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Big Glossary and Definitions of Sailing Terms

Broken up into sections to make it easier to read:


Note: Send any additions or questions to the web-master. Addendum (below) of items of interest includes articles from the early part of the 1900s on making boats unsinkable, Schooners, Lloyds of London, and Spreading Oil On Troubled Waters.


Airtight Cases for Small Boats - By airtight cases are meant cases that will keep out water. The most general form of case is made of zinc, copper, or Muntz metal. Macintosh bags have been used; they are put inside wood lockers, and then inflated, the object of inflation being of course to fill the lockers, and thus practically making the lockers impervious to the influx of water. As any kind of bag is liable to be punctured or otherwise damaged, metal cases are to be preferred -- they should be fitted inside wood lockers. To render a boat unsubmergeable she must be provided with cases which will displace a quantity of water equal to the weight of the material used in the construction of the boat or which may be on board and will not float. Usually an ordinary fir planked boat will not sink if filled with water, the gunwale just showing above the surface ; if, however, she has ballast on board or other weight, she would sink. Also the spare buoyancy would not generally be sufficient to support her crew.


A ton of salt water is equal to 35 cubic feet of the same: now suppose a boat 16ft. long and 6ft. broad weighed 15cwt (3/4 ton) with all passengers, gear, airtight cases. &c., on board, then she would require airtight cases equal in bulk to 26-1/4 cubic feet, as there are 26-1/4 cubic feet of water to 3/4-ton weight. But it may be taken that the wood material used in the construction of the boat, the spars, and wood cases, would be self-supporting. Say that these weighed 5cwt, then 10cwt. (1/2-ton) would remain to be supported; 1/2 a ton is equal to 17-1/2 cubic feet. A locker 6ft. long, 2ft. broad, and 1ft. 6in. deep would contain 18 cubic feet, and so would support the boat with her passengers on board, or prevent her sinking if filled to the gunwale with water. Of course it would be rather awkward to have such a large locker as this in so small a boat, and the airtight spaces are usually contrived by having a number of lockers, some under the thwarts, in the bow end and stern end of the boat, and sometimes above the thwarts under the gunwales.


Some boats are made unsubmergeable by a cork belting fixed outside below the gunwale. One ton of cork is equal to 150 cubic feet of the same, and will support 3-1/4 tons in water. Thus, roughly, cork will support three times its own weight in water. Supposing it is sought to support a boat equal to 10cwt., as stated above; then a belting of cork will have to be used equal to 17-1/2 cubic feet, plus a quantity equal to the weight of the bulk of the cork. Say the boat is 16ft. long, and the measurement round the gunwales will be 32ft. A tube 32ft. long to contain 17-1/2 cubic feet would require to be 10-1/4 inches in diameter. [The contents of a tube are found by multiplying its length by the area of one end. This area is found by taking the square of the diameter and multiplying it by 0.78 (See "Areas of Circles''). ]


The 17-1/2 cubic feet of cork would weigh (17.5 x 15) 262-1/2lb. equal to 4 cubic feet of salt water, and so an addition would have to be made to the tubing to that extent. Thus, in round numbers, 22 cubic feet of cork would be required to support 10cwt. net. A tube 32ft. long and 11in. in diameter would contain 22.0 cubic feet. The tubes that contain the cork are usually made of canvas and painted. The weight of the canvas tube would have to be added to the general weight to be supported. Solid cork should be used, and not cork shavings, for filling the tubes ; cork shavings get more or less saturated, and lose their buoyancy, and generally have less buoyancy than solid cork, in consequence of the multitude of spaces between the shavings which would admit water. (See "Cork Concrete. ")

Loyds of London - an assoication of marine underwriters and insurers. Its name is derived from a Coffee House kept by Mr. Edward Lloyd in Tower Street in the 17th century, where underwriters met to transact business. In 1692 Lloyd's Coffee House was removed from Tower Street to Lombard Street; and in 1774, Lloyd's left the Coffee House in Lombard Street for premises in the Royal Exchange, where it has since remained. The wars which lasted from 1775, with but short pauses till 1815, tended to attract marine insurance to Great Britain from all parts of the world, and raised Lloyd's to the high position it has since held.

