File D/C-1, obtained from Walter Greene, Yarmouth, ME. - Vessel name Sebago, ocean racing catamaran, designed by Walter Greene, LOA 50' x Beam 30' x Draft 7' (2' boards up) x 5 Tons - Drogue: 4-ft. diameter Shewmon (sea anchor) on 250' x 3/4" nylon braid tether, with bridle arms of 50' each and 1/2" galvanized swivel - Deployed in a whole gale in 100 fathoms in the English Channel with winds of 40-50 knots and seas of 20-30 ft. - Vessel's stern yawed 10° .
This is the second file obtained from Walter Greene (see also S/C-5). The same 4-ft. diameter Shewmon sea anchor was used on the same boat, Sebago, only this time in drogue fashion, off the stern. Her stern stayed fairly snubbed into the seas, yawing no more than 10° off to each side. (The bows yawed in excess of 45° in file S/C-5). This deployment took place in 100 fathoms of water in the English Channel. Conditions were atrocious - 40-50 knot winds and average seas of 20 ft. with much bigger waves now and then. The 160 sq. ft. wingmast on Sebago was a complicating factor. In an article appearing in the August/September 1988 issue of Multihulls Magazine, Greene was interviewed by Jack Petith about living with a wing mast in storms and provided the following opinions and observations (reproduced by permission):
The wing mast being in the center of the boat, does funny things with your center of effort.... Sailing to France we were, altogether, five days with no sail on the boat.... Sometimes we were hove-to and going backwards.... One time we put the sea anchor out for two days [off the stern]; but the sea anchor really beat the hell out of the boat - deck gear and waves crashing on the boat. I can see it working with a traditional mast. In fact, I don't think you could capsize a reasonable sized multihull with one.
File D/C-2, obtained from John Kettlewell, Middle Grove, NY. - Vessel name Echo, catamaran, designed by Mark Louis Rifflart, LOA 31' 6" x Beam 16' x Draft 2' 8" x 4 Tons - Drogue: 9-Ft. diameter BUORD on 400' x 1/2" nylon three strand tether, with bridle arms of 25' each and 1/2" galvanized swivel - Deployed in a gale in deep water about 400 miles SW of Bermuda with winds of 40-50 knots and seas of 18-25 ft. - Vessel's stern yawed 10° - Drift was estimated to be about 30 nm during 20 hours of deployment.
Echo was en route to San Juan, Puerto Rico, from Beaufort, NC., when she ran into a gale. Her owner John Kettlewell is a marine consultant with a good deal of cruising experience. He has written numerous articles and was acquisitions editor for International Marine Publications for a while. (See also his article entitled, Rough Passage To San Juan appearing in the November/December 1991 issue of Multihulls Magazine).
Echo ran downwind for a while until it became unsafe to do so. She lay a-hull for a short period thereafter and Kettlewell deemed that just as unsafe - the occasional breaker would knock the bow off and she would surf sideways out of control.
He then deployed a 9-ft. BUORD parachute off the bow, his wife Leslie assisting. The 400 feet of line smoked out so quickly that they were barely able to cleat it before it reached the end. The 9-ft. diameter Naval Ordnance parachute (porous canopy) did not produce enough drag to keep the bows pointed into the seas - they were yawing up to 90° off to each side. So Kettlewell decided to switch ends and use it as a drogue off the stern instead.
This accomplished, the parachute then kept the stern pointed into the seas in a satisfactory way, with no further steering required. The crew was able to go down below and get some rest on the floor of the saloon area. Transcript:
In general we were very pleased with the performance of the drogue. As I stated previously we could not lie bow into the wind with this size chute. I wonder if we had removed our roller furling jib we could have laid bow to.... In any case I'm sure I would now prefer to run before the seas on this boat. Our cockpit is well protected with a strong door and great drainage due to the motorwell for the outboard. I think it is useful to give with the punches of the waves. We even raised our rudders to take the strain off of them from wave hits.... With a bridle to each stern the drogue held us straight on to the sea and we did not have to steer.
I am very wary of using a trip line as I find storms tend to make amazing tangles of even the simplest rigs. On the other hand, if something were to disable the chute suddenly, it would be very difficult to get it in and untangled during the height of a storm. However, even though it was extremely tiring and difficult to retrieve I still would not rig a trip line. We had some success using the motor to slowly power up to the drogue.
We had no problems with the line kinking or chafing. I used two 5/8" braided bridle lines led through clear PVC water tubing. Our rode consisted of 2 x 200' lengths of 1/2" nylon connected by a large shackle in the middle. I feel your length recommendations (i.e., LOA x 10) may be a bit short. I was certainly happy I had 400' of rode!
File D/C-3, obtained from Thomas W. Kintz, Groton, CT. - Vessel name Sundsvalla, hailing port East Lyme, MA, Snowgoose catamaran designed by the Prout brothers, LOA 34' x Beam 15' 8" x Draft 3' x 5.5 Tons - Drogue: 9-ft. diameter BUORD on 350' x 3/4" nylon three strand tether, with bridle arms of 45' each and 1/2" galvanized swivel - Deployed in a gale about 60 miles west of Cape Finisterre, Spain, with winds of 40-45 knots and seas of 20-25 ft. - Vessel's stern yawed up to 90° off to each side - Drogue was eventually tumbled and rendered useless - Drift was about 30 nm during 18 hours of deployment.
