D/M-20 SPARKMAN & STEPHENS 34 (Swarbrick)

S&S 34 monohullD/M 20

Monohull, Sparkman & Stephens

33' x 6 Tons, Fin Keel

Seasquid

Force 9+ Conditions

File D/M-19, obtained from Ben Tucker, Australia - Vessel name Gypsy2, hailing port Hobart, monohull sloop designed by Sparkman & Stephens and built by Swarbrick, LOA 33' x LWL 25' x Beam 10' x Draft 5' 10" x 6 Tons - Fin keel - Drogue: Seasquid on 150' (45m) x 7/16" (11mm) kermantle dynamic nylon double braid rode plus 6ft (2m) of 8mm chain - Deployed in  deep water midway on passage from Hobart, Australia to Bluff, New Zealand in winds of 45 knots gusting to 60kt and breaking seas of 20 - 30 ft. (6 - 10m) - Surfing down waves was inhibited, and speed was reduced to about 4 knots during 18 hours of deployment

Ben Tucker has over 70,000 miles of sailing experience, plus a million miles as an officer on a container ship. On this occasion he was sailing from Australia to New Zealand in early summer when he get caught in a strong gale:

On passage from Hobart to Bluff in early summer we got caught in a nasty low with strong westerly winds. Over the day the wind and seas built and quite suddenly it went from fun fast downwind sailing to dangerous just on dusk. We dropped the deep reefed main, and eventually ran with just a scrap of the roller reefing headsail set. As the seas built up we started surfing too fast for comfort down the front of the seas and deployed a sea squid on about 45 meters of 11mm kernmantle dynamic nylon rope that had previously been used for climbing.  About 2 meters of 8 mm chain was shackled between the drogue and the warp. 

The drogue immediately slowed us down and controlled the surfing. 

But a big problem with our setup was soon revealed, the stretch in the drogue warp, coupled with the short line and only a short length of lightweight chain caused the drogue to break free of the approaching wave and fly forward towards us through the air about 10 meters and then re-engage, this would allow the boat to accelerate quickly to 7 or 8 knots until the drogue reengaged and with a brutal jerk it then slowed us down again to around 4 knots, this would often rip the drogue back out of the water again, repeating the cycle.

It was clear that the wavelength was around 100 meters or so, as the drogue was visible behind us on the approaching crest when we were near the trough.

It was deployed off the port quarter with no bridle to keep it clear of the windvane. We added a length of 19mm polypropylene line approximately 100 meters long in parallel with the drogue. This slowed us down enough that the drogue remained in the water with a more steady pull. 

We rode out the night hand steering with a small scrap of jib sheeted tight amidships and the drogue and warp behind.  Many times the cockpit filled with water, and were buffeted badly by the bigger crests, bouncing down the wave face. But by early morning it had eased significantly. 

We found that the windvane had been damaged by the drogue line at some point, and the plastic sea squid drogue had a bad crack in it, probably due to the tumbling as it flew through the air, then tangled with the chain and reengaged. 

the biggest lesson was to avoid using a dynamic rope with a drogue, Have at least 100 meters of warp available and plenty of heavy chain on the end to keep it well under water.  

The next time I used a drogue sailing to Antarctica on my 33 foot yacht Snow Petrel I had no issues with a much longer line, approximately 120 meters of 18mm polypropylene and 10 meters of 10mm chain using a Seabrake HSD 300 and the pull was very steady and consistent.

Once again we have problems with drogues skipping out of the waves, in this case exacerbated by using a very stretchy climbing rope as a rode. Elasticity is crucial in the rode for a para-anchor so as to prevent shock loading, but in a drogue a non-stretchy rode, combined with some weight at the drogue end, helps to keep the rode submerged leading to a more constant rode tension.

Ben notes that the wave length was about 100m and the drogue rode about half that. One would expect that this might work well, placing the drogue on the back of the when one needs it most, ie surfing down the face of the same wave, but in this case the extreme stretching of the rode seems to have counteracted this, resulting in the drogue pulling out of the water with the concomitant rapid acceleration of the boat.

As the Furgusons on St. Leger (D/M 17) found, one needs to either have a long rode with more weight to cover a wider range of conditions (as did Ben Tucker on his next adventure), or else be able to adjust it from the cockpit to specifically tune it to the conditions at the time.

S/R-2 Carbon / Kevlar Morrison

S/R-2

Carbon / Kevlar Morrison 24ft classic ocean row boat

24' x 1 Tonne

12-Ft. Dia. Sea Anchor

Force 9 Conditions

File S/R-2, obtained from Chris Martin - Vessel name Bojangles, Carbon / Kevlar 24ft classic ocean row boat designed by Phil Morrison, LWL 24' x Beam 6' x Draft 18" x 1 tonne - Sea anchor: 12-ft. diameter Para-Tech on 80m (260')  x 1/2" polypropylene three strand rode with 3" stainless steel swivel - Full trip line - Deployed during ocean passage in deep water from Choshi, Japan to San Francisco, USA in early September 2009 with winds of 40 knots+ and cycloidal steep breaking waves of 30' - 50' - Drift  during 36 hours at sea anchor is not known.

Chris Martin and Mick Dawson were the first pair of rowers to successfully cross the Pacific Ocean, doing so in 189 Days, 10 Hours and 55 Minutes after an adventure that included storm force winds, running out of food, an onboard fire and, of course, the shear grind of rowing day and night for over 6 months.

Bojangles  is Carbon Kevlar foam sandwich classic hull row boat. Built by Woodvale. Originally intended as a solo the bulkheads were cut into three and the central section angled more vertically to provide the deck space required for two rowers. Because rowing boats are often double ended, with a pointed stern, there is no concern about anchoring from the stern instead of the bow.

Transcript:

Parachute anchor was deployed off the stern (not off the bow). There is a specific mounting position above the rudder for the attachment of the deployment line. This means that all the waves hitting the boat strike the aft cabin but do mean that it is possible to exit the aft cabin without risking a wave breaking over the boat and slamming into the main hatch. It also reduces the wiggle on the boat during the time the boat is deployed as the boat naturally windvanes to point with the wind and waves minimizing lateral motion of the boat.

The deployment line we used was stored on deck between two large cleats about 18" apart allowing easy deployment and storage on recovery.  The deployment line was 1/2" three strand and the recovery line was 1/4". In hindsight a buoyant recovery line with a float fitted would have been better.

S/M-40 Monohull, Alden Ketch

S/M-40

Monohull, Alden Ketch

50' x 15 Tons, Full Keel & Cutaway Forefoot

18-Ft. Dia. Sea Anchor

Force 9-10 Conditions

 

File S/M-40, obtained from Steven McAbee, Lihue, Hawaii - Vessel name Celtic, hailing port Dutch Harbor (Alaska), monohull, cruising ketch designed by John Alden, LOA 50' x LWL 33' x Beam 12' 6' x Draft 5' 6" x 15 Tons - Full keel & cutaway forefoot - Sea anchor: 18' Diameter Para-Tech on 400' x 3/4" nylon three strand rode and 150' chain, with 5/8" stainless steel swivel - Deployed in a whole gale in deep water about 500 miles south of Dutch Harbor with winds of 45-50 knots and seas of 20-25 ft. - Vessel's bow yawed 10° with reefed mizzen flying - Drift was about 22 n.m. during 5 days at sea anchor.

Celtic is a 45-ft. center cockpit ketch built by Fuji Shipyards in 1975. In June 1996 she left Dutch Harbor, Alaska, headed for Hawaii and the South Pacific. On board were owner Steven McAbee, wife Pamela and son Zach. A few days out they ran into a succession of gales in the Gulf of Alaska. McAbee was well-prepared and deployed an 18-ft. diameter Para-Tech sea anchor. Celtic spent the next five days at sea anchor, her heavy, reefed mizzen keeping her bow nicely snubbed into the seas. The following is a transcript of Steven McAbee's article Crossing Gale Alley, appearing in the November/December 1997 issue of Ocean Navigator Magazine (reproduced by permission):

We had fully expected gales and had made preparations for them. Up on the bow, ready to deploy, was a Para-Tech sea anchor complete with trip line, buoys, 3/4-inch rode, and chain catenary. In the lazarette we had stowed a Seabrake Drogue with its own dedicated rode/catenary and bridle. We had Mustang exposure suits for foul weather on deck, harnesses and snap lines for each of us, immersion suits for abandon ship, flares, handheld VHF and GPS, survival supplies, and a 406 EPIRB. We also had Celtic, a proven storm survivor.