Candidates for election as members are required to satisfy the Committee as to their means, and in all cases to deposit in the names of trustees a sum of not less than £5000, as additional security for liabilities incurred on account of marine and transport risks. The aggregate amount thus placed at the disposal of the Committee of Lloyd's is very large, but in no way represents the total capital possessed by the Underwriting Members of Lloyd's.

The deposits and guarantees provided by Underwriting Members of the Corporation as security for their underwriting liabilities exceed £7,000,000 sterling.

Lloyd's is also an immense organisation for the collection and distribution of maritime intelligence, which is published daily in "Lloyd's List." This paper, originally established in 1696 as "Lloyd's News," dates from 1726, and is the oldest newspaper in Europe with the exception of the "London Gazette." The Intelligence Department has developed continually under the influence of steam and electricity, and this process keeps pace with the opening of new ports and increased means of communication. The information is supplied by Lloyd's Agents on every coast in the world, who, in written lists, or by telegram, report the arrival and departure of, and casualties to, vessels within their districts. In this connection the value of Lloyd's Signal Stations is very great, not only to underwriters but also to merchants and shipowners, as it is frequently an advantage that a vessel should be intercepted off the coast and ordered to its pert of destination. Shipowners in this way often have the earliest intimation of the arrival of their ships. Vessels arriving off outlying signal stations often bring important intelligence as to derelicts and wrecks passed on their voyages, as well as information of vessels in distress requiring assistance, and overdue vessels arriving on long voyages are reported at these stations. Not one vessel in ten bound to ports in the United Kingdom from distant ports arrives at her terminal port without first being reported from one of Lloyd's Signal Stations. At some of these stations wireless telegraphy apparatus has been installed.

Lloyd's Agent.--

Lloyd's has Agents in all parts of the world. The duties of these Agents so far as they concern yacht owners may be broadly defined as follows:

In case of shipwreck to render to masters of vessels any advice or assistance they may require.

Lloyd's call attention to the fact that, in all cases when owners have to make claims for loss or average on their policies, it very much facilitates settlement by their underwriters if they report immediately to Lloyd's Agent at the port of arrival, with a view to his conducting the necessary surveys and assessing the damage sustained.

Lloyd's Agent when called upon to intervene in case of damage to vessels with a view of granting a certificate of sea damage, has the power to appoint a surveyor, who should sign his certificate as "Surveyor to Lloyd's Agent," and in every ease the signature of the surveyor must be authenticated by that of Lloyd's Agent. In case of damage to a yacht the Committee of Lloyd's prefer that the choice of a surveyor should fall upon the Surveyor to Lloyd's Register whenever there is one stationed at the port.

It is also the duty of Lloyd's Agent to report by telegraph direct to Lloyd's (Royal Exchange, London. E.C.) all casualties which may occur to vessels within his district.

It will be seen that the Surveyor to Lloyd's Register is employed by preference to make, on behalf of Lloyd's Agent, surveys on ships when Lloyd's Agent is called upon by ship. owners or others interested to conduct a survey of a ship or to certify to damage to vessels.

Lloyd's Register.--

This Society (71, Fenchurch St., E.C.) must not be confused with Lloyd's. The Society-whose proper title is LLOYD'S REGISTER OF BRITISH AND FOREIGN SHIPPING -- is a Society voluntarily maintained by the shipping community. Its principal functions so far as yachtsmen arc concerned are :--

(a) The survey and classification of yachts, &c. (both new and old) and the yachts of the International Rating classes.

(b) The annual publication of a Register of Yachts, a Register of American Yachts, Rules for the Construction of Ships and Machinery and Yachts, &c. The two Registers of Yachts contain, in addition to the names, classes, and detailed information relating to yachts classed by the Society, the names, dimensions, &c. of British and foreign yachts, and of American yachts respectively, together with much other matter relating to yachts and yachting and particulars of all the Racing Yachts of the International classes.

