40' x 24' x 5 Tons
18-Ft. Dia. Sea Anchor
Force 11+ Conditions
File S/C-15, obtained from Rob Mansell-Ward, UK - Vessel name Orinoco Flo, hailing port in the UK, catamaran, designed by Nick Bailey, LOA 40' x Beam 24' x Draft 8' (18" boards up) x 5 Tons - Sea anchor: 18-ft. Diameter Para-Tech on 400' x 5/8" nylon braid tether and bridle arms of 50'(?) each, with 5/8" stainless steel swivel - No trip line - Deployed in a storm in the Agulhas current 98 miles from Richards Bay (South Africa) with winds of 70 knots and seas of 45 ft. - Angle of yaw and rate of drift unspecified.
Christmas 1995 Victor Shane received this feedback from Commander Rob Mansell-Ward from Durban, South Africa. Transcript:
Dear Para-Anchors, you asked for accounts of your product in use. Herewith my experience, together with the mistakes I made and the outcome. I hope it is instructive to future users and yourself, and that an element of Schadenfreude will make it as enjoyable for those who read it as it was miserable for us. The boat, Orinoco Flo. I built her myself. She is a fairly "hi-tech" catamaran of 40', vacuum-bagged Airex/glass sandwich in epoxy. Carbon wingmast. Daggerboards, lifting rudders, transom hung. Spartan but tough - not a race-boat.
We are entering the final stages of a pretty long circumnavigation which took us from the UK across Biscay (January '94) to the Canaries. Across the Atlantic to the Caribbean, thence through the Canal to Costa Rica, on via Isla Coco down to the Galapagos and on to Easter Island - September '94. Thence conventionally across the Pacific via the Tuamotus, French Polynesia, Tonga and Fiji to Brisbane, Australia. We went southabout Australia via the Bass Strait and hung in the Southwest of Australia, surfing before continuing to Indonesia via Darwin (from Northwest Cape 1,500 miles to windward - what a joy!) We set sail on October 21st from Sumatra for Mauritius, and left La Reunion Island for Africa just ahead of intense tropical cyclone Agnelle. We were 24 hours out of Durban in 28° South and 34° East, prematurely congratulating ourselves on being clever sailors not to get cycloned, when we got Southern-Oceaned instead.
This is not the place for a discussion of the peculiarities of the weather in this part of the world. Suffice to say, for one reason or another - it's a bit of a bastard. Weather reporting in this area is hampered by a paucity of satellites and shore stations. In addition, the South African weather center is in Pretoria [inland]. It appears they give a priority to the farmers, according to Chris Bonnet of the Ocean Sailing Academy here in Durban. I enclose a weatherfax from the day before we got hit. You see there are four secondaries and I doubt that this is the whole story. The most severe weather I had experienced before (I was in the British Royal Navy in the middle sixties and joining HMS Jaguar in Mauritius steamed directly into a tropical cyclone on my first night on board!) was an English Channel storm - also the product of secondary depressions forming along the cold front of a tired larger depression. A further point is this: the High coming in behind the front intensified quite dramatically, reaching something over 1040.
The crew consisted of myself and two young, non-sailing surfers - one English, one Kiwi. At 0600, 30 November 1995, I remarked in the log that we had "8 oktas of stratiform cloud" and a sunrise "definitely by Turner." Also, I saw my first Wandering Albatross since the Great Australian Bight. I wrote, unfortunately in the circumstance, quoting the Ancient Mariner:
And all averred I'd killed the bird
That made the wind to blow
I should add that we'd been at sea a fair while, and these were by no means odder-than-usual remarks. The wind had backed North. I expected a bit of a fuss along the lines you get when two Southern Highs change places. The wind goes round the clock with a puff before giving something like a steady tradewind again. I thought we were too far North to get storm winds. I see from the log we averaged 9 to 10 knots for the following 10 hours. At 1500 the wind backed further to NW and dropped to zero at 1600. At 1900 we had a partially clearing sky followed by a lot of lightning. Then, by starlight, we noted the approach of some distinctly sinister low-level black clouds - like smoke almost. I rebuked Jon who was watchkeeper for dropping all sail, and insisted that he haul it all up again! (Oh the folly of experience!) Suddenly we had very strong wind from the SW. We belayed hoisting the jib which we had been in the process of reefing (no roller-furler... Orinoco Flo is fractional-rigged and has a relatively small, 20 sq. meter jib) and hove-to on the port tack.
Heaving-to under wingmast is a relatively new item in the seamanship manual. I had read about it twice, once when the delivery crew of a Tektron 35 cat described it in Multihull International Magazine (they were delivering it to Europe from Canada) and again when Randy Smyth and a French crew, having a go at the Jules Verne Trophy on a French cat,- "parked her," in their words, in 80-knot winds off Cape Horn. You lower your windward daggerboard halfway, raise your leeward one totally; you rotate the mast to windward and tie your tillers off to lee, and the result (for us) was a fairly controlled fore-reach at 3.5 knots 100 degrees off the wind. In other words, we made WNW. Overnight we made 35 miles in that direction. I seem to remember thinking that Mozambique was about 36 hours away!
