The majority of the technicalities of a racing yacht can be tough to explain to an uninitiated landlubber, even by an expert.
A man all at sea with the sailing jargon
In socks while touring the claustrophobic yacht cabin in the dock in Portofino, I saw a revelation — I spotted two things I could decipher.
Not far above the ends of some bunks, beyond the crucial hydraulic system that can send everything kaput if it fails, there they hovered: two paper-towel rolls, flanking the area you might call a "kitchenette" if you wished to insult kitchenettes in general. These dutiful rolls hung on sturdy, black, metal wires.
Pardon the foray into advanced technicality here, but it appeared that if you yanked gently from either roll of the paper towels and then tore off at the perforated areas manufacturers tend to leave between each towel, or held the roll itself while pulling a towel, you could hold in your hand a paper towel.
If you pulled and waited a bit before tearing, you might even get two.
Beyond that, the gentlemen of Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing routinely and cordially explain that what they explain might not explain it to a novice.
They feel in their bones the vagaries of the sailing hardware, but words whether spoken or printed do not merge easily into understanding.
They cannot divulge the finer competitive details of the new boat lined up for the Volvo Ocean Race for obvious competitive reasons, but they give it a try with the shape, the deck, the positions of the sails and the hull.
Ian Walker, the skipper, will take you over to a big window overlooking a harbour. He will point to other boats with their cabins jutting upwards, and he will say of Azzam: "A very flat deck. There's no roof. There's no housing on it. A very sleek deck. A very open cockpit."
Normally, he will say, "the deck comes out," but with Azzam, the boat stays "all hollowed out, all along".
That seems almost understandable. The cabins of other boats suddenly do seem disruptive. Innocent passersby note the relative simplicity of the Abu Dhabi boat. Yet only the seasoned sailor can comprehend what that might mean and what effect it might have.
Wade Morgan, the bowman, kindly will explain that his sailing language might not sound inscrutable to the uninitiated.
He will begin explaining the "flush deck", which you might hear briefly as "flash deck", whereupon he will spell out "flush deck," whereupon a mild understanding will ensue.
"It doesn't have a box on top," Morgan will say of the flush deck, and that helps influence the dispersal of the water. These boats, he will remark, at times hold an astonishing amount of water totalling "a ton, and ton and one-half".
On this boat, however, the designers "raised the deck a little, put angles in it and water can go off the deck".
Graciously he explains further, "Instead of coming along the side of the cabin, the water just washes off the boat."
Even a thick head can figure out that, sort of, but cannot sense it in the keen way of an ocean sailor and cannot even spy the crucial angles. A boat such as this compared to a normal boat, Morgan will say, "is like a race car compared to a normal car".
He also will say that straightaway he noticed Azzam's "aggressive hull shape", which could lead many a greenhorn into a first-ever consideration of the varying aggression of hull shapes.
Nick Dana, the media crew member, who will videotape and chronicle the journey, can tell you in expert detail about the boat's new wrinkle in the ease of movement for sailors relative to the sails.
The notebook will show that Dana did say: "You've got the sails down" so, instead of there being "windage" on the side decks, "you have them lower. They're where your feet are. And it makes it a lot easier to move around."
So while the boat might qualify as revolutionary in this area, it would be improbable to discern the thorough meaning without having "played" the sport.
For years we have heard managers and athletes ludicrously claim their sports bear too much resemblance to calculus for non-players to understand, but here's a sport in which such boasting would be spot on, except that ... Except that, funnily enough, the participants do not boast. They acknowledge the built-in opaqueness.
Patrick Shaughnessy, the president of the Maryland-based Farr Yacht Design that conceived this boat, thinks it an inveterate issue for the sport, the rigour of conveying the technical aspects to the overwhelming majority of the public.
He and his cohorts just spent untold time studying the physics of water dispersal on sailboats, and he comprehends deeply how water curbs speed and tires sailors. It's just that he or any other bright sort would struggle translating that to somebody who technically comprehends little more than paper-towel racks.