Sail Combination for Heaving To

Hi: Some time ago, I purchased your book Offshore Cruising Encyclopedia. Recently I have been searching in it for a reference for heaving to or laying to. I can find none. Here is my problem: I am having difficulty in getting my 48 ft Mayflower ketch to heave to or lay to the wind. I tried placing the headsail to windward, the main amidship, and the rudder hard to leeward. It does not work. I have placed the main to windward, the mizzen amidships, and the rudder hard to leeward. This causes the boat to head about 120° apparent. Placing the full mizzen amid ship with about a yard of main amidship results in movement from about 0° to 90°. The movement without the main is slightly more violent. I would appreciate any ideas that you could give me on how to solve this problem in all kinds of weather, but of course, heavy weather is the condition that bothers me the most. Thank you, John.

Hi John: The combination required to heave to varies with wind velocity and sea state–for any given vessel. So what works in one set of conditions will have to probably be modified for a different situation.

The principle is to get the fore and aft sails to offset each other, hopefully so that the boat maintains a constant angle to the most dangerous (or uncomfortable) seas, at as close an angle as possible (closer is usually safer and/or more comfortable).

If your boat will create a slick to weather, it sometimes helps to get the angle so that the boat drifts dead downwind of the slick. In theory the slick reduces the tendency of the waves to break (but we have no direct experience with this ourselves).

It is hard to give you the specifics of what to do on your boat without being on board, or knowing more details. However, if she is ketch rigged, as a guess I would say that some combination of staysail and mizzen might work. Or perhaps mizzen and a small jib.

I would aim for a 50 to 60-degree angle to the waves/wind as a start. Experiment in moderate conditions first. From your description, it sounds like a neutral helm or even some helm to weather might help. Also, I would try it without the main, or only use the main in lighter winds.

As to a reference, our book Surviving the Storm has a chapter with lots of drawings and images on the subject of heaving to. Good luck – Steve

Posted by Steve Dashew  (November 30, 1999)

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