60' x 52' x 5.5 Tons
Seabrake MK I
Force 11+ Conditions
File D/T-1, obtained from Sir Peter Blake, Auckland, NZ - Vessel name Steinlager, hailing port Auckland, Maxi racing trimaran designed by David Allan Williams, LOA 60' x Beam 52' x Draft 5' x 5.5 Tons - Drogue: Seabrake Mk I on 300' x 3/4" nylon braid rode and 30' of ½" chain - No bridle - Deployed numerous times in the Bicentennial Round Australia Two-Handed Race with winds of 55-70 knots and large, confused seas - Vessel's stern yawed 10°.
Sir Peter Blake is one of the most experienced sailors on the planet earth (500,000 blue water miles). His heavy weather experiences span the entire gamut of gales and storms on board every conceivable type of small craft both monohulled and multihulled. Victor Shane had the privilege of interviewing Peter on the telephone just after his team won the America's Cup on the New Zealand yacht Black Magic in May 1995, in San Diego. The interview revolved around a number of subjects. Here is a transcript (by permission):
The 1988 Round Australia Race: The Bicentennial Round Australia Two-Handed race started on the 8th of August 1988 from Sydney to Sydney [anti clockwise], with a number of stops in between. You go up inside the Barrier Reef to start, go round through Torres Strait to Darwin, down the Indian Ocean to Fremantle, and then come along the Great Bight of Australia to Adelaide, down to Hobart, back up the east coast of Tasmania, back through the Bass Strait towards Melbourne, and then through the Bass Strait again up to Sydney.
The Seabrake [MK I] was used in the first storm, which occurred within the first twelve hours of the race. We had winds of 55-60 knots from dead behind against very big seas because of a south going current. The wind was southerly and the set was going south so it built very big seas. We used the Seabrake again between Fremantle and Adelaide, across the bottom of Australia. We used it with a vengeance there and it definitely saved the boat and the crew in a full force winter storm coming in from the Southern Ocean. We used it again between Adelaide and Hobart, along the bottom of Tasmania, again with a severe weather front coming through, and then later on we used it again between Melbourne and Sydney, just coming up round the corner from the Bass Strait turning north. On this occasion we were beating into it with reduced sail when my partner Mike Quilter suddenly yelled at me as I was down below getting ten minutes of sleep. He said, "come up quick," and in about two minutes the wind went from 25 knots northerly to about 50 knots southerly. And so the Seabrake went over the transom straight away, no sails set, and the sea still coming from the north, but the southerly wind was driving us hard into those sea, so if we hadn't slowed the boat down I think it would have broken up.
The worst case scenarios were on two different occasions. One was on the day we started the race [8 August], and if I hadn't had the Seabrake I wouldn't be talking to you now, probably. And the other occasion was the day and a half before the finish, when I think if we hadn't had the Seabrake there was no way we could have slowed the boat and the lightweight racing trimaran would probably have self-destructed, again because the wind changed and we were being driven headlong into northerly seas by a 50-knot wind from the south. These were very big breaking seas, real breaking waves collapsing down their full fronts.
Using the Seabrake without a bridle the trimaran steered very well [without autopilot]. We pulled the centerboard up and the boat basically blew down wind with the Seabrake off the back. It was really great, no keel to trip over, no roll, no yaw, nothing, just straight downwind, fantastic. Multihulls are very good like that, much better than monohulls. No need for bridle, just a single tow line coming to a great big winch.
The drogue pulling out: On a few occasions we found that when we started to surf very hard the Seabrake broke free of the seaface behind. Depending on if we had it at the right distance behind the boat or not, it sometimes broke free and nearly caught the boat up. I mean it came whistling through the air like a rocket and we severely damaged the first one and replaced it with another, which we then tied all our anchor chain to, between the rope and the drogue - probably about 30' of ½" chain - then it was just fine and didn't pull out any more. We broke the original Seabrake up because it wasn't designed for such a large boat (we had a 400 sq. ft. wingmast on Steinlager) and that particular Seabrake was designed for boats up to 45 feet I suppose, and a bit heavier. But it did a marvelous job nevertheless. Once we added the chain it didn't pull out any more and it worked well.
