D/M 23 Bruce Roberts V388

D/M 23

Monohull, Bruce Roberts Voyage 388 cutter

39' (12m) x 23 Tonnes, Fin keel

Jordan Series Drogue

Force 9+ Conditions

File D/M-23, obtained from Rob Skelly, Canada -  Vessel name Pauline Claire, hailing port Vancouver, monohull steel hulled cutter designed by Bruce Roberts and built by Rob Skelly himself, LOA 39' (12m) x LWL 34' x Beam 13'  (4m) x Draft 6' 10"  (2.1m) x 23 tonnes - Fin keel - Drogue: Jordan Series Drogue  100'  leader followed by 130 cones  on 7/8" (22mm) nylon double braid rode plus 6.8kg lead weight with 24' (7m) bridles of 7/8" 3-strand nylon - Deployed in  deep water 120 miles south of Madegascar while singlehanded midway on passage  from Reunion to Durban in winds of 50+ knots  and breaking seas of 16 - 23 ft. (5 -7m) - Speed was reduced to about 2.5 knots during 36 hours of deployment. Total drift was about 70 nm. 

Having built his boat himself, Pauline Claire ended up being considerably heavier than the design specifications. Rob then set off  from British Columbia, Canada, on a circumnavigation with no previous sailing experience.  All was well until the Indian Ocean when he was notified by his shore-based sister of the oncoming gale that he could not avoid at his cruising speed.

Rob's Jordan Series Drogue was permanently set up with the bridles in place attached by spliced eyes to  the cleats welded to the aft quarters. Below the cleats on each side were vents that opened below into the engine room. These vents were quickly ripped off by the bridles once the drogue was deployed. After that there was nothing to chafe the bridles and, fortunately, there were no waves that pooped the stern that might have flooded the engine room through the now missing vents.

The drogue itself was stored in a locker on the deck above the transom from where it could be quickly thrown aft into the water.

Knowing the storm was coming, Rob was running downind under bare poles and auto pilot. The wind vane was pinned to lock the hydrovane runner amidships. The wind at this point was maybe 45 kts but the waves had not yet built to maximum.

The drogue was then deployed by throwing out the weight. The drogue rushed out, but two of the cones did snag (and tear) on the swim platform on the way out.

Once the drogue was out everything settled down. Autopilot was turned off, and Rob retired below from where he could watch the drogue through his Lexan companionway hatch. He was then able to sleep and send emails to his sisters by Iridium to reassure them that life was getting to be 'a bit of a drogue'.

The drogue would cycle between full load and slack as the waves passed by underneath. When under full load the bridle would be fully stretched out, once the load reduced the bridle would then retract and twist over itself. This did not seem to affect the performance of the drogue but might, over time, have caused some chafing issues though none was noted.

After two nights the wind had dropped and progressively eased to 15 kts while the seas continue to be large. Because the boat speed had dropped, there were times when the drogue was quite slack and, because of the movement of the boat in the waves actually got wrapped around the hydrovane rudder.  Once the load came on again the rudder was taking all the strain. Rob attempted to unwrap it but was unable to do some. Eventually, fortunately, during a slack period on a wave it did unhook itself.

The drogue was rigged with a strong recovery line attached to the V of the bridle. This long line was brought back to a which with which Rob was able to then haul in the drogue while the bridles remained attached to the cleats.

Once the bridle V was onboard, the bridle arms were disconnected from the cleats and the rest of the drogue was winched on board in sync with the slack from the waves, hand-tailing as the cones would not go through the self-tailer. Totaly recover time was maybe two hours.

Lessons Learned

  1.  The number of cones used were correct for the design weight of the boat. However, the boat ended up being much heavier than intended and so the number of cones was insufficient. This resulted in a speed of 2.5kts  instead of 1.5kts when on the drogue.  Since he was headed in the right direction anyway this was not of any concern. Rob has since had another 25 cones added.
  2. Rob also changed the 3-strand bridles into double braid (25mm) to prevent the twisting.
  3. He has also added another 8 lbs (3.6kg) of lead to the end of the drogue, separated from the other one by about 6' (2m). These are shackled to an eye splice at the end of the rode.
  4. The vents have been replaced with flat deck plates so there is nothing to snag.
  5. Rob has not yet figured out how to solve the problem of the cleats on the swim deck snagging the cones on deployment.
  6. There is a small wooden platform on the hydrovane on which one can step while pinning the vane in place. This had a sharp corner which also snagged a cone on deployment. That has now been rounded off.
  7. Rob recommends retrieving the drogue as soon as possible when conditions improve. so as to prevent the risk of it wrapping around a rudder.

Having discovered that the retieval was not as hard as expected, especially with the retrieval line going to the V of the bridle, Rob has no hesitation in using the drogue.

