All posts by Noel Swanson

D/M-2 Monohull, Bermuda Ketch


Monohull, Bermuda Ketch

39' 6" x 13.4 Tons, Full Keel

Warps, Net and Pig Iron Drags

Force 10 Conditions

File D/M-2, derived from the writings of Bernard Moitessier - Vessel name Joshua, monohull, canoe-stern, center cockpit Bermuda Ketch build of steel, LOA 39' 6" x LWL 33' 9" x Beam 12' x Draft 5' 3' x 13.4 Tons - Full keel - Drogue: assorted drags used in concert, including 22 fathoms 4.5" hemp rope weighed down by 3 pigs of iron 40 lbs. each; 16 fathoms 3" hemp rope weighed down by two pigs of iron 40 lbs. each; 32 fathoms of 1.5" nylon rope trailing freely - Deployed while running before a mature storm in the high latitudes of the Southern Ocean with sustained winds of 50 knots and seas of 30 ft. - Joshua came near to pitchpoling several times and Moitessier elected to cut away all the drags.


Bernard Moitessier is undoubtedly one of the most extraordinary seamen that has ever lived. Fortunately he is an extraordinary writer as well. The critic Jonathan Raban once said, "I'd sooner read Moitessier than any other nautical writer alive." Indeed one never tires of reading Moitessier. He holds the imagination captive, from the first page to the last. Born in French Indo-China, Bernard's first odyssey was aboard his dilapidated junk, Marie Therese, which ran aground after a fifteen round - eighty five day - battle with a monsoon in the Indian Ocean. He then spent three years on the island of Mauritius, building Marie Therese II, which ran aground in the Antilles, after a long lonely Atlantic crossing. A few years later the resilient Moitessier had finished his book, Vagabond des Mers du Sud, and was in Chauffailles, France, getting married to "a little slip of a woman called Francoise" and overseeing the building of his new 39-ft. steel boat Joshua. In October 1963 he took Francoise "for a sail" on Joshua - across the Atlantic, through the Panama Canal, to the Galapagos and the South Pacific. The couple spent two happy, carefree years in Polynesia. In the winter of 1965 they "went sailing" again - Tahiti to Spain non-stop, via Cape Horn, 14,216 miles in 126 days.

It was on 13 December 1965 that Joshua ran into a heavy storm in the high latitudes of the Southern Ocean, mid-way between Tahiti and Cape Horn. Mindful of the experiences of Smeeton and Robinson, Moitessier deployed an array of drags to slow Joshua down - all told some 900 feet of heavy ropes weighed down by five 40-lb. iron pigs and a large heavy net used to load ships. Despite all the drag devices in tow Joshua came very close to sharing the fate of Tzu Hang - going end over end. As he struggled with the helm, Moitessier began to take stock of his situation and compare it with the experiences of other "Cape Horners," among them the renowned Argentinean singlehander Vito Dumas.

In the famous episode that followed we find Moitessier engaging the ghost of the Dumas in a debate, as it were. "But what was your secret, Vito Dumas.... You did it... and Legh II was a small boat... you carried sail, I believe you... but you couldn't have carried any sail in this kind of seas, don't spin me that yarn, for if you had carried any sail in these seas you would have been pitchpoled like Tzu Hang... and like Joshua, almost.... And yet, you covered the three oceans...." (Cape Horn, The Logical Route, Grafton Books, London 1987, by permission).

Moitessier then writes that he doesn't believe in ghosts, but could have sworn that he heard a voice - that of Dumas - telling him the answer. Once he had the answer he was aft, cutting away all drags and warps, allowing Joshua to run unimpeded on bare poles. He noticed an enormous change in her: "She had no longer anything in common with the wretched boat of the night before which had made me think of the little hunter trying to parry the blows of a gorilla, with his feet caught in the undergrowth." (Ibid.) Thereafter Moitessier adopted the technique of "putting down the helm," and Joshua began taking the seas more safely on the quarter. Later on in the storm, as they are sitting in the inside steering station, he explains the technique to his wife Francoise:


I'm running dead before the wind to keep the maximum speed on the boat and make sure that she answers on the helm when she has to. Now watch carefully, you see that wave coming up [behind]... I am still dead before... and just before the stern lifts I turn the wheel right down... You see... she heels over and veers to the right as she ought to... she is pushed forward and a little sideways... the moment the stern settles down again, just after the wave has passed I turn the wheel right over in the opposite direction to bring her back again stern on; this is the best moment because the rudder is deep in the water and very effective... you see... we are back dead before the wind, and the business starts all over again. (Ibid.)

Remarkably, Moitessier seems to be using his instincts to avoid pitchpole (see image in previous file). It must have been instinct because the phenomenon of orbital rotation was not well known at the time - nowhere in his writings does Moitessier refer to the orbital rotation of waves. Indeed, one can only infer that Moitessier must have been directed by some rare and spontaneous instinct peculiar to extraordinary seamen. By that, or by the ghost of Vito Dumas.