Sundsvalla crossed the Atlantic in August 1987. On her way down the Iberian Peninsula she ran into a northeasterly gale about sixty miles west of Cape Finisterre. She used the same parachute drogue used by Echo in the previous file (D/C-2). The behavior of Echo was satisfactory. The behavior of Sundsvalla was anything but satisfactory. She would not lie to the relatively large drogue by herself. She had to be steered manually down the steep wave faces. And she kept doing the same thing that Galliard did in file D/T-2, i.e., surge forward and then snap back on the elastic rode. Later on, when the line had temporarily gone slack, a breaking wave threw the drogue and tangled it around itself.
What was the big difference between Echo and Sundsvalla? Sundsvalla has her mast stepped aft (most Prouts catamarans do). Any sailboat with her mast stepped aft will behave relatively well when using a sea anchor off the bow, but relatively poorly when using a drogue off the stern. The opposite is also true, of course: any sailboat with her mast stepped well forward - cat-rigged - will behave relatively poorly when using a sea anchor off the bow and relatively well when using a drogue off the stern. Transcript:
On passage from the south coast of England to Bayona, Spain. Encountered "dry" gale from the northeast. Sailed in rising wind/seas all day under staysail alone. Near dusk, wind rose to Force 9 and occasional seas began to break. Took down all sail and deployed BUORD off stern. No problem with deployment, but vessel would not lie to the parachute by itself - it had to be steered. Line would go slack periodically. Could not keep bows pointed downwind all the time. Finally, a breaking wave caught the drogue and tangled it around itself. We left it deployed, but effectively lay a-hull all night and into the next day. Took several breaking waves over the boat - not recommended! Recovered BUORD after gale subsided and continued to Bayena.
PROBLEM: The Prout Snowgoose 34 catamaran has the mast stepped way aft. I believe that this is what caused our problem. The center of effort of the boat's aerodynamic drag was so far aft that it would yaw from side to side. This allowed the tether to go slack and ultimately tangle.
SOLUTION? The next time on a vessel of this type, I would use a storm jib hanked onto the forestay and sheeted athwartships. I believe that this would keep the bows pointed downwind by moving the center of effort forward. This would allow the helm to be untended and the tether to remain taut. Although I haven't tried it, a large para-anchor deployed from the bow should work very well because the aft mast position would increase yaw stability. [Note that a large diameter para-anchor did work well off the bow of the Prout Snowgoose, Rhayader, in File S/C-3.]
File D/C-4, obtained from Dr. Tim King, Elkhart, IN. - Vessel name Ariel, hailing port Juneau, Alaska, Lagoon catamaran designed by Jeanneau, LOA 46' 3" x Beam 24' 11" x Draft 3' 11" x 11 Tons - Drogue: 48" Diameter Galerider on 350' x 5/8" nylon braid tether, with bridle arms of 70' each and stainless steel 5/8" swivel - Deployed in a gale in deep water about 300 miles SW of Cape Finisterre, Spain, with winds of 40-45 knots and seas of 20 ft. - Vessel's stern yawed 10° - Speed was reduced to about 3 knots during 24 hours of deployment.
Dr. Tim King had a Valiant 41 monohull named Foggy Mountain. In June 1989 Foggy Mountain won a fifteen-round bare knuckle fight with a life-threatening storm in the Gulf of Alaska. No drag devices were used. It was a survival saga, with fatigue and hypothermia playing significant roles. At the height of the storm King and crew witnessed enormous "holes and pyramids" on the surface of the sea. In an article appearing in the Jan/Feb 1990 issue Ocean Navigator Tim King wrote that some of these "holes" were 30 feet deep. They were barreling along at 30 knots and it was only by blind luck that the boat didn't fall into one. Dr. King has since sold the Valiant and purchased a Jeanneau Lagoon 47 catamaran. In March 1992 he and crew took delivery of Ariel in France and set sail for the U.S. The boat was equipped with an 18-ft. diameter Para-Tech sea anchor and a 48" Galerider drogue. En route to the Canary Islands they ran into a gale and used the Galerider to slow the boat down. There was a copy of the Drag Device Data Base on board and crew members took turns reading it during the gale! Transcript:
Like all catamarans, Ariel tends to be very fast on all points off the wind. Specifically her fine entry and rapid flaring of the hulls allows her to surf without difficulty. The majority of the steering, even during surfing, was handled by the Autohelm autopilot. After 48 hours of building wind conditions, we found ourselves sailing under a broad reach with maturing seas. Our speeds were consistently 15-20 kts. under jib and/or triple-reefed main. The ride was relatively smooth except for the slamming of occasional waves under the bridge deck. The boat handled exceptionally well during prolonged surfs under autopilot control.
At 0600 (on the beginning of the 3rd day of the gale), before sunrise, the boat was lifted by the stern on the crest of a very large wave. There was a slight hesitation as the boat approached the crest, whereupon a second wave apparently augmented the first one and lifted us even higher up the new crest. (This second wave must have come from about 30-60° off the prevailing wave direction). Three things then occurred. First, the now confused breaking wave crest broke over the dinghy davits (the dinghy was stored upside down on top of the davits) and crashed chaotically into the cockpit (which rapidly drained off due to a well-designed drain system). Secondly, the boat was turned sideways and heeled some (10-25° ?) to starboard. The boat apparently then slid sideways for a short distance, being carried on the breaking crest of the wave, until the leeward hull and keel finally dug in. Thirdly, poised as she was at the crest of a larger than normal wave, she took off at an angle down the face of the wave and reached a speed clearly in excess of 20 kts. (We did not see the knot meter, but judged the speed from the vibration of the hull/rudder system.)