D/M-21 Seastream 43

D/M 21

Monohull, Ian Anderson SeaStream 43 MKIII Cutter

43' (13m) x 18 Tons, Fin Keel 

Jordan Series Drogue

Force 9+ Conditions

File D/M-21, obtained from Tim Good, UK- Vessel name Shadowfax, hailing port Falmouth, monohull cutter designed by Ian Anderson and built by Seastream, LOA 43' x LWL 36' x Beam 13' 9" x Draft 6' 6" x 18 Tons - Fin keel - Drogue: Jordan Series Drogue on 360' (110m) x 7/8" (22mm)  nylon double braid rode plus 14kg chain - Deployed in  deep water just south of Madeira while singlehanded midway on passage upwind from Canary Islands to Azores in winds of 45+ knots  and breaking seas of 16 - 23 ft. (5 -7m) - Speed was reduced to about 1.5 knots during 36 hours of deployment. Total drift was about 42 nm. Yacht was pooped by a large breaking wave once.

Tim Good has over 20,000 miles of experience, mostly in the East Atlantic and North Sea, but this was his first singlehanded passage. After his mainsail was split by the wind, and then his engine died owing to a fuel pump fault, Tim was unable to heave-to, and so chose to deploy the drogue to minimise his downwind drift:

I was sailing singlehanded upwind to the Azores from Gran Canaria. I knew that a strong blow was forecast to arrive as I passed Madeira. I decided to continue on rather than stop in the shelter of Madeira. The blow was stronger than forecast and around dusk I decided to reduce sail and heave-to when the wind had picked up to 45 kts sustained.

While reducing sail, my mailsail split down the middle, making it impossible to heave to. I tried to make headway with staysail and engine at around 45 degrees to the sea. Breaking waves were knocking the bow off but the engine kept correcting. Around 1am the engine stopped due to a leaking lift pump and I had no option but to turn and run with the sea and wind. I decided then to deploy the JSD which was in a 100L drybag in the cockpit and the bridles already rigged. 

I had around 14kg of chain on the end and I threw this over the stern. The JSD then deployed out of the bag smoothly with no chaffe or handling. The boat slowed to around 1.5-2kts. 

The waves were strangely large and frequently breaking for the windspeed. They'd had a long fetch to gather size from NW Spain. Presumably as a result from the acceleration around Madeira it increased their size. Difficult to say the size. Perhaps 5-7m?

About 45 mins after being on the drogue a big wave pooped over the stern filling the very large cockpit. I got pooped a few times but nothing as large as that.

I had no issues with chaffe since I have large overhanging chainplates which prevent any chaffe and strong crosby shackles, rated with a breaking strength in excess of half the displacement of the boat.

After approx 36 hours I retrieved it single-handed in around 1.5hours. It was easier than I had anticipated as the leader would go around my main winch and with each wave, the leader would slacken sufficiently to winch in a meter or so.

I continued on to the Azores and had the mainsail repaired.

I made a video of the account here which includes info about the deployment, chainplates and bridle setup. 

My chainplate design can be seen here:

Tim's video is highly informative and demonstrates how well he had prepared his boat in advance of any extreme conditions. Like all of us he had hoped never to need to use the equipment he installed but, as we can see here, his preparations resulted in easy and stress-free management of the conditions. In fact, this is probably the best prepared boat of all our drogue reports, and the result of that is clear to see. His solution for preventing chafe is excellent. Yes, it was probably quite expensive to build and install, but completely eliminates the problem.

Had he not been so well prepared his experience would have been way more challenging. Once again the need for propert preparation is made.

S/M-39 Lotus 9.2 Cutter


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.


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-25 Valiant 40 Cutter


Valiant 40 Cutter

40' x 14 Tons, Low Aspect Fin/Skeg

28-Ft. Dia. Parachute Sea Anchor

Force 10-11 Conditions

File S/M-25, obtained from Jim & Lyn Foley, San Lorenzo, CA. - Vessel name Sanctuary, hailing port Alameda, Valiant cutter, designed by Robert Perry, LOA 40' x LWL 34' x Beam 12' x Draft 6' x 14 Tons - Low aspect fin keel & skeg rudder- Sea anchor: 28-ft. Diameter C-9 military class parachute on 300' x 5/8" nylon three strand rode with 1/2" stainless steel swivel - No trip line - Deployed in a storm in deep water about 300 miles north of Bermuda with winds of 55-70 knots and seas of 24 feet - Vessel's bow yawed 20° - Due to the Gulf Stream drift was 15 miles to windward in 4 hours.

Sanctuary, a sea-kindly Perry-designed Valiant 40 was en route to the Azores from Florida when she ran into a northeasterly storm in the Gulf Stream. The stream was flowing exactly contrary to the wind at a current speed of five knots! One can only imagine the hell that Sanctuary must have gone through on the night of 28 May 1995. Transcript:

While crossing the Atlantic in May 1995 we encountered a Force 10 storm, an occurrence we will never forget nor care to repeat. Sailing east at approx. 38° 45' N, 63° 58' W, we enjoyed the fast moving east setting current and warm waters of the Gulf Stream. Dolphins played in our bow wake, tunas were jumping and the birds were fishing. With hardly a breath of wind, we attributed most of Sanctuary's forward progress of 6.5 knots to the Gulf Stream.

