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History & Trivia

Looking to test your nautical knowledge or for a micro-dose of history on the high seas? Scroll down to see recent trivia from our e-newsletter, Under SAIL.

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This Day in History

On this day in 1964, Dawn Riley was born. Over the course of her career, this decorated American sailor participated in three America's Cups and two Whitbread Round the World Races, including with the famed 1989 Maiden voyage, as well as numerous other projects to expand and make accessible the sport of sailing. She was named the Rolex Yachtswoman of the year in 1999 and is the current executive director of the Oakcliff Sailing Center. Happy birthday to this living legend!

Flagging You Down

You see a boat raise the Z or zulu flag (four triangles of yellow, blue, red and black). What are they signaling?
A) Going alongside for transfer at sea
B) Man overboard
C) They require a tug
D) They are altering the course to Starboard

This Day in History

On July 8, 1976, Dame Ellen MacArthur was born. A sailor since childhood, this English yachtswoman is best known for her 2005 world record for the fastest solo nonstop voyage around the world, completed in 71 days, 14 hours, 18 minutes and 33 seconds. She also won the 1995 Young Sailor of the Year Award after sailing solo around Great Britain and scored a second-place finish in the 2000-2001 Vendée Globe. Since her retirement from competitive sailing in 2009, she has been working for a more sustainable future, promoting a circular economy aimed at reinventing the way we think about consumption and economic production.

Racing Rules

Rule 30.4 in the Racing Rules of Sailing is called the ”Black Flag Rule,” but it doesn’t have anything to do with pirates! What is this rule actually stating?
A) It’s sailing’s anti-doping code
B) When possible, a boat shall avoid a boat that is capsized, has not regained control after capsizing, is anchored or aground, or is trying to help a person or vessel in danger
C) Each boat is required to start, finish and complete each mark rounding with the same competitors onboard
D) Any boat over the line in the last minute before the starting signal is disqualified without a hearing

Getting into the Details

The Racing Rules of Sailing begin with several definitions of terms used throughout the rulebook. Which of the following is defined as “a sailboat and the crew onboard”? A) Boat
B) Competitor
C) Participant
D) Vessel

Sports Central 

In addition to being the homeport of 11th Hour Racing Team and many other major sailing events and teams over the years—including decades of America’s Cup winning campaigns and several Volvo Ocean Race stopovers—which other historic sports milestone took place there?
A) The first American polo match in 1876
B) The first automobile race in 1895
C) Golf’s first US Open in 1895
D) The first U.S. National Tennis Championship in 1881
(all of the above)

Living Literature

In addition to having the trophy for fastest circumnavigation named after him, what other Junes Verne reference might be found in the modern sailor’s vocabulary?
A) Cape Hatteras was named after John Hatteras from The Adventures of Captain Hatteras
B) Harding’s Ledge is named after Cyrus Harding from The Mysterious Island
C) Cape Campbell is named for Helena Campbell from The Green Ray
D) Point Nemo is named for Captain Nemo from Ten Thousand Leagues Under the Sea

This Day in History June, 1

The inaugural Sunday Times Golden Globe began on this day in 1968. There was no organized start, and sailors, including Moitessier, Knox-Johnston and ill-fated Donald Crowhurst, were allowed to choose when to set out. Only John Ridgway aboard English Rose IV actually started on June 1.Safety First

Safety Rules

The Racing Rules of Sailing begin with safety. What is the very first rule listed as 1.1 in the racing rules of sailing?
A) Fair sailing (no unsportsmanlike conduct or foul play)
B) Helping Those in Danger (assist anyone in need)
C) Lifesaving Equipment and PFDs (have it, wear it when necessary)
D) The anti-doping code (no banned substances)

Mandatory PFDs

Which signal flag is used to tell a race fleet that PFDs are required, according to rule 40?
A) Juliet
B) Lima
C) Tango
D) Yankee

This Day in History

On this day, May 11, 1977, the French Vendée Globe winner Armel Le Cléac'h was born. Among his many sailing accolades are three podium finishes in the Vendée Globe—two seconds in 2008-09 and 2012-13 and the first-place finish in 2016-17 during which he set a new race record of 74d 3h 35m 46s. Le Cléac'h was also the IMOCA World Champion in 2008 and was awarded the Laureus World Sports Award for Action Sportsperson of the Year in 2018.

