Need to take a break below in the cabin, grab a nap, grab a snack, make some coffee, or perhaps cook up a scrumptious gourmet meal? As a sailing skipper, you need to learn how to sail a boat well, but you must also know the vital skill of heaving to–or stopping the boat.
This simple technique will ease the violent motion of pitching and rolling, allow your sailing crew time to rest, and lessen the strain on costly boat sails and sailing rigging. And you will know a skill that has been used by sailors like yourself for hundreds of years in light sailing winds or howling ocean gale. Follow these five easy-to-learn steps:
1. Balance the boat to reduce heeling and weather helm. Reef the mainsail or reduce the headsail as necessary. Then, get onto a close hauled course on port tack.
2. Tack the boat, but leave the headsail sheets alone. Allow the jib or Genoa to backwind as the bow passes through the wind.
3. Push the sailboat tiller downwind and lash it down to hold it in place. If using a wheel, turn the sailboat wheel toward the wind and set the wheel break to hold it in place.
4. Adjust the mainsheet. You want the boat to make a zig-zag motion so that the mainsail tries to drive the boat up into the wind, but the backed headsail pushes the bow downwind. Your small cruising boat should sideslip to leeward at 1 to 2 knots of boat speed. This also creates a slick to windward to help calm breaking seas.
5. Raise the tack of the backed headsail. Before taking off on a a coastal or offshore cruise, get your sailmaker to make a few 18″ wire rope pendants with eyes in each end. In heavy weather, raise the tack of the headsail with a pendant before you heave to. This keeps the foot of the sail out of the way of seas that break aboard the boat and reduces stress on the sailing rigging.
Every sailing skipper needs to learn what it takes to get his or her small sailboat to heave to. Use these five easy steps to maintain complete control over your small cruising boat in any sailing weather that comes your way.