It was at this point that it was decided to deploy the Galerider in order to slow the boat down and prevent uncontrolled surfing. The Galerider was deployed via a bridle and 2 x 100' lengths of rode. Extreme care was taken in its deployment, but there were no injuries or hardware problems (remember, it was still dark). The result was that the vessel immediately slowed to 2-4 kts. and no surfing occurred at speeds greater than 5 kts. This slower speed allowed cross wave patterns to more easily catch up to us and pass by, thus creating more bridgedeck slamming and leeward hull pounding, but NOT with the intensity that had occurred while surfing. The boat would not self-steer in these conditions and continued to require an active autopilot. She was, however, well-balanced under bare poles and the autopilot did not have to work very hard.
Daylight showed us a sea with multiple well-developed wave trains coming at angles off the beam and stern. During the next 12 hours we saw several wave interactions that could have accounted for our early morning incident. However, it was never repeated while under drogue. Speed and steering were well under control. The yellow drogue could be seen (fully submerged at all times) under the surface about two full wave trains behind. After 24 hrs. it was winched in without incident and we proceeded under jib and triple-reefed main in 28-30 kts. of wind.
I think in retrospect a slightly longer rode would have prevented some of the bridle's vertical "slapping" of the waves as the rode stretched and contracted. There were, however, no chafe or hardware problems. We were well-prepared with the proper equipment, shackles and rodes. Therein lies the key to success.
File D/C-5, obtained from Darryl and Diviana Wheeler, Auckland NZ. - Vessel name Heart Light, Catalac catamaran designed by Tom Lack, LOA 41' x Beam 18' x Draft 3' x 8.5 Tons - Drogue: 5-ft. Diameter hybrid parachute on 70' x 3/8" chain tether with bridle arms of 150' each (3/4" nylon braid) and 1/2" swivel - Deployed in the Queen's Birthday Storm (June 1994) in deep water about 400 miles south of Fiji, with winds of 80 knots and seas of 80 ft. - Vessel's stern yawed 30° with owner steering with the rudders and the engines - Speed exceeded 10 knots at times.
In 1987 Darryl and Diviana Wheeler sold their house in America and purchased Heart Light, a 41-ft. Catalac catamaran. They put out to sea, learning to sail as they went. They made it through the Panama Canal and across the Pacific to the Marquesas and Tahiti, arriving in New Zealand in November 1989, where Darryl worked for a number of years as a marketing consultant. On Tuesday, 31 May 1994, in spite of Diviana's premonitions, Daryl cast off a New Zealand dock, headed north. He wanted to sail to Tonga with the Tongan fleet - an annual regatta. On board were his wife, Diviana, their son, Shane, and their daughter-in-law, Stephanie. En route to Tonga they ran straight into what has since been called the Queen's Birthday Storm. Heart Light found herself in the worst part of the storm, flanked by the yachts that sustained the most damage, all within a 200-mile radius - Destiny to her left (File D/M-12), Pilot and Quartermaster to her right, Ramtha and Mary T up ahead, Silver Shadow and Sofia behind.
What transpired on Heart Light between June 4 and June 6 has to be regarded as one of the most remarkable feats of manual steering in the history of multihull sailing. All the more remarkable because in 16,000 sea miles Darryl Wheeler had never done the steering offshore - the autopilot had always taken care of that. Now, suddenly, he found himself perched in the driver's seat in the inside steering station, his hands clasped onto the wheel, Diviana's arms clasped about him - trying to keep him from falling off the chair.
The drogue used was a hybrid parachute, about 5 feet in diameter. In the course of numerous telephone conversations Victor Shane and Darryl Wheeler ascertained that it was not a BUORD. This parachute was light blue in color and seems to have been made of much lighter, non-porous material, perhaps Nylon Taffeta, or even heavy spinnaker Rip-Stop. It had less than a dozen shroud lines. It was deployed on a 75' chain tether, with 150' bridles made of 3/4" nylon braid. This bridle was shackled to heavy duty padeyes on the outboard ends of the catamaran's hulls - probably why it didn't chafe through.
As the storm built the catamaran started surfing down steep waves at speeds in excess of 10 knots with the drogue in tow. Already, in the few hours that he had been behind the wheel, Darryl had become an accomplished helmsman. And he had quickly learned how to make good use of Heart Light's twin inboard engines as well. Since the propellers were positioned 18 feet apart, by cutting one throttle and punching the other one Darryl soon found he could use rudders and engines in combination to keep the yacht more or less aligned downwind, in spite of the rogue waves that were hammering her from side to side.
With the lives of his family hanging in the balance Darryl became an expert at steering the boat down 60-ft. seas. The ride must have been incredible. The 41' x 18' catamaran all but became an Olympic toboggan, hurtling down the sides of sheer slopes, slamming sideways into rogue avalanches and occasionally falling off a precipice or two. The hulls and cross-arms were flexing. So were the huge windows, letting copious amounts of water in. Stephanie was perched on the floor, hopelessly sea sick. The entire yacht was wet and trashed, littered with food items and broken glass.
Many hours later, as the ordeal drew to a conclusion, a huge wave picked up the drogue bridle and threw it at the propellers. All lines became fouled. All engines useless. Heart Light was now dead in the water, lying a-hull. Darryl activated the EPIRB and deployed an 18-ft. Para-Tech sea anchor off the bow. The boat remained on station until they were taken off by the ship San Te Maru 18.