This Day in History

Today, May 10th, we’re celebrating the birthdays of two impressive sailors: Sir Thomas Lipton and Charlie Dalin. Lipton was born on this day in 1848 and went on to achieve America’s Cup fame as the “world's best loser” after losing five straight Cups. His perseverance and optimism made him one of the most beloved names in the Cup’s history despite having never succeeded in winning it. In addition to his sailing resume, the Scottish sailor was the founder of Lipton Tea and a philanthropist, aiding medical efforts during WWI and lending his ships to the Red Cross. He was also gay, drolly citing that no woman ever measured up to his mother to justify his “bachelorhood.” Despite being born to a working-class family with the odds stacked against him, he was appointed Knights Commander of the Royal Victorian Order, amassed a great fortune and tirelessly aided working-class people before his death at 83. 

Charlie Dalin was born on this day in 1984. He is a contemporary French sailor best known for his second-place finish in the 2020-21 Vendée Globe. He received line honors after 80d 06h 15m 47s, but competitor Yann Bestaven corrected just two and a half hours under him. Dalin has also been a consistent force in the Transat Jaques Vabre and other ocean races over the past decade. He sails aboard the IMOCA 60 Apivia.

Vocab Quiz

Which modern synonym for "complain" originally was used to describe a ship that tended to round up into the wind due to a bad design or poorly balanced sails?
A) Carp
B) Whinge
C) Nag
D) Gripe

This Day in History

On May 1, 1976, the fiberglass voyaging canoe Hōkūleʻa launched its maiden voyage to Tahiti to prove that ancient Pacific voyagers were capable of navigating across oceans. The successful voyage revitalized interest in Hawaiian seafaring tradition, and although the canoe was only built for the crossing, a dedicated group of volunteers took it upon themselves to continue its maintenance. In the nearly 50 since launching, Hōkūleʻa has gone on to make many other voyages including a circumnavigation and has provided an education in traditional navigating and seafaring to countless people. Today, the canoe is managed by the Pacific Voyaging Society, and is currently undertaking the Moananuiakea Voyage, an environmental education tour of the Pacific in which Hōkūleʻa will be joined by another ancient-inspired canoe, Hikianalia. For more, visit hokulea.com.

Bon Anniversaire!

On this day in 1959, the beloved French sailor Jean Le Cam was born. To American audiences, he may be best known for his dramatic rescue of fellow competitor Kevin Escoffier in the most recent Vendée Globe, though his achievements also include a Whitbread campaign, multiple victories in the Solitaire du Figaro and five Vendée campaigns, netting both second and fourth place finishes. He turns 63 today April 27th.

The Real Whomper

We recently ran a sail design trivia question about an outdated sail called the “blooper.” 23 percent of responders incorrectly answered that the sail’s name was the “whomper.” What is a “whomper” actually?
A) The sail designed to win the America’s Cup in the 1992 movie Wind
B) The sail that flies directly forward of a square rigger’s “spanker”
C) A regional nickname for symmetric spinnakers
D) One of the eight one-design sails in each VO65’s sail inventory during the 2014-15 and 2017-18 Volvo Ocean Races

Lonely Latitudes

Point Nemo is the most remote part of the ocean, marking the exact location where a boat is farthest from land in all directions. From Point Nemo, which island is not one of the three "closest" points of land 1,670 miles away?
A) Easter Island, Chile
B) Ducie Island, Territory of UK
C) Maher Island, Antarctica
D) Te One Island, New Zealand

Strike Out

Sail design has evolved over the centuries from square sails on tallships to triangular Bermuda rigs, back to the square-topped mains of today's speedsters, and not to mention every version of a lateen or cat rig in between. Not every "next big thing" has been a homerun, though. What was the short-lived 1970s era headsail set to leeward in conjunction with a spinnaker called?
A) Code J
B) Whomper
C) B-Sail
D) Blooper