Nevertheless, as the low continued to deepen and it became apparent that we would have to deal with it, an old familiar dread began to live in my guts. How bad would it get? Would the sea anchor and drogue work? Although we had practiced deploying them, it had been in relatively calm conditions. We were 500 miles from the nearest land and out of the shipping lanes on a big and lonely ocean. There would be no help coming. Whatever happened, we would have to deal with it ourselves. At night we listened on the SSB to other vessels, some in distress. A 49-foot ketch 400 miles south of Adak lost her rudder and was pummeled by 25-ft. seas. Kamishak Queen, a vessel we were familiar with, sank in Nuka Bay. A tripped EPIRB had been detected in Bristol Bay. The weather forecast called for 45-knot winds and 25-ft. seas. If the low stayed on track we would be in the worst possible place: south of the center and on the backside, the zone of highest wind and seas.

Throughout the day the winds and seas increased. As the wind shifted around from northwest to west to southwest and then south, our progress slowed until we found ourselves beating into 30-knot winds and eight-foot seas. The time had come to make a major strategy decision: Should we bear off to the west or east and try to make a few miles of southing in the worsening conditions? Or would it be better to deploy the sea anchor and sit out the gale?

After due consideration, we decided to use the sea anchor. The Para-Tech was connected to 400 feet of 3/4-inch nylon rode with a stainless steel swivel. All rode ends had spliced eyes with steel thimbles, and in the middle of the rode we had spliced in 20 feet of 1/2-inch galvanized chain to act as a catenary. After a practice deployment before the trip, we had decided to connect the bitter end of the rode to the chain anchor rode and deploy 150 of that. Additionally, we lashed the anchor chain to the bow roller to prevent it from jumping out as Celtic rode the waves into the trough.

We had packed the sea anchor, trip line, and rode into a large canvas bag and lashed it to the bow rail with the bitter end hanging out a hole cut in the bottom. All we had to do was unlash the bag, shackle the bitter end to the anchor chain (the [steel] anchor had been disconnected and stored below for the open ocean), attach the buoys to the trip line, and let her go. Everything went smoothly, and soon we were securely moored to the Para-Tech. We hoisted a reefed mizzen, secured everything on deck, and went below. As night fell we began to feel the full fury of the storm. The rising wind was blowing a steady 40 knots, gusting to more than 50, while the seas built.

I was really pleased with the performance of the sea anchor and the way Celtic rode. During the five days of gale winds at 40 to 50 knots and seas of 18 to 25 feet, I never felt we were in any immediate danger. As the storm worsened and seas began to break over Celtic, I began to wish I had some way to attach all that chain and rode to the bobstay eye on Celtic's stem so her bow would ride higher, but there was no changing anything once it was set. As each monster wave approached, Celtic would back up, much like a retreating Muhammed Ali against a charging Joe Frazier, and let the impact roll under her. Huge waves would break on us, darkening the cabin as green water rolled over the ports.

We were alone. We thought about all the stories we'd heard about vessels slowly breaking up under similar onslaughts: seams opening, through-hulls loosening, cockpit drains plugging. We had made all the preparations we could; all we could do was remain alert and deal with whatever happened.

We set up a radio schedule with the Kodiak Coast Guard Communication Base, better known as CommSta Kodiak, and every four hours we gave them our position, weather conditions, and vessel status. It was a comfort to speak with someone, and the sound of the radio operator's voice and the obvious concern of everyone at the station about our safety was really comforting.... By the time the storm abated, we'd had our fill of granola bars, crackers, and pop. We'd also had our fill of gales. For the last week it had been hard sleep, except for Zach, who was unflappable and able to sleep while weightless and bouncing off the ceiling. We were exhausted.

Unfortunately, the weatherfax showed another developing low headed in our direction, and we decided to make a run for it. The wind had switched around to the west but had dropped to near calm. I proposed that we fire up the engine and run south for 48 hours. That would get us about 300 miles farther and hopefully get us out of what we had come to refer to as "gale alley." Pamela and Zach both agreed, and in short order we were underway.

Forty-eight hours later, on July 8, 13 days after leaving Unalaska, we shut down the engine for the last time. We estimated that we had about 10 gallons of fuel left, and we had consumed much of our perishable food supplies. Counting four days in English Bay and the five days hove to during the gale, we had spent a total of nine days going nowhere. We still had a long way to sail, so after considering everything, we decided to head for Hawaii, where we could re-supply and recuperate before going on to the Marshall Islands. With the wind out of the west and Hawaii just 1,200 miles due south of us, we suddenly felt eager and optimistic....

Twenty-seven days after casting off from Dutch Harbor, Celtic entered Nawiliwili Bay on the southeast corner of the island of Kauai. 

S/M-39 Lotus 9.2 Cutter

S/M-39

Lotus 9.2 Cutter

30' x 4 Tons, Low Aspect Fin/Skeg

12-Ft. Dia. Sea Anchor

Force 10 Conditions

 

File S/M-39, obtained from Ann and Jim Wilson, Christchurch, New Zealand - Vessel name Karoro, hailing port Moncks Bay, NZ, Lotus 9.2 sloop, designed by Alan Wright, LOA 30' 2" x LWL 26' 3" x Beam 11' x Draft 5' 6" x 4 Tons - Low aspect fin keel & skeg rudder - Sea anchor: 12-ft. Diameter Para-Tech on 2 lengths of 220' x 5/8" nylon three-strand rode plus 120' of chain and a 35 lb. plow anchor, with 1/2" stainless steel swivel - Partial trip-line - Deployed in a storm in deep water about 400 miles ENE of the North Cape of New Zealand, with sustained winds of 50 knots and seas of 20 feet and greater - Vessel's bow yawed 20° - Drift was about 10 n.m. during 15 hours at sea anchor.

In March 1966, New Zealander Jim Wilson used a 12-ft. Para-Tech sea anchor on Karoro in a gale during a coastal passage from Dunedin to Christchurch. Four months later, en route to Tonga, he used it again in a much heavier storm.

new_zealand

The sea anchor - deployed on two lengths of 220' x 5/8" rope, knotted together with bowlines - held the bow into the waves for a period of fifteen hours, the vessel yawing through a total arc of about 30-45° (about 20° off to each side). The sea anchor was then lost when the rode failed at one of the knots.

Sometime after losing the sea anchor, Karoro was rolled while lying a-hull. This incident confirms the opinion rendered by Peter Blake in File D/T-1: "I don't think lying a-hull is a mode of survival that one should contemplate if conditions are really severe. In moderate conditions, if you're not too worried about the sea state, maybe it's OK. But lying a-hull in a storm is a recipe for being rolled, or having the deck or the cabin top stove in and heavy water come inside. I think that the other approaches are better. Even though lying a-hull is natural and sort of easy, I definitely don't think it's a tactic that people should use, unless they haven't got another option." Most safety experts concur that lying a-hull in a storm is a recipe for disaster.

Here is a transcript of the feedback obtained from Ann and Jim Wilson:

After three good days of sailing to the northeast, out of Gisborne, making over 120 miles a day, we began to feel anxious about warnings of storm-force winds heading our way. The wind increased gradually in intensity and it became clear we would soon be in the storm. Jim went out and put both storm sails up. The mainsail had to be completely removed from the mast to make room for the small orange trysail. The storm jib was hanked onto the [removable] inner forestay, and the furling headsail rolled up completely and lashed. This took some time and Jim finally staggered below, wet and weary. The sails felt comfortable [with the vessel hove-to], but the wind kept gaining in intensity and the forecast was frightening - a band of storm-force winds, 50 knots, 400 miles wide. Soon the waves had become mountainous. I was too scared to look at them.

About 1500 hrs Jim decided to take the storm sails down and put out the sea anchor. He collected three lots of chain, one from under the floor boards, and quietly deliberated on which to use. Then the slow ritual of dressing up and harnessing and emerging into the wild, wet cockpit to sort out sea anchor, buoys and buckets of rope, tying everything up. The sails had to be removed and stowed below, and he finally moved all the gear to the bow. It was starting to get dark. He said he had to get it right the first time or we'd have had it. That put me into a mild state of panic. I followed his movements like a hawk, terrified he'd be washed overboard by a crashing wave and left dangling by his harness. He was wedged in the bow trying to untangle a maze of rope. The wind and waves crashing over were making it worse and his life line kept getting tangled as well. I suddenly felt he'd never sort it out on his own. I began to knock on the hatch window and yell over the sound of the storm, asking if I should come and help. He finally beckoned me out, so I took the headlamp and clipped onto the safety line. Once outside, the force of the wind was terrifying. I was so scared of getting washed off I practically crawled up to the bow and between us we went about untangling the mess of rope.