Those interested in a blow by blow account of the life and death saga that transpired on Heart Light can obtain a copy of Diviana's book, Heart Light, Rescue At Sea (Random House New Zealand Ltd., 18 Poland Road, Glenfield, Auckland 10, New Zealand). Here is a transcript of the DDDB feedback Victor Shane obtained from Darryl & Diviana Wheeler:
This is a recap of our experience using a drogue and para-anchor. The drogue was with the boat when we bought it. It was a 4-6 ft. diameter nylon chute. I had a swivel connected to 70 feet of chain that I could hook a bridle to and connect to each stern. During the storm I used my 150' bridle that was made for the para-anchor. As the storm started to build we were faced with the decision to para-anchor from the bow or deploy a drogue to help us steer and slow the boat. We had a lot of large windows on two levels across the front and as the waves were building, we decided it was in our best interest to run. A decision that proved itself to be correct under the unusual circumstances we later found ourselves in. Even if we had storm windows, we would not have para-anchored bow first into this tempest.
As soon as we deployed the drogue the boat became easier to handle. Every time she would want to broach the drogue would drag her back on course. As the wind built to a steady 77 knots gusting to 90 knots it would drive the 50 foot waves on top of one another. The faces of these monsters were vertical on both sides. In some cases the waves would stack 3 high, with the center wave becoming aerated. When you came off one of these giants the middle wave would drop out and the cat would free fall through the gap until hitting the next wave below.
Because of the height and steepness of the waves, plus the fact that every so often a group of waves would come from another direction, I feel that it would have been suicide to deploy the para-anchor from the bow. The New Zealand Air Force was reporting waves over 100 feet high from this stacking problem. We were careening down 100 foot waves under bare poles, sometimes reaching 13 knots dragging the drogue, doing our best to prevent a broach - we did find ourselves flying a hull more than once! When one of these monsters would break on top of us it was like a giant hand pushing us at will in any direction it chose. The power of these waves was so intense that if we were not moving in their direction we surely would have been damaged.
On our final broach waves pushed the rode from our drogue into our props. At that climactic point my engines were stuffed by missiles of sea water and my props were wrapped tightly in the drogue lines. We became dead in the water sitting sideways to the waves. After things calmed down to a mild roar of about 60 knots and the huge waves were no longer stacking, we did deploy our para-anchor to hold us in place. However, surprisingly, the cat did much better when free falling down the waves at that point. If we had not been intent on staying in ONE spot we would have cut it loose. The problem again, was the fact that we were getting hit broadside by rogue waves instead of just the seas moving on us from the front. It was terrifying sitting there jerking around and having the sea burst down on us, causing the windows to flex inwards and dump gallons of water inside the boat. Further confirmation to us that indeed we had made the right choice in running under these particular circumstances. I still feel that a para-anchor is a great line of defense for multihulls, I have successfully used mine on various occasions. It just was not practical in these extreme conditions. I hope and pray none of your readers will ever have the misfortune of being in a storm of this nature.
In the end, I will say from personal experience that the safest craft in this storm were the two catamarans. While our ordeal was horrific it was nothing in comparison to the monohulls that were being pitchpoled and rolling 360 degrees. Setting aside our experience of the event and looking at this from a seamanship point of view, we would offer the following. Make up your mind before you get in a situation of this type as to what you are going to do. Once you commit to a tactic it is almost impossible to change tactics. Even if we had wanted to, we could not have deployed a para-anchor during the storm. It was all you could do to just hang on, let alone shackle and deploy a drag device. Work out some sort of system so that if you are dragging a drogue and using your engines for control the rode is not carried into the props. Maybe a rope cutter on the shafts would work.
File D/C-6, obtained from Robert Harnwell, Berwyn, PA. - Vessel name Malaika, hailing port Philadelphia, Snowgoose catamaran designed by the Prout brothers, LOA 37' x Beam 16' x Draft 2.8' x 7.5 Tons - Drogue: Seabrake GP-24 (24" diameter) on 100' x 5/8" nylon three strand tether - No bridle - Deployed in a gale in deep water about 200 miles WNW of Cape Finisterre (Spain) with winds of 30 knots and seas of 12-20 ft. - Vessel's stern yawed 10° - Speed was reduced to 4-5 knots during 48 hours of deployment.
Malaika was sailed from England to the Chesapeake Bay in August 1995. Like most Prout catamarans her mast is stepped aft. With her center of effort so far back she has a slight tendency to want to round up into the wind, and will yaw slightly more than other catamarans when running downwind. Taking the main down and using headsails will reduce this the yawing - and the weather helm. So will towing a speed-limiting drogue. This applies to any vessel with a mast stepped aft or a center of effort well back - schooners, for example. Transcript:
Deployed the drogue a number of times across the Atlantic. From England to the Azores the wind was straight behind. In the gale she was surfing 10-12 knots down the big ones, slewing around at the bottom. In a big, heavy boat like ours that's really fast. Deployed the drogue and it slowed the boat down to about 5 knots - like putting on the brakes. At one point had to roll out more jib to keep up speed and control the boat. We had a sail up throughout the 48 hours with the drogue. Most of the time she would track straight, slewing around only at the bottom of the waves.
