Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Ken from Wentzville. Ken Wonders, “How do sailboats move?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Ken!
Do you like to go boating? If you live near a large lake, a river, or the ocean, you may have had the chance to ride on a pontoon, a fishing boat, or a ski boat. It can be a lot of fun to motor around the water and feel the cool breeze on your face.
Motorboats are popular, because they're fairly easy to operate. If you know how to drive an automobile, it's not much of a challenge to learn the basics of piloting a motorboat. That doesn't hold true, though, for another popular type of boat.
Sailboats have been around for thousands of years, long before recorded history. No one knows when the first prehistoric peoples created sails.
It likely began as an accident that quickly turned into a new mode of transportation. One can imagine someone holding up an animal skin in the wind and discovering that it made their canoe or raft move faster.
Once people realized they could harness the power of the wind to power a boat, sails developed quickly. The earliest sailboats were creations of necessity for uses such as transportation, trade, fishing, and exploration.
The earliest sails were square and only allowed boats to travel with the wind at their backs. Over time, sailing technology developed the triangular sails common today. Improvements in ship design also allowed sailboats to travel more quickly in a wide variety of weather conditions.
Today's sailboats are marvels of modern technology. They effectively combine the forces of wind on the sails (aerodynamics) with the power of the water flowing under the boat (hydrodynamics) to move the boat efficiently through the water. Sails exhibit similar properties to airplane wings, so sailors must learn how to trim (a nautical word for "adjust") the sails to maximize the power of the wind.
Although sailboats had mainly practical uses for thousands of years, historians trace the beginning of sport sailing (often called yachting) back to the 17th century in Holland. It didn't take long for groups of sport sailors to form yacht clubs to promote their new sport.
One of the oldest and most famous of such clubs is the New York Yacht Club (NYYC), which was founded in 1844. In 1851, the NYYC won its first international race against a team from Great Britain. They named their trophy "America's Cup," and it remains the oldest, most prestigious event in sailing today.