Find the head (sailing)


Senior Member

The spinney balloons out - a large odd, elliptical shape - putting The Grace in overdrive. Finding her head, she speeds over the Sound.

Source: E.L. James - Fifty Shades Darker.

There are two topics on this expression but none fits this specific context. Does it relate with route or the headsail? Is it a sailing term? I googled it but couldn't find anything.

  • Egmont

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    "To give a horse its head" means to let it run as it wishes. By extension (from horses to sailboats) this is what James means here, though the phrase is a bit unusual.


    Senior Member
    English - American
    A spinnaker (diminutive spinny) is a large foresail which (when properly set) will lift the bow of the boat a bit. It is fairly limited as to direction, being useful only when sailing nearly straight down-wind. But, when it works, it works!

    Since this boat does not seem to be in a race, the skipper can choose his direction, and sail on any heading. "Flying" a spinnaker is a lot of fun and perhaps the skipper has decided to let the wind direction influence his choice of sailing direction (heading) so he can get the most effect from the spinnaker, thus he is allowing the boat to find her* head. As Egmont says, not a common phrase - I've never heard it used this way - but understandable.

    * It is normal (in English) to refer to boats as "her" and "she".
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