21 October 2013

Tippy, Not Tipsy

This boat is really tippy. I'm worried someone is going to tip out and fall into the water.
One of the things that gives away instantly that I am not a born sailor is that I don’t like it when our boat gets tippy. The other thing that gives it away is that I call it “tippy” and not “heeled over”. This is just one of many examples of the differences between normal English and the idioms of the sea that sailors speak. I’m going to continue to call it tippy – it just sounds better that way. And a little bit more fun.

So what’s this tippy stuff all about? If you live on land, this might seem a bit alien. Your house certainly doesn’t lean from side to side when the wind blows against it, or at least it shouldn't. But sailboats do. They’re designed to heel over to one side when the wind pushes against the sails. Imagine a Giant Hand coming down from the sky (like something out of Monty Python), pushing against the sail and pushing it into the water. That’s what the wind does. Fortunately, there is ballast in the keel of your boat which provides a counter balance, making it hard for the Giant Hand to push your sail completely down into the water. You want wind to push into your sails as that’s what makes your boat go forward so you kind of have to accept from time to time that the Giant Hand is going to mess you about.

You can minimize the amount that your boat heels by:
  • Carefully picking which way you sail relative to the wind;
  • Easing the sails; and
  • Reducing the amount of sail area.

Points of sail - the big black arrow is the Giant Hand
via Wikimedia Commons (Creative Commons license)

Talking about points of sail is how you describe the course your sailboat is taking relative to the wind. In the handy diagram above, you’ll see that there is a “forbidden zone” – Zone A. It is impossible for any boat to sail directly into the wind. It isn’t just forbidden, it is impossible. Trust me on this. Zone B is called “close hauled” – this is when you are sailing close to the wind, about 45°. This is when the Giant Hand is the strongest and your boat gets really tippy. Unfortunately, sometimes where you want to go is where the wind is coming from, so you don’t have any choice but to sail close hauled and beat into the wind.

If you find yourself in Zone B, you can reduce the amount of tippiness by easing the sails. When you are close hauled, you generally keep your sails trimmed in line with the boat as much as possible. When you ease the sails, you let them out to be more perpendicular with the boat. This makes it harder for the Giant Hand to push on the sails. You can also reduce the amount of sail you have by reefing your sails (basically making them shorter) which give the Giant Hand less to push against. These both mean less heeling, but it also means you go slower. It is all about trade-offs.
There are three other zones you can sail in. The first is a “beam reach” which is 90° to the wind. This is what we call “champagne sailing” and can be found in Zone C (C for “champagne”). The boat stays relatively flat and all is right in the world. Zone D stands for “broad reach” and can also be pleasant sailing. Zone E is called “running” and is when you have the wind directly behind you. You’re basically running away from the Giant Hand. This can be a dangerous as you can accidentally jibe your boat. "Jibe" refers to when you turn your boat through the wind. I don’t really get the physics behind it but your boom (the big stick your mainsail is attached to) can swing quickly to the other side. If it hits your head, it could be very painful. Even deadly. So that’s why I say, Zone C is the place for me.

When the boat is quite tippy, I feel a bit tipsy. Especially when I’m trying to move around deck or down below. I cannot tell you how many bruises I got all over my legs last summer from bashing into things or madly trying to catch things before they fell down to the floor (or what sailors call a "sole"). It feels a bit like those times when you’ve had a bit too much to drink and the room starts to spin. I sometimes wonder if I might enjoy the tippy feeling a bit more if I was actually a bit tipsy. Or maybe Scott should put valium in my drinking water.

And on a related note, one fabulous thing about New Zealand – no tipping! (And yes, it is related, tip-sy, tip-py, and tip-ping. They all start with tip.) It does my head in whenever I’m back in the States and have to do mental arithmetic to figure out how much tip to add when I’m out to eat. New Zealand makes it simple. People are paid a liveable wage and don’t expect to be tipped for the service they provide. Of course if you speak with an American accent, a few people might think that you won’t be familiar with the no-tipping Kiwi custom and hope for that little bit extra. But that’s very much the exception. So many reasons to love New Zealand, sailing and no tipping included.

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