ENZA: Far more recently we did a run around the world with a boat called Enza, New Zealand. We broke the record for non-stop around the world on this 92' x 43' catamaran. We went around in 74 days and 22 hours, and really I think there's a lot more to be learned from that, an enormous amount more than the Round Australia Two-Handed Race, mainly because it's fresher in my mind. At one time we were in sustained seas that we estimated over 60 feet, totally breaking down their fronts. And on the second occasion, when we had all warps out, not only did we have 40-50 ft. seas coming from behind, but also seas of 50-60 ft. coming at right angles from the port beam and it was a nightmare. We just about lost the boat on two occasions at that point going down the mine, until we got the drogue out the back and then suddenly we could relax. That really was a matter of survival. It was an "if we don't get the drogue out we're not going to be alive" scenario. There was no maybe to it that time.
We spent quite a bit of time in the last 24 hours from the finish in full Atlantic storm conditions on Enza and we used what we had on board, which was all of our anchor chain and every single bit of rope we had, strung in a bight off the back and that worked fantastically. That was just as good. Two bridles, made up from 300 meters of rope on each side, and then right at the end we had all of the anchor chain, which was I suppose about 30 meters parceled up, and around that we had wrapped the anchor warp and seized it all up so that it made like a big bundle, but a heavy bundle, and that worked extremely well. It wasn't as easy to deploy as the Seabrake, however, took a bit of getting out and a bit of getting it back. The Seabrake we used to throw over with no hesitation, and it no doubt saved us on a number of occasions just because it was so easy to use.
Sea anchor or drogue? I've got my own view, and not just the facts. I've been hove-to in cyclones, I've run before, I've used trysails, I've dragged things, I've been beam on, you name it, on every sort of vessel. To me the biggest thing is that you must be prepared. I think that a lot of people get into problems because sometimes these weather patterns creep up on you and then suddenly it really is very nasty and you haven't quite realized it, and then to get out the necessary drag device, whatever it may be, is almost too late. By then people are seasick if it's a cruising boat, or they're not too used to it, or not necessarily experienced. So to have something easy to put over, such as a Seabrake, or whatever drag device you are using, I think that is very important. I have never layed to a sea anchor in earnest, but I can see that it might be reasonable. I tried lying to a sea anchor with my own trimaran once. We used a jet aircraft drogue parachute, but the trimaran had a big wingmast, and we could never anchor her conventionally by the bow anyway, having to anchor her by the stern instead. And we finally blew that parachute out, there was so much load on it. So I don't think there is any fixed answer to a set of conditions, though I think that if you've got searoom I, personally, would always go with a drag off the back. But if you haven't got searoom you haven't got an option. On a number of occasions in the Round Australia Race, on Steinlager, we would be on a lee shore with nasty weather coming in and we would actually keep an eye on the geography of the shoreline, even though it was a hundred miles to leeward, knowing that if conditions were to really turn bad we weren't going to be able to go to windward - no boat goes to windward in a storm - and we were going to have to run downwind, and the best thing probably would have been to find a place that didn't have steep cliffs and run the boat up on beach as far as possible. Run it up on a sandy beach and just get off the thing.
Quartering the seas? I don't necessarily go along with the idea of quartering the seas [with drogue in tow]. I think that it depends on what you are on, and if you're on a multihull it's definitely much better to be running squarely downwind, because if you're running with the wind on the quarter you're likely to dig a bow and loose it much more easily. Better to run absolutely downwind [in a multihull]. It's dangerous to take the seas on the quarter, and much, much better to take them square on the transom; that's in a multihull - a trimaran or a catamaran. A monohull, I think, is a different scenario, and I might agree with the quartering idea.
Lying A-Hull: I've hove-to in some really extreme conditions. I'm happy to sit there, but would be absolutely against lying a-hull anywhere. 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.