(c) The supervision of the testing of anchors and chains under the provisions of the Chain Cables and Anchors Acts.

(d) The supervision of the testing, at the manufactories, of the steel intended or use in the construction of ships and boilers.

(e) The survey of refrigerating machinery and appliances.

Lloyd's Surveyor.-- The duties of a Surveyor to Lloyd's Register may be briefly defined as follows :-

1. To carry out and report to the Committee all surveys (during construction and afterwards) required on vessels, or their engines and hollers, under the Society's rules, with a view to the classification of vessels in the Register Book, or the maintenance of their classification therein.

2. In cases of damage (whether to classed or unclassed vessels) to hold special surveys at the request, or with the consent, of the owners, masters, or agents, to ascertain the extent of damage and to recommend the necessary repairs.

3. To carry out tests of steel, large forgings and castings, &c at manufactories.

4. To make measurements and surveys (on both classed and unclassed vessels).

Under the first and last heads the Yacht Owner will often find it a great advantage to employ a Lloyd's Surveyor whose services (to examine a yacht and make a fair report upon her condition or construction) can always he obtained for a moderate fee upon application to the Secretary of Lloyd's Register, 71, Fenchurch Street, London, E.C.



Oil On Troubled Waters - There is no doubt that the use of oil for smoothing down broken water or preventing wave crests breaking was known to the ancients. Aristotle supposed that the thin film of oil prevented wave formation, by reducing the friction of the wind on the water surface. There is no doubt that this friction is the primary cause of wave formation, and if the whole water surface were covered with oil, possibly the wave formation would be reduced ; but this in no way accounts for the fact that the spreading of oil on a small portion of a disturbed water surface will suddenly arrest the breaking of waves. (See the article "Waves.") Actually what the oil does is to prevent the waves rising into cusps and then falling to pieces. Also, when these cusps are formed, waves rise to great-or, as it may be termed, unnatural heights. If the height of the waves much exceeds a certain proportion to the length, the wave crest becomes deformed, and finally breaks. It is the broken water the broken water has actual motion-and not the undulations, which does the harm, and the oil, we suppose, owing to its greater viscousness, prevents waves rising into the deformed conditions which bring about their disruption. It should be clearly understood that broken water-whether it is a wave tumbling to pieces in mid-ocean or on the shore in the form of surf--has actual motion relative to the earth, and represents a great force. In the case of unbroken waves, the undulations only move; that is to say, the wave motion travels, but not the water. An unbroken wave will pass under a boat and leave her in exactly the same position relative to the earth; but if she be struck by a broken wave, she may be hurled a considerable distance, or, if she resists the force, she may be greatly damaged.

spreading oil.

Scudding before a gale (Fig. 68), distribute oil from the bow by means of oil-bags or through waste-pipes ; it will thus spread aft and give protection both from quartering and following seas. If only distributed astern (Fig. 69) there will be no protection from the quartering sea.

Running before a gale, yawing badly and threatening to broach-to (Figs. 70 and 71), oil should be distributed from the bow and from both sides, abaft the beam. In Fig. 70, for instance, where it is only distributed at the how, the weather quarter is left unprotected when the ship yaws. In Fig. 71, however, with oil-bags abaft the beam as well as forward, the quarter is protected.

to (Fig. 72), a vessel can he brought closer to the wind by using one or two oil bags forward, to windward. With a high beam sea, use oil-bags along the weather side at intervals of 40 or 50 feet.

In a heavy cross-sea (Fig. 73) as in the centre of a hurricane, or after the centre has passed, oil-bags should be hung out at regular intervals along both sides.

Steaming into a heavy head-sea (Fig. 74), use oil through forward closet-pipes. Oil bags would be tossed back on deck.