To fly dead straight down a wave face would have placed Joshua in the same head-over-heels predicament as Tzu Hang - the bow impaling itself in the approaching "current" in the trough as the stern was being hurled downwind by the motion at the crest. So, in maneuvering across the face of a wave (like a skier zig-zagging down a slope), Moitessier is in effect trying to cheat the pitchpole demon - trying to keep the bow from burying itself in the adjacent trough. To some extent the same principle is used by a surfer when he puts down his heel to "spin out" and disengage from the wave. Needless to say in order to execute this maneuver with precision over and over again in a storm, the helmsman of a sailboat would require the reflexes, the skill and the stamina of a Grand Prix driver, attributes that Moitessier no doubt possessed at that time, but hardly common to all sailors. Bear in mind also that Joshua was made of steel, had a canoe stern, a center cockpit, and an inside steering station where the helmsmen could concentrate on what he was doing, unaffected by the cold and the wet. It is interesting to note what the late Miles Smeeton had to say about this technique:

When Bernard Moitessier, that fine seaman, offers an opinion, it should be well considered, because he has twice sailed Joshua round Cape Horn... but his answer is not necessarily the right one for all yachts, any more than mine is, and it requires a superman to steer accurately like this through a dark night.... Even if his theory is correct for other yachts, tired men and irregular waves are apt to defy it. (Because The Horn Is There, Granada Publishing, London, 1984 & 1985, Appendix, by permission).

In 1982 Joshua was anchored in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, when a tropical storm swept over the crowded anchorage. A large motorboat dragged down on Joshua, forcing her up on the beach, where numerous other yachts ended their careers as well. When the fiasco was over nothing remained of the famous boat other than her bare steel hull. Two brothers from Port Townsend, Washington bought the hull for $20 and spent two years rebuilding her, later selling her to a Seattle woman. The woman's dream of sailing Joshua around the world was rudely shattered by the indiscretion of her sailing partner - he turned out to be married. The French newspaper Voiles & Voliers heard about the affair and sent a photographer to Seattle. After the article - showing magnificent photographs of Joshua under sail - was published, a number of famous sailors banded together to form the Joshua Foundation. The French Maritime Museum then purchased the dear old boat, put it on a ship and took it to La Rochelle France, where she is on display today.

D/M-1 Monohull, Bermuda Ketch


Monohull, Bermuda Ketch

46' x 12 Tons, Full Keel

Warp, 60 Fathoms 3" Hawser

Force 10 Conditions


File D/M-1, derived from the writings of Miles Smeeton - Vessel name Tzu Hang, hailing port Victoria, B.C., monohull, Bermuda Ketch, built in Hong Kong in 1938, LOA 46' x LWL 36' x Beam 11' 6" x Draft 7' x 12 Tons - Full keel - Drogue: Warp consisting of 360' x 3-inch manila hawser - Deployed while running before a storm in the high latitudes of the Southern Ocean with winds of 50 knots and seas of 30-40 ft. - The warp had little effect in preventing the pitchpole of Tzu Hang about 1000 miles from Cape Horn on 14 February 1957 - The yacht was sailed under jury rig to Chile, reaching Arauco Bay 36 days later.


This is probably the classic pitchpole in all of yachting history. All the major works on the subject of heavy weather tactics make mention of it. Adlard Coles refers to the 1957 pitchpole of Tzu Hang six times in Heavy Weather Sailing. In her two celebrated attempts to round Cape Horn, Tzu Hang was pitchpoled the first time and rolled the second. On the first attempt she was manned by a crew of three, owner Miles Smeeton, his wife Beryl, and the renowned singlehander John Guzzwell of Trekka fame, (Trekka Around The World, John Guzzwell, 1963).

Tzu Hang had been running before mature seas in the high latitudes (50° South) of the Southern Ocean, trailing 60 fathoms of 3-inch manila hawser. Unlike nylon, manila has the sponge-like quality of soaking up water and was at one time considered to be ideal for use as warps. In this case it was not very effective, for Miles Smeeton writes, "I watched the sixty fathoms of 3-inch hawser streaming behind. It didn't seem to be making a damn of difference, although I suppose that it was helping to keep her stern on to the seas. Sometimes I could see the end being carried forward in a big bight on the top of a wave." (Once Is Enough, Granada Publishing, London, 1984, by permission).

As the boat continued to run before the storm, one breaking wave did come aboard, but Tzu Hang showed little tendency to broach. She seemed to be doing quite well in fact. "It was a dangerous sea I knew, but I had no doubt that she would carry us safely through, and as one great wave after another rushed past us, I grew more and more confident." (Ibid.) At the time of the incident Beryl had just relieved Miles at the helm, and was steering the boat when a great wall of water approached from the stern, so wide that she couldn't see its flanks, so high and so steep that she knew Tzu Hang could not ride over it. Water was cascading down its face, like a waterfall. Miles was down below, reading a book: "As I read, there was a sudden, sickening sense of disaster. I felt a great lurch and heel, and a thunder of sound filled my ears. I was conscious, in a terrified moment, of being driven into the front and side of my bunk with tremendous force. At the same time there was a tearing cracking sound, as if Tzu Hang was being ripped apart, and water burst solidly, raging into the cabin. There was darkness, black darkness, and pressure, and a feeling of being buried in a debris of boards, and I fought wildly to get out, thinking Tzu Hang had already gone down. Then suddenly I was standing again, waist deep in water, and floorboards and cushions, mattresses and books, were sloshing in wild confusion around me." (Ibid.)

