Dee Caffari, record-breaking round the world sailor and coach, explains what’s happening in the image of Bernard Stamm’s IMOCA 60 during Leg 3 of the 2002/03 Around Alone race. She also offers advice on how to perfect the art of heaving to in big winds.
This image should be entitled ‘Get into That’. Bernard Stamm had 120 miles to go to the finish line — to the north of Great Barrier Island — when he was faced with 50 knots of wind and a huge sea.
He appears to have elected to heave to, which is considered a safe position to maintain. This could have been for a number of reasons. Maybe he had to slow down, or the seaway was too much with the increased sea state, or he had a problem to fix below decks, maybe even with his autopilot.
Heaving to is actually quite tricky to do in a light, non-displacement boat such as an IMOCA 60. The canting keel has to been dropped to the centreline to reduce drive and power, and help put more boat in the water to give a better ride in the waves.
The smallest jib, the ORC, or staysail, is backed and the windward jib sheet is left trimmed on. The deep-reefed mainsail is eased slightly and the helm secured to help try to turn the boat to weather. If these are all balanced out, the boat will sit quite nicely riding the waves and not moving forward or trying to turn into or away from the wind. This allows the solo sailor time to do other jobs or get some rest from the elements.
The fine balance is between the helm and the mainsail ease to ensure the boat does not try to bear away and accelerate, or try to tack again. If this balance is not achieved, there is a risk the boat will turn away from the wind and gybe, then continue to sail in violent circles with the helm lashed.
The hazard in lying in this position is that the boat will heel and there will be a significant drift to leeward, so it is not advised if there is not enough sea room. When adopting the hove-to position, ensure there is no risk of hazards to leeward and there is no danger of drifting onto a lee shore.
Caffari’s advice on how to sail free
To get out of this position of relative safety requires some room to manoeuvre, so ensure there is space to move. The helm will need to be released and then the windward jib sheet will need to be eased, trimming on the normal leeward sheet again.
A slight bear away from the helm and the boat will start moving again. Once you have steerage you can then manoeuvre back onto the desired course. Trim the sails, cant the keel and set the ballast to sail fast.
Being hove-to is relatively uncommon now as it is generally considered that to keep way and steerage on is better in a seaway than stopping, but there are times when adopting this position can make the difference between avoiding catastrophe or ending your race.
It is good to practise the hove-to position, and particularly important when on a new boat that each crewmember, especially those who may be helming, know the quickest way to stop the boat and what is involved to make that happen safely.
It is often the first reaction to a man overboard call: a crash tack, leaving the jib sheeted, and therefore stopping the boat in the fastest manner possible. This of course changes when you come to non-displacement and performance boats as any manoeuvre takes longer as running backstays, internal and external stack, and full ballast tanks have to be considered.
Avoiding the situation
While every effort should be taken to obtain accurate information about the weather to ensure the worst of the conditions are avoided, sometimes it is what it is, and escaping extreme weather is impossible. In this case it is a matter of being sensible and seamanlike and making the right decisions to protect the safety of the boat, crew and equipment.
Interview by Sue Pelling
Dee Caffari MBE (43) was the first woman to sail solo non-stop round the world in both directions, and the only woman to do it three times. As well as an adviser to Oman Sail Women’s programme and an Artemis Offshore Academy Alumni coach, Caffari is currently preparing to skipper the Sail 4 Cancer boat in the 2016 Three Peaks Race.