The morning weather report from NMN (Norfolk, VA) included gale warnings for 40° north, 60° west, with forecast winds of 35-40 knots, seas 14-16 feet. The gale was indicated moving ENE at approx. 15 knots, and had a 200 miles semi-circle of influence to its southeast. In other words, we were some 75 nm behind the gale, and proceeding towards it at about 6 knots [while it was moving away at 15 knots]. We plotted the parameters of the Gulf Stream as reported by NMN. The stream's main body was moving northeast above 40° N, and then curving back down to 39° N, creating a bend or bight in its eastward flow. While we realized that we were sailing into the lower semi-circle of the gale, we hated to give up the favorable current and thought we could ride the tail feathers of the forecasted gale as it moved forward of us. It did not occur to us that the gale would stall in the bight of the stream and build to storm force before the day was out.

Early in the afternoon a northeast swell began to rise and fall with no wind to show for it. suddenly the blue sunny skies disappeared, winds picked up to 25, then 30 knots, increasing steadily. Seas had risen by that time to 10-12 feet. Accordingly, we kept busy reefing down our full flying sails, until we carried our smallest storm sail plan - a triple-reefed main and a storm staysail.

As conditions worsened we hove-to using the two sails, thinking the "gale" would move eastward. We planned to sit tight until it passed - but the Gulf Stream current held us in the trough more than our sails could hold us into the steep, confused, falling and breaking seas. Then the northeast wind increased to a dramatic 55 or more knots. At the crest of waves Sanctuary would round up, get knocked back and over. We had one very dangerous Chinese jibe - a wave broke on us, knocked our stern around and the cockpit filled with green water.

We decided to lower the sails and set the parachute sea anchor. With 55 knots and more of wind, it was a challenge to get the sails down. As Jim struggled on the wheel, Lyn managed to douse the main and staysail, staying on the deck thanks to harness and tether. We then deployed the 28-ft. diameter C-9 military parachute - with 1/2" stainless steel swivel and 300' of 5/8" three strand nylon rode. The rode was led from the port side bulwarks hawsepipe, aft to the primary winch and cleat.

We deployed the parachute to windward, with no problem, but the line went taut so fast and so tight that we couldn't get the double-lined fire hose chafe gear in place. We tried motoring up on the anchor to relieve pressure - but with 55 knots of wind on the nose, and the parachute in 5 knots of opposing current pulling us INTO the wind and waves, we couldn't get the rode to slacken. We were unable to uncleat and unwind the rode from the winch, slip the chafe gear on, rewinch and recleat it. The rode was so taut instantly that we could see the 3-strand 5/8" nylon reducing in diameter. It was stretching down to 1/2" or less. We felt the rode wouldn't last long, and carefully stood clear of the line.

This line was brand new, never used before, dedicated to the para-anchor. We held 30 feet of the bitter end in the cockpit in reserve, and let out about a foot every 20-30 minutes to combat chafe. Meanwhile, as we worried about chafe, the para-anchor was working beautifully. The boat rode up the face of the waves, punching through their tops as the huge seas rolled under us. No more green water came on board, no more near knock-downs. For four hours we rested below, taking turns watching and letting out the rode to combat chafe. But in spite of our efforts the line parted after an especially strong gust, and the sea anchor was gone.

We fearfully lay a-hull until first light, then turned and ran before the waves, towing warps in an attempt to break up the curlers before they broke on us. We trailed 300 foot lines, with fenders and heavy gear in their bights. Lyn stood and looked aft, watching the waves and warning Jim as he steered down their faces. We were pooped several times in the next few hours. The seas were too strong for Lyn to steer, and we were both exhausted. Luckily, a few hours later we broke free of the Gulf Stream and the storm moved on.

We heard officially on that morning weather broadcast from NMN that the "gale" had been upgraded to a Force 10 storm, carrying winds up to 70 knots. We don't believe we experienced winds that high, however, using our stern-mounted radar arch as a measure, we know we had seas of 20 feet.

What we learned: When we heard the gale forecast, we should have changed course to leave the Gulf Stream and its five-knot current. We believe the rode parted because: 1) The parachute was too big for our boat - that the current actually pulled us forward at more than 3 knots, instead of actually stopping the boat or truly "heaving-to." 2) No chafe protection on the rode. 3) Unusual circumstances of extreme current and opposing seas and winds.

We will purchase a smaller diameter parachute. We will use 600 feet of 7/8" nylon line for the rode. Since the incident we have read Lin and Larry Pardey's Storm Tactics Handbook and discussed what happened. Due to what we learned from them and our experience, we plan to add a bridle as they describe, with a snatch block over the rode and a turning block at the bow - and have heavy duty chafe gear in place before deployment.

It is Victor Shane's considered opinion that if Sanctuary had deployed the given parachute on a much longer rode, with adequate chafe gear, this might have been one of the most remarkable files in the S/M section of the Drag Device Data Base. In some respects it still is.