Beryl had been catapulted out of the cockpit and into the sea, landing some 30 yards to leeward. Miraculously she was able to swim toward the trailing wreckage of the mizzen mast. Her shoulder was badly injured and it took the combined strength of the two dazed men to pull her back on board. But the situation was now critical. Tzu Hang had received a near death blow. Both masts were gone and there was a gaping - six foot square - hole where the doghouse had been. The weather was not getting any better and she was taking on great amounts of water. She would no doubt have gone down, had it not been for the tenacity and sheer will power of her crew.

From the onset Beryl, although in great pain, did her best to provoke, spur and cheer the two men on into life-saving action. She was the driving force that kept resignation and despair at bay. And John "Hurricane" Guzzwell would soon put his resolve, his backbone and his skills as a carpenter to keep Tzu Hang afloat. He patched the hole in the deck. He sawed and hammered, laminated and improvised, putting back together the pieces that would - thirty six days later - bring Tzu Hang safely into Arauco Bay, Chile. What transpired in those thirty six days on the wastes of the Southern Ocean should serve as an important lesson to all sailors regarding the mindset that is so often crucial to survival itself, the lesson being this: Never give up.

What exactly happened? There is much speculation about the exact movement of the boat during the mishap. Miles Smeeton is certain that it was a somersault: "When she pitchpoled a very high and exceptionally steep wave hit her, considerably higher than she was long. It must have broken as she assumed an almost vertical position on its face. The movement was extremely violent and quick. There was no sensation of being in a dangerous position with disaster threatening. Disaster was suddenly there. Whether she had been 20° to it or her stern directly presented to it, or whether she had been running at 2 or 7 knots could, in this case, have made no difference. Her stern came up and just went on going with no hesitation at all right over the bow." (Because The Horn Is There, Granada Publishing, London 1986, by permission).

The reader may wish to compare Smeeton's observations with the statement of Joan Casanova (File S/T-1), who survived a similar wave in the Southern Ocean: "It was the type of a wave which pitchpoles yachts in these oceans, the type which every voyager sailing in the high latitudes of the Southern Ocean fears.... We want to stress here that no vessel, multihull, monohull or freighter, could have survived such a sea unless tethered with a long line from a sea anchor...."

Formula for Disaster
Formula for Disaster


Whereas a rising tide will lift a boat vertically by a force equal to her displacement (usually many tons), a steep wave will "lift" the same boat horizontally with equal displacement force (DF) at wave speed. Speed of molecular rotation is already about 7 knots on the crest of a 40-ft. wave (A). The decaying crest hurls tons of water at a wave speed of 20 knots at her transom (B). Force of gravity (C) drives the bow down into the adjacent trough where it is briefly met with 7 knots of reciprocal rotation coming from the opposite direction (D). Result: The stern goes flying right over the bow without any hesitation at all.

Miles Smeeton later wrote a short Postscript which may be the key to our understanding of the dynamics of pitchpole. This Postscript can be found on the last pages of Once Is Enough and includes the following remarks:

Since I wrote this book I have had a number of letters - mostly from well informed sources - on the reasons for Tzu Hang's two mishaps... the major cause was probably due to the orbital velocity of a big wave. I had never heard of this theory which is that, although the mass of water in a seaway, seen as a whole, is static, each particle of water moves in an orbit around the place which it would occupy at rest. If we were to throw some rubbish overboard so that it represents a particle of water on the surface, we would see it drawn back towards the approaching swell, lifted up, carried forward, and dumped in approximately its original position again; seen from the side it would trace an orbit against the background of sea and sky.

The important thing is the speed at which the water moves in this orbit, and for a forty-foot wave with a ten second period the speed is approximately seven knots. With seven knots on the top of the wave with the wind, and seven knots against the wind at the bottom, a forty-foot ship on the point of a forty-foot wave is subjected roughly to a seven knot push one way at her stern and a seven knot push the other way at her bow, a formidable overturning couple. A longer ship is already overcoming the push at her bow by the time her stern is subjected to the maximum thrust. The answer seems to be to keep forty-foot ships out of forty-foot seas, but if forced to run before them to tow long enough lines so that there is an effective drag in spite of the forward movement of the water on the crest.... (Ibid.)


S/T-13 Trimaran, Searunner


Trimaran, Searunner

37' x 22' x 5.5 Tons

18-Ft. Dia. Sea Anchor

Force 8-9 Conditions


File S/T-13, obtained from Brian Hunt, Sacramento, CA. - Vessel name Born Free, hailing port Ventura CA, Searunner trimaran, designed by Jim Brown, LOA 37' x Beam 22' x Draft 6'11" (3' board up) x 5.5 Tons - Sea anchor: 18-ft. Diameter Para-Tech on 400' x 5/8" nylon braid tether and bridle arms of 100' each, with stainless steel 5/8" swivel - Full trip line - Deployed in a gale in 450 fathoms off the coast of Mexico with winds of 40 knots and seas of 20 ft. - Vessel's bow yawed 10° - Drift was 4.25 n.m. during 20 hours at sea anchor.


