File S/C-20, obtained from Jean Claude Barey, Montreal, Canada - Vessel name Chasse Galerie II, hailing port Montreal, Spindrift catamaran, designed by Lock Crowther, LOA 49' x Beam 23' 6" x Draft 3' x 8 Tons - Sea anchor: 15-ft. Diameter Shewmon on 300' x 3/4" nylon three strand tether and bridle arms of 40' each, with 5/8" galvanized swivel - No trip line - Deployed in a whole gale in 500' of water about five miles SE of Port Elizabeth (South Africa) with winds of 40-45 knots and seas of 17-20 ft. - Vessel's bow yawed less than 10° - Drift was estimated to be 8 n.m. during 42 hours at sea anchor.
Jean Claude Barey took Chasse Galerie II on a circumnavigation in 1991. After transiting the Suez Canal he sailed her down to Durban, East London, Port Elizabeth, and was en route to Cape Town when he ran into a blow on the continental shelf, in close proximity to the Agulhas current. Transcript:
The conditions were not bad, but we could not take long tacks against the wind, because we were too close to the Agulhas current. We then used the sea anchor. Other boats without sea anchors decided to run back [to Port Elizabeth] after a few hours because they were not making progress to windward. Our Shewmon sea anchor worked well in those conditions. The boat was very steady (less than 5° yaw I will say).
The Gulf Stream and the Kuroshio (Japan) notwithstanding, the Agulhas is likely the strongest and most articulated current on earth - with a reputation for breaking ships in two. Because of it, the southeast coast of Africa represents a gauntlet that mariners need to run with great care and prudence. Charts of the region warn: "Abnormal waves of up to 20 meters in height, preceded by a deep trough, may be encountered in the area between the edge of the continental shelf and twenty miles to seaward thereof. These can occur when a strong southwesterly wind is blowing."
The Agulhas runs mainly from northeast to southwest, following the two hundred meter contour of the continental shelf and dissipating over the Agulhas Bank south of Mossel Bay.
If the Agulhas could be likened to a great river - moving 80 million tons of water per second at speeds of up to six knots - the high-crested waves that form on it during southwesterly storms would be akin to the tidal bores that travel up the Amazon and the Bay of Fundy.
Since the current extends to depths of more than 1000 meters, and since it generally does not intrude onto the shelf regions, but tends to lie just offshore of the shelf edge, evasive procedure for cruisers has always been to stay clear of the area seaward of the edge of the continental shelf. What many sailors do after leaving Durban is to sail offshore just far enough to "kiss and ride" the current south, but not so far that they can't make a hasty retreat out of its axis and duck inshore at the slightest indication that there is a southwesterly gale brewing.
As always, the cardinal rule is never leave according to clock or calender, nor have a deadline at the other end. According to literature forwarded to Victor Shane by Chris Bonnet, Principal of the Ocean Sailing Academy in Durban, the best time of the year to travel south is January to March.
The gauntlet from Durban to East London is 250 miles with absolutely no safe place to duck into in between. Bonnet advises sailors to wait for a favorable window. Leave Durban at the tail-end of a southwesterly blow when the barometer has topped out, preferably at about 1020 milibars. Clear customs and immigration at the advent of a southwesterly, which will normally blow from 36 to 48 hours, then sail on to the two hundred meter line as soon as possible as this is where you can obtain a several-knot boost from the current.
It also means that in the event of not reaching East London before another southwester, you can quickly duck inshore and avoid being caught in the middle of the current - where sixty foot walls of water have been known to break ships in two. You will find that on average the two hundred meter line will give you a distance offshore - between Durban and East London - of approximately ten miles.
The gauntlet from East London to Port Elizabeth is shorter - 120 nautical miles. Kiss and ride the current, move inshore if caught. The Port Elizabeth to Cape Town leg is a little safer as there are decent places to anchor or put into - Knyasna, Cape St. Francis or Krombaai. But watch the charts and proceed with caution as there are rocks and reefs all about.
File S/C-19, obtained from a number of reliable sources. - Vessel name Bayete, hailing port London, UK, designed by Lock Crowther & C. Barreau, LOA 44' x Beam 23' x Draft 5' 11" (2' 2" boards up) x 6.2 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 a severe Mediterranean Mistral in deep water about 150 miles South of Marseille, with winds of 80 knots and seas of 25-30 ft. - Vessel was capsized for undetermined reasons with loss of four lives.
The following information concerning the tragic capsize of Bayete came to Victor Shane by way of a number of sources, among them Jean Pierre Prade of Catana, to whom we are grateful, and George Brandes, who was kind enough to forward numerous French newspaper articles concerning the tragedy, to whom we are also indebted. Brandes is the owner of a sister ship almost identical to Bayete.
From a number of French newspapers, among them Le Var (nice-matin), Victor Shane - with the assistance of a translator - has been able to obtain the following outline. On 3 November 1995 a severe Mediterranean Mistral packing 80-knot winds and 25-30 ft. seas struck two yachting "flotillas" without much warning. Numerous sailboats participating in the Transat des Alizés ("Transatlantic Trade Winds Rally" - from San Remo to Point-à-Pître) and the Transat des Passionnés ("Transatlantic Rally for Sailing Enthusiasts" - from Hyères to Santa Cruz de Tenerife in the Canaries) were devastated by the storm offshore about 150 miles south of Marseille. While French meteorological services were at first blamed for the disaster, they did broadcast the morning of Friday, November 3, two storm warnings calling for Force 10 winds. Others found reason to criticize the race organizers and participants for their "lack of judgment" for going ahead with the race instead of seeking safe haven somewhere.