I found the free end he was looking for, tied the first buoy on and threw it over on Jim's instructions. I hurriedly played out the line which floated backwards. "Bring it in again," shouted Jim, "it's gone under the boat!" I suddenly saw the futility of it all. "It's hopeless," I shouted. At that he said, "OK, OK, throw out the other buoy." Over it went and then finally over went the sea anchor at last. Jim played out the warp and then the chain, and slowly we swung around into the waves. I found it hard to believe it was so much trouble. The whole performance had taken over three hours. (We have since devised a much easier system of deploying it from the cockpit, with chain already through the bow anchor roller fitting, with restraining pin in place, and the chain led back along the toerail, lashed in easy-release fashion, to the cockpit. We should, of course, have devised and tried this system before setting off.)

I crawled back inside. The gentle hove-to movement had changed to a jerky sideways rock, but now we were parting the waves with the bow and not taking them every which way. Jim finally came below and after a cup of hot chocolate we crashed into bed. I discovered that the high pitched whine of the wind, and the way it ascended the scale as it increased in volume, was what depressed me most. That, and the way it stayed at a high pitch for long periods without dropping, and all the frantic rattles and quivering in the rigging and the sudden loud bang as a wave hit us and the water pouring over the decking. I suddenly remembered the wax ear plugs I'd brought along for diving. I jammed a couple in my ears and blissfully all sound disappeared. Only the motion remained. It got me through the night. I think we all had a reasonably good sleep.

Saturday morning, June 22, suddenly Guy said "We're going backwards." Jim saw the loose chain out of the front hatch and said, "My God I think we've lost the sea anchor." My hand flew to my mouth in horror as Jim raced about. "It's OK," said Guy, "it's a much nicer motion now" [the vessel now lying a-hull]. I thought of the sea anchor floating away behind us. Poor Jim was struggling away at the bow, winding in the chain. He'd put so much effort into researching, buying and setting up the sea anchor, and phutt! Just like that, it was gone. He came in and said that the sea anchor warp had broken. He could hardly believe it. It was the same one he'd been towed by, off Akaroa, when the skeg and rudder went. Though he had been towed on these warps, under wild conditions, and therefore thought them tried and true, they were getting old; worse, we only had thimbles spliced in one end of each of the two, the other ends being bowline-knotted, which although tested before under tow (and afterwards, amazingly, the bowlines were undone quite easily) we should have known that a knot is a weak point; and it was at one of the knots that the rope broke.

Jim lashed the tiller to one side and we lay a-hull with no sails. The motion was certainly more comfortable. We put the wooden washboards in the lower half of the companionway and the clear, perspex panel in the top, and slid the hatch cover shut as usual. Sheer stupidity - had we had all the washboards in, instead of this flexible clear upper panel, we would have taken in very little water later.

It was mid-afternoon when we were knocked down. There was no warning. No roar as the rogue wave approached us. It was deceptively quiet and I had momentarily undone my car seat belt that Jim had rigged up in my bunk. I'm not sure why, but I certainly paid for that folly. It seemed like slow motion as I rolled out and hit the table, breaking it off the wall. Then the sound of rushing water. I looked up and saw a waterfall pouring through the gap in the companionway. The clear perspex panel had popped out like a cork. Then Jim was hauling me under the armpits. He said, "We've just been knocked down - we'll come up again." I don't remember coming back up. I was too busy making horrible groaning noises as I struggled to get air into my lungs. My legs were caught in a swirling tangle of quilt, twisting like seaweed in the water. Then I was tossed onto my bed. I seem to remember Jim and Guy baling with buckets.

There was a sharp pain in my ribs and I was straining to breathe, but only getting a small amount of air in. I hoped my lungs weren't perforated. Jim left off baling and raced to the radio. He got through to T.M. [Taupo Maritime] Radio and told them what had happened. "I think I've broken my ribs," I chattered through my teeth, while shivering. A doctor came on the radio and said to take my pulse and respiration, and to keep me as dry as possible. The storm was still raging. We had all the wooden washboards in but there was no guarantee that it wouldn't happen again. Jim and Guy were now as scared as me that we might have another knock down. Jim had strung me in my bunk even more firmly, but every time there was a loud bang on the side of Karoro I'd grab the rail and give a terrified shout.

By Sunday morning, June 23, the storm was over, but we were a depressing sight. I was immobile and on pain killers. The inside was a mess. The radar was out. The new spray dodger had ripped out its attachments, the frame and stainless steel grab rails bent. The VHF aerial was ripped off, and the wind arrow and lights on top of the mast were gone. Blessedly the sun came out. Jim wanted to carry on to Tonga, saying at least we'd be in warm waters then. I couldn't envisage another week at sea. Jim unhappily agreed to go back to New Zealand, although later he realized we'd done the sensible thing. He started the motor, checked out the chart, and found our closest option to be Great Barrier Island. We felt so lucky to have dry batteries, engine and GPS, and the SSB still working. Apart from me getting thrown out of my bunk, we had gotten knocked down on the best side, leaving the batteries high and dry. We turned and headed back. By evening there was some semblance of order.

The next few days are pretty much blurred in my mind. I remember constantly asking "what day is it?" Time seemed to go so slowly. Nights were quicker with escape into sleep. We ran into strong northwesterlies. By Monday we were beating into 40-knot winds.... On Tuesday night we were closing in, but Taupo Maritime Radio had for some time been broadcasting navigational warnings of the New Zealand Navy's target practice along the Coromandel Coast... we were right in their firing line! Jim contacted T.M.R. and told them we'd been knocked down, on our way back, and in the line of fire. It was comic. Racing into stormy winds and big waves, saved from the depths of the sea, only to be fired on by our own navy. Guy and I were cracking up - me painfully....

On the quiet, still, cloudy morning of Thursday June 27, 1996 we motored into Tauranga. I had dropped into a deep sleep. I finally came to with the sound of voices. Jim was talking to a man who was helping us tie up alongside the marine. We'd made it!

Did the Wilsons sell the boat and buy a cozy little sheep farm inland? No! Ann & Jim recently returned from another long trip! Jim Wilson's hand-written note on the filled out DDDB form that Victor Shane had been anxiously waiting for reads thus: "Just returned from 6 months on Karoro, to Tonga and back. No need for sea anchor this time - no knockdowns! But very glad we had a replacement on board. Wouldn't now go to sea without one."

 

 

S/M-38 Tayana Surprise

PRISANAS/M-38

Tayana Surprise

46' x 13 Tons, Fin Keel

18-Ft. Dia. Para-Anchor

Force 12 Conditions

File S/M-39, obtained from Stephen Edwards & Deborah Schutz, Henley Beach, South Australia - Vessel name Prisana II, hailing port Adelaide, Tayana Surprise ketch, designed by Pieter Beeldsnidser, LOA 46' x LWL 40' x Beam 13' 4" x Draft 6' 10" x 13 Tons - Fin keel - Sea anchor: 18-ft. Diameter para-anchor (Para-Anchors Australia) on 410' x 3/4" nylon three strand rode with 3/4" stainless steel swivel - Partial trip-line - Deployed in a storm in deep water about 75 miles west of Cape Bouvard (Western Australia), with winds of 65-80 knots and seas of 40-60 feet, with microbursts evident - Vessel's bow yawed 20-30° during 59 hours at sea anchor. Drift was affected by a southerly current.

This important file was initially forwarded by Alby McCracken of Para-Anchors Australia, to whom we are indebted. The sea anchor used was 18 feet in diameter, manufactured by Para-Anchors Australia. Stephen Edwards and Deborah Schutz are quite certain that it saved the boat. The winter storm that they ran into may have been reinforced by microbursts, judging by the thunderstorm activity, and by the tornado that left a 2-mile long swath of destruction through South Perth.

Deborah Schutz was kind enough to send a clipping from the July 17, 1996 edition of The West Australian. The headline reads "South Perth Hit by Rare Tornado." Accompanying photographs show the twister's fury as it rampaged through South Perth, taking roofs off of houses and uprooting trees. The Australian Weather Bureau's severe weather meteorologist, Tony Bannister, said the tornado probably originated west of Rottnest Island, traveling at about 80 km/h at sea, increasing in intensity and sporting 200 km/h winds when touching down at Perth.

Prisana II is heavy, with a lot of windage - two equal height masts, both with in-mast furling. She was en route to Dampier, Western Australia, from her home port of Adelaide, South Australia, when she ran into this freak storm.