Brian and Trina Hunt were sailing Born Free from California to Norway, via Tahiti. In the trip down to Cabo San Lucas Born Free ran into nasty conditions off the coast of Mexico. Transcript:

We were actually having our best sail since the start of our voyage, nearly straight downwind with a single reef in the main and traveling along quite nicely with occasional surfs, which although exhilarating were not at all frightening. This was early in the morning and as the hours went by the wind continued to increase and the waves built in size until - under stays'l alone - we were surfing regularly down the faces of the waves which I would estimate to be 10-15' with very steep and sometimes breaking faces. It was really no fun anymore and with the conditions deteriorating I decided it was time to try the sea anchor. Deployment went well, using the DSB (deployable stowage bag), except for the tripline which fouled and had to be cut. We came bow-to the seas and the boat rode nicely. This was around 1:00 in the afternoon. As the day wore on the conditions continued to worsen and by nightfall I would estimate that the waves were in the 15-25' range, very steep and frequently breaking. The strongest winds and seas occurred at night, and not being able to see the surface of the water I could only estimate the wind at being something over 40 knots. Later, we met a vessel which had been in the same blow and they reported that their wind indicator was pegged at 60 knots for over 8 hours.

During the worst part of the storm we would sometimes be hit from the side by a large sea and it would knock our bow approx 60° off the dominant train. It would take the boat about 10-15 seconds to fetch up on the sea anchor and turn bow-to the seas again. At first light the wind had dropped to about 25 kts and continued to drop through the morning. I then pulled the sea anchor in. We had no damage and had spent the duration of the blow in our bunks. This is not to say we weren't frightened - we were, right to our very cores. But what is really scary to me is the thought of trying to steer through that mess in the dark when you couldn't pick your way through the worst of the waves. We probably would have made it through, but at much greater risk and discomfort to our boat and ourselves.

I've since related this experience to many other sailors and I'm still amazed at the lukewarm attitudes toward sea anchors. I usually have to tell them three times that it was used off the BOW and not the stern! Most think it is a multihull tactic and not in the realm of monohulls. However, heaving-to, running off and lying a-hull all require searoom, the lack of which could mean disaster. Not to mention broaching, rolling over, pitchpoling. Why risk these things?


S/T-12 Trimaran, Searunner


Trimaran, Searunner

34' x 21' x 5 Tons

15-Ft. Dia. Sea Anchor

Force 7-8 Conditions


File S/T-12, obtained from Ted and Karen Cary, Weymouth MA. - Vessel name Sequester, hailing port Stuart FL, Searunner trimaran designed by Jim Brown & John Marples, LOA 34' x Beam 20' 11" x Draft 6' 5" (2' 6" board up) x 5 Tons - Sea anchor: 15-ft. Diameter Para-Tech on 400' x 5/8" nylon braid tether and bridle arms of 100' each, with 1/2" galvanized swivel - Partial trip line - Deployed in gale in deep water about 50 miles SW of Bermuda, with winds of 35-40 knots and seas of 8-12 ft. - Vessel's bow yawed 10° - Drift was estimated to be 10 n.m. during 10 hours at sea anchor (0.5 -1 kt. Gulf Stream).


By now the reader must have noticed the number of files that involve boats running into gales on their way to or from Bermuda. Transcript:

Before leaving Buzzards Bay for Bermuda I changed the boat to my secondary anchor and rode, and rigged my primary rode and bridle to the para-anchor. The 400' tether (two 200' sections) was then shackled to 30' of 5/16" chain, and that to the bridle's center thimble. Tether & bridle are all 5/8" double braid nylon.

The rode was chainlinked and flaked in one of my forward wet lockers, in the wing deck. The legs of the bridle I led around the bow pulpit stanchions and secured with masking tape and light line, tied with slip knots. To deploy all I had to do was unbag the chute, pull the slip knots, tie on my tripline and slam dunk.

As we approached Bermuda the wind headed us until it was nearly dead on the nose and building. I had the boat overloaded and in the steep, big waves (wind vs current) we were pounding the underwings mercilessly, making very little progress. Having the para-anchor we set it and had the option to stop, rest, and evaluate, and also run up an antenna wire for the Weatherfax to get some info. The developing LOW southeast of us was an unwelcome surprise and turned into Hurricane Grace two days later.... After 10 hours we made the decision to retrieve the chute and make a desperate motorsailing dash for Bermuda. Conditions were as bad or worse when we retrieved the chute as when we deployed it. One thing complicated the retrieval: we had a partial trip line [on two floats] and the retrieve float never did stay downwind of the chute, but appeared to lie almost 90° from the tether between the chute and the boat [probably due to the influence of the northwesterly current]. To retrieve it we couldn't just follow up the rode but had to motor off to starboard to pick up the float ball - not easy. Next time will use a FULL trip line. In any case, we made it to Bermuda (cheated and came over the reef - love these shoal draft boats) with about one gallon of gas left, and both of us totally whipped. Harbor radio sent the rescue boat around to lead us into Hamilton, where we sat out hurricane Grace. No offense, but I'd rather be in port than on the parachute for that event.

S/T-11 Trimaran, Simpson


Trimaran, Simpson

43' x 27' x 5.5 Tons

18-Ft. Dia. Sea Anchor

Force 9 Conditions

File S/T-11, obtained from Frans Aeyelts, Halifax NS. - Vessel name Amakama, hailing port Halifax, trimaran designed by Roger Simpson, LOA 43' x Beam 27' x Draft 3' 6" x 5.5 Tons - Sea anchor: 18-ft. Diameter Para-Tech on 430' x 3/4" nylon three strand tether and bridle arms 70' each, with 5/8" galvanized swivel - Full trip line - Deployed in a whole gale in deep water about 260 miles north of Bermuda with winds of 40-50 knots and seas of 20 ft. - Vessel's bow yawed 10° - Drift was estimated to be 5-10 n.m. during 27 hours at sea anchor.


