February 9, 2010

Worst Sailing Innovation - The Gybe

This is in response to Mr. Tillerman's call for posts about 'the worst sailing innovation'. How long will we put up with his writing exercises that subject the blog-reading public to abuse such as this?

Gybing the Laser

The worst innovation in the history of sailing is - without question - the gybe.

For thousands of years, sailors used square sails, mounted athwartship, and were happy and carefree, effortlessly moving the sterns of their boats through the eye of the wind to change tacks, with only a slight adjustment of sail trim.

Then, on April 23, 1642, in the small English harbor of Precarious on Tyne, Sir Wembley Gybe installed a fore-and-aft gaff-mounted sail on his 16-foot duck hunting punt. Less than 10 seconds later, an unsuspecting Sir Wembley was sputtering in the water, not knowing what had hit him, having inadvertently performed the maneuver that would eventually be named for him.

Details of the incident are sketchy, but some accounts report a friend hailing Sir Wembley from the nearby river bank distracted his attention from the helm, just as the wind was shifting astern. The friend called to Sir Wembley,

"Gybe, ho!"

The rest is history.

Ever since, generations of sailors have cursed the gybe. Race organizers have bedeviled competitors by fiendishly incorporating 'gybe marks' in race courses (the ghouls at Valencia are no exception). And an entire industry of Rube Goldberg contraptions has flourished whose only purpose has been to prevent the gybe. Think about it, have you ever seen in any marine catalog a 'tacking preventer' or a 'reach preventer'?

Over the years, the toll of mechanical wreckage and the cost in human life, injury, and suffering caused by the gybe have been incalculable. It is estimated that, in the United States alone, over 7000 cases of divorce are attributed annually to this unfortunate sailing maneuver.

Some boats, such as the small sailing dinghy known as the 'Laser', cannot be gybed at all without the sailor leaving the vessel, jumping in the water, and capsizing, as in the illustration at the top of this post.

Recently, humanitarian organizations like the Red Cross have asked that the gybe be banned from international competition, along with other sailing activities deemed 'inhumane', like frostbite racing.

Some day, perhaps, the voice of reason will prevail, and the madness will be ended.

In deference to the English origins of the gybe, I have retained the English spelling throughout. We Americans should do whatever we can to distance ourselves from this odious maneuver.



  1. O Docker, this is the best post about the history of the gybe that you have ever written. How do you do it?

  2. Tillerman, this is the best comment made regarding a post about the history of the gybe that you have ever written. How do you do it?

    Oh, and as so often is the case, it seems to be our fault. Well all I can say is at least we spell "colour" right.

  3. JP, this is the best comment made about a comment made regarding the history of the gybe that you have ever written. How do you do it?

    Indeed, most innovations of any consequence are our fault. The Plimsoll line, sandwiches and the adjustable spanner for example. What would sailing be without those?

    And at least we can spell "draught" right.

  4. Tillerman, this is the best comment about [ed: pls paste text here, ta]. How do you do it?

    And don't forget correct pronunciation of the word "buoy"

  5. Booya!

    Yeah, the boy/boowee thing caused a bit of confusion for me at first in the US. "You hit the boy
    "What boy?"
    "The green boy!"
    "Are you f...ing nuts?"

    On that one, I think I prefer the American way of having different pronunciations for boy and buoy.

  6. Tillerman and JP, these are the most colourful comments and comments about comments, and comments about those comments about comments that anyone has ever left on my post about the origins of the gybe.

    I couldn't figure out a way to work 'aluminium' into this thread, but I'm working on it. I just like saying 'aluminium'.

    1. I predict, that in August of 2012, this debate over pronunciation and spelling will once again rear its ugly head.

  7. The history of the word aluminum/ aluminium is fascinating..

    Sir Humphry Davy, who was of course English, proposed the name aluminum for the metal. However, the name aluminium was adopted to conform with the "ium" ending of most elements. This spelling is in use in most countries.

    Aluminium was also the spelling in the U.S. until 1925, when the American Chemical Society officially decided to use the name aluminum instead.

    The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry adopted aluminium as the standard international name for the element in 1990, but three years later recognized aluminum as an acceptable variant.

    Didn't know that, did you?

  8. Nothing to say, but the verification word was "untie" and that was too good not to respond to.

  9. Tillerman, this is really why I write a blog.

    With Google, you have to type in a search term, hit the return key, weed through the 47,000 hits until you find one that has anything useful - you know the drill.

    Then, you start reading some of the hits that have nothing to do with your original search, get sidetracked on something more interesting than what you were actually looking for, and you never do get the answer after all.

    But with a blog, you just type a word, go away for an hour, and all of this fascinating information comes pouring onto your screen.

    I still haven't figured out how to get the Cyprus Escort Service to leave me messages, though.

    How do you do it?

  10. How to get Cyprus Escort Services to leave messages on your blog....

    1. Write a blog for 5 years.
    2. Write over 1500 posts on that blog.
    3. Be one of the top-rated blogs in your niche on Technorati.
    4. Fool one of your readers to writing that you are "the best blog on the planet" in your niche.
    5. Fool another of your readers into writing lots of comments saying "That was the best post.... "
    6. Get attacked by the Chairman of the US Olympic Program for your niche.
    7. Write several posts about a Mediterranean island.
    8. Post a picture of a young lady wearing body paint.
    9. Post a picture of a young lady not even wearing body paint.
    10. Get lucky.

