Photographs taken in the British Virgin Islands

18.423500 | -64.619827

How does a sailboat work? Even if you’ve sailed one you may not have a satisfactory answer to that question. It’s not very intuitive, how something that’s powered by the wind can go anywhere besides the direction the wind is going.

So here it is. As simple as I can tell it.

Imagine for a moment that you have a hard-boiled egg. You are holding it in one hand. Assuming that your hand is slippery enough, you squeeze the egg, and it pops upwards out of your clenched fist.

That’s how sailboats work. Two forces — the resistance of the water on the bottom of the boat and the wind blowing in the sails — come together to form a third force: the direction of the boat. The wind and water are the two sides of your hand coming together to squeeze the egg.

If you can squeeze an egg you can sail a boat.

This whole thing works because of the way an egg is shaped. By changing the shape of the egg you can direct where it goes when you squeeze: make the egg lopsided to turn left. Also, imagine if you could design the perfectly shaped egg to be the best possible shape for turning a squeeze into forward momentum.


Wait, How Do Sailboats Work?

Similarly, sailboats work because of the way sailboats are shaped. And to have maneuverability, to be able to go where you want in a sailboat, you change its shape accordingly.  Using a steering wheel, which is attached to something called a rudder, the captain changes the shape of the bottom of the boat. The sails are connected to various lines that control their shape; effecting how the wind hits the top side of the boat.


If you can squeeze an egg you can sail a boat.

This is where sailing is an art as much as a science. Take the wind, invisible to the naked eye, and the water, deceptively complex in its dynamics, and work them into combined force vectors using a collection of pulleys and lines and sheets of cloth rigged up on a floating home to get you where you need to go.

Wizardry that is.

Got it? Good. You are a sailor now.


Join The Adventure

More Travel

Stay Updated

Get updates on trips and exclusive events