Drifting in the trough of a heavy sea (Figs. 75 and 76), use oil from waste pipes forward and bags on weather side, as in Fig. 72. These answer the purpose very much better than one bag at weather bow and one at lee quarter, although this has been tried with some success.

Lying-to, to tack or wear (Fig. 77), use oil from weather bow.

Cracking on, with high wind abeam and heavy sea (Fig. 78), use oil from waste-pipes, weather bow.

Towing another vessel in a heavy sea, oil is of the greatest service, and may prevent the hawser from breaking. Distribute oil from the towing vessel, forward and on both sides. If only used aft, the tow alone gets the benefit (Fig. 79.)

At anchor in an open roadstead, use cilia bags from jib-boom, or haul them out ahead of the vessel by means of an endless rope rove through a tail-block secured to the anchor chain (Fig. 80).

A vessel hove-to for a pilot (Fig. 81), should distribute oil from the weather side and lee quarter. The pilot-boat runs up to windward and lowers a boat, which pulls down to leeward and around the vessel's stern.

The pilot-boat runs down to leeward, gets out oil-bags to windward and on her lee quarter, and the boat pulls back around her stern, protected by the oil. The vessels drift to leeward and leave an oil-slick to windward, between the two.

There are many other cases where oil may be used to advantage -- such as lowering and hoisting boats, riding to a sea anchor, crossing rollers or surf on a bar, and from lifeboats and stranded vessels. Thick and heavy oils are the best. Mineral oils are not so effective as animal or vegetable oils. Raw petroleum has given favourable results, but not so good when it is refined. Certain oils, like cocoa-nut oil and some kinds of fish oil, congeal in cold weather, and are therefore useless, but may be mixed with mineral oils to advantage. The simplest and best method of distributing oil is by means of canvas bags about one foot. long, filled with oakum and oil, pierced with holes by means of a coarse sail-needle, and held by a lanyard. The waste-pipes forward are also very useful for this purpose.

It should be noted that oil has little or no effect on the broken water due to surf breaking on a shore; and the experiments made on the broken water, on bars of harbour entrances, show that the condition of the water cannot be much modified by oil; the wave breaking is, in such cases, mostly governed by the depth of the water.

The deeper the water, the greater the effect of the oil in modifying the wave breaking.

If a bar harbour has to be entered on a flood tide a boat could discharge oil so that it would run in ahead of her. On an ebb tide, the oil could be distributed by some apparatus in connection with the shore.

If used for scudding, it should be tightly furled and towed astern by the four guys; but when the seas rise high, boats should be hove to.

If kept suspended under athwart it can never be trodden on and burst, as it would be in any other place by a body of people hurriedly springing into a boat. When overboard it will discharge oil at a uniform rate, and make one gallon go as far as five applied in any other way.

Vegetable oil mixed with one half fish oil and one-tenth weight of tow or oakum, is recommended.

Used successfully the only troubled waters left will be a visit from unpteen agencies writing violation tickets for causing pollution. Unfortunately, being land lubbers, none recognize force majure


Schooner - Since the Virtual Voyagers are using a schooner an historical explanation of this type is included.

A fore-and-aft rigged vessel. A topsail schooner has yards. on her foremast, and sometimes on her mainmast, but no courses. It is claimed that the schooner originated in America in 1713 in this way -- One Andrew Robinson (probably a Scotchman), built a vessel at Gloucester, Massachusetts, and as she was launched into the water a bystander said "How she scoons." The sharp-eared Mr. Robinson, with ready wit responded A scooner let her be!" Webster, inn his dictionary, says that this. story is well authenticated, because Mr. Moses Prince, eight years later, referred to Mr. Robinson as the "first contriver of scooners, and Moses Prince then went on to say "how mankind is obliged to this gentleman for this knowledge"; but it can be doubted if mankind had felt any considerable benefit from schooners, recollecting the Baltimore clippers. Webster says the man exclaimed, "How she scoons" because the Scotch word "scan" is to skim as a flat stone will when thrown upon the water. Webster says this word "scan" might have been an Icelandic word "skunda," to make haste.