Perhaps we have a recurrence of the same sort of freak events that Gold Eagle ran into in File S/T-15, where we find Dr. Andrew Cserny writing, "Sometime during the night we were hit by an immensely strong burst of wind which I presumed must have been a twister, because the pressure inside the pilot house fluctuated rapidly, the windows rattled, the doors to the pilot house rattled, and the sliding hatches tried to come off the top of the boat.... The wind shrieked horribly with pitch and intensity I have never heard before." Gold Eagle was later struck by a rogue wave. So was Prisana II, leading your authors to believe that these may have been microburst-generated ESWs - extreme storm waves. Transcript:

Sunday July 14th, 1996: By nightfall we were almost abeam Cape Naturaliste. Our weather fax showed a complex low was fast approaching. Due to our position, the unfamiliar coastline and the wind direction (40 knots NNE) there were no safe anchorage along the coast here in these conditions. Our motor was playing up and the option of using our sea anchor already considered, but due to the number of ships in the vicinity, we decided to keep going. We reduced sails, expecting the winds to swing SW with the approaching front, which we'd use to get us to Fremantle. We were wrong! Throughout the night Mother Nature unleashed a storm of unrelenting fury, NNE to 50 knots with large seas - our only choice to head out to sea [starboard tack].

Monday July 15th: At first light we came about [port tack]. Perth Radio issued another gale force warning. The barometer read 996 and was rapidly falling. By evening strong west winds were in force, the barometer now at 990, though seas had moderated. As the night progressed, squalls reached 60 knots and lightning could be seen behind us as we traveled in a northerly direction [parallel to the coast of Western Australia]. The ferocity of the storm was intensifying. The needle on our wind indicator went beyond the last notch (65 knots) and the seas were dramatically increasing in height. At approximately 0500 hrs a huge wall of water knocked us down. The helmsman stood chest-high in water (thankfully harnessed) and our masts leaned to starboard, touching the surface of the ocean. We deployed the sea anchor, then all crew below and hatches battened. At this point we were 30 nautical miles off Rottnest Island.

Tuesday July 16th: During the morning I ventured above to the cockpit and was immediately awestruck. The seas were incredibly huge. I soon retreated below. I later found out the seas were reported to be 11 meters on top of a 9 meter swell - the faces of the waves around 60 feet. We currently had plenty of sea room and were drifting in a southerly direction at 1 knot. The parachute anchor held us steady, as the winds, sounding cyclonic, whirled over 70 knots. Waves drenched the deck as we rolled from side to side. For 24 hours we drifted in this direction, towards Naturaliste Reef.

"Tuesday July 16th: During the morning I ventured above to the cockpit and was immediately awestruck. The seas were incredibly huge. I soon retreated below.... The parachute anchor held us steady, as the winds, sounding cyclonic, whirled over 70 knots." (Photo credit: Deborah Schutz).
"Tuesday July 16th: During the morning I ventured above to the cockpit and was immediately awestruck. The seas were incredibly huge. I soon retreated below.... The parachute anchor held us steady, as the winds, sounding cyclonic, whirled over 70 knots." (Photo credit: Deborah Schutz).

Wednesday July 17th: We were drifting east and we now know that we were in the Leeuwin Current. The Leeuwin Current runs southward down the continental shelf from Indonesia, bringing masses of warm water. It begins flowing around April each year, through October, seldom moving faster than 1 knot in a band approximately 50 kilometers wide. The weather remained unchanged. All day long the winds continued to blow over 70 knots and we were now down almost as far as Bunbury, having crossed over, above the Naturaliste Reef. A large cargo ship had just lost 30 containers off Cape Leeuwin. The Adelaide media reported that a cyclone had hit Perth.

Thursday July 18th: Conditions were moderating, winds now down to 50 knots and the barometer slowly began to rise - seas still large but easing. Late in the afternoon we retrieved the para-anchor (which wasn't easy), and she came up with a hole in her. Our 130 meters of rope had stretched an extra 20 meters. The wind now blowing 30-40 knots - felt like a mere breeze as we set course for Rottnest Island. Friday July 19th, around 1030 hrs we motored into the Fremantle Sailing Club, grateful that we had decided to purchase a parachute anchor. With it we were able to ride out and survive the conditions - our bow held into the seas. The Weather Bureau in Perth described the freak weather as a rare winter tornado. It struck the coast with 200 km/h winds.

In the face of this important file, Victor Shane contacted Deborah Schutz & Stephen Edwards regarding a few more questions, and received additional answers as follows:

Was the deployment fairly easy? We preformed a "Flying Set" and deployment was relatively easy. The anchor rode was fixed to a strong point at our bow, led aft and held in position by plastic cable ties at 6-inch intervals along the port side toe rail to a deployment bag containing 125 meters of 18mm 3-strand nylon anchor rode. This was set up prior to our departure from Adelaide to cross the Great Australian Bight. Deployment simply involved reaching from the safety of the cockpit to the rode deployment bag, unlacing the top - removing the end of the rode and shackling it to the parachute anchor. Trip line floats were then fed overboard, followed by para-anchor in deployment bag. Within approximately 30 seconds, we had taken up all the rode and the vessel was gently pulled into the wind, allowing us to lower the sails.

How did the boat behave at sea anchor? Generally it appeared to be falling off 20 to 30 degrees, though it's difficult to be precise as we were below deck for nearly the whole duration of the storm. Occasionally we fell back on the rode and fell away to somewhere near 45°, approx. once every half hour, maybe due to rogue waves coming in on a different angle - hard to tell from down below.

What about the disposition of the rudder? The rudder was lashed to center at the quadrant, which broke twice - 6mm pre-stretched cord broke first, then 16mm nylon braid also didn't hold. We managed to make it hold on 18mm nylon anchor rode. Small twist, 10-15° in 2-inch 316 stainless steel rudder shaft at the point where quadrant is fixed.

What about chafe? Due to the set up of 1 meter of chain at the bow we had no chafing.

Any green water come on deck? Yes, Steve said there was a small amount, compared to the 2-3 foot of white water that washed over the deck.

General impressions of strains involved? We've realized the attachment point on bow needs to be extremely strong. Parachute anchor was shackled to 1/2 inch chain link welded to ship's anchor. Our ship's anchor was stored below deck level via custom bow fitting [as with large ships, the forward part of the anchor left protruding out of the bow, and the para-anchor rode shackled directly to the ship's anchor by a 1 meter length of chain], then secured aft by 3/8 inch Ronstan rigging screws, secured to a 10mm stainless steel plate, bolted under the anchor winch. Winch and plate fastened by 6 x 3/8 inch stainless steel studs. Both the fixing point to the ship's anchor and to the plate were backed up by secondary systems. Ronstan rigging screw had 10mm chain back-up. Fixing to anchor was backed up by 5/8 inch stainless steel bolt, through anchor cheeks. Both systems failed! Ronstan rigging screw had 8 turns of thread removed. Back-up held, but ship's anchor smashed around, causing damage to our stainless steel bow fitting. Chain-link welded to ship's anchor was torn off and secondary chain from nylon rode took up the weight on 5/8 inch stainless steel bolt through anchor cheeks.

Did you use a full trip line? No, partial trip line - 2 floats and 2 x 15 meter lines with swivels.

Was retrieval easy? Not really. Wind was still strong (40-45 knots) and seas were still huge and getting steeper due to the shallowing depths as we got close to the coast - running out of sea room. Due to the noise from the wind and seas it was difficult to hear skipper's instructions from the bow to the helm and we fouled the rode on the propeller.

How big was the tear in the para-anchor? Two large, well frayed holes in two separate panels, between the venthole and the skirt.

Did the para-anchor save the boat? Absolutely!!! In the conditions we were caught in, we believe having our para-anchor set up, ready for deployment prior to leaving port, was crucial in the safe and easy deployment. Seas were huge - by far the biggest we had ever seen. Parachute rode was spanning one swell, being ripped out of the troughs and pulled taut. There was much white water being swept from the swell tops - large rolling loads of white water. Prisana II took many loads of white water across the deck, (maybe 2-3 feet of white water coming over the bow). The conditions were so bad that it was impossible to be anywhere on deck. We used a harness just to visit the cockpit - almost all of our time was spent below deck. The noise of the wind whirling outside was incredible.

