Sailing Glossary

There’s a lot of sailing terminology used in Song of the Current, mostly because I wanted the book and Caro’s voice to feel authentic. But people said they wanted a glossary, so here it is! Below are some terms that are used in the book. Also if you would like a (kind of crap) diagram of Cormorant, to get an idea of what things look like, you can click here.



amidships – in the middle part of the boat

aft – toward the stern, or back of the boat

astern – behind the boat

awning – a canvas cover draped over the sail to make a tent. In this book, to protect Cormorant‘s sail from the rain

1200px-Unidentified_sailing_ship_-_LoC_4a25817u bark (Antelope)–  a sailing vessel with three or more masts, rigged with square sails

beam – the vessel’s widest point, the middle

berth – a place at a dock for a boat to tie up

Image result for block and tackle block & tackle – pulleys with rope threaded between them
Image result for boom wooden ship boom – the spar (wooden pole) along the bottom edge of the sail.

bow – the front end of a boat

 bowsprit – a wooden spar extending forward from the front of the boat, to which the forestays and foresails are fastened

cabin – enclosed living space below the deck of a ship.

canvas – another word for sails

cleat – piece of wood or metal on a boat to which ropes are attached

Image result for cleat hitch cleat off – to tie a rope around a cleat

P2-Under-Sail-2 close-hauled – when a ship is sailing against the wind, usually tipping a bit

Cockpit cockpit – the open area at the back of the boat where you sit to steer

crosstrees – two horizontal pieces of wood that spread the rigging at the upper part of a mast

Screen Shot 2017-07-30 at 2.25.47 PM cutter (Victorianos)– one masted vessel designed for speed, with two or more foresails and a bowsprit.

deck – the floor, on a ship

2627 dinghy – a small rowboat, often carried or towed for use as a ship’s boat by a larger vessel

dory – a small rowboat

following sea – when the waves are going the same direction you’re sailing

foresail, headsail – any sails set in front of the mast

forestay – a rope leading forward and down from the mast, supporting it

four-pounder – cannon that fires four pound cannonballs

furl – to stow or roll up the sail

mastheadforeward gaff – a spar (wooden pole) at the top of the sail

gangplank – a movable plank used as a ramp to board or disembark from a ship

halyard – the rope you use to raise and lower the sail

head up into the wind – turn the boat so it’s pointed toward where the wind is coming from. This stops the boat, but it also makes the sail flap around a lot.

ny30-heel heel, heeling (v.) – tilting over to one side due to the wind

helm – where you steer the boat from. Also a verb, which means to steer the boat.

helmsman – the person steering the boat

hold – the place below the deck of a boat where cargo and supplies are stored

hull – the main body of a ship, the outside structure

jib-sails jib – a triangular staysail set in front of the mast

jibe – to change course by swinging the sail across to the other side when you’re sailing with the wind behind you. Can sometimes be dangerous if you do it by accident.

keel – the very bottom of the boat, underwater

4489390_orig long nines –  cannons that shot nine pound cannonballs

luff, luffing – when the sail is loose, flapping around. Usually to slow down or stop the boat.

mainsail – the biggest sail on the ship

32f_-_Mainsheet_rigging mainsheet – the rope used to control the mainsail by letting it out or pulling it in, depending on the wind

moor (v.) – to stop and tie up the boat or anchor. Also (n.): any place where you can moor a boat.

mooring warp – a rope that’s used to tie up the boat

make fast (v.) – to tie off a rope, fasten it

 mast – vertical pole that carries all the sails and spars

photo__pin_rail_of_surprise_by_spiffingsailor pin rail – a rail at the side of the deck on a ship, holding pins and cleats that the rigging is tied to

port – the word for left, when you are standing facing the front of the boat

reach, on a reach  – sailing pretty much perpendicular to the direction the wind is coming from

reef, take a reef (v.) – to roll up and tie the sail during a storm, making it smaller and making the boat easier to handle.

1081-12552818389Hls rigging – the system of ropes that support a ship’s mast and control the ship’s sails

220px-Adler_von_Lübeck._Model_ship_05 rudder – a big fin underwater that the tiller is attached to. Moving the tiller moves the rudder and steers the boat.

running – sailing with the sail perpendicular to the boat and the wind behind you

sail – sheet of canvas used to harness wind power and propel a sailing ship forward

 burgess0080a schooner (Busted Steed)– a sailing ship with two or more masts, the front mast being the shortest. (If you’re wondering if you missed the Steed in the book, don’t worry–it’s in Book 2!)

sheet in – to tighten the mainsheet, pulling the sail in

slip (n.) – a place at a dock for a boat to tie up

fs271 sloop (Alektor, Conthar)– a one-masted sailing vessel, usually with one or more headsails

spar – any wooden pole that holds a sail on a ship

square-rigged ship – a ship with lots of small square sails (see the picture for staysail, below)

starboard – the word for right, when you are standing facing the front of the boat

stay – ropes on a sailing shop used to support the mast.

Sailing_Close staysail – a triangular sail in the front of a boat, affixed to a stay extending forward from the mast. Some ships have many of them.

stern – the back end of the boat

tacking – switching the sail to the other side of the boat, when you are sailing against the wind in a series of zigzags.

Rumpel tiller – the wooden handle you hold to steer the boat

fgw 4 topsail – a sail set above the gaff, the highest sail on a ship. Can be triangular or square.

trim (v.) – to loosen or tighten the sail, keeping the boat sailing at its most efficient

Surprise+transom transom – the square back end of a ship

unfurl – to unroll the sails on a ship

maud_small wherry (Cormorant)– a shallow one-sailed ship historically (in our world) used to haul cargo on the Norfolk Broads in England. Cormorant is based on these boats.