For many sailors, the term “stay” means the same thing as “sail.” Stays are ropes, chains, cables, or poles attached to the hull of sailing boats that run fore and aft along the keelline to the main hull, the mast, bowsprit, jib, or other mainmast. A stay is often part of the main rigging and is designed to support the heavier weight of a main mast, the sails, and the sails’ tacking or steering weight.
From the mast to the after mast, all of the sails must be anchored to the stay by some means. For example, the fore stay, also called the mainstay, may be rigged with lines to allow for tacking, a method of raising or lowering the mast in preparation for a turn or movement of the sail, and thus remain in position relative to the wind. The mainstay or stige is normally set into position while the ship is in motion and left in position while the sails are moving or going away from the wind. A number of yards of rope, several knots, and the use of cleats or spikes will rig the stay to a particular tack.
Stays were originally used as being the mainstay for a sailing ship, but later were incorporated into the general purpose of a sailing ship to provide for an easily manageable place for stokers to rig the mast and stay, and an anchor against the wind for getting the ship to a safe place. In modern times, keeping a sailing ship’s stay in good condition means that the boat is secured to a mooring and protected from the elements, so that the stay may be raised and lowered as needed for a variety of reasons such as getting the ship to another yearlong anchorage or taking it out of the water entirely. Keeping a good-looking stay in good condition, however, requires much more than simply raising or lowering it a few times a year. A wooden stay may need to be treated periodically with wood preservative to prevent rot, which should also be done by a professional if one is not available, and the wood used for the stay should be well-treated for moisture resistance and durability.