As EPIRBs were activated and maydays started coming in, rescue planes and helicopters of the French government, as well as French Naval forces, went all out to do what they could under trying circumstances. A hundred vessels set out on the Transat des Alizés; four were lost. According to press reports filed at the time the Italian yacht Parsifal sank with one dead, five missing (afterwards lost). Three members of the crew of Cristalin 3 were also helicopter-lifted to hospitals on Minorca. From the dismasted Maiaco 2 off Marseilles came distress calls and the efforts to save it and Parsifal went forward feverishly. Three persons of French nationality were rescued from Maiaco 2. The yacht Ango 2 was also dismasted. A vessel setting out from Cagliari rescued that crew and put them aboard a Greek freighter making for Marseilles.
As for the Transat des Passionnés, it was Bayete - the subject of this DDDB file - which signaled two dead, two missing and one survivor. Richard Charington survived twelve hours in frigid waters until a French Navy helicopter could make the 200 kms through the storm to save him. Charington was exhausted and suffering form hypothermia when the helicopter reached him. He said "I saw one of them drown!" before fainting.
From Chantier Catana's initial Communiqué concernant l'accident de BAYETE ("Communiqué concerning the BAYETE accident") Victor Shane - with the assistance of a translator - has been able to infer the following hypothetical scenario. We would like to emphasize that it is hypothetical - we are not dealing with known and verifiable facts. The capsize occurred in pitch black night. According to reliable sources, among them Catana's Jean Pierre Prade, the sole survivor - Richard Charington - was not a sailor, took no part in the setting of the para-anchor, was in his bunk at the time and, apart from possibly hearing a loud noise prior to the capsize, is to this day unclear about what might have happened:
Bayete chose not to leave at the beginning of the Transat des Passionnés on Tuesday, November 1, 1995 because of winds announced for that very evening. Friday morning Bayete got weather information from an unknown "German source" which called for increasing calm. To wit, Bayete's first few hours at sea were in fact under a light spinnaker, and later under power, a confirmation to the crew of the forecast they had received.
A large swell with no wind made the crew seasick. At mid-day a wind arose from the northwest and quickly gained in force. Bayete's crew, already worn out with seasickness, reduced sail. By nightfall the conditions were already serious - crew exhausted, no one with the strength to take the wheel - and it was decided to set out Bayete's safety gear, a "para-anchor" or heavily reinforced parachute to be submerged as a sea anchor and to be fixed to the vessel by a nylon line 150 meters long. Around eight in the evening (20h) the para-anchor was made fast by a bridle attached to the port stem and to the center of the forward beam - (French: Sur Bayete le para-anchor est ammarré par une patte d'oie sur l'étrave bâbord et le centre de la poutre avant vers 20h). The entire crew had taken shelter inside, two remaining dressed for rough weather while the rest undressed for bed. Around ten (22h) the vessel heeled sharply to port, the starboard hull lifted up and Bayete capsized.
The five crew made it to the survival deck - (French panneau de survie - the flat underwing area between the two main hulls). They found the anchor line lying across the vessel between the hulls, a fact which led them to think the vessel had pitchpoled to stern.
One of the crew set off with a rescue buoy [EPIRB] which he activated outside the vessel, but unfortunately a wave tore the device out of his hands. The helicopter which came to the rescue found the buoy right away but took a number of hours to find Bayete because the moon was no longer to be seen. When the vessel was at last found only one survivor was winched aboard the helicopter and taken to Toulon in a state of severe hypothermia.
The most reliable report of conditions is that of the C.R.O.S.S. MED rescue team, which noted 70 knot winds at 340°, which whipped up to 80 knots at the time of the rescue, and that in seas eight meters high. A number of vessels were in distress at the same time. Parsifal sank with six souls lost and three other vessels were abandoned following helicopter winching off of the crew after sustaining serious damage.
In subsequent fax communications Jean Pierre Prade informed Shane that the capsized Bayete had been towed to Corsica. She was not too badly damaged. None of the mooring cleats had been broken. Naval personnel had indicated that the para-anchor was still made fast. The forward aluminum beam, housing the seagull striker and the anchor roller, to which one leg of the bridle seems to have been led, was broken in the middle, "but the break was in the direction of the pull of the stay, probably on account of the strains on the rig when the vessel was capsized."
Like Jean Pierre Prade, we can only agonize and speculate as to what happened. Perhaps the catamaran was struck by a rogue wave. Perhaps the "half-bridle" that seems to have been used, in spite of instructions to the contrary, did not afford sufficient leverage to keep her fully facing into the seas. Or perhaps the lines and/or parachute were not correctly deployed in the dark and partially fouled, or perhaps it was any combination of the above. At this stage, instead of engaging in idle speculation, one should rather focus on what is known, and what could have been done to preserve the lives of those men. For example, since it is known that the forward aluminum cross-member was broken in the middle, and since one leg of the bridle does seem to have been led over the anchor roller situated there, Victor Shane feels compelled to take this opportunity - once and for all - to close this window of vulnerability on ocean going catamarans. Never attach one arm of the bridle, or even a single anchor rode, to the crossbeam - it just is not strong enough. See the Catamaran Bridle Advisory for the correct attachment of a bridle.
This was a terrible tragedy. Terrible because, with just a little more planning and foresight four lives might have easily been spared. It was reported that the sole survivor was the only one wearing a life vest, for example. The use of safety harnesses may have kept them from being swept off the slippery underwing. All might easily have come through in survival suits, or wet suits, and/or a life raft. Bayete was equipped with everything from microwave oven to radar to desalinization unit to the latest electronics and numerous safety devices, including a certified life raft. Tragically, four lives were still lost when she capsized.