S/M-23 Tayana 42 Cutter


Tayana 42 Cutter

42' x 15 Tons, Full Keel & Cutaway Forefoot

18-Ft. Dia. Sea Anchor

Force 8-9 Conditions


File S/M-23, obtained from Captain Robert Proulx, Homer, Alaska - Vessel name Even Star, hailing port Homer, Tayana cutter designed by Bob Harris, LOA 42' x LWL 35' x Beam 12' x Draft 6' x 15 Tons - Full keel & cutaway forefoot - Sea anchor: 18-ft. Diameter Para-Tech on 400' x 5/8" nylon braid and 200' of chain with 5/8" custom-made bronze ball bearing swivel - Partial trip line - Deployed in a gale in deep water about 60 miles west of Humboldt Bay, California, with winds of 40-45 knots and seas of 15-20 feet - Vessel's bow yawed 20° - Drift was about 12 n.m. during 72 hours at sea anchor.

Captain Bob Proulx is a veteran of the Alaskan fisheries - the owner of a 105-ft. fishing vessel working the Bering Sea. He is also a marine safety instructor and an avid sailor. In this file he provides a sobering tale of what one might be getting oneself into when one asks the Coast Guard for assistance in marginal situations. Forewarned is forearmed!

My family and I decided to put commercial fishing "on hold" and go sailing. The early part of our voyage was great as we cruised the inland waters of the Pacific Northwest. Our story begins as we set sail southbound from Newport, Oregon on July 12. Winds were light, 10-15 NW, but began to build by evening, reaching sustained 30 from NW. By 2300 hrs. it didn't look like conditions would improve, so we shortened sail and decided to try out our new parachute sea anchor. Better try it out now, than have to sort out glitches when we absolutely have to use it. Deployed the sea anchor on 400' of rode, the bitter end secured to the 66 lb. Bruce anchor on the bow roller. It stabilized the boat and we were pretty comfortable, despite the 30+ winds and 15 foot seas. I lashed the helm, took the pendulum off the windvane and secured it to the rail.

Overnight the weather worsened. The barometer hadn't dropped and the weatherfax wasn't showing anything, so I though it would all be over in a few hours. I had all the hatches dogged down and all the vents capped off, just in case. The seas and swell built to 18-20 ft. and the wind was on the increase.

At first light I checked the rode and damn if it wasn't chafed at the thimble by the anchor on the bow roller. So I let out the anchor and 50 feet of chain. This eased the motion of the boat noticeably. The wind increased to 40 knots and higher. This was beginning to remind me of Bering Sea weather, having the earmarks of a good blow. But at least it was warm and everyone on board was in good spirits. The swells and the seas were getting farther apart and the boat more uncomfortable, so I let out more chain - now about 200 feet. The boat then began to yaw noticeably [too much chain out - review page 3.14].

We experienced some waves breaking forward of mid-ships, port and starboard, and on our stern quarter. Next, our rudder cable parted with a loud crack. I got the emergency tiller, put it on the shaft and lashed it secure. A wave broke over the starboard side at about a 30° angle and knocked the wind vane mast down. Before I could get a line on it another wave carried it away....

We had been on the sea anchor for better than 48 hours with not much to eat. My family wasn't sea sick, but my friend Joe was having a time of it. I decided to call the Coast guard and let them know our situation. I stressed that we had NO emergency, and requested the forecast for the next 48 hours. Due to worsening conditions, Humboldt Bay Coast Guard then decided to dispatch the 110-ft. cutter Edistow to the scene. The cutter arrived around 1600 hours. After circling around us for a while they called us on the VHF, saying that it was too rough to do anything. They said they would standby the rest of the night, advised us to get in our survival suits and said they would call every hour, which they did....

By morning the sea anchor was still holding well. I checked our drift. It was about half a knot. The wind had dropped to 30, but the seas and swell were now 20-30 feet. I have a great picture of the 110-ft. cutter with her bow and two thirds of her bottom out of the water. At this time the CG skipper decided that he would tow us to Humboldt Bay. I said NO. A little later he called back and said he would tow us south instead. This made a little more sense, though I was still not sure why I needed a tow. I thought, maybe he knew something about the weather or our situation that I didn't. Anyway, he asked if I had a drogue [to stabilize the tow]. It took them two attempts to pass us a drogue. I then asked the skipper of the cutter to pick up our trip line on the sea anchor, to retrieve the sea anchor and its nylon rode - attached to our Bruce anchor - and attach his own tow line to that. This way the CG cutter's bow would be into the oncoming seas, so would ours, and this would be the safest for both boats. He said 'NO', he said that would be too dangerous for his crew. This started me worrying. I explained again how the sea anchor was laid out, and that there was no chance of him getting the rig in his props. He came back and suggested that I retrieve the sea anchor and rig - 400' of rode, 66-lb. Bruce and 250' of 3/8" chain, in 20-ft. seas, with a hand windlass!

I have the greatest regard for the Coast Guard in Alaska. They have performed many amazing rescues and I have the greatest confidence in their ability to make the right decision at the right time. I assumed that all Coast Guard units along the coast would be the same. But now I was beginning to have my doubts.

Second mistake coming up: The cutter's skipper called me back, saying I should cut everything loose. I called him back saying I didn't like the idea of losing my last-ditch survival gear - meaning my sea anchor rig. And I told him I didn't like the idea of lying in the trough, sliding down the faces of 20-25 ft. seas. I asked him what the forecast for the next 48 hours was - he said "more of the same." I asked how he was going to approach us. I thought he said he would come in at our windward side, and then across our bow with the heaving line and 4" tow line.

