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Old 07-11-2007, 10:22   #1
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Use of the term "helm"

Even after sailing on and off for 40 years I get confused by the various uses of the term "helm". I suspect this may not just be me. An online nautical dictionary defines helm as the various parts of the steering system including tiller or wheel, rudder, and cables. However, I think most of the time the various phrases seen on this board and in articles actually refer to the position of a tiller.
For instance, I think the very old term "helm a'lee" means one pushes the inboard end of a tiller to the leeward in order to bring the bow up into the wind. Right? Is that the same as "putting the helm down"?
Here are some other uses of the term that are a bit more confusing.
- In one discussion thread on this board concerning heavy weather tactics the suggestion is made to "lash the helm slightly to leeward". For those of us who have wheels I assume this basically means steering in a fashion so that the bow of the boat tends to turn slightly up into the wind?
- In other discussions one sees the term used as follows: "the boat has a small amount of weather helm". My assumption has been that this means if one just lets go of the wheel bow of the boat will tend to slowly go up into the wind?

Thanks for your help.
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Old 07-11-2007, 10:39   #2
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Where's the confusion? You seem to have it down....
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Old 07-11-2007, 10:40   #3
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Sounds like you've got it all correct. It is a bit confusing. That's why I explain what I mean when I say things like "helm's alee" to a new crew.
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Old 07-11-2007, 13:31   #4
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Being in the charter biz for many years I found that the person behind the wheel knows all the terms and were hell bent to use them. However the folks pulling the string and ducking under the head banger thingy had no clue. On checkouts I would tell the "Skipper" the the boat was bilingual and "right" and "left" would do for now so everyone would know what you want.

Not quite on the subject but related
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Old 07-11-2007, 13:42   #5
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"weather helm" is when you have to keep the helm above centre (i.e to the windward side of the boat) in order to keep the boat on course. Typically this is due to (a) too much sail up, or (b) sails trimmed in too hard, or (c) unfavourable hull / rudder design (or a combination of the above. The converse is called "lee helm" and is less common. Ideally, you want to be sailing with the helm pretty much centred - this is the most efficient, hydrodynamically - if you sail with any significant weather helm (or, indeed, lee helm), your rudder acts like you are dragging a bucket! (weather helm = handbrake).
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Old 07-11-2007, 21:45   #6
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A little weather helm is desirable. Lee helm should be tuned out of the boat. Left to it's own devices, a boat with weather helm would turn head to wind and basically stop. A boat with lee helm would turn downwind, and gybe repeatedly.
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Old 08-11-2007, 05:21   #7
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I guess it is best to start from the basics with oldies and new crew. Be kind to yourself and new crew and say "the helm" is "the steering of the boat". (wheel or otherwise) from there you can start to introduce, (one at a time), the marine words, and their realationships to "the helm". Explain what "lee" means. Explain the differance between a lee shore and the "lee" on your boat. Make sure they understand what "windward" means as a concept in its own right. Nothing confuses new crew quicker than a whole pile of maritime jargon all strung together. Individualy, starting from the most common and important words, the language, natuarally builds up. (even if my spelling dosnt). port and starboard / fore and aft. bow and stern /afloft and below/ I know this seems to be a digression amd simplification from the original post but if you think about it, I am really saying that the words are quite narrow in their meaning and the confussion is when they get put together . ---A-LEE
The situation of the helm when it is put in the opposite direction from that in which the wind blows.
---Alee
To the leeward side (away from the wind).
I think this is where the confusion lies "LEEWARD" is the side away from the wind, most terms use this as a reference to the oposite side !! guess I just muddied the waters more .... : ( .
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Old 08-11-2007, 06:04   #8
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It's confusing for beginners when you consider the "helm" can be either wheel or rudder, and you push one to leeward to come about and turn the other one to windward. Many complaints were made when on James Cameron's "Titanic", "hard a starboard!" was shouted at the helmsman on sighting the iceberg, and the ship was seen to turn to port. This was in fact, correct, as the practice referred to the pre-wheel days of pushing the tiller to starboard to turn to port. The directional call, as we know it today (referring to the ship itself, not the helm) became official maritime policy in the following years.
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Old 08-11-2007, 06:05   #9
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wheel or rudder?!!! wheel or tiller obviously! sorry
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