The Language of Sailing

Over the five years we worked together, fishhead Lenny Rudow often emailed me a question about some strange term he’d come across in a sailboat review. I never did tell him what a baggywrinkle was (or more importantly, that it’s really not a term he needs to know in order to edit 21st century boat reviews). But as he developed a working understanding of terms I’d never thought twice about, I realized how specialized my own vocabulary is. And now I’m able to put that vocabulary to use, by writing about sailboats and sailing once again.

Even though I take it for granted, sailing lingo makes its own language. Photo: PaulCroninStudios

Even though I take it for granted, sailing lingo is its own specialized language. Photo: PaulCroninStudios

(The how to sail video series we filmed last summer was partly inspired by Lenny’s questions; Sailing Lingo identifies some basic parts of a sailboat.)

I spend a lot of time thinking about how to use the wind and waves to move at a snail’s pace toward a completely arbitrary location. Much of that time and effort is devoted to figuring out how to move at a slightly faster snail’s pace. Ridiculous, right? What can I say, most passions don’t seem rational when looked at from 30,000 feet.

I also spend a lot of time thinking about language: words, phrasing, even grammar. What to leave in, and what to take out. And for better or worse, sailing is such a highly specialized sport that it requires its own vocabulary. Which means not just anyone can write about sailing and sailboats. One of my clients tried hiring copy editors, but then those stories had to be translated into publishable sailing-speak. Turns out, I am bilingual: I speak English and Sailing. And since writing about sailing and sailboats is at the top of my fun list (and fun jobs usually turn out better than not-fun ones), it’s a win all around.

Teachers often learn more than we manage to pass along to our students. By explaining terms to Lenny that, to me, seemed like normal everyday words, I realized that my own second language is a valuable skill set.

Maybe as a thank you, I’ll tell him what a “baggywrinkle” is.

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