Like an idiot I cut the chain loose from the boat. We swung around instantly in the trough and I knew in that moment that in all my years at sea I had never done anything so stupid. I told the CG skipper he would have ONE PASS, and ONE PASS only. My friend Joe and I crawled to the bow with our safety harness on, grabbing what we could to hang on. I was on the starboard bow, about two stanchions back, Joe being forward on the port side. I looked for the cutter and, Oh my God, it was downwind from us and coming at the wrong angle. And fast. I was hanging on for dear life, waving and screaming for him to abort. He rammed us about ten feet aft of the bow with his port stern quarter. I felt the cutter hit me, at the same time that it hit the boat, sending me flying forward through the air. The harness held - I felt a jolt at my shoulder. I had a death grip on the inner stay and looked up to see our bow pulpit and running lights hanging by the wires, the big double bow rollers twisted and mangled, the stanchions flattened on the deck. I yelled at Joe that we had to get below to see if she had holed us. Luck was with us: no hole.

The CG skipper called us to see if anyone was injured. We were all OK but I was furious! My wife Linda grabbed the mike before I could say what I was going to say. She told me to calm down. She said at least we were all OK. I unlashed the emergency tiller and brought our stern to the seas. The CG skipper then called back and said he KNEW he could heave us the tow line on the next pass! I said "no thanks!" I felt I had made enough mistakes in 72 hours to last a whole life. It was time for me to take command of the situation again. The CG asked what my intentions were. I said my intentions were to sail bare-poled out of there. He said that was not advisable and called Humboldt Bay CG to find out what to do next. Finally he came on the radio and told us that he would have to leave the area.

As the cutter pulled away I began to feel safe again. We were now running downwind, and our canoe stern was handling the 20-32 ft. seas superbly. The wind and seas let down in about six hours and we repaired the steering cables. The CG called us nearly every hour, wanting to know our ETA. The next day things calmed down and we motored into Bodega Bay.

The CG gave us a day to rest, before coming to take pictures of the damage the cutter had inflicted. They assured us it would all be taken care of. All we had to do was to fill out the claim report and find a yard to do the work - we needed to get two bids. A month after delivering the paperwork to the Alameda Coast Guard Station we have yet to hear anything about our claim.

Lessons Learned:

  1. Don't call the Coast Guard unless it is an absolute emergency, life or death situation. Call other vessels in the area first.
  2. Evaluate carefully any advice given by anyone - Coast Guard or any other vessels - trying to help you.
  3. If you accept a tow from the Coast Guard you have given them the command of your vessel - in our case our home.
  4. Never forget that you are the one in command of your boat and the responsibility is your's.


S/M-22 Bristol Channel Cutter


Bristol Channel Cutter

26' x 7 Tons, Full Keel

12-Ft. Dia. BUORD Parachute

Force 11 Conditions


File S/M-22, obtained from Roger Olson, Costa Mesa, CA - Vessel name Xiphias, hailing port Los Angeles, Bristol Channel Cutter, designed by Lyle Hess, LOA 37' (with bowsprit) x LWL 26' x Beam 10' x Draft 5' x 7 Tons - Full keel - Sea anchor: 12-ft. Diameter BUORD on 300' x 5/8" nylon three strand rode and 20' of chain with 5/8" galvanized swivel - No trip line - Deployed in hurricane Tia in deep water approx. 25 miles off the Queensland coast near Bundaberg with winds sustained at 60 knots and seas of 30-40 ft. - Vessel's bow yawed 45° - Drift was estimated to be about 5 n.m. during three days at sea anchor.


Roger Olson is an experienced offshore sailor and a partner in the firm of Sam L. Morse Co., builders of the Bristol Channel Cutter. Here are the transcripts of two files obtained from Roger:

Hurricane "Claudia" Near American Samoa (1980)

I was lucky to only catch the edge. There were two hurricanes at the same time. On WWV I heard that a hurricane was approaching our location but there was too much interference to hear the exact coordinates. I used the ham radio to call New Zealand. A ham operator informed me that it was north of us and heading away. I wasn't aware that this was a different storm and that we were heading into the original one.

As the weather deteriorated I ran off with storm jib and storm trysail. I considered dropping the trysail but wanted it up in just case I decided to heave-to. Deployed two "MINI" tires [makeshift drogue] off the stern for better control. Wind and seas not too bad (40 to 50 knots) and it was going in my direction. A huge wave broke next to us, depositing ample amounts of water on me and filling the cockpit. It doesn't take a genius to realize that if the wave had been over the stern I would have been rammed against the flat aft side of the cabin. Also, I could easily imagine this wave carrying me to the end of my harness tether. If the tether didn't break it would surely break my ribs. So I decided to come about and heave-to. I had to cut the drogue loose to come about. The boat set well for several hours but as the wind and seas increased it was apparent there was too much sail area up. So I dropped the storm jib onto the staysail stay and remained hove-to on storm trysail.