Apart from re-emphasizing the need for full-width bridles there is another - much more important - lesson to be learned here as well, namely that one should always have a plan to put into effect in case of capsize. As evidenced by the 118-day survival of Rose-Noëlle's crew after she went over (File S/T-7), capsize need not be the end of the world. To quote the words of renowned multihull designer Jim Brown:
A multihull capsize is not by itself an ultimate disaster. There is a wide gap between capsize and actual loss of life. Given the proper preparations and equipment, and a suitable capsize survival technique, turning over is not nearly as threatening - as final - as the familiar once-and-for-all finish of a boat that's sunk.
Sea anchors and drogues, properly rigged and deployed, will go a long way to prevent capsize on multihulls. Clearly however, beyond a certain point, say Force 12, a great deal will remain uncertain regardless of the tactic being used. Beyond such a point there is a crying need for a standardized capsize protocol.
The fundamental safety asset that multihulls have is that 99% of them are unsinkable. Bayete may have capsized, but unlike the monohull Parsifal she did not sink. Parsifal went down to the bottom. Bayete has been re-fitted and is now sailing the Mediterranean again. Although she turned turtle, there was nevertheless that sufficiency of food, water and flotation in her upturned hulls to sustain human life, at least until rescue. What was lacking here was the means - carefully laid out plan - for utilizing them.
Multihull sailors - in particular those sailing modern catamarans - MUST have a capsize survival strategy before they go offshore. All crew members must be informed as to what that strategy is, where the equipment - survival suits, EPIRB, life raft, emergency lighting, portable VHF, calamity pack, etc. - are located, and how they can be reached and activated in the initial period of panic and disorientation that usually follows capsize - those are the critical moments. The crew must be made to understand that capsize is not the end of the world. They must be handed a concrete guideline - standard procedure - to this effect. We have placed the skeletal framework of such a guideline in Appendix VII of this publication.
Four members of the sailing fraternity were lost in this tragedy. Jean-Claude Batault, Bayete's owner, his brother Philippe, associates Henri Cailau and Pascal Metois are no longer with us. We are all diminished by their passing. We bid defiance to the sea in honor of their memory, resolved to double our efforts against an ancient adversary. This means heightened awareness, education, preparation, organization and readiness. It means never taking anything for granted about the sea, and always remembering the last paragraph of the official inquiry on the Fastnet tragedy of 1979:
In the 1979 race the sea showed that it can be a deadly enemy, and that those who go to sea for pleasure must do so in the full knowledge that they may encounter dangers of the highest order.
File S/C-18, obtained from Colin Kenny, Riebeek, South Africa - Vessel name Manx, hailing port Cape Town, catamaran, designed by Phil Southwell, LOA 34' x Beam 22' x Draft 3' 4" x 6.7 Tons - Sea anchor: 18-ft. Diameter Para-Tech on 500' x 5/8" nylon three strand tether and bridle arms of 60' each, with 5/8" stainless steel swivel - No trip line - Deployed in a gale in deep water about 800 miles ESE of Rio de Janeiro with winds of 35-40 knots and seas of 30 ft. - Vessel's bow yawed 20° - Drift was estimated to be 17 n.m. during 40 hours at sea anchor.
Colin Kenny sailed Manx to a first place finish (multihull class) in the 1996 Cape Town to Rio Race. He deployed a para-anchor because of a combination of injury and bad weather on the return trip. Transcript:
We took part in the Rothmans Cape to Rio race in MANX, a 35' Southwell-designed catamaran displacing 6.7 tons. She was fitted with an Aerorig - the first unstayed carbon rig seen in this country. After a race dogged (if you will excuse the pun) by light winds, we arrived in Rio in 26 days 4 hours to finish first overall in the multihull category by a matter of 40 hours.
After spending three weeks in the islands south of Rio, we left for Cape Town on 25 February. We were sailing double handed, myself and Sue, who has only been sailing for the past year. The winds were SE instead of the anticipated westerlies. Heading south with a view to picking up the south westerlies we made good progress.
On the afternoon of 4 March, after having put in a third reef because of increasing winds and a deteriorating sea state, I was struck by the boom whilst returning to the cockpit and knocked unconscious. I was only out for about five minutes but had sustained a nasty gash on the head, which bled profusely. After coming round, I was in a confused state of mind and Sue sought assistance by putting out a PAN PAN radio call, but to no avail. We were more successful when we tried Inmarsat C. In addition, we finally raised Cape Town Radio and received the necessary medical advice. Being so far from land (our position was 33° 30' S and 31° 25' W) all we could do was monitor vital signs for the next 12 hours and hope for the best. Suffice it to say that those were the longest hours imaginable. Fortunately there were no complications.
Twenty four hours after the accident, we had even more drama. We were on a reciprocal course heading NE (in case we needed assistance). Sailing with triple-reefed main and no headsail (damaged the previous day) and using engines for improved direction in very strange, mountainous seas, we were concerned as to how we were going to make it through the night. In addition I was extremely weak after the accident. On the radio we heard that Tigress, a 38' Prout catamaran [in the same region], had deployed her para-anchor. Speaking to them on the radio they were astonished at the difference in outlook subsequent to deploying the anchor. They urged us to do the same.
I had some misgivings as I did not have the necessary primary float, trip lines or recovery float. Instead we lashed two fenders together to act as the primary float, and a small fender as the recovery float, but without a [full] trip line. With great difficulty, we deployed the anchor to windward. I say with great difficulty since we did not have a trampoline to walk on - it had UV degraded and been ripped away by constant wave action. Since our bridle was to be cleated to primary cleats on the cross-beam and backed up by secondary cleats on the bow, it was tricky, to say the least, to crawl forward and cleat the bridle ends and get the tether through the stanchions on the cross-beam, thereby ensuring that they would not snag and run free. The para-anchor was deployed off the starboard (windward) bow. Initially it looked as if we had made a mistake, as the tether was swept under the bow and I had visions of it passing below the keel and snagging the sail-drive. I snubbed the tether, the anchor began deploying and the bow started to swing around. We released more tether, snubbing the line at intervals until the full 500 feet of tether was out on 60 foot bridles.