We had a close encounter with a container ship slowly jogging into the storm, headed our way on the dawn of day two. Our radio contact was first answered by another ship, Australian, six miles away, and they informed us that this container ship was a foreign vessel, also mentioning that they didn't envy us one bit. After ten long minutes the container ship finally answered our call and his broken English caused us a minor panic - he didn't seem eager to alter his course! He told us he had no ballast and that he couldn't even see us! After persuading him to alter course by 10-15 degrees he passed us by only 0.4 nautical miles away - confirmed by our radar. The seas were so big that we were totally losing sight of this container ship (approx 400 foot long with an extensive bridge structure) behind the swells.

 

S/M-37 Monohull, Pearson 424C

PEARSON4S/M-37

Monohull, Pearson 424C

42' x 11 Tons, Low Aspect Fin Keel

18-Ft. Dia. Sea Anchor

Force 8-9 Conditions

 

File S/M-37, obtained from William T. Dwyer, Jr., Chicago, IL. - Vessel name Overdraft, hailing port Chicago, Pearson 424C cutter, designed by William Shaw, LOA 42.4' x LWL 33' 8" x Beam 13' x Draft 5' 6" x 11 Tons - Low aspect fin & skeg rudder - Sea anchor: 18-ft. Diameter Para-Tech on 300' x 5/8" nylon braid rode with 5/8" stainless steel swivel - Partial trip line - Deployed in a gale in deep water about 350 miles NW of Bermuda, with winds of 35-45 knots and seas of 12-20 feet - Vessel's bow yawed 20° - Drift was undetermined due to the proximity of the Gulf Stream.

The Gulf Stream is a 60-mile wide, swift (up to 5-knot) eastward flowing current. Past Cape Hatteras the stream is known to meander from side to side like a river. These meanders may change periodically, peeling off from the main body of the stream to form intense eddies. The eddies are sometimes called "rings." As the Stream moves eastward, warm rings are formed to its north and cold rings to its south. These discrete rings often migrate and meet back up with the main body of the Stream after months, or sometimes years.

Since the Gulf Stream transports warm water from southern latitudes one can usually tell whether one is entering or exiting it by the abrupt change in water temperature. At its edges, and deeper down, the Stream consists of a distinct, temperature gradient. This thermal gradient may extend deeper than 6000 ft. beneath the Stream.

Since cold water tends to dive beneath warm water, theoretically it may take a large sea anchor down with it - if it is deployed at an exact boundary zone. This is something that one has to be cautious of if one has to use a sea anchor in the Gulf Stream, especially in the fringes of a cold eddy. If this is the case one should rig a full trip line, one that allows the canopy to be readily tripped and retrieved without having to power up to the secondary float of a partial trip line. Otherwise the anchor may have to be cut away. There may be a possibility that this is what may have happened in the case of the S/V Overdraft. Transcript:

We departed Newport, RI on the afternoon of June 1, 1997 bound for the Mediterranean via the Azores. NOAA and a private weather forecaster called for NE winds 20-30 kts and recurring low pressure systems along a frontal boundary lying east to west along the 40th parallel, dropping to the southeast. Our plan was to sail SSE to approximately 38° N where we would cross the Gulf Stream and then sail SE until we encountered the westerlies. The going was rough, with winds from the NE higher than predicted.

Some time in the early morning of June 3, we entered the Gulf Stream heading south. Winds over the prior 24 hours had been NE at Force 6 to 7. Throughout the morning, winds increased to Force 8 to 9 with one observed gust of 55 kts apparent. We were sailing downwind in a following sea doing 8+ kts by the speedo. The waves became tall (10-12' with frequently higher waves of approximately 20'), and steep, as the seas ran counter to the Gulf Stream. Graybeards covered the sea as the tops of the waves broke against the current. We were sailing almost due south with the wind against the current, and although our knotmeter was registering hull speed, we were making approximately 4 kts over the bottom according to the GPS. I determined that we could not exit the Stream before nightfall on our current course, and decided to attempt to head ESE to escape these dangerous conditions before dark.

We proceeded ESE under staysail, deeply reefed main and engine to maintain as much directional control as possible. We took the non-breaking waves just aft of the beam and fell off to take the large breakers on our port quarter, or headed quickly up to take them at a 60° angle off the port bow. On three occasions when attempting to run off we were caught by a breaker and broached to starboard with the spreaders in the water and the wave breaking over the port side, filling the cockpit with 2½ feet of green water. By dusk we had reached the edge of the Gulf Stream, which we determined by a significant drop in water temperature. The waves became more trochoidal [rounded] in shape with fewer breakers. I decided at this point to set the sea anchor for the night as the crew had experienced miserable weather for three days and had no food or sleep for almost 24 hours.

An 18 foot Para-Tech sea anchor was deployed off the bow on 300' of 5/8" nylon braid line with 5/8" stainless swivel and no chain. The para-anchor had the standard float line with a 12" diameter plastic float buoy securely attached. After deployment the boat lay bow to the wind and did not yaw significantly from side to side, although Overdraft continued to pitch sharply, as the seas, while improved, were still quite steep. The boat lay to the sea anchor all night in winds of Force 7 decreasing to Force 6. Seas remained at about 8 feet.

At first light, we found that the rode was pointed downward at an angle of 35-45° off the port bow. Overnight the rode had chafed through the teak cap rail below the chock in an arc, cutting downward 3/4" to 1" into the wood. It was apparent that the boat was being pulled by the para-anchor in a northeasterly direction against the wind and sea. A comparison to the position check at the time the anchor was set showed we had move NE more than 3 nm overnight. The strain on the anchor rode was significant.

We attempted to retrieve the sea anchor by motoring in the direction of the anchor and pulling on the line - without success. The anchor seemed to dive deeper as we motored towards it, and we were only able to recover line as the boat rode down into a trough. As Overdraft rode back up the next crest, the rode was cleated and came under extreme tension with the anchor pulling downward on the bow. The wind was beginning to increase again and I feared that the crew attempting to retrieve the anchor by uncleating and cleating the line between waves could suffer serious hand injury, given the tension on the rode and the sea states. At this point I cut the anchor away. We had only recovered about 10 feet of line.

My supposition is that we had not sailed completely out of the Gulf Stream, and that the sea anchor was pulled downward by the northeasterly flowing current which may have been stronger at depth because of the counter-acting surface conditions caused by wind and waves. I do not believe the float became detached as it was securely tied and floating free upon deployment. Clearly, we were still in the influence of the Stream or we could not have moved northeast overnight against the wind and sea. An attempt to plot our position on a May 30th Gulf Stream analysis weather fax is enclosed, and it shows us at approximately the edge of the Stream on 0700 June 4. I find our overnight drift the more compelling evidence that we were still in the Stream because the potential plotting error of both the boat's position and the Gulf Stream location on this large scale fax is very large. For what it is worth, I don't believe setting the para-anchor in full current of the Gulf Stream in the conditions we experienced would have been a successful strategy. Because of the steepness of the seas and their frequent breaking, the boat would have taken a terrible pounding. The current would have pulled us NE into the seas, and because the anchor "dove," the bow would have been held down, further impeding the boat's ability to ride over the breaking seas. This experience has convinced me that (not even considering the loss of the gear) a sea anchor should not be set in a strong current running counter to the wind and seas except in a case of absolute last resort.

 

NOAA chart of the Gulf Stream for 30 May 1997.  X marks the location of Overdraft. (Courtesy of JENIFER CLARK'S GULFSTREAM).
NOAA chart of the Gulf Stream for 30 May 1997. X marks the location of Overdraft. (Courtesy of JENIFER CLARK'S GULFSTREAM).

CAUTION: Do not deploy a large sea anchor in the axis of a major current unless it is absolutely necessary. Use a full trip line if you do, else stand ready to cut away the rode if you are absolutely certain that a cold eddy is taking the parachute down into the depths. You will be able to tell that this is so when the main float begins submerging and then finally disappears, by the significant increase in the angle at which the rode is leading downward, and by an unmistakable downward pull on the bow of the vessel.

If you are in the vicinity of a major current and there is a gale on the way, the best strategy is to try to traverse the current at right angles and get well clear before deploying the sea anchor. By and large ocean currents are a mixed blessing. The free ride that they may provide can be very costly at times. Some experienced sailors prefer to stay out of them altogether. The Pardeys have this to say about major currents in Storm Tactics: "Another thing we've learned the hard way is to avoid the axis of major currents. Even though it is tempting to grab the free lift offered by the Gulf Stream, you increase your chances of meeting unusual weather patterns and rougher seas."

