Oil has been used to still stormy seas for centuries, but the mechanisms are poorly understood. Here we examine the processes by using quantitative information from a remarkable 1883 sea rescue where oil was used to reduce large breakers during a storm. Modeling of the oil film's extent and waves under the film suggests that large breakers were suppressed by a reduction of wind energy input. Modification of surface roughness by the film is hypothesized to alter the wind profile above the sea and the energy flow. The results are central to understanding air-sea momentum exchange, including its role in such processes as cyclone growth and storm surge, although they address only one aspect of the complex problem of wind interaction with the ocean surface.