Ye olde seafaring wisdom (preferably in the form of cutesy alliteration)
July 8, 2010 9:44 AM   Subscribe

I'm currently learning how to sail. In my first class, the instructor taught us "tiller toward trouble" (i.e. if about to crash, push the tiller toward it, which will turn the boat away), and I loved how easy it was to remember. What are other similar sayings or memory tricks regarding sailing that I should know?

I'm open to anything: boat parts, rigging, equipment, actual sailing, weather, knot-tying, the works.

Good websites regarding any of the above would be great, too.

I'm learning on a Club 420.
posted by anderjen to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (30 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Red Right Return(ing):

“Red Right Returning” is a mnemonic used to remember how to navigate through a channel marked with buoys. When you return from sea, the red buoys should be on the right side of your boat.
posted by 2bucksplus at 9:50 AM on July 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

In general, sheet in (pull in the mainsheet) when you're heading up (turning upwind, tiller toward the sail), and sheet out when you're turning downwind. Learn how to tie a bowline and a figure eight, and be able to tie a cleat hitch without having to fuss with it too much with your fingers. I saw a girl get hers crushed once on a choppy day because she had to fiddle with the know too much to get it right.

Capsize early and often so you get used to it and are not scared. In a 420, the worst thing that can happen to you other than getting hit by the boom is that you fall in and get wet, so don't freak out if the wind is up and you're heeling a lot or anything.

Finally, in sailing, right of way goes to the person who can yell "STARBOARD!!!" the loudest.
posted by Aizkolari at 9:50 AM on July 8, 2010

Red, right, return.
posted by princelyfox at 9:51 AM on July 8, 2010

Note: that last one is not actually true.
posted by Aizkolari at 9:51 AM on July 8, 2010

Red right returning.
- The red bouys are on the right as you head into port. The black/green/white lights are on the left.

-Right has more letters than Left. Starboard has more letters than Port. Starboard = Right.
-Starboard tack is the right tack and has right-of-way

-You may "have" the right-of-way, but don't tell that to the Kittyhawk.
posted by SLC Mom at 9:53 AM on July 8, 2010

*goes to sit in the slow typist's corner*
posted by SLC Mom at 9:54 AM on July 8, 2010

Also (for remembering "Bow" is the front and "Stern" is the back):


See, the smaller end is the front of the word-boat.
posted by 2bucksplus at 9:56 AM on July 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

The short words: Left, Red, Port.
The long words: Right, Green, Starboard.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:57 AM on July 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Capsize early and often so you get used to it....

not a mnemonic, but repeated for emphasis. This was the highlight of my youthful days of dumping the family Sunfish in the Chesapeake Bay during the July/August heat. Nothing teaches you how to sail faster than learning how to finesse a finicky, oversheeted glorified surfboard learning craft like this. Wear a life preserver and avoid the odd jellyfish and its all good.
posted by lonefrontranger at 10:08 AM on July 8, 2010

Right over left, left over right, makes a neat knot that's tidy and tight" = square knot

There's a story involving a rabbit and a hole and a tree = bowline

PORT = 4 letters, LEFT = 4 letters

A nice trick: if you see another boat coming toward you at the same heading (eg at one-o'clock) over time, it means you are on a collision course with that boat.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:08 AM on July 8, 2010

I remember that as "port" and "left" have the same number of letters. for light color "port wine is red", so red on the left.
posted by rmd1023 at 10:11 AM on July 8, 2010

square knot, in case the rhyme isn't clear.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:16 AM on July 8, 2010

Sides and points of the mainsail: Head and foot are easy. The tack is where the mainsail is tacked to the boat, and the clew is the remaining point. The luff is the side that luffs first. Leeches and roaches are both disgusting little creatures, so the leech is the side with the roach.
posted by nicwolff at 10:31 AM on July 8, 2010

Oh, and there are lots for lights, which won't matter till you start cruising: "red over white, fishing at night" and "green over white, trawling at night" (doesn't matter which is which, stay clear!), "red over red, skipper is dead" (vessel can't maneuver), &c.
posted by nicwolff at 10:37 AM on July 8, 2010

"Red skies at night, sailor's delight. Red skies at morning, sailors take warning."

And if you're really going to be a sailor:

"Beer before liquor, never sicker. Liquor before beer, never fear."

posted by browse at 10:44 AM on July 8, 2010

A variation of rmd1023's: "I wonder if there's any red port wine left."

"Green to Green
or Red to Red
Perfect safety go ahead
But if ahead both are seen,
then take a chance
and go between."

Also for navigation/right of way: PORT-WIND-O.

PORT -- When both sailboats are on opposite tacks (one has the wind on the port side and the other has the wind on the starboard side), the PORT tack vessel has to stay out of the way of the other sailboat.

WIND -- When both sailboats have the wind on the same side, the sailboat to WIND-ward has to stay out of the way of the sailboat to leeward.

O -- When one sailboat O-vertakes another sailboat from behind the beam, it has to stay out of the way of the other sailboat. This applies to vessels under sail or under power.
posted by ericb at 10:46 AM on July 8, 2010

Oh, and there are lots for lights...