The disadvantage of heaving-to in this manner is that you are beam on to the seas. My log is neither enlightening nor coherent from this point on. I did seem to write down that the Ampair (wind generator) was "going moderately ape" (not Cruising Club medal stuff this). There is then a bit of a gap overnight whilst Mark and I sat up in foul weather gear anxiously watching the sea through the doors of the saloon. Nothing too spectacular at first. But we were impressed when some whitewater pitched over the boom whilst filling the cockpit. That is a clear pitch of at least nine feet, and if that was the top 20% of the wave perhaps.... Shortly thereafter the wind built to something well in excess of storm force and certainly achieved 70 knots. (American friends on the yacht Mora were in Richards Bay 98 miles from us at the time of the storm and the wind was recorded at 69 knots in the harbor there). Quoting from an article by Dr. Eckart Schumann, "Giant Wave - Anomalous Seas of the Agulhas Current:"
"Many waves, in fact, break because of their extreme steepness. The mechanism involved is not only a `squeezing up' of the wave profile but also an actual transfer of energy between the current and the waves. The extent of the transfer depends upon the current's strength and the wave's period.... a shorter-period wave will increase in height more than a longer period wave."
So the earlier "smaller" big waves were steeper because of
A) shorter wave length,
B) stronger current.
Remembering your remarks about the sailor who was hauled up-wind by his para-anchor off Pt. Conception, when we finally got out the para-anchor we discovered from the GPS that the current temporarily reversed under the weight of the sustained storm force wind and we made 1/2 knots northwards for a while. So, the fully-developed sea produced a longer wave-length and the current reversal reduced the energy transfer to the wave. Hence the more orderly later, larger, fully-developed sea.
On with the tale. By eight in the morning my nerves were fairly stretched (I'm not terribly tolerant of sustained fear). I looked out at what the dawn revealed and felt distinctly depressed with the situation. There was a very big sea running and some quite impressive chunks of whitewater breaking off the top. I've been surfing for thirty years and my two crew members were good surfers. We had surfed very big waves at Ombak Tujuh in Java. Surfers tend to call wave size down on what an oceanographer might call it. We reckoned 45 ft. I guess it was the doublers and triplers that kept us a bit shaky. Still, we probably wouldn't have set the para-anchor if the following had not occurred. (What? Go up on that scary trampoline netting and get strained through it like a pilchard? Not on your life.) A wave struck us hard on the port quarter at 0800. The port tiller - jerked by the movement of the rudder through the water as the boat slid sideways under the weight of the wave - snapped like a twig. (The tiller was constructed of laminated mahogany and carbon fiber). The thought of breaking the second tiller overcame our inertia and we decided the para-anchor had to be deployed.
Having managed without the para-anchor for two years and 30,000 miles, and having bought it on the principle that if you have an umbrella it certainly won't rain, I'm sure you will understand that the instructions had long since gone adrift, dissolved no doubt, in the solution of seawater and other more or less toxic effluent that swills about in most well-ordered cruising boats from time to time. In addition, the carefully spliced bridle lines and clean, break-free rode that had been set aside for use with the para-anchor two years previously had long since been co-opted into more worthwhile employment as anchor lines, mooring lines and baggy-wrinkle for crossing-the-line ceremonies. Some was lost, some chafed-through and some broken. In the event, the para-anchor went out without a float, without a recovery line, without a bridle and with four knots in the rode. In addition I made the mistake of placing the anchor chain next to the parachute and that made recovery a particularly tedious procedure. However I did remember the critical point - TO GET LOADSA LINE OUT. And it took quite a while to get it all out, one meter at a time as the bows pumped it up. Actually, we were lucky to get it out at all as I did set up a bridle which fouled - we released it prematurely and started to run over it as we continued for-reaching relentlessly. And you have to know: the load is phenomenal once the 18' diameter parachute pops open.
We came up head on to the seas. Bliss - Hamlet cigar, TV-ad music (Pachelbel's Canon). We still stressed a bit on the perfectly reasonable assumption that our cocktail of lines & chain, and our cat's cradle of knots (double sheetbends) would certainly part. But no... the worst that happened from then on was a sharp jerk as the bows were yanked down as we came up over a big steep one. Neither shall I describe the view from the netting down into the hellish pit of a steep one, nor the view up onto the deep blue walls with the crests hanging up there - awful and sublime, and slightly higher than the sky - nor the absurdity of clinging to the netting with your toes and fingers like a Galapagos Marine Iguana while deploying the para-anchor, because all that is an accepted part of the fun of going sailing. Thanks... the thing works! We actually slept that night as the storm blew itself out! We will get it more right the next time, though, as they say in Morocco, "only Allah is perfect."