More Sail Manoeuvres

Apart from tacking and wearing the ship a number of other manoeuvres under sails are executed on MIR more or less regularly. Rising harbour fees and costs for tugs and pilots lead to the decision to stay at anchor more often or to employ the sails rather than tugs for mooring assistance. The masters on the MIR execute these manoeuvres with great skill and experience and it seems as if they were not commanding a 110 m long square rigger but a yacht that is just a little bit big.


Under heaving-to we understand a manoeuvre to stop the vessel but remain manoeuvrable all the time. This requires a positioning of the sails where one part of the sails work forward and the other part at the same time works backwards. Thus the square sails of the fore mast are braced into by-the-wind position and the square sails of the main mast are braced into a squared position. The sheets of staysails and head sails (if set) are belayed in by-the-wind position and the helm is kept hard to windward.

As a rule the ship lays hove-to on the tack on which the manoeuvre has been started. So to get there only the wind is taken out of the main top by bracing her into forewind position and at the same time putting the rudder hard to windward. Is it for any reason necessary to heave-to on the other tack, the manoeuvre starts like tacking with the difference that the rudder is not returned to amidships again and the main top is not braced fully around but only onto the squared (forewind) position.

Hove-to the ship permanently describes parts of a circle forward or backwards with heading changes of roughly 60° according to which part is the sails is predominant now – the forward working or the backward working. One part of the sails always stands aback. The drift is minimal but existing. It is necessary to check it regularly and to make sure that there remains enough open sea room to leeward not to be driven onto a shallow or into areas of heavy traffic. Good seamanship is hove-to only to keep the minimum sail area necessary to keep the ship in position.

For getting underway again it is only needed to brace the main top into by-the-wind position and put the rudder amidships.
As for the Rules of the Road (COLREG) a sailing vessel that is hove-to is underway. Thus the bridge must remain manned, a navigational watch must be kept, VHF must be listened, lookout must be kept and there needs to be a helmsman ready to take the wheel at any time so that if necessary the ship can execute an manoeuvre at once.


To find a place for anchoring certain preparations are necessary. Charts of a biggest possible scale need to be used to find a place that not only provides ground suitable for anchoring but also the space necessary for swinging around the anchor. If available this will be discussed with a pilot or a coastal traffic centre or a place is used where the ship has been successfully anchored before. Official roads are not always the best choice as very often they are too far away from the shore to maintain a shuttle boat traffic or to be seen from the shore.

For anchoring any vessel there are some basic rules to regard:
How is anchoring executed? Let’s imagine we sail full and by on port tacks. To reduce speed we would first take away the uppermost sails and then also the big and unhandy courses. The idea is that for the actual manoeuvre we keep only fore staysail, fore lower topsail and main lower topsail. If the ship looses to much speed there might also remain one or two jibs. When closing in to the place chosen for anchoring the rudder is laid to windward (easy, not too much, maybe 10-15°) to make her stop with the bow dead in the wind. The crew stands by the braces and at the moment when the ship starts drifting backwards the yards get braced into forewind position (squared) and the head sails get thrown off and are taken away. The rudder is laid amidships. The ship now starts to move backwards. The fore lower topsail gets clewed up and at the same moment the port anchor is dropped. When the necessary length of chain (min. 5 times the depth of the water) is paid out the last remaining sail – the main lower topsail is clewed up. All sails get stowed very neatly to reduce windage to a minimum and the yards get braced into a position where the wind blows parallel to them.

The ship is now at anchor. As per COLREG she is not underway any more. However the bridge must remain manned by an anchor watch who makes sure that she does not drag her anchor and starts drifting. For this radar bearings or if available visual bearings get checked regularly and the GPS position is compared with the anchor position plotted into the sea chart and noted in the logbook. Every hour or in bad weather more often the anchor chain is checked for vibrations (which would indicate a dragging of the anchor) and the position of the anchor chain is noted. During daytime the anchor ball is set in the rigging and during night time the anchor lights are shown. As a rule additionally the deck lights are on.


At anchor the ship turns in according to wind and current. In the best case we have a strong current with fresh beam winds as it often happens in tidal waters or river estuaries. If there is also enough sea room ahead we only need to brace the yards accordingly and prepare the sails we want to set. Now we start heaving the anchor chain until the ship stands right above the anchor. Then we set sails and while she starts moving we heave the anchor. The rudder remains amidships until the anchor is out of the water. Then a course is announced and steered.

Unfortunately it is not always that easy... If the current and wind work into the same direction or we have no current at all (Baltic Sea, Mediterranean) the ship turns in with the bow dead in the wind. To get underway it is necessary to bear off so that a by-the-wind course can be maintained.
Let’s again imagine a situation: the ship stays at port anchor with wind and current on the bow. In this situation – given there is enough sea room – it is best to get off the anchor on port tacks as otherwise the anchor chain would turn around the bow.

The manoeuvre now begins with preparing the sails which the ship shall carry later. At the same time we start heaving the anchor chain. When the chain becomes tight (short stay, 4 points off the bow) the mizzen sail is set and at the same time the yards of the fore mast are braced aback. At the moment when the anchor chain is up-and-down (anchor standing upright underneath the ship) the mizzen sail is hauled close to the starboard side and the fore lower topsail (in light winds also the fore upper topsail) is set. The ship turns to starboard. Now the anchor is hauled up.

Once the anchor is off the ground the head sails get set aback. The ship first moves backwards. The rudder is laid to port (easy, not too much). Now the ship turns quickly. The anchor is now out of the water but kept ready for falling until the ship has left the anchorage and reached open water. Once the ship is about 45° off the wind the fore mast is braced around and the rudder is laid amidships. When the square sails are filling also the head sails are flung to the other side and sheeted in. All other sails needed are set and the ship gets steered to the course announced.


Leaving a berth without tug assistance is only possible if wind and current help or at least do not counteract. Without bow thruster one needs a wind blowing off the berth or at least a current on the bow to get off the pier. In how far the engine gets employed or is only held stand-by depends on the wind situation and the space available. For example in Travemuende July 2003 we had a soft wind blowing from the berth and Captain Antonov decided to use the jibs to push the bow away from the pier. He took away all mooring lines except for the aft spring. Then the square sails were set (the yards had already been braced into halfwind position) and the aft spring was thrown off. Thus we left the port completely under sails.

this page was updated 10/07