No bridle, primarily because the boat is equipped with a real heavy duty cleat and roller for the stern anchor, slightly off the centerline of the boat, about 3 feet off the centerline. No noticeable difference. The wind was knocking us around and you really couldn't tell that the cleat wasn't on the centerline of the boat. Steered by hand through the worst of it. The autopilot in most cases could do a better job steering than we could, but there were times when you would get a succession of waves, of one, two, and three waves, and on the third one you knew that you had to get on the helm yourself, because you could feel that the boat was going too fast and you were going to lose control at the bottom of the wave - when you came off the bottom of the wave the autopilot wasn't going to be able to keep the boat straight so you had to take over. But she didn't yaw about significantly in those conditions. A couple of times things got thrown around down below, but that was about it.
Due to higher speeds on catamarans, use caution in deploying a drogue. We almost lost control of it when we first put it overboard. It took off so fast and it had so much drag that it almost overwhelmed both of us. My suggestion would be to practice deploying it beforehand, which is what we really should have done. We lost the polypropylene trip line due to a slipped knot and had to pull the drogue back in with a winch - it's like having a bulldog pulling against you at the other end.
[Positioning the drogue:] The drogue grabbed anywhere it was off the stern. Sometimes it would come out of the front face of a wave, so I guess the farther back you position it the better off you are. Given the moderate conditions [30-knot winds] we didn't want it much more than a 100 feet off the stern, worrying about having to haul it back again. It would have worked fine 25 feet off the stern, but at a 100 feet everything was a little more stable. You need to use good chafing gear. We had the rode running through an anchor roller. Even with the roller and the nice, smooth metal surfaces, I had to let out a little line every twenty minutes or so.
File D/C-7, obtained from Mark J. Orr, Leigh On Sea, UK. - Vessel name Shockwave, hailing port Southampton, ocean racing catamaran designed by John Shuttleworth, LOA 34' x Beam 18' x Draft 18" x 2 Tons - Drogue: Sea Squid on 200' x 7/16" nylon three strand tether, with bridle arms of 30' each and 1/2" galvanized swivel - Deployed while racing, in a low system in deep water about 100 miles west of Cape Finisterre (Spain) with winds of 35 knots and seas of 10-15 ft. - Vessel's stern yawed 20° - Speed was reduced to about 10-12 knots with double-reefed main and half-furled Genoa.
Transoceanic racing skipper Mark J. Orr is affiliated with Prout Catamarans and has participated in numerous multihull races. In the 1995 Azores and Back Race he used an Australian Sea Squid drogue to maintain speed and stability. This feat can be accomplished with high speed plastic drogues like the discontinued Sea Squid or some of Seabrake's solid units - the MK I or the HSD 300. In high winds the forward pull of relatively large sails is opposed by the rearward pull of the drogue and the yacht in between is then able to move at relatively high speeds as though on railroad tracks - if the drogue doesn't fly out of the wave faces. Transcript:
Fortunately it was not our para-anchor that we had to use, but our Sea Squid drogue, which worked brilliantly. Whilst racing from Falmouth to San Miguel, Azores, in the Azores and Back Race, we had a fantastic multihull sail on the way down. After a strong beat at the start, the wind steadily came round to a reach, and then a broad reach whilst steadily building. Late on day two we were sailing with the wind angle at 110° from the starboard bow in a brisk F6-7. The seas were building and the boat was enjoying some marvelous surfing with speeds steadily in the 15-18 knot range. As the spinnaker was doused for full genoa and the mainsail reefed, the roller furling became jammed with half the genoa furled. The mainsail with 2 reefs was fine. As the surfs became longer and faster there was the occasional danger of the bow digging in too much.
Having decided that we wanted to press onto the Azores as quickly as possible, we did not want to reduce too much sail. At the same time we wanted to keep the stern down in the water and prevent the bows digging in. The drogue seemed the ideal answer. We deployed in on two 35' bridles and 200 ft. of 10mm three strand nylon. Once deployed the boat continued under 2 reefs in the mainsail and half furled genoa at 10-12 knots for the next 8 hours. Not once did the bows seriously dig in, and the stern seemed glued to the water. We hand-steered to get round waves that might slow us down, but on reflection could have used the autopilot and rested. It was amazing how secure the boat felt with the drogue out. As the boat accelerated too quickly (on a surf) there was a gentle dampening pull on the stern from the drogue that kept the acceleration gradual and within control. Lessons learned were that the bridles could have been longer, and I would have preferred a stainless steel swivel between the bridle and the tether. We had rigged up for the para-anchor off the bow and used its bridle for the drogue, which was fun to de-rig. However for the leg from the Azores back to Falmouth we rigged bridles from bow and stern so that we only had to attach the tether and the appropriated drag device. We will do this in future passages as it will speed deployment and save energy. It was the first time we had used the drogue on this boat and it was brilliant. If we had not had the drogue we would have had to slow right down. Having it on board meant that we could maintain a good racing performance in apparent safety.
File D/C-8, obtained from Dr. Gavin Le Sueur, Mallacoota, Australia - Vessel name Windswept, hailing port Mallacoota, catamaran, designed by Lock Crowther, LOA 40' x Beam 26' x Draft 2' 6" x 3 Tons - Drogue: Sea Squid on 300' x 3/4" nylon braid tether, with bridle arms of 28' each - Towed in a whole gale in deep water from Perth to Adelaide with winds of 40-50 knots and seas of 20-30 ft. - Vessel's stern yawed 20° - Speed was reduced to about 4 knots.
