Heavy Weather Sailing - Heaving-To ~ by George Day
(Blue Water Sailing 1990)
wears on the boat, tears on the sails
and gradually takes a mighty toll on the crew. Exhaustion, from lack of sleep, from worry and from the persistent roar of waves and wind
, can be blamed for more problems at sea than any other single
cause. When you're too tired to sail on, when the crew is feeling battered and sick, when the boat seems to be overpowered, you will know it is time to stop for a while and heave to.
There are conditions in which it is unwise and unsafe to heave to. When waves are constantly breaking all around you, when you can feel the pounding of breakers on the deck
, you may be safer and happier to carry on running before the storm at a slow and controlled rate possibly under bare poles with warps streamed astern.
However, in most storm conditions, heaving to will be the option that presents itself when you feel you are done in and want to rest. In fact, after struggling to sail on in a storm, the act of heaving to has an almost immediate positive effect upon the crew. The boat's motion eases, the fury of the wind
seems to abate slightly and the stress on gear
and the crew's morale seems to dissipate.
For cruising sailors, heaving to need not be solely a storm tactic. Stopping the boat at any time, to navigate or make repairs
, or simply to have a quiet dinner, is an option too often overlooked. If you're not in a hurry, then stopping for a while can be a real pleasure.
But, heaving to is most often done when the wind is really piping. There are three generally accepted ways to heave to in a sail boat: lying to a sea anchor
or para-anchor; lying ahull; and, heaving to under reduced sail.
Lying To A Sea Anchor
: The technology of sea anchors goes back to the last century when fishermen developed sturdy canvas
cones, with iron hoops at the mouth, for use when lying offshore
in a storm. The sea anchors on the market today, most notably those designed and built by Dan Shewmon, are evolutions of the early canvass style. Relying on the conical shape to trap sea water
grips the water just under the surface and provides the drag needed to hold the bow of the boat to windward.
A traditional sea anchor
needs to be quite large to hold the weight and windage of a larger, ocean sailing boat. It should be attached to the boat with a long length of anchor rode
and, like the Gale Rider, should be fitted with at least one swivel to prevent the rode
from kinking. The rode should be well protected from chafe.
An alternative to the traditional sea anchor is the para-anchor, which is a huge, lightweight sea anchor designed along the lines of a parachute. Para-anchors are sewn of heavy nylon fabric
and reinforced with nylon webbing. The anchor is usually set from the bow, and like a sea anchor, should be fitted with swivels and plenty of chafing gear
Deploying a sea anchor or para-anchor can be difficult, for it will be caught and tossed about by the wind and will take some time to open and fill once in the water. The rode should be played out long enough to place the anchor two wave crests to windward of you and should be adjusted to account for changes in the wave patterns.
in lying to a sea anchor or para-anchor is sliding backwards as a breaking sea rolls under the bow of the boat. The hull
slips back on the wave and the entire weight of the hull will fall onto the rudder
. If the rudder
turns as the boat goes astern, the pressure can easily bend the rudder post or shear off even the most robust pintels and gudgeons.
Experience will tell you quite quickly if the drift of the sea anchor and the size of the waves make lying to the anchor an unsafe proposition. In most seas and on most boats a sea anchor will be a useful storm tool. But it should be used with caution and a ready willingness to try another approach should backing on the rudder become a problem.
Lying Ahull: No storm tactic is more controversial than lying ahull. The technique is simply to douse all sail, batten down the boat and let it find its own natural position in the sea. The tiller is usually tied to leeward (wheel to windward) to help the boat keep her bow from falling off too far. The natural windage of the rig and the bow will normally force the bow away from the wind, while the rudder tends to force the bow back again.
Heavier cruising boats, with full keels will be extremely sluggish lying ahull and will tend to find a position approximately beam on to the seas. In this position, the boat will roll to each new wave, while moving ahead slowly and making a lot of leeway. It can be an uncomfortable angle, yet if the boat settles down, this can be a restful way to weather a storm.
In lighter boats, with little wetted surface and light, high buoyant ends, the bow will tend to fall of slightly beyond the beam reach to approximately 100 to 135 degrees from the wind. Waves will tend to break on the windward quarter and will shove the boat forward with each crest while also pivoting the bow slightly to windward.
In both types of boat, pressure of the waves and wind will be transformed first into the healing angle of the boat and second into leeway. In seas that are not breaking ferociously, lying ahull may be the simplest way to stop the boat while you rest.