Charter skipper Frans Aeyelts has used the parachute sea anchor half a dozen times in Halifax to Bermuda runs. Like Voss and the Pardeys, he's not one to give any storm the benefit of any doubt. Transcripts:

Having used the chute several times convinces me that it is essential to the safety of the boat and crew. (Nobody is going to tell me otherwise, especially those who have never used one and have firm opinion about it!) October 22, 1987: This was the maiden voyage of Amakama to Bermuda, with final destination Barbados. Early during the morning the wind came up from the NW and kept increasing and veering. By noon we were clipping along nicely with a fresh breeze from the north. Wind force kept building and veering to NE. Speeds up to 16 kts. We decided that if the weather would not improve by 1600 hrs. we would put out the chute. Since this was the first try of the device in the open ocean, we wanted to deploy it in daylight. By 1700 hrs. the parachute had been deployed.

Seas are continuing to build, so is the wind (Force 8). Foam streaking down the steep waves - breaking crests. Twice a rogue broke over the boat. Too rough to cook. Everybody in their bunks. From time to time we look out to see how the weather is. Very noisy down below - 36 hours is a long time to be cooped up with five people on a boat. Cross seas from the north aggravating the confused sea state. Chute behaved very well. Trip line [full] made it easy to retrieve. Very good device. To heave-to under such conditions would be dangerous - you are taking the elements 50-60° on the bows and may sustain damage or capsize. Running off...? Also dangerous - waves were too steep. Retrieved parachute 0815 hrs. next day. Motorsailed in rough conditions (close-hauled SE wind) to St. Georges Harbor, Bermuda.


May 28, 1988: Fast moving front. Sea and wind came around from SSE to NE very quickly. Situation was such that we could no longer sail and had to put out the chute. By midnight the sea state had calmed down considerably, but was still "lumpy." Chute performed admirably well again, giving us relief from a long wet watch in cockpit. I figured it was better to sit at the para-anchor than risk sailing on, not knowing what was going to develop later. Tim and myself were able to haul back the chute without difficulty.


October 8, 1988: Left Halifax harbor at noon. Crew of three, including myself. NE wind, already blowing strong. Forecast called for 40 kts. Sailed for 6 hours - sea and wind force kept building as we left land behind us. Going very fast. After 3 hours of this we dropped the jib, next the main, and finally the inner stays'l. Because we were over La Have basin (approx 40 miles south of Halifax) well on the continental shelf, the seas built up to short, steep waves in a very short time. With two inexperienced (multihull) sailors on board I did not want to sail the night in huge seas. Parachute deployed. Safety first. This was a short-lived gale. A schooner that had left only 2 hours before us blew out her sails in the same gale and had to limp back to port. Better safe than sorry!


S/T-10 Trimaran, Searunner


Trimaran, Brown Searunner

31' x 18' x 2.2 Tons

12-Ft. Dia. Sea Anchor

Force 7-8 Conditions


File S/T-10, obtained from Donald Longfellow, Garden Grove, CA. - Vessel name Take Five, hailing port Ventura, Searunner trimaran designed by Jim Brown, LOA 31' x Beam 18' 6" x Draft 5' (2' 6" board up) x 2.2 Tons - Sea anchor: 12-ft. Diameter Para-Tech on 300' x 7/16" nylon braid tether and bridle arms of 45' each, and 1/2" galvanized swivel - Full trip line - Deployed in Papagayo conditions in shallow water (25 fathoms) about 20 miles off the coast of Nicaragua with winds of 30-40 knots and choppy seas of 6-8 ft. - Vessel's bow yawed 10° - Drift was estimated to be 3 n.m. during 6 hours at sea anchor.


Papagayo winds can come up unexpectedly. They are caused by an intensification of the trade winds in the southwestern Caribbean, blowing offshore through narrow gaps in the mountains of Central America, setting up a short, nasty chop that may run at a 30-50° angle to the predominant wave train. The real difficulty for small craft is not the size, but the steep and confused nature of the seas. Papagayos can last for a few hours, subside slowly, then come back up again. They are most prevalent from December to March. The name Papagayo comes from the Gulf of Papagayo - northern Costa Rica - where they probably blow the hardest. Their southern limit is fairly distinct, being about 10 miles south of Cabo Velas in Costa Rica. The Papagayo is harder to predict than its cousins to the north, the intimidating Tehuantepeckers of the Gulf of Tehuantepec (Mexican isthmus) and the Santa Anas of Southern California. The owner of Take Five has equipped her with a number of drag devices, including a Galerider. On 29 January 1991 he deployed a 12-ft. diameter sea anchor to cope with Papagayos. Transcript:

Because the wind was coming out of the breaks in the coastal mountains it was blowing 30 degrees off the direction of the primary wave track (120° magnetic). Adjusting the length of one bridle arm didn't rotate the boat sufficiently so I re-led the starboard bridle arm to a snatch block near the stern of the starboard float. This allowed the boat to face into the large waves coming from farther down the coast, which I considered more important than facing directly into the wind. The centerboard was up but side-to-side yaw wasn't a problem. Despite the atrocious looking sea state I eventually noticed that the boat decks were dry and, except for an occasional errant wave slapping the hull, the boat was quite comfortable. Drift was more than what I've experienced on other occasions that I've used the para-anchor. Perhaps there was a current present or perhaps it could be attributed to turning the hull 30 degrees to the wind.



