Return to The Boats of Swallows and Amazons
Return to All Things Ransome.

Glossary of Sailing Terms Used in Arthur Ransome's
Swallows and Amazons and Swallowdale

By Stuart Wier and John Kohnen

Amidships: The central part of a boat, between the bow and the stern.

Backwater: To row in reverse, to slow or stop a boat, or to move the boat backwards.

Beam: The width of the hull, often taken to mean the maximum width.

Bear Off: Turn away from the wind.

Beating: See tacking.

Bilge: The area in the lower part of the hull where water collects, also the part of the hull where the bottom turns into the side, the "turn of the bilge".

Block: Known on land as a pulley.

Boom: The spar extending the bottom of a lugsail.

Bottom Boards: Slatted unvarnished framework in the bottom of the boat, usually removable, to keep your feet off the planking and frames, and out of the bilge water, if there is any.

Careen: To roll a ship over on one side in shallow water and clean the outside of the bottom, which becomes foul with marine growths after a long voyage.

Cast-Off: To untie, withdraw, and properly stow a line tying a boat to a dock or pier, or to another boat; said of painters, warps, and docklines.

Centerboard or Centreplate: A retractable fin projecting through a boat's bottom to provide resistance to leeway when sailing into or across the wind.

Clinch or Clench: To secure a fastener by bending down the end that protrudes through the pieces to be fastened.

Close-Hauled: Sailing as close to the wind as possible, or nearly so.

Come About, Go About: To turn to take the wind on the other side of the boat, with the bow going through the wind.

Come up: Turn towards the wind.

Dockline: A line used to secure a boat to a dock.

Floors: Transverse frames that run across the keel but do not extend up the sides, also the portion of the hull between the keel and the turn of the bilge.

Forefoot: The part of the hull that first goes through the water.

Freeboard: The distance from the water to the top edge of the hull at any point along the hull.

Full and By: Full is sailing close to the wind, but far enough off the wind to keep the sail full and pulling well. Sailing by the wind is to steer to keep the sail full as the wind shifts, rather than following a straight course.

Give Way: Command to start rowing.

Go About: See come about.

Gunwale: A structural timber extending from bow to stern along the inside of the top plank; loosely speaking, the top edge of the hull of a boat. Pronounced "Gun'l".

Halyard: A line used to hoist a sail or flag.

Handsomely: To move or act slowly, steadily, and carefully.

Heel: The tilt of a boat to one side caused by the pressure of wind on the sail. This is the normal, stable position when sailing.

Hoist Sail: To raise the sail.

Jibe: To turn a boat to take the wind on the other side, with the stern going through the wind. Unless the jibe is controlled, the boom will bang over and the sudden change of forces can cause momentary lose of control. Otherwise a jibe is usually a safe maneuvre.

Keel: The major structural member in a traditional wooden vessel, to which the frames, transom, stem, and lower-most planks are fastened. By extension, the meaning refers to a lengthwise fin under the hull used to provide lateral resistance when sailing.

Keep Her Full: Command. See full and by.

Lacing: Small line that attaches a sail to a spar.

Lee: The downwind side; the direction or side towards which the wind is blowing. The lee side of a boat is sheltered from the wind by the hull of the boat; likewise, the lee of an island is sheltered from the wind. A lee shore is the one the wind blows onto or towards. To run to the lee is to sail downwind, towards the lee shore. See windward.

Leech: The aft edge of the sail.

Leeward: To the lee. Pronounced something like "loow'rd".

Leeway: The sliding to leeward that a boat suffers when sailing into or across the wind.

Let Go: Command to release or untie, often regarding the halyard.

Line: Rope put to use on a boat.

Lines: Drawings defining the shape of a boat's hull, also the shape of a boat's hull, "she has nice lines".

Make Fast: To tie onto.

Make Sail: To raise the sail and get underway; a broader term than hoist sail.

