You don’t need to be rich to sail - I have (and race) two boats (a 16 foot dinghy and a 24 foot keelboat) and I am not rich! In Ontario we have a number of community co-operative sailing clubs were you pay a low membership due and have to give back to the club by helping out. These clubs also provide a fleet of dinghies for the use of members who pass their sailing lessons. (Dinghies: small sailboats that don’t have a keel and that you can’t overnight on, but are still funs.) But I digress from the question.
I’ll talk about sloop rigged boats. The mainsail is the main sail that is pretty much always used while sailing. The top of the sail (the head) is attached to a line which comes out of the top of the mast and is hauled up. The luff of the sail (the leading edge) is attached to the mast. The tack of the mainsail (the point at the bottom of the sail nearest the mast) is attached to (usually) the mast and the slw (the point at the bottom of the sail away from the mast) is attached to the boom. Using the mainsheet (a line attached to the boom) you control the mainsail (in and out). The main sheet generally attaches near the middle and or the end of the boom (depending on how you have your blocks (pulleys) set up). (For simplicity sake, I won’t get into travellers or vangs/kickers/kicking straps.)
The jib is the sail in front of the mail. The head of the jib attaches to the jib halyard which comes out of the mast and is hauled up (sometimes all the way to the top of the mast and sometime not depending on your boat design. If the jib doesn’t go as high as the main, it is referred to as a fractional rig.) The tack of the jib is generally attached on the deck of the boat towards the bow and the jibsheets attache directly to the clew of the jib. The jibsheets are generally lead back into the cockpit via some blocks and leads (fairleads). In some boats you leave the jib up even when you have a spinnaker up and in some you don’t. Typically, the jib doesn’t go back past the mast. One of my jibs on my 24 foot boat is referred to a a 170 percent jib because it is 170 percent bigger than a jib that doesn’t go past the mast. (Sometimes a big jib is referred to as a gennaker).
Now if I haven’t confused you too much, I will try to describe a spinnaker. First, though, you need to know about points of sail. When you are pointing as close to the wind as you can you are a on close-hauled or beating course (remember that sailboats do not go well when the are pointing directly into the wind). As you steer the boat, away from the wind and the wind is coming over the side of your boat, you are on a reach. As the boat steers more away from the wind, you are on a broad reach and then when the wind is directly behind you, you are running. Spinnakers are not used when you are close hauled. They are used for running and reaching.
The spinnaker is a big, typically colourful sail at the front of the boat used while runnign and reaching. Mains and Jibs are essentially airfoils and act on the same principles as airplane wings to generate lift and power (which is why boats can go faster than the speed of wind and why boats can point so close to the wind). The spinnaker is not so much an airfoil as it is a big surface for the wind to ‘push’. When you are running you cannot go faster than the windspeed. Spinnakers are made of lighter material than the jib or main and are often referred to as kites or chutes (think parachute material - sort of)
There are two types of spinnakers -symmetric and asymmetric. The asymmetric spinnaker is more like a great big jib - it doesn’t require a spinnaker pole The head and tack attach similarily to the way the jib’s do and the spinnaker sheets attach to the clew.
I think of the symmetric spinnaker as floating more. The head of the spinnaker is attached to the spinnaker halyard. One end of the spinnaker is attached to a pole while is attached to the mast. That end is called the tack. A line called a guy is attached to the tack and is used to pull the pole back or move it forward. Another line, a topping lift or pole uphaul is attached to the pole and it is used to lower or raise the pole. The sheet is attached to the other end of the spinnaker (the clew) and is generally led back back to the crewmember responsible for controlling the spinnaker sheet. The pole height and pole forward/back position and the sheet are constantly being adjusted to ensure the sail is set for maximum speed. During a jib, the tack is removed from the pole and becomes the clew and the line that was the guy now is called the sheet (which is always fun for confusing novice sailors/racers!) and the pole is attached to what used to be the clew. The old clew is now the tack and the sheet is now the guy.
Sorry for my long winded answer! For more AC and LVC info, here are the websites:
Some of the off the water controversy is as exciting as the sailing!
If you want to watch some more really exciting racing … Outdoor life sometimes carries Aussie 18 or skiff racing. Those boats fly! The race format is both match racing (2 boats like AC racing) and fleet racing.