Never expected it to get this bad or I would have used the parachute anchor. It was in the lazarette and my rope was still shackled to the anchor chain and anchor, all lashed forward. There wasn't a snowball's chance in hell that I was going forward in those winds and seas to unlash it, undo the shackle, etc. I went below to get out of it. My hand-held wind indicator could only register 60 knots and it was at the maximum. During the night I knew my storm trysail was too much because the boat would heel severely on the crest of the wave. As the boat entered the trough she would change her set so when she got the full force of the wind on the crest the sail would flog and it seemed like it would rip the boat apart. Then it would fill and we would heel to the extreme.

There was only one knockdown, which was when everything came out of the lockers and drawers, burying me under cans and boxes. So much for the "slick!!" During the night it began to improve until I was able to sail by late the next afternoon.

Hurricane "Tia" Off Queensland, Australia (1981)

Australian radio stated that the Tropical Storm was strengthening to cyclone strength in the South Coral Sea and was heading south. This time I was better prepared. I had disconnected my anchor from my 5/8" nylon rope and pulled it all on deck. I tied the bitter end to the sampson post, leaving about 10 feet for freshening the nip. I had already run the rope through a fairlead on the bottom of the Cranse Iron (this is how I anchor anyway) and led the rest aft to the cockpit. Where the rope led through the fairlead I had sewn on a meter of leather for chafe. This was set so the leather just passed through the fairlead so I could let rope out to "freshen the nip" if necessary. (Later I never checked for chafe because I was too frightened to go forward).

I led the rope along the top of the life line and lashed it in place with fine nylon thread (dental floss would work) and to the cockpit where I coiled it and used stops to hold the coil in place. The parachute anchor was kept in the lazarette. I already had added about 25 feet of 5/16" chain to the end of the swivel attached to the parachute. I removed the parachute anchor, chain and swivel as a unit in a bag. Using a bowline with a double wrap, I attached the rope in the cockpit to the swivel. I deployed the parachute early while I was hove-to. From the cockpit I deployed the float (enough buoyancy to float the chain and anchor on 20 feet of rope attached to the center of the crown of the parachute) over the windward side. This was followed by the parachute anchor, chain and rope. The boat was making slow leeway so I was able to maintain complete control of the rope until all (300' + 20' chain) was out. As I let go of the rope it broke the thread along the life line until the boat was riding bow to the wind and seas. I dropped all sails and went below.

I remained below for the better part of three days. I still don't know the strength of the winds as my hand-held indicator wasn't working properly - it was stuck at 60 knots. The boat did tack in this position. In the trough there was little pull on the parachute anchor and the boat would set up to 50° from center. As she neared the crest more tension would be put on the rode, pulling the vessel straight. I had substantial water overboard because I was making little or no sternway. This was proven by feeling the pressure on the tiller, which I had lashed amidships. I was concerned about damage to the rudder if I made too much sternway. I don't know the amount of drift in those three days, nor do I know the current.

After the worst was over I finally got permission to put into an illegal port of entry (Mooloolaba, Qld). I set my course based on my last known position and allowed about five miles for drift. I was sailing entirely on celestial navigation and didn't have GPS or SatNav. I used my RDF to take a rough bearing and set a course for Mooloolaba. As I approached land I found my DR wasn't far off.

Comments: With the parachute anchor I never really felt in danger. Deploying it from cockpit worked great. I can't believe anyone would go forward in storm conditions to work anything on the foredeck. There was some chafe on the leather but it never wore through to the rope. I never adjusted it in the three days, but it was apparent that there was about one foot of stretch on the leather. I spent all my time inside during this and other storms. Only when conditions were not life-threatening would I go forward to inspect for chafe or damage. I had everything strongly lashed down, including my dinghy on the foredeck. The only things I lost were two 5-gallon fuel containers which were lashed with old 1/4" rope. Roller furling jib remained on the headstay - not recommended as it creates considerable windage. I had rolled it up tightly and pulled the sheets as tight as I could so the headstay wouldn't flog. It still shook the boat more than I thought it would. I don't know what I would have done had it unrolled.

I should never have been sailing in those waters during the hurricane season. However, in both cases I was rushing to meet my girlfriend... wasn't worth it!

Xiphias of Los Angeles.  This Bristol Channel Cutter rode out two hurricanes in the South Pacific, one to a sea anchor,  "I remained below for the better part of three days... with the parachute anchor I never really felt in danger." (Roger Olson photo)
Xiphias of Los Angeles. This Bristol Channel Cutter rode out two hurricanes in the South Pacific, one to a sea anchor, "I remained below for the better part of three days... with the parachute anchor I never really felt in danger." (Roger Olson photo)

S/M-18 Crealock 34 Cutter


Crealock 34 Cutter

34' x 6.75 Tons, Low Aspect Fin/Skeg

15-Ft. Dia. Sea Anchor

Force 8-9 Conditions


File S/M-18, obtained from John R.S.Charlton, Oceanside, CA. - Vessel name Fancy Free II, hailing port Oceanside, Pacific Seacraft cutter designed by Bill Crealock, LOA 34' 1" x LWL 26' 2" x Beam 10' x Draft 4' 11" x 6.75 Tons - Low aspect fin keel and skeg rudder - Sea anchor: 15-ft. diameter Para-Tech on 300' x 1" nylon three strand with 1/2" stainless steel swivel - Deployed in deep water about 550 n.miles NE of Hawaii in a whole gale with winds of 40-50 knots and seas of 30 feet - Vessel's bow yawed 10° - Drift was reported to be "minimal" during 12 hours at sea anchor.

