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December 23, 2008

How do you "Heave too"?

A question from New Zealand to my post on ships and sailing a few days ago has flagged up a need to explain some of the terminology. The act of "heaving too" is the motion or action that the ship and crew go through to achieve a stopped condition without anchoring. In this state the English language then says it is "Hove too" - but that can be blamed on Dr Samuel Johnson and subsequent grammarians!

It is a fairly simple process to "Heave too". The ship is brought as close to the wind as she can "lie" without being "in irons" and then the sails on the main mast are hauled round so that they catch the wind on the wrong side. The forces of wind trying to drive the ship forward on two masts and backward on the third stops the ship in the water and holds her in position. On a ship with a single mast the usual procedure is to "back" the headsails or "jibs" with the helm hard up to windward. It has the same effect - trying to turn the ship through the wind while the headsails are trying to turn her away from it brings the ship to a standstill. Most of the old style "Square Riggers" could beat to windward but seldom could "lie" closer to the wind than around thirty degrees to the direction of the wind itself. Modern yachts can lie within 10 degrees of the wind and sometimes even closer than that.

A ship is "in irons" when she "misses stays" and "hangs" head to wind in a turn (Known as a "tack") through the eye of the wind and has insufficient forward movement for the rudder to have any effect. With all her sails "aback" she will usually try to go backwards - often with disasterous results as the rudder is useless in that situation and the strain on the masts and rigging can result in a dismasting. Bringing the ship back under control without a disaster from that situation takes a lot of skill and effort - and plenty of "sea room" to sort oneself out in. A ship getting into irons with a shore under her lee is in dead trouble - she'll be ashore and wrecked before her crew can even get an anchor ready to drop it. The old "square riggers" needed a lot of momentum as they went into a turn through the wind (In other words to windward) to avoid the danger of falling into irons and quite often it was more practical to gybe the ship or "wear" it by turning the bow away from the wind and changing direction by keeping the wind astern as you turned. This manoeuvre also has its dangers as there is a risk of losing control as wind and sea both begin to work together and the helmsman needs to be quite skillful in keeping the ship under control as the turn is accomplished. In a badly handled Gybe a ship can be dismasted if a backstay fails or allows too much movement in a mast as she goes round. The Big J's were the "Maxi Yachts" of the 1890 - 1930 period and they were renowned for that problem - in fact they actually had two men whose sole job aboard was to control the backstay tension in a gybe.

A hard life and a skilled one, another of the "lost" arts perhaps.

Posted by The Gray Monk at December 23, 2008 03:21 PM

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