It was miraculous how easy the boat felt - as if someone had switched off the wind and sea conditions. Yaw was minimal - 10° (if that) to either side. It had taken us a fair amount of time to prepare both ourselves and the anchor, but we had no idea how satisfying our efforts would prove to be. It was now 20:00 and we settled down to a peaceful night. At 01:30 Sue, braving the black night, high seas, 35 knots of wind (and no trampoline), checked the bridle [leading directly off cleats, no chocks] for chafe - nothing! Similarly at dawn - no chafe. After lying at anchor for 40 hours, we were surprised to find no signs of chafe. I can only think that because we had a longer rode out than ordinarily required, the stretch of the nylon was such that there was next to no additional stress on the boat and the cleats, and hence the rode....
At 10:00 on 7 March, after 40 hours at anchor, we hauled it in - the rode was pulled through the bow roller and winched in using the winch on the boom. The two larger fenders (primary float) were missing, but the small additional fender we had attached to the float line was still there. The chute was partially collapsed and, as a consequence, tangled. However it was clearly still functioning, although not as effectively.
After visiting Tristan da Cunha for a medical check-up, we encountered four gales on the trot, but the sea state was never as severe as that which we had encountered on the Bromley Plateau. We sailed under storm jib alone, which proved effective. There were times when we took a lot of water over the boat, however the conditions were never bad enough to deploy the para-anchor again. But the simple knowledge of how effective it had been and that we could deploy it again and expect the same results gave us a great deal of confidence (not over-confidence!) in our ability to sum up the situation and continue sailing. We had an ace up our sleeve. We arrived back in Cape Town on Easter Monday, 8 April 1996. To say that I was impressed with the para-anchor would be a gross understatement - I am mightily impressed.... Any multihull skipper that goes to sea without a para-anchor is being foolhardy.
File S/C-17, obtained from H.L. Andersen, Copenhagen, Denmark, - Vessel name Silver Heels, hailing port Copenhagen, catamaran, designed by MacGregor, LOA 36' x Beam 18' x Draft 18" x 2.5 Tons - Sea anchor: 12-ft. Diameter Para-Tech on 400' x 5/8" nylon braid tether and bridle arms of 40' each, with 1/2" stainless steel swivel - Partial trip line - Deployed in a whole gale in deep water 120 miles NW of Cape Finisterre, Spain, with winds of 45-55 knots and seas of 20-30 ft. - Vessel's bow yawed 30° - Drift was estimated to be 12 n.m. during 23 hours at sea anchor.
Silver Heels is a MacGregor 36 catamaran, modified with hard deck and small cockpit. Her Danish owner H.L.Andersen has put close to 110,000 blue water miles on her, having crossed the Atlantic a number of times. In September 1995, en route to Ibiza, Spain, he ran into what BBC radio first announced as "severe gale, Force 9" shortly to be followed by those dread words, crackling as they do over the shortwave bands: "FORCE 10 IMMINENT." Transcript:
For my modified MacGregor 36 catamaran (see articles in Multihulls Magazine, Nov/Dec 1992 & July/August 1994) I use the 12' para-anchor. First time I deployed the sea anchor was in a Force 10 storm (BBC Radio 4) 120 miles NW of Cape Finisterre (Spain). This severe gale was the first major low pressure of the 1995 fall season to sweep across the North Atlantic, reaching from Portugal to the Irish Sea, a huge area, and I had nowhere to run to, ergo I put all my faith in the para-anchor.
I am convinced it saved the catamaran and me. The backing wind (to storm) made the seas real nasty. The temperature dropped to 7° C in the cabin. I'll never forget how peaceful it became as soon as the para-anchor took command. It was a blessing - rain and wind whipped the seas but we lay still.
My mistake was to attach the bridle to the 400' tether using a bowline instead of a proper splice & thimble, and that's where the line eventually chafed through. But it held for 23 hours. I did not use a full trip line - only a partial one & two floats, regrettably, but I was worried about the lines tangling since I had to deploy everything in the middle of the night. After I lost the para-anchor several freak waves went right over the hulls, so I used the spinnaker [as a jury-rigged sea anchor]. But it got ripped to pieces after 1½ hours and I had to hoist a storm jib and sail the cat through the worst of the seas for 6 hours, after which it moderated and I headed for La Covina, Spain [sea anchor replaced there].
I used the new para-anchor 50 miles off Beaufort Inlet, North Carolina, and twice in the Mediterranean, both Force 8 - sudden gales with little sea room. After 110,000 nautical miles I still have a lot to learn about the para-anchor. I now attach a length of chain between the bridle and tether, and use a full trip line. Deployed correctly, I am sure the para-anchor will protect my vessel and my hide in the future.
File S/C-16, obtained from Dr. Gavin LeSueur, Mallacoota, Australia - Vessel name Windswept, hailing port Mallacoota, catamaran, designed by Lock Crowther, LOA 40' x Beam 26' x Draft 2' 6" x 2.75 Tons - Sea anchor: 16-ft. Diameter Para-Anchors Australia on 300' x 3/4" nylon braid tether and bridle arms of 28' each, with 5/8" galvanized swivel - No trip line - Deployed in a storm in shallow water (40 fathoms) in the Bass Strait with winds of 45-58 knots and seas of 30 ft. - Vessel's bow yawed 20° - Drift was estimated to be 12 n.m. during 6 hours at sea anchor.