S/T-9 Trimaran, Condor


Trimaran, Condor

40' x 28' x 3 Tons

18-Ft. Dia. Sea Anchor

Force 10 Conditions


File S/T-9, obtained from Phil Herting, Coconut Grove, FL. - Vessel name Triple Shock, hailing port Norfolk VA, trimaran designed by Condor Ltd., LOA 40' x Beam 28' x Draft 8' (20" board up) x 3 Tons - Sea anchor: 18-ft. Diameter Para-Tech on 400' x 5/8" nylon braid tether (no bridle) with 5/8" stainless steel swivel - Full trip line - Deployed in a gale in deep water about 120 miles west of Miami with winds of 50 knots and seas of 15-20 ft. - Vessel's bow yawed 45° (without bridle) - Drift was estimated to be 15 n.m. during 7 hours of deployment.

Triple Shock was on her way back to Miami from Jamaica, after participating in the Miami-Montego Race. The wind had been building for some time when the aluminum rudder cage split, leading to complete loss of steering control. The para-anchor was deployed to stabilize an emergency situation. No bridle was used, just a single rode leading off the main hull, as a result of which the bow would yaw considerably off the wind. With the weather deteriorating, a nearby Coast Guard vessel was asked to render assistance. Delivery skipper Phil Herting said that the seas were so large that the 110' CG cutter, Madagorda, would periodically disappear from view in the troughs. Transcript:

 We were NNE of Great Issacs in deteriorating conditions when the aluminum fabricated rudder cage split. Upon breaking, the boat rounded up and then stalled. We immediately dropped the main and rolled up the balance of the jib. At that point we deployed the para-anchor. This device was utilized to stabilize an emergency situation and was deployed to ride out some bad weather. Because of the immediacy created out of the breakage we had to deploy it as fast as we could and with what line we had immediately available. For this reason the first line tied to the para-anchor was a 1/2" pre-stretched Dacron backup spinnaker halyard.

This immediately proved to be a mistake. The shock load transmitted back through the line was unbelievable. Realizing our mistake we then attached 250' of 3/4" three strand nylon. Though the nylon reduced the shock loading, it created another problem. I elected not to attach the second rode to a bridle because I wanted to save that for the tow from the CG cutter. So we led the rode through the bow chock to a primary winch. This enabled us to adjust the line when replacing chafing gear. And the chafe was the problem. Because the distance from the winch to the chock was so great, it created a longer spring and chafe area on the line. In retrospect, I should have deployed the nylon rode first and then had a Dacron tail. This would have minimized the chafe at the chock.

The Madagorda, the 110' cutter that came to our assistance, said that our rescue was done in the worst weather in which they had ever attempted one. They did a phenomenal job, though it did take 3 hours to get us a heaving line. One reason for this was the fact that the parachute was sitting right where they wanted to position themselves when getting us the towline.

What are you going to do? I hate to think of the situation if we had not had the para-anchor with us. It should be considered a vital piece of gear when making any substantial offshore passage.

S/T-8 Trimaran, Cross


Trimaran, Cross

42' x 23' x 7 Tons

18-Ft. Dia. Sea Anchor

Force 9-10 Conditions


File S/T-8, obtained from Daniel A. York, Costa Mesa, CA. - Vessel name Gold Eagle, hailing port San Francisco, trimaran designed by Norman Cross, LOA 42' x Beam 23' x Draft 4' x 7 Tons - Sea anchor: 18-ft. Diameter Para-Tech on 400' x 5/8" nylon braid tether and bridle arms of 60' each, with 5/8" stainless steel swivel - No trip line - Deployed in gale-force winds in shallow water (25 fathoms) about 15 miles west of the Nicoya Peninsula (Costa Rica) with winds of 45-60 knots and seas of 10 ft. - Vessel's bow yawed 10° - Bearings taken from three shore lights indicated no noticeable drift during five hours at sea anchor.


This file is about a 42-ft. trimaran that used an 18-ft. diameter Para-Tech sea anchor to stand off a lee shore against the sudden onslaught of 40-60 knot winds. Gold Eagle was sailing to Puntarenas, Costa Rica, from Corinto, Nicaragua. In the evening of 22 May 1990 she was about fifteen miles offshore, about to clear Cape Blanco on the Nicoya Peninsula, when the wind came up out of nowhere. Incidentally, this is a common occurrence on the Pacific side of the Central American coast. Whether caused by a massive high pressure cell over Texas funneling air through gaps in mountains, or by the seasonal migrations of the Inter Tropical Convergence Zone, it is something one should always be prepared for in Central American waters. Transcript:

Wind (45 knots) came up very fast at approximately 2000 hrs. I rushed forward to drop the club-footed jib (already reefed). The aft reef grommet tore out along with 3' of sail before I could drop it. Under full power (40 hp. Mercedes Diesel with 18" diameter 3-bladed prop) boat was being blown backward so fast that the rudder was trying to jam hard over. Seas starting to come over port beam after engine secured as it was overheating. Dropped 18-ft. diam. para-anchor. Bridle shackle almost hung up on port ama cleat, but I cast it free just before strain on bridle. Boat immediately swung into wind and seas. Seas very short and steep as boat climbed and fell off crests.