Fancy Free II was en route to Kaneohe, Hawaii from Oceanside, California in the month of January. She ran into a south-westerly gale and had to use her 15-ft. diameter Para-Tech sea anchor. Owner's handwritten remark reads thus:

Great product. Unfortunately, my helm was not lashed down securely - steering cable broke at quadrant. (Large wave lifted stern and rudder slammed over to "stops").

Fancy Free II is a sister ship to N'ISKU (see illustration in previous file). Both of these Crealocks behaved very well at sea anchor, yawing less than 10°. Note that N'ISKU used 400' x 1/2" nylon plus 50' of chain, while Fancy Free II used 300' of 1-inch nylon, and yet both boats behaved equally well. In looking for causality one has to put on a Sherlock Holmes hat and try to find some basic virtue in Bill Crealock's design, something that makes these boats yaw so little - probably the closeness of the CLR to the CE - while not losing sight of other variables such as the rode length that determines the relative positions of the boat and sea anchor.

S/M-17 Crealock 34 Cutter


Crealock 34 Cutter

34' x 6.75 Tons, Low Aspect Fin/Skeg

12-Ft. Dia. Sea Anchor

Force 8-9 Conditions


File S/M-17, obtained from Sandy and Les Bailey, Honolulu, HI. - Vessel name N'ISKU, hailing port Honolulu, Pacific Seacraft cutter designed by Bill Crealock, LOA 34' 1" x LWL 26' 2" x Beam 10' x Draft 4' 11" x 6.75 Tons - Low aspect fin keel and skeg rudder - Sea anchor: 12-ft. diameter Para-Tech on 400' x 1/2" nylon three strand with 50' of chain and 3/8" swivel - Deployed in deep water near 15° 49' N, 159° 48' W, in a gale with winds of 40-45 knots and seas of 16 feet - Vessel's bow yawed 10° - Drift was 15 miles during 14 hours at sea anchor.


N'ISKU was en route to Palmyra Atoll from Honolulu, when she ran into something akin to a Kona storm. A 12-ft. diameter Para-Tech sea anchor was then deployed, which held the bow of the yacht into the seas in a most satisfactory way. Transcript:

This was not a survival situation in the usual sense. On this passage, my wife and I had endured four successive days of 25+ knot easterly trade winds, all from ahead of the beam, with 12 to 14 foot seas from the same direction. The boat handled beautifully and we never felt threatened nor out of control, logging 150 to 160 miles per day. Unfortunately, persistent mal de mer had flattened my wife from the first day and then a streptococcal throat infection laid me low. These tribulations significantly reduced the pleasure of the sail and severely taxed our stamina. Nevertheless, we maintained our watches and did not feel it was unsafe to continue as long as conditions remained the same - which they didn't.

The wind piped up to 40 knots with higher gusts and veered a bit to the south. The seas built and became confused. The motion became most uncomfortable with a yaw component that made it very difficult for a couple of arthritic sexagenarians to get around. We then decided it was time for a little "rest and rehabilitation." We tried heaving-to under sail, but this did not prove satisfactory under those conditions. Over the side went the sea anchor and immediately our habitat became more livable. The major motion of the boat was now an almost gentle pitch, with occasional episodes of roll, but amazingly the uncomfortable yaw motion had vanished.

We used a 12 foot Para-Tech nylon parachute specifically designed as a sea anchor in a deployable storage bag. A large fender (8" x 24") served as the primary float and a smaller dinghy fender (3" x 12") at the end of 100 feet of 1/4" polypropylene was the trip line. Our rode consisted of 200 feet of three strand 1/2" nylon, 50 feet of 5/16" BBB chain and a second 200 feet of 1/2" nylon for a total of 450 feet. Swivels were used to attach the nylon rode to the anchor and to the chain (overkill perhaps). The nylon rode was led through a bow roller to cleats. Sufficient rode was released so that the bright yellow canopy of the sea anchor was visible in the crest of an oncoming swell as we were atop the crest of another wave. Three to four layers of fire hose were used for chafe protection at the roller.

We did not observe surge or shock loads on the rode. The boat always seemed to head into the wind and seas at the same angle (<10°) and did not sail about at anchor. The entire system worked perfectly, probably because of a) the length of the rode, b) the catenary induced by the chain in the middle of the rode, and c) the boat and anchor were in crests and troughs in synchrony. By morning the winds had abated to about 30 knots and backed into the east. The crew, still bruised, but very much refreshed by a night of rest, was eager to head south again.

