Basic Terms

Monday, February 15, 2016



In case you haven't heard, on February 11, 2016-  the National Foundation of Science announced that -for the first time in history- they have successfully detected Gravitational Waves in space. After 100 years of doubt, this incredible discovery finally proves that Albert Einstein's "Theory of Relativity" was correct all along!
This is a major breakthrough that will open  many doors to new discoveries and answer some of the questions that have gone unanswered for thousands of years. That being said, I dedicate this post to Albert Einstein. 

Albert Einstein has always been one of my heroes... Not because I'm an aspiring physicist or anything like that, I just always thought he was a really cool guy. In fact, I've learned that he and I actually have a few things in common.  For starters, he's got that crazy hair thing going on and my hair looks just like that when I wake up in the morning.
Also, did you know that sailing was one of his passions? Seriously, he was absolutely crazy about sailing and actually stuck with it for over 50 years. You would think that someone with that much time invested would be one hell of a sailor but apparently he was not very good at all! 
Although, he was revered as the worlds greatest mathematician and physicist he never really did get the hang of sailing. However, that never kept him from pursuing his passion and he sailed every chance he could.
Einstein enjoyed his  sailing excursions, even when he hit a rock or ran aground-which he so often did.  They say he never sailed too far from land which leads me to believe that his groundings were most likely visible from shore.  This thought always made me laugh a little as I could imagine one spectator on shore  sarcastically saying to another,  "Hey look, he's stuck again!"    "...Genius..."

Nevertheless, Einstein didn't care about what anyone else said or thought. He just wanted to enjoy the sense of freedom and excitement that came with sailing a boat! 

Obviously, he understood the physics of sailing better than anyone watching from shore or any of us for that matter. Perhaps, he wasn't such a bad sailor at all... Maybe he was just testing Newton's First Law: An object in motion (Einstein on his sailboat) will stay in motion-unless acted upon by an unbalanced force (the rock that brought Einstein and his sailboat to an abrupt stop).

So, to honor of our friend Albert, let's talk a little bit about physics. Honestly, I don't know anything about physics but then  again I didn't know anything about fixing a sailboat until I started this project so let's have some fun...

Physics- Just the mere mention of the word is enough to send most of us running in the opposite direction. If asked to define physics some might say it's a complex process riddled with scores of mathematical symbols, letters, and numbers-scribbled with white chalk across a mile-long blackboard... By an old guy! 

If you haven't studied physics, that could be a fairly accurate description based on what we've been exposed to through books, and movies.  I for one have never taken a physics class and that's kind of how I always thought about it...

The term physics  originates with the ancient Greeks and it is simply translated as, "knowledge of nature".  Now that doesn't sound so complex... does it?  

Physics is the natural science that involves the study of matter and its motion through space and time, along with related concepts such as energy and force.

So what does this have to do with sailing? Absolutely everything! The majority of the physical science that goes into a sailboat is applied at the time of design. The design engineers have to account for all of the forces that will impact the boat in its operating environment and then choose the proper geometries and  materials to withstand those forces. To do this they utilize many of the formulas and calculations that were written on those mile-long blackboards... by the old guy.

Luckily, we don't have to delve that far into physics but keep this in mind, whether we are repairing or sailing our boat, it is important to have a basic understanding of some of the critical concepts that will ultimately affect safety and performance. 

Let's explore...

The definition of physics starts with "the study of matter". Well, our sailboat is matter right?  -Easy enough- 

Then we have, "'s motion through space and time..."
O.K., let's stop here for a second....

Have you ever heard of the Six Degrees of Freedom?  It's basically a way to describe the freedom of movement that a three dimensional object can achieve in space. For example, let's use our  hand to represent a three dimensional object that we can move in space. 

Hold your hand out in front of you with your palm facing the ground. Now, move it up and down- that's one degree of freedom.  Next, move it left to right- that's  two degrees of freedom. Finally, move your hand back and forth and you have achieved a third degree of freedom.  Pretty simple right?  