Although the Sea Squid is no longer in production we are presenting files that involve its use because they contain invaluable insights relating to the use of speed-limiting drogues in general. Dr. Gavin Le Sueur (see also S/C-16) used Australian Sea Squid drogues in the rough 1988 Two Handed Around Australia Race, the same race in which Peter Blake participated on Steinlager II (File D/T-1). Transcript:
I was offered a 40ft Crowther catamaran to sail in the 1988 Two Handed Around Australia Race. I crossed the starting line with Catherine [wife to be] as my crew. We were given a plastic "Sea Squid" drogue to test during the race. The first night brought a southerly buster that capsized a 35ft trimaran (Escapade), sank a police launch and cost the life of a crewman on a monohull (Boundary Rider). We towed the Sea Squid on 300ft of 1" braided nylon. It porpoised all night [diving in and out] and by dawn we were just dragging rope with a small plug of plastic shackled on the end. At the first stopover we were given a second Sea Squid. This one had a reinforced head (fiberglass resin poured into the bolt attachment). After a gale in the Coral Sea the inlet valves of this Sea Squid had split and folded back. Again this one would leap out of the water on occasions. At Darwin we were given a third Sea Squid to test. This time the inlet valves were smaller and reinforced across the center. We added 6ft of anchor chain right next to the drogue. This stopped the porpoising.
While crossing the Southern Ocean from Perth to Adelaide all competitors went through gale after storm. We could not carry full sail for 3000 miles! We towed drogues and warps for most of the way. The last Sea Squid worked famously. With the chain, reinforcing and altered inlet valves, we had no further structural failure. It was speed limiting to approximately 7 knots. We no longer surfed down waves, and often would add sail before taking in the Squid so that we could maintain a constant 7 knots and not stall in the troughs.
The drogue bridle ran inboard from each hull to two winches so that the arms could be adjusted for steering. The tether itself continued into the cockpit and the bridle arms were spliced together and the combined end bent onto the tether with a rolling hitch with a lock. The tether was then let out until the bridle grabbed. It was secured to another winch as a backup if the bridle arms failed, or the knot came undone. This never happened. We finished the Around Australia Race in second place in the 40ft division, third multihull over the line behind Steinlager (Peter Blake) and Verbatim (Cathy Hawkins and Ian Johnston). On the finish line I asked my crew to marry me and surprisingly she said yes!
Our drogue system has continuously undergone experiment and changes. These changes are entirely experimental and apply only to our catamaran, but may be of use to others. Our first problem was the stowage of the Sea Squid, and rigging it for convenient use. It meant getting out our short length of chain off the breakfast anchor line [lunch hook]. It usually meant digging the Squid out from the recesses of the bow. We read about textile drogues and have tried four systems since 1992. The first was a scaled down parachute. It worked out but slowed the cat to less than 3 knots in 35-knot winds. Too slow to avoid getting pooped. We then tried a "series" drogue, provided as a trial. It slowed the boat, but was a stowage mess and very impractical. We then tried a textile drogue that was fluted. It was like a normal parachute (3ft diameter) but with the middle ten inches removed and the continuous shrouds holding the two pieces of material together [see image below]. This fluted drogue worked as well as the parachute - 3 knots and too slow in 35-knot winds and 12ft seas. We had the drogue re-shaped by Para-Anchors Australia, the outlet hole enlarged and a rope tie put into the ends of the shrouds so that we could adjust the outlet [as with a drawstring bag].
With all three drogues and the Sea Squid we put out to sea for a twelve month cruise. We have used the variable outlet - fluted - drogue four times in anger, using it to control our speed, or to stop surfing, or to ease the work of the autopilot. In 37-knot gusty conditions we sailed up to 8 knots with the outlet open. We put up our storm spinnaker (a small, bulletproof racing kite with a low center of gravity) and we were unable to push the boat speed over 8 knots. With 200ft of rode it appeared that the drogue rapidly increased the turbulence as we increased the pulling power [by adding sails]. It was as though we had hit a speed barrier. We winched it in (about ten minutes hard yakka) and then re-launched it with the outlet hole tightened up (from 10 inch diameter to 4 inches). We were then back to three knots boat speed. Again we were unable to exceed this speed. It took a bit longer to haul it in the second time but the exercise seemed fruitful. I thought it justified further development and sent a copy of the reports to Para-Anchors Australia. Why a variable drogue? Vary the outlet hole so that one drogue can work for different boats. On any boat, with practice (essential) you can "dial a speed limit." A simple system that is stowed in the cockpit without hassle. At no time did any of the textile drogues break the surface, although I would add a weight if I was to run downwind in tumbling sea conditions.
Dr. Le Sueur's "fluted" parachute drogue is similar in concept to the ringsail and disk gap-band drogues used by NASA and the Aerospace Industry. Alby McCracken of Para-Anchors Australia has developed Dr. Le Sueur's idea - replete with drawstring drag adjustment - and is now offering models for sale (see Appendix III at the back of this publication).
File D/C-9, obtained from Captain Fred Yeates, Tarpon Springs, FL. - Vessel name Anna Kay, hailing port Gwenn Island, VA, catamaran, designed by Jim Brown, LOA 44' x Beam 25' x Draft 3' x 6 Tons - Drogues: 4-ft. diameter Shewmon Variable Pull & 9-ft. diameter Shewmon (sea anchor) on 250' x 3/4" nylon braid tether, with bridle arms of 25' each and 5/8" galvanized swivel - Deployed in a severe Tehuantepeccer storm in 160 fathoms of water in the Gulf of Tehuantepec with winds of 120+ knots and seas of 40 ft. and greater - Vessel was blown 100 miles offshore in 20 hours before having to be abandoned.
