A whisker pole is a form of spar that is used to help hold the clew portion of the jib when the vessel is sailing off the wind current. These poles belong to a part of basic sailboat and yacht configuration that is known as a spar. Essentially, a spar is a round piece of timber or metal that is part of the basic outfitting of a sailing vessel. Along with the whisker pole, other types of spars include the masts, gaffs, yards, and booms found on the boat. Each of these different types of spars play a role in securing sails into position, so the boat can be directed in any direction desired, using air flow as the force for the movement. The whisker pole is perhaps the lightest of all the different types of spars that are in use as part of standard equipment on a sailing vessel.
Whisker poles themselves are also constructed using hardwood that has been sealed against moisture and humidity. Some versions are constructed using steel and similar hard metals. Like their wooden counterparts, the metal poles will be treated and sealed, so that the material will withstand corrosion from the elements. Held in place with a series of bolts, it is not unusual for a spare pole to be stowed somewhere on the sailing vessel, in the event that any type of damage does occur during the voyage.
The main function of the whisker pole has to do with the proper securing and operation of the jib sail. As a triangular shaped sail, the jib helps to control the speed and direction of the sailboat or yacht during sailing. The whisker pole provides a connection between the main mast and the front section of the vessel, allowing the jib sail to be fully unfurled for use in catching the wind.
The dimensions of the whisker pole are fairly standard, so there is no problem in obtaining the right length for most sailing vessels. Marinas usually keep a number of different sizes in stock, so replacements are readily available when needed. Also, most shipbuilding companies will also manufacture a line of whisker pole types that are custom designed for the sailboats they build and sell.