  11. That is the best photo of Tillerman I have ever seen. How do you do it?

  12. Oh yea, awesome entry, he said while cleaning spittle off his monitor.

    Unfortunately, a large contingent of my family history originated from merry olde England, so I can't help but feel a little responsible for the gybe. My apologies to all.

    Come to think of it, I should be able to do that maneuver better, given that it is practically coded in my DNA. Or more precisely, it shouldn't have taken me 1 1/2 years to figure out that whole centering the boom thing, before bringing the stern across.

  13. breezetrees2/9/10, 8:21 PM

    I thought it was jibe.

  14. Once upon a time, many years ago, I decided to use British spellings in my blog when discussing sailing, since so much about sailing has British origins, and American spellings in other contexts. Thus, I would use "gybe" rather than "jibe" when describing the sailing manoevre. Unfortunately, I haven't been as consistent as I had originally planned.

    Meanwhile, I have had some experiences with gybes that would jibe with your experiences. There was, for instance, the accidental gybe in which I got clocked by the boom. And then there was the time I was sailing with Zorro, and he said, "I don't want to gybe in this," seconds before we were dismasted.

    So I can agree that the gybe is definitely a detriment to the sport of sailing.

    Verification word: spewit. I don't think I've ever done that on a gybe.

  15. Carol Anne, OUCH!

    Good on you for getting back on the horse. A lot of people would have just called it quits after those disasters.

    When we're coming back from the city to Berkeley in typical summer afternoon conditions - 20 knots from dead astern - we cheat. We drop the main and go under jib for the five mile run. The East Bay builds up a nasty little chop that wants to round you up every third or fourth set or so. With the main up, you're fighting off the jibe (ok, we're in California waters) every second. Gentlemen simply don't sail like that.

  16. EscapeVelocity2/10/10, 7:22 AM

    The authority on names of the elements is Tom Lehrer, and he uses "aluminum."

  17. Actually I get messages from Joan of Cyprus too. I think that just doing items 1 & 2 will do it. Posting about young ladies wearing only body paint on Mediterranean islands can't hurt your chances.

    This post reminds me of a book I bought my dad for Christmas one year. It was titled something like "A Sports Bestiary" & it was by a very well-known cartoonist. The premise was that the artist took well-known sports terms and caricatured them as animals - for example, the Scrum was depicted as a frenetically moving 30-legged angry crab.

    The Gybe is one of the only other beasts I recall from that book. The Gybe was a large, pterodactyl-like creature. The brilliant bit was that there were two distinct subspecies - the Intentional, and the Unintentional. The Intentional was shown as a clean-lined, trim, graceful thing, caught in the midst of a beautiful turn around a lighthouse, pointy snoot in the air & wearing a disgustingly self-satisfied grin. The Unintentional, on the other hand, was a panicky-looking, crumpled beast with bugged-out, frantic eyes, messy hair & raggedy wings in complete dissaray.

    p.s. - speaking of small worlds, I've sailed with Captain Rip, the owner of the Cape Dame - great guy! That's how I found out about the Ear Inn in the first place!

  18. Correction. The illustrations were by famous cartoonist Arnold Roth. The writing was by George Plimpton. I'm not sure whether my dad liked the book or not but I thought it was pretty funny.

    secret code:



  19. Bonnie, I left out that detail.

    Sir Wembley originally referred to his 'incident' as simply a 'gybe'.

    But he ruined his leather riding frock when he went under, and filed a claim with his insurance company, Precarious Life. They refused to pay, claiming the 'gybe' had been an 'act of god'. It went into their books as an accidental gybe.

  20. Escape, unfortunately, this blog is written by someone who was actually around when Lehrer's songs were new and who remembers listening to the original 'records' (as we used to call them).

    These are the only ones of which the news has come to Ha'vard,

    And there may be many others but they haven't been disca'vard.

  21. At the moment, I have two Tom Lehrer records (yes, vinyl) on my shelf, and The Tom Lehrer Songbook on the music stand on my piano.

    Verification word: shican. Think there's a letter missing in there.

  22. I love watching a post on 'the gybe' morph through metal, escort services, sports beasties, to Tom Lehrer. How do they do it? follow the psilocybin thread...or the bouncing ball...

  23. Bowsprite, I think my limited short-term memory has a lot to do with it.

    By this point, I have no idea what the original post was about.

  24. It was about basil, right?

  25. The title of this post should be "jive, ho!"

  26. Isn't "Jive, Ho!" something customers say when they want to chat with the Cyprus Escort Servers?

  27. Exactly. As in "don't give me that jive, ho!"

  28. I try to set a solemn, scholarly tone in this blog, and look what happens.

    I'm often amazed at how commenters can thwart a blogger's best intentions.

  29. "Thwart" - that's a nautical term isn't it?

  30. Dick Cheney2/14/10, 8:44 PM

    Great picture! I'm a strong believer in waterboarding and therefore a strong believer in gybing Lasers.

  31. Hi Dick, thanks for stopping by.

    The next time you're in California, why not plan on visiting Berkeley? I'm sure there are a lot of folks here who would love to reacquaint you with waterboarding.

  32. If we get ‘gybe’ and not jibe I would have liked to have seen ‘manoeuvre’ rather than maneuver.
    The first time I heard an American ‘maneuver’ I thought the man was talking about the stuff that comes out of cows. [as opposed to Cowes.]

  33. I don't know, Andrew. Manoeuvre looks suspiciously like a French word to me. Were I English, I'm not sure that's one I'd be insisting on. C'est mon oeuvre du jour.

  34. Damn, just like the French Americans on BMW Oracle, they're everywhere.