Dr. Gavin LeSueur is an Australian country doctor who lives in Mallacoota, Victoria. He is also among the world's leading multihull safety experts, having weathered storms, used a wide variety of drag devices on different multihulls, and pioneered an adjustable drogue that is now being manufactured by Para-Anchors Australia. The intrepid doctor windsurfed 750 miles from Melbourne to Sydney in 1982. He has written three books - Windswept, The Line, and Multihull Seamanship Illustrated (distributed in the United States by Multihulls Magazine). Transcript:
In January 1988 I raced two-handed from Sydney to Auckland (1000 nm) on my catamaran, D Flawless. This was a 37' x 24' x 4600 lbs. open bridgedeck offshore racing catamaran. My crew was 21 year old Catherine Reed [wife to be]. After rounding the northern tip of New Zealand, the fleet was hammered by cyclone Bola. This tropical cyclone followed an unusual route and was unforeseen by me due to lack of high seas forecasts at the time, because of an industrial dispute at the Australian Meteorological Bureau! By the time we realized what was on the way (we first heard about it on New Zealand commercial radio stations!) we were in 60 knots plus and 25-35 ft. seas - with a lee shore 30 miles away!
I carried a 12-ft. parachute made by Para-Anchors Australia on board without a float or trip line, and with 300 ft. of nylon anchor line. I was unable to set the parachute. The conditions were such that it was not possible to crawl forward on deck due to the sea state and wind. It was like trying to move with your hands full on the roof of a car going along a bumpy road at 80 mph. We had removed all sail (and boom) except a small storm jib, lashed the helm over to drive the boat into the wind, and raised both daggerboards.[Emphasis added.] Thus D Flawless tracked at 70 degrees off the wind for the next 36 hours. We moved at about 2 knots, passing the edge of the eye and were ejected out of the "bad" quadrant. Wind strengths on land reached 96 knots. It was not pleasant huddled in the hull in our survival suits, awaiting the capsize that did not happen. The boat remained remarkably intact and we sailed into Auckland to finish the race.
En route back to Australia two months later we struck a 43 ft. humpback whale at 3:00 am in 25 knots of wind. We were surfing with our centerboards not fully raised. The whale awoke as we embedded our port centerboard in its back. It took off with the centerboard, the case and a good portion of the side of our port hull. The mast came down and speared itself through the remaining "good" hull! Over the next 45 minutes the catamaran wrenched itself to pieces. There were four of us on board at the time and we were 60 miles off the Australian coast. So close, and yet so far.
With no option but to get into our life raft we left the tangled wreckage and joined many of the foam sandwich hull pieces drifting downwind. The life raft was an Australian Yachting Federation approved offshore raft. Sea conditions deteriorated to 45 knots and 20 ft. waves. We were on the edge of the continental shelf and occasional seas were higher and breaking. We were capsized out of the raft four times! The parachute drogue on the water ballasted raft was useless. The only way we could stop capsizing on most waves was to dive to the windward side of the raft on each wave. It worked some of the time. We were rescued nine hours after hitting the whale. Rescue was quick and by helicopter (thus accurate wind and sea condition measurements). We had drifted over 20 miles in that time and rescue was effected due to our initial Mayday, missed radio schedule, EPIRB (which later failed - waterlogged), hand-held VHF radio (helicopter got a directional fix on this) and rocket flares. We were in good condition in survival suits, with extra water and flares over and above what was already in the raft.
Catherine and I now sail three handed with our three year old daughter (and dog - but she doesn't count). We have continued to experiment with drogues and parachutes and have used both many times since. I have no major problems with our parachute system. We use a 16-ft. diameter one made by Para-Anchors Australia, and carry 400 ft. of braided nylon rope. We do not use a swivel, or a trip line. The parachute has a float on 30 ft. of line on it's vent hole. Only once have we added a catenary weight down the line with a snatch block. We used a 25 kg CQR. In the 40-knot conditions it made little difference and it was a trial. We winch the line in while motoring up to the float. The bridle is a separate line and is tied to the tether with a rolling hitch. When the load is taken back on the tether in the cockpit, the rolling hitch is easily undone.
NOTE: Dr. LeSueur was a participant in the rough and tragic 1988 Round Australia Race in which he used and destroyed several drogues (see also File D/C-8).
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."
File S/C-14, obtained from Jack Goodman, Arlington, VA. - Vessel name Cat Morgan, hailing port Lusby, MD, catamaran, designed by Maurice Edel, LOA 35' x Beam 19' 10" x Draft 2' 10" x 3.5 Tons - Sea anchor: 15-ft. Diameter Para-Tech on 350' x 3/4" nylon braid tether and bridle arms of 25' each, with 5/8" stainless steel swivel - Partial trip line - Deployed in a gale in deep water about 150 miles WNW of Bermuda, with winds of 40-50 knots and seas of 15-20 ft. - Vessel's bow yawed 10° - Drift was estimated to be 6 n.m. during 12 hours at sea anchor.
Bermuda bound sailors seem to be high on King Neptune's hit list. Transcript:
We were sailing to Bermuda from the Chesapeake Bay with the '95 Bermuda Cruising Rally. The second and third days it rained and blew. We were either beating in one squall, or becalmed and waiting for another one. The fourth morning found the wind blowing straight from Bermuda and strengthening. The waves grew much larger and more irregular than they should have been with 40 knots of wind. Very awkward. We seemed to be in between two different weather systems. The forecast was uncertain and we were growing tired. (We later found out that we had been sailing in the southern quadrant of a counter clockwise eddy, with the current against the wind. Had we beat southward ten more miles we would have been in much calmer seas).