[The German "schhumen," to skim, and French, "écumer," to skim, are also relevant. The term "eskomer," often applied to fast sailers, was probably an old buccaneer term for their vessels; hence the French "Ecumeur," a corsair or sea rover. The word "eskomer" may have been derived from the Latin "scomber," a mackerel.] The probability is that schooner was derived from the Dutch "schoon," or rather the feminine "schoone," the final "a" being pronounced with a sound of "a" and as a syllable, meaning clean, elegant, fair, beautiful, &c. ; "schoor," a forestay; "schoornen," rowers).

c. Webster, without giving any authority, says that the Danish "skooner," German "schoner," and the Spanish "escuna," were all derived from the English, that is from the Englishman or Scotchman who built the "scooner" in Massachusetts. The Swedish for schooner is "skonare"; but whether that was also derived from the term invented by Mr. Robinson is not recorded by Webster, arid altogether the assertion about the derivation is open to very grave doubt. There is no question that this is a very cut-and-dried story about the bystander and Mr. Robinson, and most people will incline to the belief, in spite of the evidence of Mr. Moses Prince, that the word schooner is of Dutch origin. In the seventeenth century, according to Charnock, they had a number of two-masted vessels called "schoots" ; and in old English chronicles of the fifteenth and sixteenth century we find ships called "schippes," and shipmasters "schippers," now skippers; and most likely there were schooters from schoots, and schooners from schoon. The mere fact of Mr. Robinson exclaiming "a schooner let her be" does not prove that the term did not exist before his exclamation was made, but rather shows that the term was a familiar one, and, as previously said, most people will believe that it is of Dutch origin.

Mr. Robinson's claim to be the inventor of the rig can also be very well disputed, as there is no doubt that the rig was an adaptation of the brigantine which had its origin as follows. In the Cotton MSS. is a note of the ships Henry VIII. possessed, and, in reference to the "Great Henry Grace à Dieu," as she is therein called, which was built at Erith, is the following: "being in good reparation, caulking except, so that she may be laid in dock at all times when the same shall be ready, and Brigandyn, the clerk of the ship, doth say, that before the said ship shall be laid in the dock, it is necessary that her mast be taken down and bestowed in the great store house at Erith." Now this Brigandyn was the inventor of the brigantyne rig; and in the Harl. MSS. in a passage relating to the state of Edward VI.'s navy is the following: "Item, the two gallies and the brigandyn must be yearly repaired." This brigandyn was as a matter of certainty named after "Brigandyn, the clerk of the ship" ; and in Charles II.'s reign there were five of them in the Royal Navy, named Discovery, Dispatch, Diligence, Shark, and Spy, of about 80 tons. The rig, as depicted in old prints, represents them with a fore-and-aft main, and fore sail and square topsails, much the same as the topsail schooners of a later date.

In the Navy List of 1800 we find no brigantines, but the names of about seventy brigs and the names of about fifty schooners. The oldest of these schooners appear to have been built at New York in 1764, and between that year and 1777 (the year of hostilities with the American Colonies), the British Government bought eighteen schooners, and most likely all in America, where also many of the brigs came from, though most were built in England. There is not the smallest doubt that the English settlers in America had done much to improve both the rig and build of the brigantines and in reference to this matter Charnock (1800 edition) says:

"On account of the constructors' attention being directed almost solely to one point, and owing to a certain portion of skill which they possessed, and had derived from a long experience in the art of building, with regard to swiftness only, the heavy sailing vessels employed in the purposes of British commerce fell before them an easy prey. - - - The American marine, however, soared not, but with very few exceptions, in its private capacity beyond the classes of brigs and schooners, those of the former denomination proving particularly destructive. Their dimensions were enlarged far beyond those limits which it had been customary to give vessels in that class, and their force on many occasions exceeded the greater part of the British sloops of war, nearly equalling some of the minor frigates. In defiance of the common prejudice then entertained against long and narrow vessels, the American builders ventured their opposition ; and the success which attended the principles they introduced, materially differing from the practice of any country at that time, proved their superior skill in the construction of corsairs.

