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The Whizzy Whatchamacallit - An Introduction To Boat Bits

   By: Helen MacKenzie

'Is that from the boat, Grampa? What is it?' my daughter asked the other day.

'It's a whizzy whatchamacallit,' replied my father-in-law, spinning a chunky bit of metal around in his hand. 'From the mast. It's broken.'

We have a lot of whatchamacallits on our boat, whizzy or otherwise. Take the cockpit for example. Fourteen different ropes, with fourteen different names, snake their way from various parts of the boat into the cockpit, and that's only on the right - sorry, the starboard - side.

The whole thing is repeated on the port side, giving us twenty-eight bits of string, of clashing colours and patterns, to decorate the middle of the boat. There seems to be a rope for every conceivable purpose, so whether it be kicker or cunningham, runner or halyard, you can be sure that we have a sheet for it.

It all gets a bit messy at times, especially when I pull the wrong one!

And the sails! I can at least tell a spinnaker from a mainsail, but what is the difference between a genoa, a number one jib, a working jib and a storm jib? And what about a staysail and a trysail? I have to say that I have no idea.

But sails are the least of my worries. Sailing conversations, on board, in the pub or over the dinner table, sometimes seem as if they are in a foreign language. Discussions of jackstays, goosenecks and sliplines all sound a little fascist to me, and as for warp protection... well, is it any wonder that I get confused?

In the interests of sanity, I opened a sailing book the other day, just to see if I could work out what it all means. It was heavy going, but I struggled on until I reached the bit about jiffy reefing and leech cringles.

So, I've made a decision: if you want me to pull a rope on board a boat, keep it simple. Don't tell me to pull the spinnaker halyard sheet, just ask me to heave on the green rope. And as for all the other essential sailing items, well, from now on, they're all watchamacallits to me.

Which brings me back to the whizzy one - the broken whatchamacallit from the mast.

You'll be glad to hear that this turned out to be a vang bracket, of a type that they don't make any more.

But I'd better not tell you whatcha my father-in-law said about that! For all the Reluctant Sailor articles go to The Reluctant Sailor.

Helen MacKenzie is a freelance writer. She contributes to the web site at The Sea Dreamer web site has articles, guides and news on sailing and cruising on the West Coast of Scotland.

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