Recalling the Racing Rules

If you see an X flag (white with a blue cross) and hear one horn blast after the start of the race, what is the race committee communicating?
A) General Recall
B) Shortening the Course
C) Individual Recall
D) Rule 30.1 is in effect

Motion of the Ocean

A boat's seakindliness is determined by a number of factors, and though design ratios like SA/D and D/L can tell you a lot about how a boat will sail, sometimes it takes getting onboard in a bit of a breeze to get a true sense of the boat's personality. There are a number of different terms for the motions and rotations you may encounter on the water, like pitch and heave. If you were describing a boat's wobble around a vertical axis, which word would you use?
A) Sway
B) Yaw
C) Roll
D) Surge

Happy Birthday

Solo sailing around the globe can be a long and lonely pursuit. Competitors in the Vendée Globe spend their holidays and birthdays alone—with last edition’s exception of a serendipitous Christmas meet-up for Jean le Cam and Boris Herrmann. Which two IMOCA 60 sailors from the 2020 Vendée Globe have birthdays during the first week of April?
A) Pip Hare and Fabrice Amedeo
B) Sam Davies and Kojiro Shiraishi
C) Clarisse Crémer and Alex Thomson
D) Kevin Escoffier and Benjamin Dutreux

Overbearing

Based on its pieces, it probably won’t surprise you to learn that the compound word “overbearing” is a term with nautical origins. This synonym for “domineering” is derived from what sailing happening?
A) To be the windward boat sailing downwind, therefore covering a boat you’re bearing down upon
B) To sail passed layline and therefore at a bearing over that which is necessary
C) To have conditions aboard merchant ships that were beyond bearing
D) To have the mechanical bearings in a steering system fail due to wear and overuse

Racing Refresher 

Let’s start simple. You’re on the fourth leg of a port triangle course in a fleet race, and you find yourself on a collision course with another boat. You are on a starboard tack. They are on a port tack. Who should give way?
A) You
B) Them
C) It depends on whether they’re on the same leg as you
D) It depends on whether they’re competing in the race or not

Rule Refresher

Spring has sprung and racing season is right around the corner! How well do you remember your rulebook? What is the very first rule listed as 1.1 in the racing rules of sailing?
A) Fair sailing (no unsportsmanlike conduct or foul play)
B) Right of Way on Opposite Tacks (starboard and port)
C) Lifesaving Equipment and PFDs (have it, wear it when necessary)
D) Helping Those in Danger (assist anyone in need)

Morning Light

In the 2008 documentary Morning Light, a group of amateur sailors work to earn spots on Roy Disney’s TP52, forming the youngest team to sail the Transpac. All those who ultimately raced were between 18 and 23 years old. Which American sailing duo got their start as part of this crew?
A) Paul Foerster and Kevin Burnham
B) Charlie Enright and Mark Towill
C) Stephanie Roble and Maggie Shea
D) Riley Gibbs and Anna Weis

High and Mighty

A ship that can point higher than the rest of the fleet easily creates windward-leeward separation between itself and its compatriots; so it’s no surprise that the old Dutch word for “windward” evolved into this commonly used word to describe someone who’s distant and thinks themself above others:
A) Haughty
B) Proud
C) Aloof
D) Blasé

This Day in History: March 25th

On this day in 2018, British ocean sailor John "Fish" Fisher was lost overboard during the South Pacific leg of the Volvo Ocean Race. His loss was felt across the sailing community and especially by his teammates aboard Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag. He is remembered as a gifted sailor, excellent mentor and good friend. 

Marine March Madness

Round two of U.S. Sailing's bracket for the nation's best boat name opens today. Notable names still in contention for the title range from punny to bizarre, including Sea Brisket, Homicidal Psycho Jungle Cat, Grim Reacher, Juan Solo and Meat, so don't forget to cast your ballot to help the best name win. Voting for this round will be open until March 25. Click here to vote: 

Affirmative!