By noon the irregular - pyramid shaped - waves had increased to 20 feet, so we decided to try out our 15 ft. diameter Para-Tech sea anchor. We took all sail down and ran with the wind at nine knots until the parachute was rigged and ready. With our outboard motor running at full bore we were just able to turn the boat 45° into the wind. I then dunked the parachute bag and float into the water on the windward side of the bow. Even though I was aware that the trip line could foul, and was therefore careful in full daylight, it still got wrapped around the shrouds of the parachute. The chute still opened, and since the [partial] trip line was not close by, I let it go (I could not have pulled it back anyway).
I slowly let out 350' of the 400' x 3/4" nylon braid rode and cleated it off to the port bow. Using a rolling hitch, I tied a 5/8" Dacron line to the 3/4" tether, let out 25 feet and cleated it off on the starboard side [re: Fig 38 in File S/T-6]. I then uncleated the port side and eased it out until the bridle sides were of equal length and re-cleated it. The boat rode bow to the wind, veering no more than 10° to either side. No water came on deck. Aside from the noise of the wind - and the going up and down like a mad elevator - it was quite comfortable inside. We cooked and ate a large steak dinner, left one crew member on watch and went to bed.
At midnight the wind dropped to about 20 knots and the boat sat 90° to the wind. We decided to retrieve the parachute. Motoring into the wind only allowed the chute to sink, causing more strain on the line. We found the best strategy was to wrap the line around a sheet winch and take in slack after every wave. This kept the chute close to the surface and was quite easy, albeit slow. When the chute was close enough we grabbed a shroud line with a boat hook and pulled it aboard. No strain on the boat or hard work - just two hours of time.
Notes: During the 12 hours with the sea anchor we drifted 6 miles east, with the wind from the southwest. I now believe that after the wind dies down a little and my boat wants to lie beam to the seas, I will tie the parachute off the stern until it is time to pull it in. When we got to Bermuda I removed the trip line. Getting the chute back is secondary. If we ever need to use the parachute again we won't mind the extra hour required to pull it in. Also, in order to set the sea anchor, the next time I will heave-to with only the reefed mainsail [sheeted in tight], instead of using the motor to bring the head up into the wind to deploy the parachute. One of the nice things about the Edel Cat is that the cleats are on top of a rounded deck with NO CHOCKS. The bridle lines went directly from the cleats to the parachute touching only the smooth deck or forward aluminum cross beam at extreme angles, hence hardly any chafe at all. From now on we will always carry a parachute when offshore. Not just for storms, but equipment failure and extreme fatigue.
File S/C-13, obtained from Captain William H. Price, Valdez, Alaska - Vessel name Rose Marie, hailing port San Diego, catamaran, designed by Vince Bartalone, LOA 65' x Beam 30' x Draft 3' 3" x 22 Tons - Sea anchor: 24-ft. Diameter military reserve parachute on 600' x 1¼" nylon braid rode (no bridle, but reefed mizzen flown), with 5/8" galvanized swivel - Full trip line - Deployed in a low system in deep water about 1250 miles SW of Los Angeles, with winds of 55-60 knots and seas of 20 ft. - Vessel's bow yawed 20° - Drift was 11 n.m. during 20 hours at sea anchor.
This is the second file involving the catamaran Rose Marie. In the previous file (S/C-1) she hove to a 28 ft. diameter C-9 parachute off Point Conception, California, where a strong coastal current pulled her directly upwind against 35-40 knots of sustained wind.
In this file she ran into a winter storm on her way to Hawaii from San Diego. Captain William H. Price (200,000 miles experience) was delivering the boat to her new owner in Singapore at the time. No bridle was used on this occasion, just 600 feet of 1¼" nylon braid leading to the centrally located anchor roller ( CAUTION: multihulls should always use full width bridles anchored to the extreme outboard ends of the hulls). Transcript:
Rose Marie departed San Diego for Honolulu 25 January 1993. Pt. Loma light finally slipped below the horizon in the twilight hours. The next eight days saw variable winds NW to SE up to 20 kts. as a succession of frontal systems swept our course to Hawaii. Rose Marie had a personal computer and WFAX on board by means of which every readable weatherfax transmission was captured and stored for planning and review. The afternoon of February 2, noon position 22° 54' N and 137° 47' W, some 1256 miles out, the wind went light and we were forced to keep pace by motorsailing through the evening hours.
By the mid watch a breeze had hauled SE and piped up so that the main required a double reef put in. The yankee and mizzen were struck, and we carried on with deep reefed main and stays'l. February 3 at 0600 hrs. saw 35 knots SE across the deck and continuing to freshen. Nothing in the way of a front showed on the latest WFAX to warn of what was coming, though it was obvious what was happening. 1000 hrs. saw wind 40 kts rising to 50, and 20 ft. seas breaking sporadically down on the weather side. Rain came horizontally so hard as to sting the face. Motion aboard the cat was so irregular. Any movement but hanging on was a chore. Seas trying to cross our course got their tops trapped between the hulls and hammered the underside of the bridge deck mercilessly. The decision was made to lay to the parachute anchor until the wind blew itself out. The frontal squalls had been lasting only about 12 hrs. in previous encounters.
Upon attempting to round up and drop sail it was discovered that the steering did not respond to turns on the wheel. In fact the rudders were free to flop, lock to lock, with the rolling pressure of the seas. An axle pin had come adrift from one of the rudder cable turning blocks. The cable was completely slack and one rudder quadrant was already in the process of dashing itself to destruction against the stops! Without stops, the large flag rudders were free to swing around and bang the hull (foam core construction probably would not stand much of that action).
