Hug is one of those warm, fuzzy words. It's something you do to your pet, your child, your lover. One doesn't think of it in terms of rough men at sea (but if you do, well done - we all need our fantasies, I find). It is, however, a term used by seamen with some regularity to this very day.
Hug, according to our old friend Webster, comes to modern English from the Old Norse word hugga (which you have to admit is kind of cute, even if old Norse guys weren't) meaning to comfort or console via the Anglo Saxon hycgan, to think. Webster's definition number four speaks to our purpose, and that of sailors as well: to keep close to.
To hug the land is to sail as near to the shoreline as is reasonably possible keeping the safety of the ship in mind. This may be done for reconnaissance, to stay near a needed supply of fresh water and/or food, in anticipation of a rendezvous or for more nefarious purposes. Henry Morgan's ships hugged the coast of Central America as they approached Buenaventura en route to his unprecedented raid on Portobelo, for instance.
In such cases it is preferable to keep the land to windward. In other words the wind should be blowing from the land toward the ship. With the land to leeward the ship risks being caught on a "lee shore" and that, as the picture at the header of this post shows, is nothing short of suicidal.
To hug the wind means keeping the sailing ship close hauled or as centered in front of the wind as possible. This, of course, in order to fill her sails most advantageously and get every possible knot out of her. A strategy that can, at times, put so much strain on the ship that masts will actually crack and fall. Another good reason to know your ship well and the possible origin of the term "cracking on", meaning sailing at the ship's maximum speed.
Another interesting nautical term involving "hug" is the expression hugger-mugger. Used, you may recall, by Shakespeare to mean secret, sailors have made it a more shameful term. Aboard ship it means out of order, slovenly or ill-done. The midshipman was sent up to the maintop for keeping his locker hugger-mugger. That'll teach the boy.
And so another SMS comes to a close. Go hug someone you love. Tell them Pauline sent you.