In the age of AIS and VHF, knowing your signal flags may seem a bit outdated, but racers and race committees still use them frequently to communicate important information about the rules, course and fleet. Which flag means both "affirmative" and signals a course change in the form of new position for the next mark?
A) Lima (diagonal quadrants, yellow and black)
B) Delta (horizontal stripes: yellow, wide blue, yellow)
C) Charlie (horizontal stripes: blue, white, red, white, blue)
D) Whiskey (concentric squares: blue, white, red)This Day in History: March 17

On this day in 1939, Sir Robin Knox-Jonston was born. 

Knox-Jonston became the first person to complete a singlehanded non-stop circumnavigation when winning the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race in 1969. His main competition, Bernard Motessier led the way until abruptly abandoning the race to continue sailing and "save his soul," leaving Knox-Jonston to finish. Knox-Jonston went on to win the Jules Verne Trophy with Sir Peter Blake, and found the Clipper Round the World Race, which allows non-professional sailors to experience ocean racing.

Deep Blue 

The term "feeling blue" is commonly used to mean feeling melancholy or sad, but the phrase actually originates from which nautical usage?
A) Homesickness felt by whalers while out on the deep blue for months at a time
B) Blue flags flown after the death of an officer, meaning the crew was in mourning
C) A reference to The Blue Star Line, a shipping company known for poor working conditions
D) Blue skies meant no wind and baking temperatures for transatlantic merchant ships caught in the doldrums

Enduring Legacy

100 years after Ernest Shackleton’s death, the wreck of his ship Endurance has finally been located. After abandoning the ship during an attempt to cross Antarctica, Shackleton and his crew managed to escape to Elephant Island, and then he and a small crew continued on to a whaling outpost on South Georgia to get help. Miraculously, all 28 of the crew survived. What forced the crew to abandon Endurance?
A) It hit an iceberg
B) A catastrophic austral summer storm sank it
C) Steering failure made it impossible to navigate
D) It got stuck in pack ice

Again but Better 

Historical accounts of the Virginia describe it as a "pretty pinnace of about 30 tons." In addition to a modern engine to help navigate the narrows of the Kennebec River, what other design updates have been incorporated into the reconstruction?
A) A lead keel to replace the cargo that would've ballasted the original ship
B) A narrower beam for more seakindly sailing
C) Cabins for overnight visitors
D) New materials resulting in 10 tons shaved off the total displacement

This Day In History: The Sinking of the oneAustralia

On March 5, 1995, during the round-robin stage of the America's Cup challenger series, the IACC oneAustralia sank abruptly mid-race. Intense loads compromised the structural integrity of the boat, which cracked down the middle before plummeting to the ocean floor, disappearing completely in under two minutes. All crew members were able to abandon safely and were recovered by Team New Zealand's chase boat. The debacle is memorable largely due to the fact that it was caught on video. Hundreds of thousands of people had a front-row seat to the spectacle and along with it, Peter Montgomery's exuberant commentary: "the boat is turning into a banana!" To relive the action, watch here. 

Phone a Friend

How well do you know your signal flags? Which flag would you use to signal that you needed assistance?
A) Romeo (red with a yellow cross)
B) Victor (white with a red x)
C) Mike (blue with a white x)
D) Juliet (blue with a white stripe)

Vendée Victories 

In 2001, Ellen MacArthur finished second place in the Vendée Globe, the best finish of any woman to date. The most recent edition of the race, however, saw her single-handed, non-stop, monohull circumnavigation by a woman record (94 days, 4 hours and 25 minutes) broken by which sailor?
A) Clarisse Crémer
B) Sam Davies
C) Isabelle Joschke
D) Pip Hare

On the Big Screen

The 2008 Disney documentary Morning Light follows a group of young sailors as they prepare for and compete in which race?
A) The Volvo Ocean Race
B) The Transpacific Yacht Race
C) The America's Cup
D) The Clipper Round The World

This Day in History: 

