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.
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.
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.
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.
Using Parachutes, Sea Anchors and Drogues to Cope with Heavy Weather – Over 130 Documented Case Histories