However, the danger
in lying ahull is the possibility of being rolled. As the boat makes leeway down the face of a breaking wave, the keel
will tend to drag and the force of the wind will push the rig to leeward, increasing the boat's angle of heel. Should the wave break onto the boat, further rotating the keel
to windward and the mast
to leeward, you could face a complete roll over.
Other than being pitch
poled, there is nothing more dangerous in a big sea than a roll over. The rig will be carried away. Deck
gear, including the life raft may be swept off the boat. And, in modern, beamy cruisers, with low stability angles, there is the distinct possibility of remaining upside down as the boat stabilizes in an inverted position.
Lying ahull has it proponents. Yet, if the seas are large and breaking, you may be wise to chose another tactic for stopping the boat.
Heaving To Under Reduced Sail: Although not the simplest way to stop the boat in heavy weather, heaving to under reduced sail offers what many offshore
sails consider the best compromise in winds up to 50 knots. The need to control the speed of the boat while at the same time keeping adequate steerage, makes many offshore sailors suspicious of either lying ahull or lying to a sea anchor. Heaving to under deeply reduced sail can achieve both ends.
Every different design will show unique behavior in strong winds. It is essential to try out the various methods in a fresh breeze when you can judge best how your boat will behave and what combination of sails will perform for you best.
In modern masthead sloops, of moderate to light displacement
, the most common method of heaving to in heavy weather is under storm jib
alone. To heave to, trim the storm jib
to windward, force the bow off the wind and then tie the helm
down to counteract the leeward force of the jib
. The boat will seek a position approximately 60 degrees off the wind and will then proceed forward at one or two knots. The course will be erratic as the boat rides over large swells and falls off again in the gusts at the top of the wave. And, the boat will occasionally take a breaking wave on the forward windward quarter that will shove the hull to leeward. Your progress under the storm jib
alone will be a diagonal vector at about 130 from the true direction of the wind, as you will be gong forward at about two knots and going sideways at about one knot
If the boat does not want to lie under storm jib alone, if it tends to have too much lee helm
and can not approach the wave on a close reaching angle, you will want to add a bit of sail areas aft. In a split rigged boat, a ketch
or a yawl, a deep reefed mizzen may do the trick. Or, in a sloop
, you can fly the storm trisail, sheeted very flat. When adding sail in strong winds, do so advisedly and with great care. The strain on deck gear may mitigate against adding sail, or the force of extreme gusts over 60 knots or more may dictate that you seek an alternate course of action. However, it is important to remember that carrying both a small main a trisail or a triple reefed mainsail
with the storm jib will give additional support to the main mast
and the standing rigging
Another tactic for heaving to under reduced sail is under triple reefed main alone. In winds under 50 knots, you may find that the boat balances better without a storm jib and will jog along sedately with the helm lashed amidships or slightly to weather with just the reduced main flying. The sail should be sheeted as flat as possible, with the traveler to leeward and the vang cranked down. If you have an adjustable backstay you will want to crank it down to more than half of its tightest setting; but do not crank it all the way down. A small amount of flexibility and play in the rig can save it from a stress failure.
It is important when heaving to under the mainsail
, triple reefed, to make certain that the sail is well tied down, that the halyard
is strong enough to withstand the pumping it will receive from the sail, and that the main sheet and traveler are up to the job. You will have to monitor
carefully the angle at which you lie to the wind and the stresses on the sail, the running rigging
and the standing rigging to assess if the forces of the wind are too great for the sail configuration.
In split rigged boats, yawls and ketches, it is possible to heave to under storm jib and mizzen as described above. Yet, if the wind it too great for this combination, if the boat seems overpowered and labors in every gust, you may choose to drop the jib and heave to under a deeply reefed mizzen alone. The sail should be sheeted hard amidships with the tiller to windward (or wheel
to leeward), where they will act together to keep the bow off the wind at about 40 to 50 degrees. If your angle to the wind is too close, if blue water is coming over the bow, sheet the mizzen to leeward with a second sheet and adjust the helm farther to windward to force the bow down.
Heaving to under reduced sail will require more sail handling and helm maintenance
the other methods. Yet, with some scraps of sail flying, you will find that you are able to adjust your speed to suit the conditions and you will be able to hold steerage through even breaking seas. Finally, should you decide that the time has come to try a different course of action, you will have the maneuverability and the boat speed to change course.