While on a sailboat, which side is to your left, as you look towards the front of the boat?

And the answer: port.    

Photo credit: discoverboating.com

While left and right can change depending on which way you're facing, the terminology used on boats and airplanes relate to fixed locations and don't change. If you're on a sailboat and facing towards the front of a vessel, port is always on the left side, while starboard is on the right. The stern is in the back.

Before there were planes, trains, and automobiles, there were sailboats. Without them, the world as we know it would not exist – sailboats are uniquely responsible for mankind's early ability to move freely between nations, continents, and even cities.

Square-rigged sailboats brought masses of Europeans to America in the 16th and 17th centuries. Their stable decks and massive holds carried the people and supplies that built the beginnings of most major coastal cities in the United States today. However, early square-rigged sailboats had their limitations: they were slow, and could only travel in the direction of the wind. The massive mastheads were used as parachutes to harness and channel the power of the wind, so if there wasn't much of a breeze, travel would be slow.

Sailboats are of a very different nature today. Modern day sailing often includes races that challenge the limitations of the now-streamlined boats. These days, sailboats are designed to work with the wind in any direction, using special rigs to move the mast into or away from the wind. Sailboats can now sail toward the wind using aerodynamics – just like an airplane wing, the sail can lift the boat, allowing it to go nearly any direction.

Learn more about the physics of this complicated, ancient form of travel below.

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