S/M-36 Arpège 29 Sloop

ARPEGES/M-36

Arpège 29 Sloop

29' x 3.6 Tons, Low Aspect Fin/Skeg

12-Ft. Dia. Sea Anchor

Force 8-9 Conditions

 

File S/M-36, obtained from Eleanor Tims, West Hagbourne, England - Vessel name Moon River, hailing port Southampton - Arpège sloop, designed by Dufour, LOA 29' x LWL 22' x Beam 10' x Draft 5' x 3.6 Tons - Low aspect fin keel & skeg rudder - Sea anchor: 12-ft. Diameter Para-Tech on 300' x 5/8" nylon braid rode with 1/2" stainless steel swivel - Partial trip line - Deployed in a gale in deep water about 50 miles north of Casablanca, with winds of 35-45 knots and confused seas - Vessel lay broadsides to the seas due to fouled sea anchor - Drift was about 80 n.m. in 32 hours.

Eleanor Tims has been a die-hard sailor for twenty years and has her own sailing school in the UK, offering practical boat handling and confidence-building courses. She has cruised her Dufour Arpège 30 out of Hythe Marina in England, sailing nearly 5,000 miles a year, now and then shaking a white-knuckled fist at Fastnet Rock on a passage to the fair harbors of Ireland, or waving a hasty goodbye to Ushant Island on a wind-driven - compulsive - jaunt to Santander harbor on the northern coast of Spain.

Eleanor is addicted to sailing. She has written many articles describing some of her hair-raising experiences at sea, the most infamous of which took place in the Bay of Biscay in 1994 - Force 9 and 25-foot seas, the mast about to come down, crew seasick, the diesel and the VHF dead, a roller furling genoa in ribbons and turned into screaming banshee, rocky islands and shoals looming close in the night, etc. etc.

Somehow the indefatigable, indomitable Eleanor Tims manages to emerge from such ordeals with a wave, a nod, a wink and a wicked sense of humor. Where would we all be without our sense of humor at sea?

In November 1996 Eleanor and friend Tom were sailing Moon River to the Canaries from the Moroccan harbor of Mohammedia when they ran into a gale and tried to deploy a sea anchor. What follows is a hard-won lesson that the lady would like to pass on to others:

We left Portugal for the Canaries with a favorable NE wind and decided to divert to Casablanca, Morocco, in order to break the long 600 mile leg into two stages and also to visit an "exotic" country. After leaving the harbor of Mohammedia our tack lay to the SW, but the wind, which had been from the NE for a long period, did a complete volte-face and came from the SW. I decided, nevertheless, to leave, as the forecast was for Force 5/6 and I thought that I could lay in a long tack to the NW and then to the South and perhaps the front would pass over in that time. However, things did not work out according to plan, as firstly there were very big seas running and secondly the wind increased past Force 6, to 7 and then 8. We were already becoming very tired and it was obvious that the time had come - indeed was past, as it was now dark - to put out the para-anchor.

Because it was dark, I took a long time in carefully preparing everything to ensure that is would run smoothly when launched, perhaps an hour. When I went up onto the foredeck, it was found that the deck-light was not functioning, so I had only the fitful light of a flashlight shone from the cockpit towards me. First of all I launched the pickup buoy and line, followed by the float buoy, but these were torn from my hands by the wind (nearly 40 knots) and by waves sweeping over the deck and over me. I then realized that the genoa furling line made things complicated and that I ought to have launched all this gear beneath the furling line instead of above it, so I pulled it in and tried to stuff it back into the sea under the line instead of over. Trying to do this caused a tremendous snarl-up, so I was forced into spending a long time lying sprawled on the deck in the almost continuous dark, with waves washing over me, trying to sort it all out. Eventually I decided I had it just about right and once more launched it all, following it finally with the para-anchor and 100 metres of rode. This done we turned in. However, things didn't seem right somehow. The bow was clearly not pointing into the waves, as every wave swept us over sideways, sometimes very nearly beam on, is how it felt. We were quite clearly lying ahull, and an inspection of the wind instrument confirmed that wind and waves were beam on. We passed an entirely wretched night, and were so tired the following day, with the wind steady at about 40 knots, that we were too tired to do anything much about remedying the situation. I did realize that the para-anchor hadn't opened, and as I could see both buoys close together, I also realized that the whole lot had snarled up together. We attached the rode to the [steel] anchor and let out a few metres of chain, so that it now ran out of the boat through the bow roller instead of through a deck fair-lead. This didn't improve things at all, in fact it probably worsened them, as I suffered some damage to the bow roller as a result. We had another perfectly horrible day, drifting backwards for the Strait of Gibraltar, far beyond our original starting point [more than 60 miles].

Day 3 saw me in more positive mood. "We have to get this thing in," I told Tom, so he did the muscle work. The wind was still 30+ knots and it took us about 50 minutes to bring the bundle in, and then the sad story could be seen. What had happened was that the tripping line had twisted round and round itself until it was as stiff and unwielding as a metal spring and that this metal-like mess had ensnarled with it some of the shroud lines of the para-anchor. (The latter had not opened - had just lain in the water like a lump of cloth). Later, on arriving at a harbor near Cadiz when I was able to put it all out onto a dock and try to disentangle it, I found I had to cut away the tripping line - it had practically fused into a couple of "springs." These had abraded 11 of the 12 shroud lines and had indeed broken three of them. I knew I should return it to the factory [for repairs] but I did not dare let it out of my hands. I knew I would need it again and I intended to use it again. So I took it to a local sailmaker, spread it out on his floor and we agreed as to how to repair it. He sewed some very strong sailmaker's tape into the shroud lines, restoring them all to a good state and ensuring that they were all the original length.

On Christmas day we left again for the Canaries. Same story. Weather got bad, decided to put out the para-anchor and this time to do so before dark. I had bought a new tripping line, 50 metres of floating line. This went out OK, then the float buoy.... Got the float out and the parachute. Absolutely brilliant! The bow came right round into the waves and yawed from side to side, but I could see the parachute had opened. Good, so far, I thought. I then uncleated the pickup buoy, stood up and tossed it into the sea over the pulpit. I had cleated off the anchor rode at about 20/30 metres, and was going to let more out in progressive lengths. However, I never got as far as that because in a twinkling the parachute had opened, the rode-tightened to steel-bar tautness, and, horror of horrors, not only was it leading OVER the pulpit, which folded down as if made of butter, but it was also once round the forestay and my precious furling gear. How that happened I have next to no idea because I thought I had been very careful... I think this story illustrates the dangerous effect of being tired and maybe also of being short-handed.

OK, still enough daylight, probably, to winch it in and start again. However, we were hampered by the weather conditions from doing anything at a reasonable sort of speed. Rain, like a dense monsoon, fell like rods of iron, flattening the sea, doing a sort of white-out and flattening me too! Eventually got the chute back on deck. Exhausted. And dark now. OK, why didn't I motor up to the pickup buoy and pick it up? Because as I hadn't stitched the damned knot up, just tied it to the [float-line] swivel, it had come undone and is now floating happily around the north Atlantic, trailing its new rope!

Well, it was dark, I was soaked and exhausted, and felt unable to sort out the mess of lines, so bungeed it all away and off we went into the night and Force 7/8 - increasing - big seas, 4-6 metres. Later the night turned into a nightmare. I was making very poor progress with small sails, only about 2 knots, and a ship (whose Officer on Watch was clearly not on watch as I even fired a flare) collided with us! In order to prevent the mast from falling (an upper shroud was torn away) I decided to go back - 200 miles - to Cadiz. I think I am lucky to be alive, as after that the wind increased to 40+ kn steadily, gusting up to 55, and we had to hand-steer under the most minute sails, in waves that must have been 8-10 metres high....

Somehow - by hook or by crook - Eleanor managed to outdo Neptune and bring her ship back into safe harbor at Cadiz, whence she contacted Victor Shane. Shane then passed her feedback on to Don Whilldin of Para-Tech Engineering in Colorado.

Although it would appear that in this case the para-anchor and float line assembly may have been fouled even as they hit the water, Whilldin nevertheless went to work on the design of the Deployment Bag, to see if there was any way in which he could somehow further reduce the chances of float line foul-ups. The simplest solution, of course, would have been to forego the float-line altogether. Unfortunately the float line and float are necessary to keep larger para-anchors from sinking straight down when the wind dies.

So Whilldin made a modification to the deployment bag instead. The thirty feet or so of colored float line, previously coiled outside the Deployment Bag, is now tucked into a "kangaroo pouch" under it. With this minor design change there is less chance of float line foul-ups. Whilldin reasons that once the parachute has opened up and is under stable tension the chances of float line foul-ups are greatly reduced. Likely most of those foul-ups occur in the pre-inflation stage, when the parachute is a shapeless mess of loose cloth and shrouds.