I was concerned we'd be blown to shore, but over the 5 hour period I took bearings from three shore lights (360°, 125°, 100°) with no noticeable drift. Winds maintained 50-60 knots for approx. 1 or 1.5 hours, then lowered to approx. 40-45. After five hours winds dropped to only 10 knots. Another trimaran, returning to Long Beach after participating in a trans-Atlantic race, had trouble with jammed sail track slides and was dismasted in the same blow. My sea parachute is one of the few items I purchased that performed as advertised and no defects or surprises. I appreciated the quality and the performance more than I can express. Wouldn't leave port without it ever.


S/T-7 Trimaran, “Rose-Noëlle”


Trimaran, "Rose-Noëlle"

41' x 26' x 6.5 Tons

24-Ft. Dia. Parachute Sea Anchor

Force 8-10 Conditions

File S/T-7, obtained from John Glennie, New Zealand - Vessel name Rose-Noëlle, hailing port Nelson, New Zealand, trimaran designed and built by John Glennie, LOA 41' x Beam 26' x Draft 3' x 6.5 Tons - Sea anchor: 24-ft. Diameter military chest reserve parachute on 300' x 3/4" nylon three strand tether and bridle arms of 40' each, with 1/2" galvanized swivel - Full trip line - Deployed in a gale in deep water about 150 miles southeast of the East Cape of New Zealand with winds of 40-60 knots and seas of 20 ft. - Vessel's bow yawed 10° - Fouled trip line collapsed the parachute after 10 hours, allowing the trimaran to lie a-hull and be capsized by a rogue wave - Crew survived 118 days adrift inside the inverted hull.


On 4 June 1989 the trimaran Rose-Noëlle capsized some 140 miles east of the Wairapa coast of New Zealand. The crew of four spent 118 days adrift inside the upturned hull. The incident subsequently became a source of some controversy, leading to an investigation by the New Zealand Ministry of Transport. John Glennie's exclusive story was first published in the November 1989 issue of New Zealand Yachting. Later, John wrote a book about the ordeal called Spirit of Rose-Noëlle.

John Glennie is an institution in the land of Down Under. New Zealand and Australian magazines have referred to him as Free Spirit of the Pacific. John and his brother David started out by building a 35' Piver Lodestar trimaran in their Father's Marlborough farm shed in America. They named it Highlight and sailed away. After spending eight years roaming all over the Pacific, John and David wound up in Australia, where they worked on and delivered many famous boats, including Mike Kane's Spirit Of America, a Kraken 55 trimaran of Lock Crowther design.

Glennie's own boat, Rose-Noëlle, took nineteen years of intermittent work to build and launch. John sailed it to the Great Barrier Reef, then across the Tasman Sea to New Zealand, where he gained boat-building work at Paremata, working with the brother of New Zealand's America's Cup helmsman, David Barnes. Every cent that he earned went into equipping Rose-Noëlle for self-sufficiency on high seas. Innovative rigging, water still, solar panels, radios, radar, etc., and a 24-ft. diameter parachute sea anchor.

Rose-Noëlle set sail from Picton New Zealand on June 1st (winter Down Under), headed for warm waters and Tonga. The crew consisted of John Glennie, Philip Hoffman, Rich Hellriegel and Jim Napelka. On the third day out they ran into a southerly gale and for a while used a Sea Squid (bullet-shaped Australian plastic drogue) to slow the boat down. Later they stopped the boat and deployed the parachute sea anchor. It pulled the three bows of Rose-Noëlle into 20-ft. seas and kept them there for the next ten hours.

The full trip line, probably left hanging loose in the sea, must have fouled with the parachute because sometime after those ten hours the trimaran began to yaw increasingly from side to side, until finally she was lying a-hull. It was night and little could be done. An hour or so later, the crew heard the approach of a great roaring noise, much like that of a huge - Hawaiian - surf wave. The rogue wave hit the boat broadsides and rolled her over very quickly. In the article that appeared in New Zealand Yachting Glennie stated that just before the capsize the wind had eased and he was concerned that without the wind "regulating" the seas, two or three waves might "ring hands and turn into rogues."

After the capsize it took the crew a while to settle down to the business of survival. Wrote Glennie, "I had to keep their hopes up and get them over the shock of the first stage. If people give up, they die." Eventually they all adapted, surviving the next 118 days adrift inside the inverted hull of the trimaran. There was plenty of food left inside, and the problem of fresh water was solved when John devised a system for collecting and storing rain water. From then on it was patience and perseverance, despite numerous gales, saltwater sores, and the occasional brawl that one might expect in such dire and cramped circumstances.

The inverted trimaran drifted "all over the place." It is estimated that she covered, ignominiously, a journey of nearly 2,000 miles, during which the cramped crew experienced somewhere between 17-20 gales - an average of one every week! And astonishingly enough, four months after the Royal New Zealand Air Force planes had given up the search for Rose-Noëlle she washed back up unto Great Barrier Island, at the edge of the Hauraki Gulf, the well-populated sailing area of New Zealand. Transcript of hand-written notes that accompanied John Glennie's feedback:

The para-anchor worked well and I was most impressed till it fouled.... The trip line fouled the chute and with the chute partially collapsed we lay a-hull.... The wave was so big that it would have rolled the Cutty Sark! They [rogue waves] are out there. I think three waves got together, so it was probably 60 feet high. I saw a similar 60-ft. vertical wall of water in 1968, mid-winter, 43° south, below Tahiti. Water was running down its face and I remember the noise it made as it came towards us.... Next time I won't use a trip line. I could have got the chute back in with the electric capstan in the calm after the storm.


