, identify the following and then check your answers against the labeled photos and illustrations in this chapter:

1. Cockpit

2. Hull

3. Tiller

4. Bow

5. Stern

6. Port

7. Starboard

8. Beam

9. Ahead

10. Astern

11. Abeam

Describe the following:

1. LOA

2. LWL

3. Freeboard

4. Draft

5. Rudder

6. Keel


Identify the rigging, referring to labeled photos in this chapter as necessary:

1. Mast

2. Boom

3. Jibstay

4. Backstay

5. Upper shrouds

6. Lower shrouds

7. Spreaders

The Anatomy of Sails

Identify the sails and their parts, referring to the labeled photographs in this chapter as necessary:

1. Mainsail

2. Jib

3. Battens

4. Head

5. Tack

6. Clew

7. Luff

8. Leech

9. Roach

the sails is more important. Roach is most helpful when performance is a priority—either for competitive sailing or for fast passages in light winds.

The only rope on a sailboat that isn't called line is the boltrope, which is sewn to the sailcloth along the foot and luff of the mainsail for reinforcement. Sometimes sail slides are sewn into the boltrope, and the slides literally slide the mainsail onto a track that is screwed to the mast or boom. But sail slides are usually found on larger boats; on a smaller boat, the boltrope is likely to be inserted directly inside a groove in the mast or boom when raising the mainsail.

To keep the leech of a sail from unraveling, the sailmaker sews a strip of doubled-over material—called tabling—along the edge. Sometimes a light line—the leech cord—is sewn inside the tabling. The leech cord is attached at the head of the sail and can be adjusted at the clew—either eased out to free a curl in the leech and permit smoother airflow, or pulled tighter to reduce the flutter that occasionally occurs along the trailing edge of a sail (especially a jib). Not only is flutter unattractive, it decreases the efficiency of a sail and eventually causes the sail cloth to wear out.

Sails are your boat's driving force. Just as an engine needs care, so do your sails. Sunlight deteriorates cloth. When not in use, sails should be taken off and put away or rolled up under a UV-protective cover. Keeping sails clean is also part of good sail care. If your sails are not washed occasionally with warm water and mild soap, encrusted salt will pick up moisture from the air and the dried salt will make your sails heavy. Dirt particles may also shorten the life of the cloth.


Excerpted from FAST TRACK to SAILING by Steve Colgate Doris Colgate Copyright © 2009 by Steve and Doris Colgate. Excerpted by permission of McGraw-Hill. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Steve Colgate founded the Offshore Sailing
School in 1964. He has participated in two America’s Cup trials,
17 Newport-Bermuda races, seven Fastnet Races, the Pan
American Games, the Olympics, and six transatlantic races.

Doris Colgate is president and CEO of the
Offshore Sailing School and founder of the National Women’s
Sailing Association. In 2003, US SAILING awarded the
Colgates the Timothea Larr Trophy in recognition of their outstanding leadership and excellence in sailing education.

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