Don Whilldin sent the English lady stranded in Spain a brand new sea anchor, in appreciation of her contribution to design improvement. The redoubtable Eleanor Tims has since crossed the Atlantic.

S/M-35 Fast 40 Sloop

FAST40S/M-35

Fast 40 Sloop

40' x 3 Tons, Lifting Keel

12-Ft. Dia. Sea Anchor

Force 7-8 Conditions

 

File S/M-35, obtained from Robert J. Bragan, Bethesda MD. - Vessel name Javelin, hailing port West River - Fast 40 sloop, designed by Alan Adler, LOA 40' x LWL 36' x Beam 8' x Draft 7.5' (with keel down) x 3 Tons - Lifting keel (fiberglass-encapsulated 2000 lb. lead bulb on end) - Sea anchor: 12-ft. Diameter Para-Tech on 300' x 5/8" nylon braid rode with 1/2" stainless steel swivel - No trip line - Deployed in a gale in deep water about 300 miles west of Bermuda, with winds of 30-40 knots and seas of 12-15 feet - Vessel's bow yawed 30° with riding sail on backstay - Drift was about 5 n.m. during 12 hours at sea anchor.

An ultralight ocean racer designed by Alan Adler, this yacht was one of fifteen Fast 40's built in the 1980's by North End Shipyards of Rockland, Maine. Given her narrow beam, slender profile, low displacement, and high-tech construction, she was aptly named Javelin by her owner.

En route to Bermuda in May 1996, Javelin ran into bad weather and hove to a sea anchor. After the weather moderated she got underway again. And that's when her 2000 lb. lifting keel fell off. The yacht rolled over and subsequently had to be abandoned. Rob Bragan's brief hand-written note on the back of the DDDB form reads, "the 12 ft. sea anchor performed beautifully once anchor riding sail set on backstay."

The following is a transcript of Rob Bragan's article about the incident, appearing in the September/October 1996 issue of Ocean Navigator (reproduced by permission of Ocean Navigator Magazine):

We sailed Javelin extensively on the [Chesapeake] bay in all sorts of weather, including winter gales. Experience caused us to add stand-up blocks on the cabin top for double-sheeting the trysail, as well as a 12-foot Para-Tech sea anchor, a wind vane self steering system, anchor riding sail, detachable furling system for the Yankee jib, and many other improvements. In two years I hauled the boat twice, initially for a survey that found no problems and later to fair and paint the keel and hull. The keel assembly [2000 lb. fiberglass encapsulated lead bulb] was inspected each time, but only after losing Javelin did I learn that the previous owner had found broken bolts among those that secure the Delrin blocks and had replaced all four bolts twice. (A good maintenance log might have saved the boat by recording such details for subsequent owners).

On Friday, May 24, 1996, after picking up a rented Viking life raft and an ACR Type B 121.5/243 MHz EPIRB (406 MHz units cannot be rented) from Outfitters/USA services in Annapolis, we left our mooring in Galesville, MD....

Transitioning from Chesapeake Bay sailing to ocean sailing as night fell, we left the coast behind. Our course of 150° magnetic led to a waypoint NE of Cape Hatteras where the [Gulf] stream was only 80 nautical miles wide.... A pod of 30 to 50 spotted dolphins greeted us as we entered the stream, and they stayed until a tail slapped to starboard calling them off to the south. Were they moving away from impending bad weather?

The wind strengthened from the NNE on May 30, reaching a sustained 28 to 32 knots (Force 7) at the masthead anemometer by afternoon. The sea state increased from a few feet in the morning to 10 to 15 feet with occasionally larger, breaking waves, by evening. The 65° water temperature, knotmeter, and GPS readings all suggested we were in the wrong quadrant of a cold eddy which was aggravating the sea state. We put the second drop boards in place, secured the sliding hatch and hand-steered a beam reach, turning up and over bigger waves. The back sides of some waves were as steep as the fronts, requiring another turn at the wave top to set a good angle down the back and avoid slamming the boat....

After battling the waves for hours, the prospects of further exhausting ourselves with hand steering or deploying a drogue and losing miles by running off to the SSW were unacceptable. Lying ahull or heaving to were out of the question since Javelin had been too lively in past attempts and since the steep, breaking waves could roll the boat if she were caught broadside. Our position was approximately 400 miles from Bermuda, 10 to 20 nm south of the rhumb line. It was the right time to deploy the sea anchor. I had made up a dual-purpose sea anchor/drogue bridle of 3/4 inch three strand nylon line a few weeks before that would be strong and resist chafe. The bridle, shackled to stainless steel lifting plates on the aft end of the keel case, ran forward and through the rubber bow anchor rollers, terminating in a heavy thimble clamped in place. Three hundred feet of 5/8-inch braided nylon anchor rode was now shackled between the bridle thimble and the sea anchor. Strong attachment points on the boat, chafe protection, and a long, braided elastic rode are necessary components of a sea anchor system.

Deployment involved Tim's steering us through a 150° turn to point up into the wind, at which time I fed out the sea anchor float, trip line, deployment bag, and rode from the bow. The boat immediately fell off onto port tack before Tim could drag the trysail down. I fed rode and Tim wrestled sail until finally the rode came taught and we were pulled around.... A few minutes after the messy set, we were riding to the sea anchor and Javelin began her anchor dance. She was sailing through a 90° arc, so that breaking waves threatened to throw her sideways.... Setting the 15- to 20 square-foot anchor riding sail on the backstay with double sheets led forward to the toerails reduced the boat's arc to less than 60°.... With the cockpit secured, we closed ourselves up inside the boat to rest. Both the boat and we had taken a pounding during the last 12 hours. We needed food and sleep....

The next day and a half brought NE winds at 18 to 25 knots and six-to 10-foot seas, so we recovered the sea anchor and set sail that day, continuing on through the night making good speed and staying on course. We lay to the sea anchor on the night of June 1 as the wind clocked to east and strengthened. On June 2 we again set sail, but 20 to 30 knots of wind out of the ESE nearly halted our progress, and we made only 40 nm to the south. Early that evening we again set the sea anchor to hold our position while awaiting a better wind direction. Sounds from the keel that were louder than usual caused Tim to raise it into its case for support....

We awoke on the morning of June 3 to the first beautiful day of the trip. The wind had rounded to the SW at last and moderated to 10 knots. The sky was clear for the first time, the waves were running three to five feet and we only had a couple of hundred miles to go.... We lowered the keel and put the aluminum brace back in place.... Upon recovering the sea anchor, we raised the mainsail. As it filled, the boat heeled a little... a lot... and continued to lay over until flat on her side. It happened so gently.... After pausing for a few seconds, Javelin finished turning turtle, leaving us alongside trying to comprehend what had happened in less than a minute. We climbed onto the hull and peered into the empty keel case. The four bolts that had secured the keel to the Delrin blocks on either side were sheared off, leaving the heads on one side, tails on the other, and nothing but air in between....

After getting over the initial shock, Rob Bragan and son Tim inflated the life raft and quickly resigned themselves to the serious business of survival, diving and retrieving 20 gallons of water, food, blankets etc. from Javelin's upturned hull. The EPIRB was then turned on and the raft allowed to drift free of the mothership.

A short while later they spotted a passing ship and fired off parachute flares, but it did not see them. Just before sunset however, a Coast Guard C-130 roared overhead. Crew members on the aircraft reportedly saw Javelin's upturned hull first, and Bragan reckons that they should have remained tethered to the hull for as long as possible to be easier to see. Later the Italian bulk carrier Ursa Major was diverted to the scene and plucked the waterlogged sailors out of the Atlantic.

S/M-34 Tahitian Ketch

ORCAS/M-34

Tahitian Ketch

55' x 40 Tons, Full Keel

24-Ft. Dia. Sea Anchor

Force 12 + Conditions

 

File S/M-34, obtained from Robin and Maggi Ansell, Campbell River, B.C. - Vessel name ORCA, hailing port George Town (Cayman Islands) - Tahitian Ketch, designed by R. Hartley, LOA 55' x LWL 47' x Beam 13' 6" x Draft 7' x 40 Tons - Full keel - Sea anchor: 24-ft. Diameter Para-Tech on 500' x 1" nylon braid rode with 5/8" stainless steel swivel - No trip line - Deployed in cyclone Justin in deep water about 200 miles off the coast of Queensland, with winds of 65-85 knots and seas of 33-40 feet - Vessel's bow yawed 25°- Drift was 80 n.m. during 53 hours at sea anchor.