A 24 ft. dia. chute was deployed from the weather waist and bow, after careful flaking out of the rode, trip line and float to avoid any fouling. The float and [full] trip line over first and streaming out downwind very nicely. Next the swivel-parachute connection went in and sunk well down. The [lightweight] canopy itself was wetted before hand pretty well by rain, and went over last in a heap. The parachute blossomed and immediately there was strain applied to the rode. The entire 600 ft. of rode paid out under control from purchase turns around the windlass drum and snubbing horns. The last point of fairlead was the anchor roller mounted just to the port of the headstay tack.
Rose Marie came round to within a couple points of SE immediately. The mizzen was then reset with the reef in and bowsed taut on center between sheet and vang tackle. This brought her right up into the wind and made her lie within a point on the port bow.
By 1130 we were lying to, very steady in 50-60 kts of breeze over the deck. Damage control parties were sent into the steerage compartments of both hulls and the rudder stocks blocked into submission. The starboard quadrant was smashed beyond use and had to be replaced. The only other casualty, indeed fatality, was our faithful wind generator, "WINDY." He lost an arm at 60+ kts across the deck, throwing it down hard against the mizzen and into the deck right between my feet. Failure was due to the irregular pitching about of his perch up on the mizzen. While his arms were trying to make perfect circles [gyroscope effect], complex pitch and roll changed the direction forces on them and metal fatigue did the rest. The crew had to belay his remaining arm with a halyard to prevent his efforts continuing in the unbalanced state.
Lying-to, we were able to walk normally about the ship. Except for the 20 ft. plus rise and fall with each wave there was little indication below of conditions outside. Parachute was 24 ft. diameter military surplus. It was the back-up to the original main 28 footer which had rotted and was discarded prior to departure. 5/8" Galvanized jaw & eye swivel and 5/8" galvanized shackle connecting rode to parachute. 600 Ft. x 1¼" dia. yacht braid nylon rode with a thimble spliced into the eye at the overboard end. Cylindrical inflatable fender (approx. 2 ft. long x 10" dia.) float, secured to canopy head by 50 ft. ½" yachtbraid line. Trip line - 3/8" dia. x 600 ft. yellow polypropylene line, secured to float line eye on the surface.
Notes: The anchor rode had to be pinned into the fairlead roller with a 3/8" bolt and chafe guarded with a 3 ft. length of heavy hose lashed solidly about the section stretching and contracting through the fairlead. In the end the fairlead was bent to weather about 15 degrees, and the retaining bolt bent up in a distinct vee-shape by the rode pitching up and trying to escape [when the bows were pointing sharply down]. 600 Ft. was adequate for those conditions. It served very well, though I could have wished for more in the locker, had the seas been higher, or more frequently breaking.
File S/C-12, obtained from Sackville J. Currie, Blaney, Ireland - Vessel name An t-Iompodh Deisiol, hailing port Sligo, Ireland, "Escale" catamaran, designed by Prout, LOA 39' x Beam 18' x Draft 3' x 9 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 - Partial trip line - Deployed in a whole gale in deep water about 90 miles northeast of Casablanca, Morocco, with winds of 45-52 knots and seas of 15-18 ft. - Vessel's bow yawed 20-30° - Drift was estimated to be 7-8 n.m. during 36 hours at sea anchor.
Sackville J. Currie is the envy of every landlubber on the planet earth. Having sailed multihulls all over Japan as Prout's agent over there, he had the Prout brothers custom-design a 39-ft. Escale for himself, which he named An t-Iompodh Deisiol (pronounced Aan Umple Jesshul), Gaelic for "the place of turning sunwise."
After launching her in 1993 in Ireland he went on a three year - 18,000 mile - cruise. He sailed her down the Iberian Peninsula to North Africa, and then across the Atlantic to Brazil. After spending six months in Brazil, it was on to Venezuela, and then exotic Central American locations, and then the Leeward Islands, and finally onto Miami.
His article entitled Xcalac Con Escala, appearing in the November/December 1996 issue of Multihulls Magazine, gives the reader an inside view of what modern catamaran cruising is all about. Reading it will make any sailor's mouth water.
Imagine exploring the Caribbean on a seaworthy, handsome, luxurious, comfortable catamaran. Imagine swift passages to Trinidad and Tobago, Port of Spain, Bonaire and the Dutch Antilles, Curacao, Aruba, Cartagena, Bay Islands of Honduras and Roatan. Imagine a leisurely foray up Guatemala's Rio Dulce, which is navigable forty miles inland and is punctuated by numerous lakes that teem with gentle manatees. Imagine exploring the heart of the Central American rain forest on a spacious, ocean going catamaran, using twin diesels to power into mile-long winding canyons festooned with lush vegetation, cormorants, snowy egrets and thousands of green butterflies, to say nothing of running into the occasional lost Mayan city. Some people have all the luck.
Sackville's J. Currie's good luck is more than earned by his careful attention to details and planning, however. He knows the territory, so to speak, picking his routes and seasons carefully, always ready and prepared to run the unexpected gauntlet. And the gauntlets that Currie has run include a number of vicious ladies, among them Opal and Roxanne - hurricanes that devastated Yucatan and Guatemala in 1994. Currie barely managed to escape with the skin of his teeth.
Ah but then a miss is as good as a mile!