Situated on the Pacific side of the Mexican isthmus, the Gulf of Tehuantepec ranks among the most perilous bodies of water on the planet earth. Experienced ship captains fear the Tehuantepec as they fear Bengal monsoons, Caribbean hurricanes, North Atlantic icebergs, North Pacific fog and the freak waves of the Agulhas (see a list of such events by month in Appendix V at the back this publication).
Crossing the Gulf of Tehuantepec is not something to be trifled with. The weather mechanism that can generate 70-knot winds in a matter of hours can be likened to a boiling kettle from which high pressure steam has only one escape route - the spout. The kettle is the Gulf of Mexico, flanked by the Mexican Plateau and the 10,000 ft. Sierra Madre mountains.
The steam consists of the northeast tradewinds reinforced by a massive high pressure cell situated over Texas or thereabouts. The spout is the cut in the Sierra Madre Mountains (in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec) through which the wind blasts out into the Pacific.
The Tehuantepec Demon (as locals refer to it) is most active in the months of November, December and January, though it has been known to wake up in other months. The demon's reach may extend a few hundred miles out to sea.
In crossing the Tehuantepec most southbound cruisers hold up in Huatulco Bay, waiting for a weather window. Northbound cruisers do the same on the other side of the Gulf of Tehuantepec, in Puerto Madero. The distance between Bahia de Huatulco and Puerto Madero is 260 miles as the crow flies
Since a strong wind must blow over a minimal distance - fetch - in order to build dangerous seas, and since the Tehuantepeccer blows from land out to sea, standard procedure - the highly recommended course - is to hug the beach and anchor if the Tehuantepec awakens, using the boat's heaviest ground tackle. Note that in doing so there are currents and other hazards that have to be watched for.
Captain Fred Yeates built Anna Kay with his own hands in 1984. She was the largest Jim Brown designed catamaran at the time. He spent five years cruising the Caribbean before transiting the Panama Canal in the spring of 1991. After several years in San Diego, Yeates sailed up to Santa Barbara where Victor Shane briefly met him. In the autumn of 1995 Yeates and Holly Janette Gatioan set sail out of Santa Barbara. Their destination was to be the Caribbean, via the Panama Canal. They spent several months in Mexico, arriving in Huatulco Bay in late February. Anna Kay waited there for two weeks. On 5 March a 48-hour window came through from the Canadian route forecaster Herb Hilgenburg via SSB. The weather fax was good and the port captain predicted safe sailing for two days. Fred and Holly set off to cross the Gulf of Tehuantepec and a nice warm breeze pushed them past Salina Cruz that night. The next day the wind freshened and Anna Kay was moving along at a nice clip, hugging the beach just in case the Tehuantepec should awaken. In the afternoon of 7 March 1996 the Tehuantepec awoke with a vengeance. The wind did an abrupt right-face and started blowing offshore, building to hurricane force in two hours, wiping out the local fishing fleet and claiming dozens of lives. Anna Kay was blown offshore. Transcript:
We were sailing off the Mexican coast, on the Pacific side, in the area known as the Gulf of Tehuantepec. At 1500 hrs on the afternoon of 7 March 1996 I found myself staring at a true wonder of nature - the largest thunder cloud I had ever seen, grow and form into a massive solid black wall of wind and rain bearing down directly on Anna Kay. I awakened Holly from her sleep. She came up on deck and saw what was coming down. I can't repeat her first words. The cold wind and rain hit us like a sledgehammer. There were other vessels around us, large shrimp boats, with crews of four or five. We watched them struggle with the sudden buildup of wind and sea.
Anna Kay was handling the conditions very well, the wind pushing us along the beach in the direction we wanted to go, there being no reason to anchor. In fact, by then it would have been quite difficult to do so. The bottom was too deep and the surf along the shore already quite spectacular. The wind continued to build. As we were being blasted down along the shore we witnessed one shrimp boat capsize. Clearly others were in trouble as well. With darkness falling, conditions worsening, and having no radar, I felt it would be wise to move offshore. Around 2000 hrs the wind suddenly shifted 90° and quickly built up to 75 knots! I deployed my 4' Shewmon VP [variable pull] drogue. Holly and I watched the last shore light disappear. We were now alone and heading out to sea.
With the drogue deployed from a stern bridle the behavior of the boat was relatively comfortable and I was able to lie down and rest for an hour or so. By midnight the confused seas had built to such an extent that the ride was getting scary. Suddenly we started moving faster, crashing-banging sounds all around. We came on deck and discovered that the drogue had twisted and tangled itself. I retrieve it, straightened it out and re-deployed it. The behavior of the boat improved. Around 0300 the drogue fouled again. In the darkness I couldn't tell why. It was a vital piece of gear and it had always worked before. About all I could do was to haul it back in and try re-deployment.
Dawn revealed an ugly sea. As the sun came up the wind increased, and with it came even larger seas. Once again the drogue fouled and I hauled it in, with Holly at the helm. By now the wind was gusting to 100. With no drag in the water we started to be picked up and thrown about by huge confused seas, cresting on both sides and to the rear. I went below and hauled out my 9-ft. Shewmon sea anchor. Everything was a mess down below, with water sloshing about my ankles. With quiet a bit of difficulty I set the bigger sea anchor [off the stern, on the fly] and breathed a sigh of relief when it opened and held. With the big Shewmon deployed the boat slowed down and I didn't have to steer. I could leave the helm and actually go inside. I felt like resting for a while. But that was not to be. A wave washed the dinghy overboard. It was still tied and being dragged ten feet behind Anna Kay (the sea anchor being some 250' behind the boat). Big waves were breaking over our transom, trying to throw the dinghy at the catamaran. I thought about letting the dinghy sink and provide more drag. But the next wave convinced me otherwise. The dink had to go. I crawled to the transom with a knife in my teeth and cut it away.