Full trip lines should be kept FAIRLY TAUT so they do not hang down in the sea and foul the rode and parachute.
Full trip lines should be kept FAIRLY TAUT so they do not hang down in the sea and foul the rode and parachute.

A reminder that the Casanovas used full trip lines for eighteen years with seldom a foul-up. According to John Casanova, the trick is to have a small swivel at the float, and keep the trip line fairly taut - no excess slack hanging loose in the sea to foul with the parachute or rode. Bear in mind, also, that if the wind force increases the main rode will elongate, requiring that the full trip line be slackened off accordingly (otherwise it may trip the canopy). By checking the trip line tension on a regular basis, one can tell if it is too loose, or too tight. One should also use the binoculars to keep an eye on the big red float itself. If it is behaving awkwardly - as though it had hooked onto a big fish - it may mean the trip line is too tight and needs to be slackened off a little.

S/T-6 Trimaran, Pivercraft Nimble


Trimaran, Pivercraft Nimble

30' x 18' x 3 Tons

12-Ft. Dia. Sea Anchor

Force 5-6 Conditions


File S/T-36 obtained from John H. Baldwin, South Orleans, MA - Vessel name Goodspeed, hailing port South Orleans, trimaran designed by Arthur Piver, LOA 30' x Beam 18' x Draft 30" x 3 Tons - Sea anchor: 12-ft. Diameter Para-Tech on 400' x 1/2" nylon three strand tether and bridle arms of 45' each, with 1/2" galvanized swivel - Full trip line - Deployed in frontal trough in shallow water (20 fathoms) about 30 miles off Beaufort, North Carolina, with winds of 25 knots and seas of 6 ft. - Vessel's bow yawed 10° - Drift was 3 n.m. during 10 hours at sea anchor.


This file shows how a sea anchor can be used to "keep the sea" in terms of drift control. Groundings are among the fourteen major types of statistical accident data published in the Coast Guard's Boating Accident Reports. There are hundreds of groundings a year. Many a seaworthy yacht has survived the storm offshore only to run aground and be declared a total loss because of an error in navigation, or engine problems, or rudder problems. Quite often the needless loss occurs because of crew fatigue and impatience. The sight of the harbor range lights in the murky night is a temptation that sea-weary sailors would do well to resist, especially if it is a strange, windy harbor with a difficult, narrow entrance.

The scenario is all too familiar. The crew members have been cooped up in the heaving boat for days, maybe weeks. Likely exhausted, wet, cold, hungry and deprived of sleep, they can scarcely wait to set foot on dry ground, indulge in a steaming hot shower, inhale a couple of juicy hamburgers and climb into a comfortable, dry bed. So they decide to try to risk it - and run aground. Vessels equipped with sea anchors are better able to resist this temptation, since they can use the parachute to stand off until daylight. Instead of risking entry on a windy night, or trying to anchor the boat over a coral bottom with surf booming a hundred feet away, one can stand off a mile or two and use the parachute as an "offshore anchor," which is what your author used to do in the windy channels of Hawaii.

Goodspeed is an original Piver Nimble trimaran, used as a commercial fishing vessel by John Baldwin. Baldwin is offshore for long periods of time and often heaves to the parachute for sea layovers. He also uses it to stand off outside strange harbors, waiting for daylight. Transcript:

We deployed the sea anchor on the fourth day out.... There was no storm or nautical emergency. My crew mate Chris and I had been on a spinnaker run in the Gulf Stream, heading for Beaufort, North Carolina. Dusk found us still 30 miles from Beaufort with a freshening breeze from the south. Six months earlier we had learned a hard lesson: don't attempt to enter unfamiliar harbors at night. Tired and half seasick, we were approaching St. Mary's Inlet on the Georgia/Florida border. It was 4 am and we had been sailing all night on the working jib with the wind increasing from the north. "If I can find a light I'm going for it," I told Chris. I didn't have a large-scale chart and was nervous. Chris found the Waterway Guide and on the last page read "the stone jetties of the entrance are awash at half-tide, constituting a hazard." A quick check with the tide charts in Eldrige and sure enough, it was nearing half tide. We spent a hard couple of hours jibing and standing off, until dawn brought us in with the fishing boats.

Now, six months later, armed with our new parachute sea anchor, we doused the spinnaker, then hove-to the sea anchor with no trouble. Fishermen off the Pacific coast routinely deploy sea anchors at night. They know, and I know too, that nothing beats a sea anchor for peace of mind and a good night's sleep.

When using his sea anchor for station keeping offshore, John Baldwin has a unique way of obtaining the bridling advantage, without actually using a dedicated bridle (see image below). He gives the main tether (A) a few turns around the starboard float cleat, before securing it to big anchoring cleat on the main hull. He then brings a single, short utility line (B) from the port float and bends it onto the main rode by means of a rolling hitch. This way, even if the rolling hitch slips - he says it never has - throwing the turns off the starboard float will put the main rode back on the center hull. Of course, the purpose of this arrangement is to allow variable rode lengths for multihulls, in non-storm applications.

Setting up a variable length bridle
Setting up a variable length bridle