And as for the storms that he couldn't avoid, well that's what the parachute sea anchor was for. He deployed one in a nasty blow on the way to the Canaries from Casablanca. The bows of the Escale were yawing 20-30°, occasionally knocked to 40° by breaking waves. Currie said he was not worried about it, seeing how that it was a shock absorbing mechanism. (The yacht absorbs much of the shock of a breaking wave by pivoting on her CLR). A few lives were lost elsewhere in this storm. Transcript:
From Casablanca we set off for the Canaries. Within 24 hours the wind was up to F-7 on the nose, and still rising. Gale/storm lasted for 3 full days. For the first 12 hours we sailed into it to get searoom. About 95 miles off the African coast we hove to under staysail. The boat lay 50° off the wind and waves. Made 2 knots of drift, also took a lot of damage from waves crashing into our side (cockpit dodger broken, autopilot, wind instruments and GPS out of action). Once we deployed the parachute, we took waves on the bow, much better. The new deployment bag works very well. Motion on parachute was not nice though, we got seasick and some whip-lashing at stern.
We used a partial trip line with two fenders. The polypropylene trip line got twisted up - we will try a swivel here next time. In retrospect we should have deployed the parachute earlier, then we would have had no damage. To recover, we waited till wind and seastate moderated, then motored up to the fender.
We also use the parachute when we want a rest or when we have to go up the mast at sea, and to avoid nighttime landfalls, deploying it when still 20 miles offshore, and retrieving it in the early hours to allow arrival in daylight.
File S/C-11, obtained from Thomas E. Cooke, Euclid, OH. - Vessel name Battle Cat, hailing port Sandusky, OH, catamaran, designed by Stiletto Catamarans, LOA 29' 4" x Beam 16' x Draft 48" (12" boards up) x 1.4 Tons - Sea anchor: 12-ft. Diameter Para-Tech on 300' x 1/2" nylon braid tether and bridle arms of 50' each, with 1/2" stainless steel swivel - Partial trip line - Deployed in a low system in shallow water (45 feet) on Lake Erie, about 30 miles NW of Cleveland with winds of 40 knots and choppy seas of 8-10 ft. - Vessel's bow yawed 10° - Drift was estimated to be about 300' per hour during 10 hours at sea anchor.
Another difficult situation involving a lightweight multihull, shallow water, low visibility (night), uncertain position, crew fatigue, impaired judgment, vicious squalls and nasty seas, all brought under control by the use of a parachute sea anchor. Transcript:
I have sailed Lake Erie now for four years with the sea anchor on my boat. This is the first time I had a real life-threatening situation where options were limited, and thank God the sea anchor was one of them. To make a long story short, we tried to beat a low pressure system moving in from the southwest, and couldn't. In our haste to outrun this system I made some bad navigation calls, and we ended up following a freighter for about an hour and a half out into Lake Erie's open water, mistaking its lights for the lights of Cedar Point Amusement Park at Sandusky Bay. By the time we figured out we were following a freighter, weather conditions began to deteriorate.
It was 3:00 a.m. when we saw lightning in the west. Diminishing visibility along with increased wind and waves quickly followed. Within 15 minutes we went from 10 knots of wind, 1-2' waves, a starry sky and some lights visible on shore, to 20-25 knots of wind, 5-6' waves, a black sky, literally no horizon and thunder on the increase. The only means of navigation on board were two Horizon compasses. We had no auto-pilot and had been up for 20 hours. We were extremely fatigued and totally disoriented. With no horizon and our brains not functioning too well, (extreme fatigue does funny things to the mind) we decided to deploy the sea anchor and wait until daylight before doing anything else. We deployed the sea anchor in text book fashion. We have the DSB (deployable storage bag). Nothing fouled up, it was almost too easy. The boat slowly drifted downwind and when the rode ran out she swung straight into the wind. At that point we just rode the waves. We lashed sails down and made sure everything was secured and that was all there was to it. On board with me was my sailing buddy, Tom, and my two sons Michael & Bruce. Mike is 9 yrs. old, Bruce is 12 yrs. old and Tom is 37 yrs. old. We contacted the Coast Guard to let them know approx. where we were & what we were doing. At this time the wind was blowing a steady 28 knots & seas were building. It was hard to see how big the waves were with just a flashlight, but the white caps were all over & easy to see.
Tom & I went down below to get some sleep while my son Bruce sat in the cockpit and kept an eye out for freighter lights. By daybreak the wind was blowing steadily in the upper 30's and low 40's, occasionally hitting 48 & 50 knots. The waves were averaging 8' with 3 sets of 10'+ waves every 13th wave. The high wind & waves lasted about six hours & eventually died down to 20-25 knots and 5-6' waves. While we were on sea anchor, listening to channel 16, the Cleveland, Detroit and Fairport Coast Guards were looking for two fishing boats reported overdue the previous night. Both were power boats, one with two adults the other an 18' Bayliner with two adults and three children on board. I can't tell you the compassion we had for them knowing what they had to be dealing with, and at the same time the security we felt while at sea anchor. By the way, both boats and all aboard were found safe the following day, having been blown across the lake to Canada.
Eventually when the wind & waves died down we just powered up to the chute trip line, pulled it, the chute collapsed, we pulled it on board and the rest is history.
A few observations:
1) I never ever thought I would be caught out on Lake Erie in those conditions and survive to tell about it.
2) The sea anchor worked better than I had ever imagined. The boat rode the waves beautifully, up and down, never burying a bow. Came close, but never happened.
3) We would get sea sick only if we went down below and kept our eyes open. If we went down to sleep we were OK. We spent most of our time in the cockpit looking at the waves and how well the sea anchor worked.
4) The boat yawed very little, almost unnoticeably. We tracked drift by movement past commercial fishing nets.
5) The security we felt while being at anchor under those conditions was unbelievable. I would never have thought it possible.
6) After this experience, it is my opinion that no boat should venture offshore without the safety and security of a good sea anchor, tailored for specific boats. At the time, the sea anchor was more important to us than any other piece of safety equipment we had, including the VHF and EPIRB.
Using Parachutes, Sea Anchors and Drogues to Cope with Heavy Weather – Over 130 Documented Case Histories