Some more:
Red over red, the captain is dead
Red, white, red, restrictions ahead
Red, red, red, no clearance below
Red over white, eating fish tonight
Green over white, eating shrimp tonight
White over red, the pilot's ahead
Red over green, I'm a sailing machine
Green, green, green
Flashing blue, the law's got you
Yellow over white, hawser's tight
Yellow over yellow, I'm a tug pushing tow
2 whites in a row, is a tug and a tow
3 whites in a row, is a tug and long tow
1 sternlight will show, when tug touches tow
Flashing yellow, inland tug.
posted by ericb at 10:50 AM on July 8, 2010

Let's see if I can explain this coherently... If you are see another boat coming at a 90 degree angle to you and wonder if it will cross ahead of you, hold up your forefinger upright, parallel with its mast and observe if the land (only works near the coast) behind the boat is moving forward, backward, or with your finger. If its the last one, you are on a collision course. Maybe someone else can take a stab at this. Is it parallax?
posted by TWinbrook8 at 10:54 AM on July 8, 2010

"red over white, fishing at night" and "green over white, trawling at night"

I hate these kinds of memory tools, because they could just as easily be recited the other way around without any errors in the rhyme.
posted by odinsdream at 11:13 AM on July 8, 2010

TWinbrook8: Another way of thinking about that one is that if the angle between you and a boat crossing your path is not changing as you progress forward, then you're going to collide. So you can just look at the other boat and if it seems to be dropping back or speeding up across your line of sight, you're clear.

Also, when you are the give-way vessel, it's polite and safer to go behind the stand-on vessel unless you have a very generous lead out in front.
posted by Aizkolari at 11:15 AM on July 8, 2010

Get this book and read it. (Obviously, you can only learn so much about sailing from a book - but much of what can be learned in that manner is in the book, and what it covers will not be covered any better anywhere else.)
posted by richyoung at 11:44 AM on July 8, 2010

wow - I'm the first to say When in Doubt, Let it Out ?
posted by toastchee at 11:58 AM on July 8, 2010

Not a mnemonic, but one of the most important boat-related things no one ever told me was that port and starboard are the right and left sides of the boat as you face the bow, not your own arbitrarily positioned right and left.
posted by elizardbits at 12:10 PM on July 8, 2010

SailingUSA is a useful website for you.
The "Rules of the Road" section has an online training course. There are sections on Knots, Rigging, Wind, Safety and much more. Of course there is nothing better than being out on the water but this will all help you get aquainted with your new hobby. Welcome on Board.
posted by adamvasco at 12:20 PM on July 8, 2010

In addition to "right red returning," "red reft reaving" ("red left leaving"). It sounds silly, but sometimes silly is what you need to remember a mnemonic device.

Red buoys are shaped like cones and have even numbers on them, while green buoys are shaped like cans and have odd numbers. To remember this, "Even red nuns have odd green cans." If visibility is bad and you can only make out one aspect of a buoy (color, shape or a number), you can still figure out what you're dealing with.
posted by illenion at 1:09 PM on July 8, 2010

The boom is called the boom because that's the sound it makes when it hits you in the head.
posted by captaincrouton at 2:43 PM on July 8, 2010

I'm more familiar with square rig, so these may not be all that useful to you in fore-and-aft rig boats, but here you go:

"Different ships, different long splices" = means you do things the captain's way on the boat you're on at the time, regardless of what you learned elsewhere. Very useful reminder for those of us who don't own our own boats!

"Up your Aft" - used to remember that lines are made off in ascending order of the sail they control as you move aftward. So the mainsail lines will be made off on the most forward pin on their section of pinrail, and as you go through topsails and higher, each pin will be located farther aft in succession.

"Three points of contact" - this has migrated from rock climbing into rigging climbing - it essentially means that when climbing, you need to keep contact with two hands and a foot, or two feet and a hand, or a belly and two feet, or a butt and one hand and one foot - you get the idea. If three parts of you are always in contact with boat, then you have a stable triangle of support and are less likely to fall if one slips.

"Mackerel skies, whales' tales: tall ships, small sails" -- mackerel skies and whale's tales are cloud types that indicate high winds or gusts. So you reduce sail.

"rain before seven, dry by eleven" - passing overnight showers will clear when the onshore breeze starts to blow.

There are a lot of off-color initial mnemonics to help people remember formulas for celestial navigation. I don't know any of them but I've enjoyed hearing people recite mnemonic sayings about the Captain's Dick and Timid Virgins and the like.

And of course, where land stories begin with "once upon a time," sea stories begin "Now, THIS is no shit...."
posted by Miko at 3:22 PM on July 8, 2010

"red reft reaving"

"red right returning, green right going" works for me.
posted by Miko at 3:23 PM on July 8, 2010

For the benefit of anybody wanting to sail in places other than the Americas, Japan, Korea or the Philippines, all this 'Red Right Return' stuff does not apply in the rest of the world. Lateral marks (the red and green ones, and some that might be green but are actually black) are the same shape the world over, but between IALA region A (most of the world) and region B (the places listed above) the colours got switched around.
posted by Lebannen at 3:42 PM on July 8, 2010

"red over white, fishing at night" and "green over white, trawling at night"

I hate these kinds of memory tools, because they could just as easily be recited the other way around without any errors in the rhyme.
In most cases, it doesn't really matter - possibly more helpful here is 'red over white, fish supper tonight' and 'white over red, pilot's in bed' - but in the case of 'ack, it's some kind of ... fishing ... thing', the appropriate action is to keep clear of them. The major complication that may arise relates to the presence of extra white lights - on a trawler it means it's a big vessel, on a vessel engages in fishing other than trawling it means they have gear extending more than 150 m from the vessel, in the direction of the light (and it's therefore not a good idea to run into it). There is no easy way to remember this, it's just ... a thing. The kind of thing that may result in people swearing at you in French over the radio whichever direction you alter, but hey. And then you get the vessels that claim to be trawling while steaming at fifteen knots. Yeah, right.
posted by Lebannen at 3:55 PM on July 8, 2010

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