All about Lees
The name Lee is short and easy to speak, spell and remember, but the word has often become confusing when used as a nautical or geographical reference is used. I have compiled a collection of Lee references that may help clarify some of Lee confusion.
Leeward ~ pronounced lee-ward or lew-ard as either an noun or adjective. It's the point or quarter towards which the wind blows. Leeward is also the direction downwind from the point of reference or opposite of windward. In racing, the leeward boats have the disadvantage so windward boat must keep clear. Leeward boat has right-of-way.
The image at right shows the lee shore lined in red and the windward shore shown with a dark green shores of an island. This image depicts the lee shore as the shore away from the wind and most exposed to the wind while the shore line away from and protected from the wind is the windward because the direction of the wind is coming from that shore if you were standing on that beach.
The diagram also depicts the windward and leeward side of a sailboat which are opposite to the land's sides. Thus a windward shore to someone on that shore is a leeward shore to someone on a vessel approaching that shore. Clearly explained, right? Here's an even more confusing explanation: A lee shore is a shore downwind of a ship that is upwind of it. The windward shore is a lee shore for vessels traveling offshore when that shore is "to leeward" of the vessel, but that does not make it the leeward shore of the island.
Although the terms are often confused, "the lee shore" is different from "a leeward shore" based on the reference point from which the shore is viewed. Notice the different grammatical articles "the" and "a" -- "the" windward or leeward shore versus "a" lee shore. The shore that is a lee shore changes based on the reference point, which is the vessel from which the island or lake shore is viewed, and of which the island or lake shore is in the lee. The leeward shore does not change based on the position of the vessel. This means that the "leeward side" of the vessel and the "lee shore" of the land face opposite directions. In case you are wondering, I did not write this explanation!
A lee shore is one that is to the lee side of a vessel - meaning the wind is blowing towards it. Lee (green) and windward (red) shores of a lake, given wind from due east (white arrows). Leeway ~ If a ship does not have enough "leeway" it is in danger of being driven onto the shore. Lee shore and windward shore dangers: Lee shores are dangerous to watercraft because, if left to drift, they will be pushed into shore by the wind, possibly running aground. Sailboats are particularly susceptible to this, as even under sail they are limited to the angle they can travel into the wind; Square rigged craft, for instance, can point only slightly to windward. It is possible for a sailing vessel to become trapped along a lee shore, with the only recourse being to use an engine, or use anchor to kedge out. The beach of a lee shore in a storm is also at a significantly higher risk due to the undiminished effects of the wind and waves. Because of this, it is always preferable to travel along a windward shore, especially in inclement weather. A windward shore will have significantly lower waves and slower winds, because they will have been slowed by passage over the land, but a windward shore does have its dangers, being subject to storm surge. Wikipedia
In the Lee / To the Lee
The port tack boat (background) is momentarily in the lee of the starboard tack vessel (foreground) when they cross tacks. The boat behind is to leeward. Any crew sitting on the lower rail/side would be sitting to leeward.
Lee Helm is the tendency of a sailboat to turn away from the wind while under sail. It is the opposite of weather helm which is the tendency of a sailboat to "round up" into the wind. A boat with lee helm will be difficult to sail. Close Hauled and tacking may be difficult.
"Hard-a-Lee" or "Hard Alee" ~ is the command given to inform the crew that the helm is being turned quickly to leeward, turning the boat across the wind. “Hard alee” means you're pushing the tiller hard to the lee side causing the boat to turn up into and across the wind or to tack. If you are steering with a wheel, you turn it towards the side the sail/boom is on or leewards side.
Sailing by the Lee
If a boat turns to leeward too far, or sails "by the lee". It happens when a sailboat jibes accidentally or if the lee side of the sail catches the wind, causing the boom to swing across...
Steering can be difficult when running because there is less pressure on the tiller to provide feedback to the helmsman, and the boat is less stable, meaning the boat may more easily go off course than on other points of sail. This tendency to turn off course when running can be dangerous. If a boat turns to leeward too far, or sails "by the lee", the boat can jibe accidentally if the lee side of the sail catches the wind, causing the boom to swing across the boat quickly. A preventer can be used on yachts to help avoid this. Some boats, particularly smaller racing dinghies like the Laser, sail "by the lee" very well, but most sailboats should be careful to avoid this, and a vigilant helmsman is important.
Also when sailing on a dead downwind run an inexperienced or inattentive sailor can easily misjudge the real strength of the wind since the boat speed subtracts directly from the true wind speed and this makes the apparent wind less. In addition the sea conditions also falsely seem milder on this point of sail as developing white caps are shielded from view by the back of the waves and are less apparent. When changing course in a brisk wind from a run to a reach or a beat, a sailboat that seemed under control can instantly become over-canvassed and in danger of a sudden broach.
The Leeward Islands
Leeward Islands are a group of islands in the West Indies. They are the northern islands of the Lesser Antilles chain. As a group they start east of Puerto Rico and reach southward to Dominica. They were called this by the first European explorers because the prevailing southeastern wind made these island away from the windward winds of the lower Caribbean.