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Tell Me a Tale About Telltales

Here’s a letter pulled from the pages of the November issue asking about that gloriously low-tech and completely critical piece of technology, the telltale.

“Does anyone know the true history of those pieces of yarn we poke through the luffs of our jibs to determine whether the sails are in trim, stalled, or luffing?

“In the late ’50s and early ’60s I was racing on the Bay with my dad in a 26-ft Pearson Ariel. I was 8 to 12 years old at the time. My perception is that we would determine whether the sails were in trim by continuously heading up, or sheeting out, a bit until the sails luffed, and then bearing away, or sheeting in. The whole fleet was doing the same thing. Then in one race, one boat just trounced all the others. After several races, word spread that the magical advantage was to sew a piece of yarn through the jib’s luff and then ‘trim toward the tattling tail, or, bear away from the tattling tail’.”

That piece of yarn might be worth more than a $1000 computer.
© 2021 Practical Boat Owner

“This is history as perceived by a young lad.

“Does anyone know the actual story? Were telltales invented on the San Francisco Bay or elsewhere?

“By the way, isn’t it remarkable that on modern boats loaded with all sorts of electronics, we rely on bits of yarn to tell us one of the most critical pieces of information, whether our sails are in trim?”

What are your thoughts on “those pieces of yarn we poke through the luffs of our jibs?” Do you have a theory, or actual fact, about their origin? Let us know in the comments below.

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