In the early days of English yachting. many gentlemen attempted to emulate the famous American brigs and schooners, the latter almost invariably being rigged with square topsails, until about 1840. The one point of sailing, however, which Americans had studied, "sailing close by the wind," seems to have been much neglected, and when the America, schooner, built in 1850, arrived in England in 1851, we had not a schooner which was fit to compete with her. The America was designed by Mr. G. Steers (the son of a Devonshire shipwright, who learned his trade at Dartmouth, Plymouth, and Guernsey) on principles expounded by the late Mr. Scott Russell from about the year 1834, and exemplified in a few English yachts, notably in the Mosquito, built in 1847. The fault of Mr. Scott Russell's designs, as exemplified in the Titania, was the short hollow entrance he attempted to demonstrate his theory by, although he kept the midship section well aft. This was not apparent in the America. But the genius of George Steers, the Devonshire naval architect, appears to have died with him in 1856, as certainly there were no American yachts built since which can claim any improvement on that famous vessel, until the time of the late Edward Burgess. From America's day, and especially in the sixties and seventies, up to 1880, the schooner rig was very popular in this country, then until 1898 there came a period when it was in disfavour.

After a lapse of many years, the schooner rig has once more attained its old popularity, and it is of interest to record that several magnificent vessels have recently been built which in every respect bear comparison with the well-known schooners of the sixties and seventies.

When Messrs. Camper and Nicholson built the 160-ton schooner Amphitrite, in 1887 she proved to be the last schooner-rigged yacht of the old school, and subsequently this class of vessel, which had been falling into disfavour since the last season of Sir George Laupson's Miranda, became almost defunct. In 1896 Mr. J.M. Soper designed the 175-ton schooner Charmian, but she did not attract much attention, and it was not until Mr. G. L. Watson's Rainbow, a yacht of 331 tons, was built in 1898 that there was any tendency to revive the schooner rig in British waters. Since that date quite a number of beautiful schooners have been launched, and without exception they have proved useful vessels for cruising and racing. Gleniffer, 496 tons, originally the largest two-masted schooner in the world, designed by Mr. G.L. Watson, and built at Messrs. Henderson's yard, Glasgow, in 1899 ; Clara, 185 tons ; and L'Espérance, 295 tons ; both these very successful cruisers were designed by Mr. J. M. Soper, and the first-named proved an extremely fast yacht The fleet of smaller schooners, such as Sunshine, Roseneath and Mystic, has steadily increased, and, lastly, Mr. W. Fife has contributed the fine racing schooner Cicely, of 263 tons, built in 1902.

Since the debut of the late Mr. C. L. Orr-Ewing's yacht Rainbow, which in 1898 attained a higher speed on a broad reach than any yacht had preciously accomplished, many fast matches have been sailed by schooners.

The latest additions to the schooner fleet. have been Meteor IV, 400 tons; Germania, 366 tons, built in Germany: Waterwitch, by Fife ; and Margharita, now building, 1913, by Camper & Nicholson, for Mr. Whitaker. The American schooners Ingomar, Elena, and Westward were all wonderfully weatherly vessels. Elena and Westward are about 96 feet on the waterline. The Westward, 338 tons, was designed by Herreshoff to the International Rule, and she was classed 100A1 at Lloyd's, and in 1910, when she appeared in European waters, she defeated the German vessels with ease, being far more weatherly.

Schooners are now raced in European waters under the International Rules, which provide that they must be classed A1 at Lloyd's and be over 23-1/4 metres rating.

They sail on a very simple scale of time allowance, namely, four seconds per metre per mile.

As to the speed they travel in a strong wind it may be said that in 1912 Germania reached from the East Princessa buoy to the No Man Fort at a speed of 15 knots.