If you are out driving and decide to make a quick call some place, you use the brakes to bring the car to a stop, put it in “park,” and pay your call. In a ship, things aren’t so easy. There are no brakes. To bring a ship to a stop, you either take off all power and coast to a stop or somehow apply the appropriate amount of reverse power to cancel out the forward motion. But while you may have zeroed the ship’s velocity, wind and water may still cause her to move in some direction. To compensate for this lack of a “parking brake” when you do not wish to anchor, you must use the power available to you to offset the motion caused by Mother Nature. In a sailing ship, that meant setting one or more sails so that the wind pushed the ship ahead, and setting others so that the wind on them was pushing astern—all the while trying to head the ship in a particular direction so that all of these forces balanced out and your ship stayed, essentially, in one spot. Naturally, the odds were against getting it exactly right, so the sails constantly would be adjusted as the ship moved back and forth across the desired site. To an uninformed observer ashore, it would look like the skipper could not make up his mind.
We often observe this same kind of uncertain action ashore. An example is watching a television reporter trying to get a politician to give some definitive statements on a current “hot” topic. A lot of words are spoken, but when the interview is over, you realize you have been taken all around the subject without ever getting an answer. Some people call it “bobbing and weaving,” a boxing term meaning an action that makes a boxer a hard target to hit; others use the phrase to identify the action of trying to hold a ship in position without committing to anchoring: “backing and filling.”