3 Degrees of freedom known as Translation: Each arrow represents one degree of freedom- Green (forward-back) is 1 degree, Red (right-left) is 2 degrees, and Blue (up-down) is 3 degrees.

Wait, we said six degrees so what are the other three? If you are not familiar with this concept you are either still moving your hand and trying to figure out what other directions are possible -or- you are now using your hand to scratch your head.  Stay with me...

The first three degrees pictured above are known as Translation.  When referencing our sailboat, the up-down movement would be called Heave. The forward-back movement is known as Surge, and the left-right movement is Sway.

The next three degrees of freedom pictured below are known as Rotation. If you still have your hand out, rotate it so your thumb is pointed at the ceiling. This is known as Roll. Now, angle your hand so that the tips of your fingers point to the floor- this would be considered Pitch. Finally, move your wrist so your hand goes side to side and you have accomplished the sixth degree of freedom known as Yaw

3 Degrees of freedom known as Rotation: Each arrow represents one degree of freedom- Green (Roll) is 1 degree, Red (Pitch) is 2 degrees, and Blue (Yaw) is 3 degrees.

So, to put the six degrees of freedom into perspective, remember that a boat is a rigid structure and by nature a rigid structure can only move so far in any direction before it ultimately breaks. If we think about an elevator, we know that it is also a rigid structure and it carries passengers just like a boat. However, when it comes to movement, an elevator essentially only has one degree of freedom -up-down-. 
A sailboat on the other hand, is subjected to all six degrees of freedom and this is what makes designing, repairing, or even sailing a boat so tricky. 

Now, let's put all six degrees of freedom together and add a boat:

Now let's add water:


There we go! We now have a fundamental understanding of the different ways our boat - a three dimensional object- can move through space and time. This is important because it ties into  the third portion  of our definition of physics which states, "...along with related concepts of energy and force."

Let's go back to how the ancient Greeks defined physics, "knowledge of nature." 
These guys couldn't have said it any better! 

Water and wind are undoubtedly two elements of nature . Having knowledge of this nature tells us that they both store energy. The release of energy results in a relative amount of force which we (depending on the level of force) can harness to get from point A to point B. Hence, this is the reason why sailboats need to be designed with all six degrees of freedom. The forces of nature are applied from every direction and if the boat does not have a particular degree of freedom to move with those forces she will ultimately break and sink. In other words, you will need to know how to swim. 

Ironically, Einstein did not know how to swim but he never carried a life jacket on board.  This tells me that he knew more about sailing than what he led others to believe. Over his 50 years of sailing, he only had to be rescued from the water once but hey... we all make mistakes! 

So this is my tribute to Albert Einstein. The man who dedicated his entire life trying to unravel the mysteries of the universe so he could explain all of the things we could not understand. 

Of all the quotes attributed to this humble genius, the following is my favorite:

" I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious..." 

Albert Einstein
German Theoretical-Physicist


  1. Very nice tribute to a great man that was centuries ahead of the rest of humanity with his thoughts. He certainly is proof that curiosity can lead to great discovery!

    1. Thanks Herb... Yes, he was definitely centuries ahead!


  2. Great post. I feel a little sea sick after all that rocking... but otherwise.. enlightening. Loved learning about Einstein! Thanks Genius!

    1. The name of his first boat was Tinef which translates to piece of junk. Lol. Too bad they didn't have blogs back then! Lol

  3. Thanks for the article, great conceptual graphics made these easy to understand for anyone.

    1. Welcome Aboard Phil! Thanks for the feedback...

      Glad you liked it!

  4. Wonderful article and dedication to a man who has influenced so many.
    Well written Sailor. Good job! :)

    Diane Lynn

    1. Thank you so much Diane and Welcome Aboard!! Glad you're here... :)

  5. Amazing blog!! Enjoyed reading the article!

    1. Thank you Khatera! Glad u enjoyed it!


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