S/M-27 Contessa 26 Cutter

CONTESSAS/M-27

Contessa 26 Cutter

26' x 2.7 Tons, Full Keel

12-Ft. Dia. Sea Anchor

Force 9-10 Conditions

File S/M-28, obtained from Brian Caldwell, Jr., Honolulu, HI - Vessel name Mai Miti Vavau, hailing port Honolulu, Contessa cutter, designed and built by J.J. Taylor and Sons of Toronto, LOA 26' x LWL 21' x Beam 7' 6" x Draft 4' x 2.7 Tons - Full keel - Sea anchor: 12-ft. Diameter Para-Tech on 300' x 3/8" nylon braid rode with 1/2" stainless steel swivel - No trip line - Deployed in a gale about 12 miles east of Pt. St. Johns, South Africa, in shallow water (50 fathoms) with winds of 50 knots and seas of 12 feet - Vessel's bow yawed 30° - Drift was about 3 n.m. during 24 hours at sea anchor.

On 1 June 1995, amidst much fanfare, Brian - "BJ" - Caldwell cast off from the Hawaii Yacht Club aboard his Contessa 26 on the first of 13 planned legs, in an attempt to make it into the Guinness Book of World Records as the youngest person to circumnavigate the globe before his 21st birthday. On 28 September 1995 a flotilla of sailboats and other vessels welcomed BJ back to Honolulu with double the fanfare, as he accomplished his goal.

Mai Miti Vavau of Honolulu. Posing before, BJ Caldwell, was entered in the Guinness Book of Records as the youngest solo circumnavigator at that time. The yacht is a Contessa 26, designed and built by J.J. Taylor & Sons of Toronto. (BJ Caldwell photo).
Mai Miti Vavau of Honolulu. Posing before, BJ Caldwell, was entered in the Guinness Book of Records as the youngest solo circumnavigator at that time. The yacht is a Contessa 26, designed and built by J.J. Taylor & Sons of Toronto. (BJ Caldwell photo).

 

Don Whilldin, president of Para-Tech Engineering, had sponsored the young man's effort with a sea anchor and a drogue. BJ Caldwell ended up using both drag devices on numerous occasions, declaring them to be the most important pieces of equipment on his boat. Here are some excerpts from the interview conducted by Sailing (December 1966, courtesy of Sailing):

I don't know how our family cruised for six years without this. There's no excuse for leaving on a long cruise without a sea anchor and a drogue.... The sea anchor I used for the first time in the Indian Ocean. Eight days out of Cocos winds were blowing 50 knots. The seas were mountains coming in from all directions. I also used it in hurricane-force winds while rounding the Cape. The blow lasted for an hour and then subsided to about 50 knots.

The smaller drogue kept the mast above the water for about 10,000 punishing miles. I trailed it about 100 feet behind the boat whenever there was a risk of broaching. In the Indian Ocean I often had about 15 percent mainsail and 6 percent jib with the drogue out. I ended up using it for about a week during my 21-day passage from Cocos Island to Mauritius.

Mai Miti Vavau in the Indian Ocean with Para-Tech Delta Drogue in tow (visible left of center). (BJ Caldwell photo).

Here are transcripts of two reports Victor Shane obtained from BJ Caldwell, one dealing with his use of the sea anchor and the other with his use of the drogue. The two categories have been combined into a single file for ease of comparison:

Para-Tech Sea Anchor (12-ft. diameter)

Unique situation - big seas in the Agulhas current [off lower east coast of Africa], but much smaller inside the 100-fathom line. The axis of the current acted as a type of breakwater. Conditions in the current were utterly unpredictable. The seas very confused and powerful. It was much better inside the current line [meaning the area bounded by the current and the coastline]. Initially drogue was used outside of the continental shelf in Agulhas current and in 100 fathoms of water. As the wind increased I moved out of current and into shallow water for deployment of sea anchor. Both the drogue and sea anchor greatly enhanced safety.

The hardest part in deploying the sea anchor was in handling the 300 feet of rode. Rope gets stiff from saltwater and use. I wouldn't say the ride [at sea anchor] was comfortable. It was like a rodeo or a roadstead anchorage with no barrier to the fetch.

The waves broke down the length of the boat and exploded over the cabin top. Main concern: Chafe was definitely a problem. Before I leave on my next trip, I'm going to put a couple of feet of chain into every hundred feet [of tether] so chafe will be a non-issue. I was also concerned that the wind might switch from Nor'east to Sou'west, which would have created the 20-meter freak waves known for breaking ships in the Agulhas current. Fortunately this did not happen. I was able to sleep between switching chafe guards - let's say every couple of hours. The rudder was lashed to one side.

 

Para-Tech Delta Drogue (36-inch diameter)

My average speed with drogue in tow was approximately four knots. Without the drogue I would have been hitting seven, while averaging 5½ knots. I used the device on and off for the whole trip. Instead of yawing and broaching, the drogue would keep the stern aligned with the seas and allow me to still make four knots - and boil water for coffee. I never had to steer manually. The drogue helped the windvane steer in large following seas.

I've said from day one that conditions in the south Indian Ocean are unique. Because there's no stationary high pressure cell in the Southern Ocean, the systems are continually racing eastward. So at any given time you've got swells coming together from a variety of directions - a washing machine, if you like.

It was blowing a sustained 40 knots the night I got rolled 180°. Because the reinforced trades weren't that strong I abstained from switching to sea anchor. With the wind just a few degrees above a dead run with the drogue out, nothing but the staysail up and the boat sealed up, I heard a deafening roar approaching around midnight. Then everything hit the ceiling, including me. When I finally made it back to the cockpit and looked at my mast I couldn't believe it was still standing. I know it hit me broadside, so I think this is what happened: just before the freak wave broke over the boat the windvane lost the apparent wind in the trough and corrected for the loss of wind. As the boat veered upwind the monster erupted across the hull, rolling the boat through 180°.

Aside from the torn staysail, bent solar panels and a soaked single-sideband radio, the rollover caused no serious damage to the boat.

Mai Miti Vavau sailing out of Honolulu, with Diamond Head Crater in the background.
Mai Miti Vavau sailing out of Honolulu, with Diamond Head Crater in the background.

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