Key sailing terms needed to be skipper ready for Cowes Week

Jul 8 2022

Two people in sailing boats

Cowes Week is coming up, one of the largest sailing regattas of its kind in the world! The event is hosted in Cowes on the Isle of Wight and has been going since 1826! Competitors get together from all around the world to compete in the event’s sailing races, from Olympic sailors to local yachtsmen. With races happening daily throughout the week, there can be up to 1000 boats competing!

There are many different ways to view the events, from watching on the shore to keeping up to date with the radio commentary throughout the day. Calshot Castle and café provide a spectacular view across the Solent and Isle of Wight – ideal for spotting the boats. If you want to get in on the action, you can also hop aboard a spectator boat or rib.

Don’t worry if you’re new to the sailing world, to prepare for the event, we thought we’d give you a little insight into some key sailing terms that might help your understanding. Why not keep this blog handy on the day and try to identify parts of the sailing boats yourself?

First, you might need to know about who sails the boat:

Ahoy there skipper! The skipper is the captain of the yacht – the person who has responsibility for the boat.
Depending on its size, professional boats could have more than 20 members of crew. The crew is the group of people helping to get the boat sailing as fast as possible - they can reach a speed of up to 12 knots!

Here is some nautical lingo around the key elements of a sailboat:

Port/ Starboard:
‘port’ refers to anything left of the boat when facing forward, while ‘starboard’ refers to the right.
Bow/ Stern:
The ‘bow’ is the front of the boat, while the ‘stern’ refers to the back.
The hull of the boat is the main body of the sailing boat - this is the watertight structure of the boat. Classic sailing boats were created using wood, while modern yachts are made from carbon fibre.
A keel looks a little like a shark fin. It’s placed at the bottom of the boat to keep it balanced and helps sailors not to capsize! The most popular type of keel for a racing boat is a fin keel. These are created deeper and thinner, to be more streamlined in the water.
The mast is one of the most important features. It’s the big pole in the middle of the boat that the sail is attached to. Fun fact: masts can hold sails that are larger than a football pitch!
Have you ever heard of the phrase ‘hoist the sail!’? This phrase is usually talking about the mainsail - the biggest sail on a sailboat. This catches a lot of wind, and creates the speed generated when sailing.
A jib is the boat’s secondary sail, which can be found in front of the mast.
The boom is a horizontal pole attached to the mast. This supports the sail in all winds and is essential to the sailing boat. The boom allows the crew to control the shape and angle of the sail.
The rudder is placed at the back of the boat, below the water line. The rudder is used to steer the boat.
The point from which the rudder is operated, usually either a wheel, or a stick called a tiller on smaller boats.
Tacking/ Gybing:
‘Tacking’ or 'Gybing' refers to changing direction by turning into the wind. 'Tacking' refers to turning the bow into the wind, whilst 'jibing' refers to turning the stern into the wind.
This is when the wind pushes the boat so that it leans to one side and looks very dramatic and exciting!
Diagram showing the parts of a sailboat

Inspired to try a bit of sailing or windsurfing?

Get out on the water at the Calshot Lagoon and experience the thrill of the waves in an action-packed adventure here at the Solent's premier sailing and watersports centre. Whether its basic skills, or a course for accelerated learning, we’ve got experiences and courses for whatever your age or ability level.

You could even take a tour around Calshot Castle and view the sailing. Don’t forget to stop at the café for a nice cold drink and some tasty treats too!

Man windsurfing