S/M-16 Cape George 31 Cutter


Cape George 31 Cutter

31' x 9 Tons, Full Keel

12-Ft. Dia. Sea Anchor

Force 8 Conditions


File S/M-16, obtained from Steve Lockwood, Portland, OR. - Vessel name Halo, hailing port Portland, Cape George cutter designed by Nolan Atkins, LOA 31' x LWL 27' 6" x Beam 9' 6" x Draft 5' x 9 Tons - Full keel - Sea anchor: 12-ft. diameter Para-Tech on 300' x 1/2" nylon 3-strand and 50' of 5/16" chain, with 1/2" stainless steel swivel - Deployed in deep water about 100 miles northwest of San Francisco in a gale with winds of 35-40 knots and seas of 14 feet - Vessel's bow yawed up to 90° at times - Drift was about 6 miles during 20 hours at sea anchor.

In May 1993 Halo was en route to the Bay Area from Portland, normally a downwind run. When she ran into a southerly gale her owner tried beating into it for a while, and then decided to deploy a 12-ft. diameter Para-Tech sea anchor. Halo was sea anchored for 20 hours, drifting only 6 miles. Transcript:

Boat was held off the wind an increasing amount as wind strength increased. Very uncomfortable roll and some waves broke on deck. Our boat is exceptionally strong so we were not very concerned. We forgot to add a swivel, but noticed no difference in boat motion over time. There was some twisting [of the nylon rode], but not severe at all. Rode was 300' x 1/2" nylon with 50' of 5/16" chain at sea anchor. Certainly no survival storm, but we thought it would be interesting to try it out and that a break from beating into the gale would be nice if we didn't lose too much ground.

S/M-4 Cutter, “Taleisin”


Cutter, "Taleisin"

29' 6" x 9 Tons, Full Keel Cutter

12-Ft. Dia. BUORD Parachute

Force 11-12 Conditions


File S/M-4, obtained from Lin & Larry Pardey - Vessel name Taleisin, hailing port Victoria, B.C., cutter designed by Lyle Hess, LOA 29' 6" x LWL 27' 9" x Beam 10' 9" x Draft 5' 3" x 9 Tons - Full keel - Sea anchor: 12-ft. diameter BUORD on 250' x 5/8" dia. nylon three strand rode with Pardeys' own bridle arrangement and 1/2" galvanized swivel - No trip line - Deployed in 100 fathoms during a tropical cyclone about 100 miles off the Queensland coast, with sustained winds of 60-70 knots blowing contrary to the Australian Current, creating confused seas of 25' and greater - Drift was estimated to be about 15 n.m. during 56 hours at sea anchor.

The Pardeys are now cruising on board their new and larger boat, Taleisin. The sea anchor for Taleisin was a larger - 12-ft. diameter - BUORD parachute. On 1 November 1988, en route to Mooloolaba from Roslynne Bay (Queensland), Taleisin safely rode out a cyclonic depression off the Australian coast, hove-to the para-anchor and storm trysail, in the manner described in the previous file (S/M-3). In their latest book, Storm Tactics, Lin and Larry describe the storm as "an unseasonable typhoon rammed up against a ridge of high pressure." The wind was blowing contrary to the Australian current, near the Great Barrier Reef. Conditions were atrocious. From Storm Tactics:

We were forced to lie-to parachute anchor for over 56 hours in winds exceeding 70 knots. (Weather forecasters spoke of winds of 85 in our area). Wind blew against current in only 100 fathoms of water, creating breaking seas, which forced 400-foot freighters to heave-to. We have never before seen waves dangerous enough to stop ships. We could see two of them nearby, maneuvering to keep their bows into the seas for over 12 hours. Yet even in seas like this we were able to bring Taleisin through with the only damage limited to chafed lines, chafed nerves, and bruised bodies. Other sailors within 50 miles of us fared far worse; two lost their lives while using other tactics.

Sometime in those fifty-six hours there was a formidable jerk as "an extra strong gust and an extra steep sea combined to head the boat up and tack." This caused Lin, who was sleeping down below, without the lee cloth in place, to be thrown out of her bunk against the stove, banging up her teeth and ribs, fortunately not too badly, however. All in all, Taleisin, tough little ship, came through with flying colors. But Larry has since opted for a smaller 9-ft. diameter BUORD, which he considers more yielding and better suited to the use of the bridle and riding sail arrangement.

Again, the main idea behind the Pardey strategy is to create a turbulent field upwind, a "slick" that smooths the seas and robs the waves of a great deal of their power. The bridle is adjusted so that the boat lies about 50° off the wind, and the use of a riding sail (storm trysail, triple-reefed main, or combinations of other sails, depending on the particular hull and rig) increases the pressure of the wind on the boat.

The result is that boat, rode and sea anchor are, as a train, drift downwind at about 5/8 of a knot, churning up the sea and setting up the turbulent field ahead of the boat. Note that this is a little different from the traditional method of heaving to - the boat occasionally fore- reaching.

Again: The Pardey strategy requires square drift. The yacht should not zig-zag or fore-reach out of her protective slick. She must drift squarely downwind, her keel "scraping" the sea. Refer to Storm Tactics for more insights into the Pardey's method of heaving-to.