On February 25, 1842, the famed American lighthouse keeper Ida Lewis was born. Just four months after her father was appointed the position of keeper of Lime Rock Light in Newport harbor, he suffered a stroke that left Ida and her mother responsible for maintaining the light. Because the lighthouse was on an island, she rowed her siblings to school every day and became a proficient swimmer. At 12 years old, she completed her first rescue, rowing out to save four men whose boat had capsized. She would go on to rescue no less than 18 people, including a number of soldiers stationed at nearby Fort Adams, during her 54 years on Lime Rock. She was the first woman ever awarded the United States' Gold Lifesaving Medal for her efforts. Her heroism is still celebrated to this day, and she is the namesake for the Newport's Ida Lewis Yacht Club and the Ida Lewis Distance Race.

Right Ratio

Our boat reviews contain design ratios that help a keen sailor assess how the boat will handle without ever stepping aboard. What does the SA/D ratio describe?
A) How seakindly a boat is
B) How relatively heavy a boat is
C) How fast a boat is
D) Whether a boat is over or under canvased 

The Right Way

Though perhaps the most well-known word in the nautical lexicon, many don’t know where the word “starboard” originated from. What’s the etymological origin for our term for the right side?
A) Navigators stood on the right side of the boat when taking sights of the stars, so the right side became known as the "star board” side of the boat.
B) Early punts (like Venetian gondolas) had passengers board from the right side.
C) It derived from the term “larboard,” the middle English word for the side on which cargo was loaded.
D) Before rudders, boats were steered by oars, and the helmsperson sat on the right side of the boat, resulting in the term "steer-board," which eventually became "starboard."

This Day in History: February 20

On this day in 1844, the first solo circumnavigator, Joshua Slocum, was born in Nova Scotia. He chronicled his voyage aboard the 36ft 9in oyster sloop Spray in the book Sailing Alone Around the World, which went on to become an international best seller. After returning home from his circumnavigation in 1898, he continued to sail as often as possible. Slocum and the Spray were eventually lost at sea in 1909, but his writing has inspired generations of sailors and adventurers since.

Racing Rules

Dinghy racers jockeying for a good start often face penalties and recalls for being over the line. A number of signal flags are used to indicate which penalties are in place according to Rule 30 of the 2021-24 Racing Rules of Sailing. Which flag at the start communicates that "if any part of a boat’s hull is on the course side of the starting line or one of its extensions during the last minute before the starting signal, the boat must sail across an extension (around the pin or RC boat) so that the hull is completely on the pre-start side before starting"?
A) I Flag (Yellow with a Black Dot)
B) Z Flag (Yellow, Blue, Red and Black Diagonal Triangles)
C) U Flag (Red and White Check)
D) Black Flag

Need for Speed

Named for the author of "Around the World in 80 Days," the Jules Verne trophy commemorates the fastest circumnavigation on record. Which of the following boat is the current record holder at 40 days, 23 hours, 30 minutes and 30 seconds?
A) Banque Populaire V
B) IDEC Sport
C) Comanche
D) Maxi Edmund de Rothschild

Old Money

Ireland's Royal Cork Yacht Club, founded in 1720, holds the title as the world's oldest yacht club, but Russia's Neva Yacht Club (1718) could also make a claim, depending on how you define "yacht club." Which of these is America's oldest yacht club?
A) The Detroit Boat Club
B) The Boston Yacht Club
C) The Seawanhaka Corinthian Yacht Club
D) The Mobile Yacht Club

Surprise!

The phrase "taken aback" means to be startled or surprised, but the term actually originated on the high seas. On a tallship, what did "aback" originally mean:
A) From behind, a derivative of "abaft"
B) The transom, where enemy boarding parties often climbed on
C) Backwinding, resulting from an unexpected change in wind
D) On a sailor's back, ie. caught sleeping or unawares

This Day in History: January 29, 1790

On January 29 (Saturday) 1790, the first-ever designated lifeboat was launched on the River Tyne. A group known as the Law House committee ran a design competition, which was won by Henry Greathead. Greathead’s design (with some upgrades inspired by fellow competitor William Wouldhave’s design) was 28ft and could be rowed by up to 12 crew. Cork jackets served as life preservers. Safety at sea sure had come a long way!