The wind was still increasing. As we rose to the top of a wave the sea was a white-out all around. The sea anchor was getting rolled by the steep, confused waves, from the left, then from the right. Later, as I was watching, it got caught by two cross-seas and collapsed right before my eyes. I worked very hard to retrieve it, with Holly at the helm, trying to keep the boat from broaching. The sea anchor was all tangled up but not torn. I untangled it, only to have a wave come along and tangle it again and almost sweep me overboard. After straightening out the sea anchor I carefully deployed it, trying to let it out as slowly as possible. It worked fine again for a while, before being fouled by more cross seas. I had no choice but to pull it back in again. This took some doing. The 3/4" rode was slippery and my hands were all white and wrinkled by now. My safety harness saved me many times. I felt the problem was not having a swivel. Dan Shewmon himself had told me that it was not necessary. But in this situation it was. In the chaos down below I found my heaviest ground tackle swivel. I hooked everything up - not an easy task. It took a little time. The wind was gusting way past 100 now. The gusts were so powerful that they would flatten the sea by the acre, whipping up spray that would white-out the entire ocean. I heaved the sea anchor overboard again. As I tried to ease the line out we surfed down a huge wave and I lost control. We were surfing at 15 knots. I had to let go the rope. I had to get my feet out of the way of the lines that were running out. The line reached its end and stretched. The sea anchor opened, a beautiful sight. Then it shuddered, turned into a rag and disappeared.
We had lost the sea anchor. I sat down next to Holly and kept yelling "what happened?" But this was not the time or place to cry over spilt milk. When I retrieved the rode only one new shackle was at the end [the connecting eye of the 5/8" galvanized swivel must have broken]. I hooked up the 4' drogue and put it out again. Again it helped some, but didn't last long and I had to retrieve it. It was badly torn now and we couldn't tell what it had originally looked like. I asked Holly if she could sew it up. She went below looking for the sewing kit. I then put out a tire, and a couple of anchors to slow us down. I went forward and struggled with our largest anchor, trying not to look at the waves crashing all around (hope never to see such a sight again). I trailed as many things as I could off the stern to create drag and it helped a little bit. I seem to remember we managed a drink of water or juice then. I also remember seeing birds that couldn't fly, and turtles in great distress.
Late afternoon. Night was coming and there would be no moon until midnight or later. It was very cold. I had put on my Mustang immersion suit earlier, but it was open at neck, sleeves and ankles, so I was soaking wet and shivering. Holly was no better off as we screamed our commitments to each other above the noise of the wind and encouraged each other to fight on. The poor boat was trashed inside, but structurally sound. We would surf down a wave, be lifted to the top only to be sledge-hammered sideways by a cross sea. This action would launch heavy things around inside, levitating them, then causing them to hit something hard when the boat moved again. At the helm it was hang on for your life as white water tried to sweep you clean off the deck. The boat would be lifted by a crest, the bows would hang in mid-air and teeter there, before dropping one way or the other. Going over the back was much better than surfing the front, but you had to be ready for both.
Holly saw it first, pointing straight ahead, yelling "A freighter! A freighter!" It was half a mile away, a big white freighter, her bow scooping a huge sea, the wind whipping the water into a rainbow of spray that went clear over the bridge. The poor freighter looked like a canoe in the rapids. I went below and called on the VHF. I tried three times. No response. Finally they came back. I talked with the captain. He said the weather report was for conditions to get far worse. I was concerned about our lives. I was concerned about Holly. We truly love the life style, the people, the fun and the freedom of cruising, but we weren't out there to commit suicide. I issued a formal mayday. The captain of the freighter said he would try to make a lee.
I went down below. There was no time to gather the treasures of a lifetime, clothes, books, charts, photographs, things that can never be replaced. My wallet washed past my ankle. I picked it up, put a few other papers in my backpack and went out on deck. Holly went below to put a few things in a bag. The freighter passed by and came around behind us. Its towering bow came right on top of us, stopping in the nick of time. I saw her name, CHIQUITA BARU. We slid by and they fired rocket lines. But the wind blew them right back at the freighter. I asked Holly to cut away all the things we were dragging in the water. She was almost washed away in the process. It seemed that conditions were getting worse by the minute. I could see that the freighter was having its own problems, rolling dangerously, heavy surf crashing on deck as it lay broadside to the wind.
Anna Kay's motor started right up. The rudders worked fine. I tried to hold position by motoring around. Impossible. I tried reverse. No good. The freighter made another pass close by behind us, firing rocket lines that just got blown away again. We turned again. They were putting cargo nets over the side. Somehow we managed to come alongside. The catamaran's stable platform made it easier to get off. There was only time to help Holly up the ladder. She was alive, and that was all that counted. The ladder was swinging in and out, banging against the side of the huge hull. I urged her on, "climb, baby climb," and jumped myself. I got her moving up to strong hands that were waiting at the rails. She was taken below immediately, the conditions even on the deck of this Norwegian freighter being dangerous. The lines of the Anna Kay were let go and she drifted away. My last sight of her was a huge wave crashing over and onto the bows. She shook it off, and rose to the next, and then seemed to disappear in the stormy night.
Using Parachutes, Sea Anchors and Drogues to Cope with Heavy Weather – Over 130 Documented Case Histories