Painter: A line in the bows of a boat, used to make fast to a dock or other object, and for light towing.

Port: The side of a boat or ship that is to your left when facing the bow. Also known as larboard.

Port Tack: Sailing with the wind coming over the port side of the boat.

Put the Helm Up: Move the tiller to windward.

Reach: To sail with the wind coming over the midships of the boat, often a boat's best and fastest point of sail.

Ready About: Command from the helmsman to the crew in preparation for coming about. Equivalent command preparatory to jibing is "stand-by to jibe".

Reef: To reduce the area of sail exposed to the wind. The portion of sail taken in, as in "we took in a reef when the wind rose". Small lines called reef points are used to tie up a potion of the sail in a bundle to reduce its area.

Rope: Material used to make lines and ropework. You might say, "Bring me a piece of rope from the boathouse to replace this line."

Run: To sail downwind, or nearly so. The wind is coming over the stern.

Scull: To propel a boat using a single oar over the stern in a notch in the transom, moving the oar from side to side.

Sheerstrake: The topmost plank on a hull.

Sheet: A line controlling the position of a sail, attached to a lower corner of a sail, or attached to the boom.

Spar: Any pole used in rigging sails on a boat or ship. A lug-rigged sailing dinghy has three spars: the mast, yard, and boom.

Starboard: The side of a boat or ship that is to your right when facing the bow.

Starboard Tack: Sailing with the wind coming over the starboard side.

Stays: Lines to support a mast, running from near the top of the mast to the bow and to both sides of the hull. The stays to the sides of the hull are also called shrouds, but the line to the bow is always the forestay.

Stem: A structural member in the bow of the boat extending the keel forward and up, forming the part of the hull farthest forward.

Step the Mast: Fix the mast in place, ready to be rigged.

Sternsheets: The area towards the stern of a boat, with seating. The seats are properly called the stern benches. One sits in the sternsheets, on the stern benches. This term is not used describing modern craft.

Strake: A hull plank.

Stroke: The oarsman closest to the stern in a multi-oared craft. Because all other oarsmen can see the stroke, the stoke sets the pace.

Tack: A point of sailing with the wind on one side of the boat (noun); to change the side of the boat from which the winds blows by turning the bow through the wind (verb).

Tacking: To sail to windward by making alternate tacks as close to the wind as is possible or reasonable.

Tackle: An arrangement of blocks (usually two blocks) with connecting lines to increase force when a line is pulled. A three-part tackle has three moving line segments between the blocks, it is also called a "luff tackle". Pronounced "Tay-k'l".

Thwart: A transverse seat or crossbeam.

Tiller: The arm, or lever, used to control the angle of the rudder.

Transom: The transverse, vertical or sloping, panel forming the after end of a boat's hull. Double-enders like canoes and peapods have no transom.

Traveler: A metal ring that moves freely back and forth on a rope, rod, or spar, often used for sheet blocks, in which case the transverse rod the traveler slides on is called a horse.

Unship the Rudder: Remove the rudder, lifting the pintles out of the gudgeons.

Warp: a dockline for a ship.

Windward: The side or direction from which the wind is coming. The windward side of a ship or boat is the one the wind blows onto. The windward side of an island is next to the lee shore: the wind is blowing onto it, sometimes a dangerous place for a sailing vessel.

Yard: The spar supporting the top of a sail. On a lug rig such as the Swallow had, the yard is set at an angle from the horizontal. The yardarm is not the entire yard but rather a short end on the yard beyond where the sail is attached on a square-rigged ship.

Yaw: To turn from side to side, usually unintentionally.

Return to The Boats of Swallows and Amazons

or go to Further Reading, Plans and Information Sources

Copyright © 2010 Stuart Wier. Reuse, retransmission, or reproduction is forbidden without prior written permission.

The Boats of Swallows and Amazons and related web pages are presented on All Things Ransome with the kind permission of Stuart K. Wier.