Scraping the Sky

Colloquially the term "skyscraper" is used to refer to a tall city building, but nearly a hundred years before its modern architectural association, it had maritime origins. What did the term refer to as early as the 1790s?
A) The highest lookout point on a Tea Clipper's main mast
B) The name of a triangular sail at the top of a tallship's mast
C) The nickname for the first building or structure in a port city to be visible over the horizon
D) The antiquated term for the first flag run up a mast when signaling to another ship

Nautical Flags

If you encounter a boat that's flying a diagonal half-yellow, half-red (Oscar) flag, you might want to steer clear and standby. What is the boat trying to tell you?
A) They require assistance
B ) They are on fire
C) They have a crewmember overboard
D) They have lost steering 

Question of the Day

Over the past 30 years and nine editions of the Vendée Globe, the vast majority of skippers have been French, followed by British. Despite being landlocked, which country has produced the third-highest number of campaigns to compete in the race?
A) Hungary
B) Switzerland
C) Kosovo
D) Austria

In Good Time

When using the stars to determine your position, you must know when noon at the Prime Meridian is to calculate longitude. Doing your calculations with a time that’s off by how much will result in an error of one nautical mile?
A) 9 minutes
B) 45 seconds
C) 19 minutes
D) 4 seconds

12-Metres of what?

The 12-Metre class is perhaps the most venerable class in the history of yacht racing, being the preferred class of the America’s Cup for nearly 30 years from 1958-87. Today, they still race and can often be seen dueling on Narragansett Bay. What does the “12” in 12-Metre stand for?
A) The approximate average LOA in the class
B) The maximum mast height allowed by the class design rule
C) The maximum LWL allowed by the class design rule
D) A calculation of dimensions prescribed by the class’ design rule

A Maiden Voyage

A ship’s Maiden Voyage is its first trip after the owner takes possession from the builder. The book “Maiden Voyage,” however, tells the story of which young female sailor’s solo circumnavigation?
A) Tania Aebi
B) Tracy Edwards
C) Laura Dekker
D) Ellen MacArthur
Bonus points: which of their circumnavigations was chronicled in the 2013 documentary “Maidentrip”? What about the 2018 documentary “Maiden”?

Heavy Hitter

The J/9 won “Best Daysailer” in our 2022 Best Boats competition, combining performance with comfort for a design that takes care of its crew even in a bit of a breeze. The D/L (displacement/length) ratio of a boat describes its relative heaviness so that boats of different sizes can be compared. With a D/L of 116, the J/9 falls into which category?
A) Ultralight
B) Light
C) Moderate
D) Heavy

For more information on design ratios and what they mean, click here

Sailing Alone Around the World 

 Joshua Slocum completed the first recorded solo circumnavigation in 1895-98. Instead of using a chronometer to determine the time for latitude calculations, he relied almost entirely on traditional dead-reckoning for navigation. His book Sailing Alone Around the World chronicles the historic 46,000-mile voyage aboard which boat?
A) Joshua
B) the Spray
C) Beagle
D) American Promise

The Holy Grail

The first sub-48-hour completion of the Sydney-Hobart was in 1999. This led to theorization about the possibility of breaking the 40-hour mark, nicknamed the ”Holy Grail” of the race. Which elite racing yacht finally achieved it in 2017?
A) Wild Oats XI
B)  LDV Comanche
C) Maxi Edmond de Rothschild
D) Banque Populaire V

Your Majesty, there is no second...

In 1851, the schooner America won the first 100 Guineas Cup, which was later renamed the America’s Cup. Upon hearing that a boat from the United States had won, Queen Victoria is said to have asked who came in second. The America was so far ahead of the fleet that the supposed response was, “Your Majesty, there is no second.” Which cutter actually did finish in second?
A) Arrow
B) Mona
C) Volante
D) Aurora

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