ORCA was on the Pacific leg of her planned circumnavigation when she was caught in the web of cyclone Justin 200 miles off the Queensland coast. The largest cyclone in 20 years, Justin caused millions of dollars in damage, capsized barges, left two people dead, twenty three missing and many homeless. Scores of RAAF and US fighter aircraft and fifty warships had to be evacuated from Townsville as Justin tore into a massive joint military exercise - Operation Tandem Thrust.

ORCA might have emerged intact had the cyclone moved on, instead of stalling overhead. Finding themselves boxed in against the Great Barrier Reef, ORCA's skipper and first mate decided to put down the sea anchor.

"Without the sea anchor, they would have found us on the reef," said owner Robin Ansell in a telephone conversation with Victor Shane.

Deployment of the large sea anchor and 500' of 1-inch line was difficult and further exacerbated by some sort of toxic, chemical mist emanating from the wet rope itself. All told ORCA remained tethered to the sea anchor for 53 hours, lying about 50° to the wind (no bridle).

One can only imagine what the conditions must have been like. In an interview with the Townsville Bulletin, Robin and Maggi said "It was like the water was boiling... it didn't have a pattern to the swell. It just hit us from all sides."

The yacht was eventually holed by a rogue wave. "We were hit by a wave which put a hole in the galley and a similar rogue wave tore two ventilator boxes off the deck. We tried to stuff them to stop the water coming in but we realized we couldn't keep up with it."

The couple had to put out a Mayday. Senior Queensland Emergency Services helicopter pilot Peter Hope said it was the worst weather he had ever flown in. He said, "The majority of the swells were 10m but the mast of the yacht was 18m and there were times when you couldn't see it over the top of the waves." Here is a transcript of the DDDB file Shane obtained from Robin and Maggi Ansell:

We were already in very rough sea conditions when we deployed the para-anchor, because for as long as was viable, we motored across the seas to give us as much distance from the Great Barrier Reef as possible. We deployed it through our starboard side bow roller, and once the parachute had opened up, gradually let out the line by having it wound round the mooring bits. The scariest part of the whole thing was being temporarily blinded, which appeared to be caused by the acrid-tasting spray emanating from the rope, which was wet from the rain and salt spray, and squeezed out as a fine mist when it was pulled extremely tight as it was being run out round the mooring bits when we were struggling to let out the line with some control.... In any case, it is a potentially lethal situation, when one can only see vague shapes, and it is impossible to read instruments, etc. for 24-36 hours. (I couldn't even read the bright green of the radar screen). The absolute agony of the burning feeling under the eyelids, and the constant running of the eyes trying to rid themselves of the foreign matter was unbelievable, similar to a severe case of "arc eye." Fortunately we just stayed on the para-anchor, and vision started improving after 24 hours. There was absolutely no possibility in our weather conditions of being able to go forward each hour to check for chafe, also the load on the anchor line made the line like a steel rod, and one could never have got any slack to be able to replace a chafe guard. Realizing this from the start, Robin attached a ten foot length of half-inch section anchor chain to the eye of the line, which ran through the starboard bow roller. This took care of the chafe, as it was impossible to go forward again as far as the bow during the rest of the 53 hours at anchor before our rescue. The next day, only by peering through the window by the internal steering station, when the vessel was at the bottom or top of a trough, could we sometimes catch sight of the white line leading away from the boat. Then as vision improved we could watch the drift on the GPS, which seemed to average out at about 1.5 knots.

We had deployed the whole 500 feet of line, which probably was not enough in those conditions, but once deployed, it was too dangerous to consider adding further line (of which we actually had another 800 feet). Also we did not employ chain for catenary, on this our first use of the anchor. We would guess that the wave length was probably about 150 feet. The rescue pilot said that the yacht was coming off the waves at 12 knots, since he had to reverse at 12 knots to maintain distance from the top of the mast as we rolled up the waves. He was probably hovering at about 100 feet from the water, and the top of our mast was 70 feet from the water.

There were occasional maverick waves, which were double-crested. The result of which was that we rolled over the first crest straight into the advancing front of the second crest, instantly halting the vessel's roll. Roll rate was up to something like 60 degrees per second, so not only were tons of green water dumped over the vessel but the impact on the hull and superstructure was phenomenal. This is what lifted sealed and battened-down hatches pouring in gallons of water and later broke the galley portlight, and subsequently ripped off the starboard dorades and smashed the safety line stanchions. We probably had about 6 [rogue waves] during the 53 hours before being rescued, each sounding and feeling as if one had been hit by an express train. Each increased in severity until the last two were responsible for the physical damage to the vessel.

Once we had issued the Mayday, we spoke via Townsville Radio and subsequently Sydney Radio to the rescue operations center at Canberra, and were informed that a rescue operation was being put in hand. Within an hour we heard that there was a US Hercules in the area to locate us, that a Rescue Helicopter had departed Townsville with an ETA at our position in 50 minutes, and that a Flying Doctor Service Beechcraft King Air with life rafts would be on station if the helicopter had to abort. We activated our Class 1, Type 406 Satellite EPIRB when instructed. Later we were told by our rescuers that without the EPIRB there was no way they could have located us in such atrocious conditions. We then followed their instructions to the letter, to enable the rescue to take place.

We were rescued on 9th March. We have subsequently heard that Townsville took a double hit from Cyclone Justin on 22nd March and suffered significant damage. For a couple of days following our rescue, Townsville Radio issued the position of ORCA as a hazard to shipping. Then the bulletins stopped, and she is assumed sunk.

ORCA of George Town. This Tahitian Ketch used a 24-ft. diameter sea anchor to stand off the Great Barrier Reef in cyclone Justin. "There was absolutely no possibility in our weather conditions of being able to go forward each hour to check for chafe.... Realizing this from the start, Robin attached a ten foot length of half-inch section anchor chain to the eye of the line, which ran through the starboard bow roller." (Maggi Ansell photo).
ORCA of George Town. This Tahitian Ketch used a 24-ft. diameter sea anchor to stand off the Great Barrier Reef in cyclone Justin. "There was absolutely no possibility in our weather conditions of being able to go forward each hour to check for chafe.... Realizing this from the start, Robin attached a ten foot length of half-inch section anchor chain to the eye of the line, which ran through the starboard bow roller." (Maggi Ansell photo).

S/M-33 Gaff Rigged Ketch

GAFFS/M-33

Gaff Rigged Ketch

38' x 19 Tons, Full Keel

15-Ft. Dia. Sea Anchor

Force 5 Conditions

File S/M-33, obtained from Roger and Debi Brown, Port Townsend, WA. - Vessel name Tropic Tramp, hailing port Port Townsend - One-off gaff-rigged ketch, designed by Paul Snow, LOA 38' x LWL 35' x Beam 12' x Draft 6' x 19 Tons - Full keel - Sea anchor: 15-ft. Diameter Para-Tech on 400' x 3/4" nylon braid rode and 80' of chain, with 5/8" stainless steel swivel - Partial trip line - Deployed in a low system in deep water in the Tuamotus about 300 miles NE of Tahiti, with winds of 20 knots and seas of 15 feet - Vessel's bow yawed 10° - Drift was 16 n.m. during 44 hours at sea anchor.

On her passage to Tahiti, Tropic Tramp ran into a gale in the Tuamotus and hove-to for a night under sails. With 15-20 foot seas still running and the wind contrary, the sea anchor was then deployed to anchor this classic, gaff-rigged ketch to the misnamed Pacific and wait for better conditions. Tropic Tramp stayed "anchored" for two days and two nights. Transcript:

We deployed the sea anchor for several reasons.

1) First time use and sea conditions were right.

2) We hove-to [with sails alone] and found we drifted more than we felt comfortable with.

3) Our jib needed a lot of restitching.

4) We were gaff-rigged and headed west towards Tahiti, the winds were out of the west, and being a perfect gentleman beating into that didn't seem like a lot of fun.

I felt this had all the qualifications for deploying our sea anchor. The storm had been at gale force during the night and our heading to get us past the atoll was not bad. We felt we had sea room by now, and no current. Plus, the worst of the storm had passed. Deployment went easy and as planned. We used 400' of rode and 80' of our 3/8" chain, and a 70 lb. anchor, which gave us a great rest. No jerking. The 50' [partial] trip line let us retrieve effortlessly.

After 44 hours, seas were flat, wind SE at 12 knots. A perfect sail into Tahiti, fully rested. Caught two 42" wahoos! A lot of other boats were very interested in all the "facts" of our experience at sea anchor.