Let’s say you’re out sailing the York River and want to stop and have lunch. That way the boat will flatten out and food won’t wind up flying everywhere.
The procedure is called Heave-To, which slows the boat to a stop. Then you’re Hove-To. I prefer the latter term because Heave-To implies vomiting.
Assuming you’re on a typical upwind tack, simply come about but leave the jib sheets locked place. That’s it. The boat will stop on a dime. You’ll have play around with the wheel to maintain the course, but it’s easy. It’s so easy that it’s the first thing I teach for Man Overboard drills. Then we proceed to the Figure 8 rescue.
This video illustrates the maneuver well because ASA instructor Duncan Hood brings a wealth of simplicity to complexity. (He certified me as an instructor for ASA 103). Heave-To is easy to execute because all you do is tack, “Helm’s a lee.” The rest is up to God.
The maneuver applies to bigger ships as well, including US Navy aircraft carriers. It’s a quick way to slow forward motion, albeit disconcerting to the crew if they’re not ready for it. And you don’t want to execute the heave-to with someone in the head.
Tug boats perform Heave-To as well. In his book, “Uncommon Carriers,” John McPhee explains the Williamson turn. “Generally known as a device for picking up a person overboard, the Williamson turn is impressively precise. You turn the wheel hard right or hard left until the ship is 60 degrees off the course it was on. Then you shift the wheel to the other extreme. The ship circles and returns to the place where it left the original track.
“On the training ship of Maine Maritime Academy the cadets do Williamson turns all day long around a floating life jacket, and at the end of the day they pick it up.”
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To stop a sailboat quickly, simply tack into the wind and let the jib or Genoa lock up. Just like that, the boat turns and stops while simultaneously flattening out. Here's how.
Capt. Bill O'Donovan
Williamsburg Charter Sails