Is That a Topping Lift or a Boom Vang?


One serendipitous portion of this sabbatical time has been the opportunity for sailboat lessons. I enrolled in a Denver-based sailing school which entitled me to online resources, theory classes, and on-the-water practical sessions. I’ve completed all course work and all sailing practicals and have passed all the tests. I am now certified with the American Sailing Association in Basic Keelboat Sailing. Who would have thought?

In the first theory class, the instructor told us that learning sailing terminology was equivalent to learning a different language–because it is. Everything on a sailboat and related to sailing has its own words or phrases that don’t make any sense to non-sailors.

Which makes listening all the more important. Not just hearing the words, but listening to what the words mean. When told by Trey, Tibor, or John (my instructors) to “trim the jib to stop the luffing,” or to “bear away to a beam reach,” or the all-important “you’re sailing on the lee, watch out for an accidental jibe!” one needs to not just hear the words, but listen in order to understand. Listening means understanding. Otherwise, it’s not listening at all.

And it’s hard. The sailing world is different than the world I come from, therefore I had to spend the time learning the terminology and culture of sailing. Only then would I actually be able to listen. I could just sluff off all the terminology as nonsense and assert it as jibberish because I don’t understand it. But on a sailboat that would put everyone in potential danger. I had to take the time and effort to understand some basics of the sailing culture before I could listen with genuine understanding.

Both in sailing and beyond, it’s hard to listen to someone who lives in a different culture with different experiences. They express things about which I have no background. They use words differently with altered meanings. Their perspective on life has a different starting place. Upon hearing someone whose culture is different than mine, I have a couple of choices. I can write off what is said as nonsensical because it doesn’t resonate with my world view, or I can take the time to learn something about their culture and experiences to better understand.

Listening involves the latter. When we can begin to understand that someone else’s point of view, based on their own life experiences, includes different terminology and comes from a different cultural perspective, we can then begin to listen with understanding. That means I have to acknowledge that their experiences may not be anything I can relate to. The culture from which they come may start from a completely different place than anything I imagine. And to authentically listen to them I have to acknowledge that their language, their perspective, their world view, even if different than mine, is still valid and true.

By the way, the photo above is a J22 on a starboard tack on a close haul (or beating) point of sail. And to answer the question posed in the title of this post, a Topping Lift holds the boom level when the mainsail is lowered while a Boom Vang keeps the boom from rising while reaching and running. Just saying.

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One thought on “Is That a Topping Lift or a Boom Vang?

  1. Excellent post! So very relevant in today’s sound bite world. The art of listening is becoming lost and somedays it seems headed toward extinction.

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