A Little Leeway (9)

With the weather ripe for an afternoon on the water, Ahab was convinced that Ernest was nearly ready to be let loose on the ocean waves. But first, he wanted to make sure that his star pupil knew how boats sail in wind.


“What?” Ernest asked.

“When we get out there,” Ahab swept his arm to indicate the sea, “there is nothing like it Ernest. With the wind in the sails, you can switch off your engine and under the power of nature only, you can explore the vast sea. You will see the land from a new perspective.”

Ernest admitted it sounded fantastic. No engine, just the wind in the sails and seagulls circulating overhead.

“But the wind in the sails gives us a little lift, as well as propelling us forward. And as well as pushing us forward, we also go a little sideways. And this is what we call leeway. But can you see a problem with that?”

“Well surely,” said Ernest, “if we are going forwards and sideways, won’t be bash into something? Don’t we need to be going straight?”

“Yes, we do but no, sometimes we can’t. And so, as sailors, we need to compensate for this when we sail. You see if we are sailing down wind or before the wind, there can be no leeway. But if we are sailing along close hauled then there will be much more leeway. And so, for practical purposes, we calculate leeway as being 5° when we talk about leeway.”

Ernest looked a little perplexed but Ahab knew that with time, and practical experience on the sea, he would begin to apply the theory to the practical.

“What is it that you need to ask?” for Ahab could see that Ernest was thinking deeply.

“So really, sailing is about harnessing the power of the wind and riding the ride but with all this talk of leeway, forces and tides, are there times when we can’t get to where we want to go?”

With a huge grin, Ahab clapped Ernest on the back and with a whoop of joy he shouted “Yes!”

“And it’s a pesky nuisance too but there are times that the running of the tide pushing the boat back, the direction of the wind and so on make sailing almost impossible. And that’s when we rely on the ‘diesel donkey’ to get back home or get out of trouble.”

“Diesel donkey?”

“The engine, Ernest. So not sailing but motoring. And all this can be avoided how exactly?” he questioned Ernest.

The silence was shorter than it had been but Ernest suddenly realised what was happening. Ahab thought he was ready. He was going sailing. Ernest was going sailing!


“Plotting your course, checking the charts, understanding the weather, knowing the tides… you HAVE all the tools. And that means one thing, Ernest.”

“I’m going sailing!”

“Yes! But there is one small lesson yet before we slip the lines and make for the blue yonder…”

Ernest tried not to look too disappointed.

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