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Ten Words to Know Before Tuning In to the America’s Cup

Still don’t know the difference between windward and leeward? Study these sailing terms to keep up with the race series without confusion.

We usually think of sailing as a leisure activity, on par with bowling and badminton, not “real sports” like football and basketball. But this summer, yachting is getting more intense—and we’re awarding it a little more of our attention. America’s Cup has returned to U.S. waters, courtesy of Oracle Corporation CEO Larry Ellison, who won the last America’s Cup—and the right to set the rules at this year’s race series (which kicked off July 4 in San Francisco). While there’s been some controversy surrounding mounting costs and safety concerns, teams from Sweden, Italy, New Zealand, and the United States are back in the water competing for one of the most respected sailing titles in the world.

Want in on the action—but haven’t got a clue what announcers mean when they use words like rudder and starboard? We talked to Tim Jeffery, director of athletes and public relations for the America’s Cup Event Authority, who pulled together a list of 10 must-know sailing terms. Commit them to memory, and when it comes time to throw down your knowledge of the sport, you won’t be left staring at your boat shoes.

Starboard
Looking forward, the yacht is oriented starboard if the wind is coming over the right-hand side of the yacht.

Port
Looking forward, the yacht is oriented port if the wind is coming over the left-hand side of the yacht.

Windward
The yacht closest to the wind is the windward yacht. It has the most advantageous position in the water.

Leeward
The yacht farthest from the wind is the leeward yacht.

Upwind
Sailing into the wind

Downwind
Sailing with the wind

Reach
Sailing across the wind

Bow
The front of the boat

Stern
The back of the boat

Rudder
The underwater blade at the stern of the boat that is controlled by the helmsman. America’s Cup boats are fitted with rudder “elevators,” or winglets, on the blade that controls the pitch of the yacht. Ideally, rudder elevators help avoid a “pitch-pole,” or when the front of the boat goes under water and then comes back up.

And last, but not least, a little about this year’s boat: the AC72

All four teams vying for this year’s Cup will be onboard 72-foot catamarans with two hulls, or bodies. Each boat is decked out with a 160-foot-tall wingsail. Wingsails generate a huge amount of lift, allowing the boats to be elevated above the waterline and virtually fly across the water.

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