Category Archives: Drogues on Monohulls

Monohulls deploying a drogue or speed limiting device from their stern

D/M-10 Monohull, Charter Vessel


Monohull, Charter Vessel

35' x 15 Tons, Long Keel

36" x 12" Cylindrical Device

Force 12 Conditions

Seabrake Mk I
Seabrake Mk I


File D/M-10, obtained from John Abernethy, Woollahra, Australia - Vessel name Papeo, hailing port Port Fairy, monohull, charter vessel, LOA 35' x Beam 10' x Draft 6' x 15 Tons - Long keel - Drogue: 36" x 12" Diameter stainless steel calf bucket on 100' x 1" nylon three strand rode - Deployed in a "Southerly Buster" storm in shallow water (15 fathoms) near Lady Julia Percy Island (Bass Strait) with winds of 100 m.p.h. and seas of 50 ft. - This event led to the genesis and development of the Australian Seabrake drogues.


Seabrake was born in the Australia's notorious Bass Strait, as treacherous a body of water as one could wish for. The Bass Strait is a 170 mile wide gauntlet that divides the Australian mainland from Tasmania. It has claimed thousands of lives. The roaring forties and mature Southern Ocean waves roll in unabated all the way from Africa, and run headlong into this gauntlet. As they try to squeeze into the narrow Bass Strait they jump over the shallow Continental Shelf and undergo a metamorphosis that can only be described as a sailor's nightmare. Sudden storms can come up without warning, producing life-threatening conditions within hours.

roaring forties
The Roaring Forties aim straight for the Bass Strait


Running before such steep and unstable seas is a little like barreling down muddy hills on a dirt bike without brakes. Imagine flying over bumps, skidding and careening sideways, somehow trying to keep the bike from falling out from under you, dirt and mud flying all over the place. If you can imagine all this, you will understand the logic and thinking behind the invention of the Australian Seabrake.

As a yacht is running down the face of such seas there will be times when the rudder will be ineffective. Because of orbital rotation and the movement of water on waves that are breaking, helm control will decrease on the crests, where it is needed most (see Figs. 7-10 and Fig. 49). As the boat is picked up and accelerated by a crest, the flow of water past the rudder is suddenly diminished and the helm goes limp. Small craft rudders are all but useless on the crests of breaking seas. If the boat is "captured" by such a crest and cannot disengage from it, the wave-induced yawing moment will be greater than the restoring moment available from the rudder and the result may be a broach, a capsize or even a 360° roll. This is where the directional restraint of a drogue (situated elsewhere on the wave train) is needed to help keep the vessel aligned, as well as to provide the drag needed to disengage the boat from the fast moving crest.

The incident that sparked the creation of Seabrake took place in 1979 - the year of the Fastnet tragedy.  Abernethy's boat, Papeo, was on a charter, looking for great white sharks. She was anchored in the lee of Lady Julia Percy Island, some twenty miles from the Australian mainland, when a "Southerly Buster" came up. The wind quickly built up to hurricane force and in no time Papeo had lost all three of her ground anchors. With her engine started she began to make a desperate run for safe harbor on the mainland. However no sooner out of the lee of Lady Julia Percy Island than she was pummeled by mountains of fast moving white water. A cone-shaped sea anchor, several feet in diameter, was deployed off the stern as an emergency measure, but it slowed the boat down too much. She was squarely hammered by a breaking wave. This wave wiped her entire deck clean, breaking a number of items as well as ripping off the focs'le hatch and taking it out to sea. A miracle of sorts then occurred when three dolphins that had been seen in the vicinity of the boat swam to the floating hatch and pushed it back close enough so that Captain Abernethy could gaff it and bring it back on deck. With the hatch hastily reinstalled, Abernethy took the knife and cut away the rode to the sea anchor. Papeo was then picked up by another huge wave and sent hurtling down into the abyss-like trough. Instinctively, Abernethy reached for the only remaining item that could function as a drogue - a stainless steel cylindrical calf bucket. These calf buckets are commonly found on Australian farms and often used as bait buckets on Australian fishing boats. Abernethy attached some line, grabbed an axe and sliced open a few holes in the bottom of the bucket and threw it over the transom. This calf bucket, since dubbed "the most famous milk bucket in Australian maritime history," then took hold of the situation and produced the desired effect, both in terms of limiting Papeo's speed, and also in terms of keeping her attitude safely aligned with the seaway.

The ride was exhilarating, to say the least. Abernethy described it to Victor Shane as "a lazy elevator." The boat would be picked up, half rolled and carried along, but never thrown or overwhelmed or broached by the mountains of confused water. By sheer luck the restraint of the makeshift drogue was just enough to keep Papeo on an even keel throughout the ordeal. She was able to keep plenty of water beneath at all times and never even came close to falling off a wave, or burying her bow into the bottom of a trough. It was a defining moment. It left an indelible mark on Abernethy's mind and several years later he came up with the first prototype of the Seabrake drogue. Subsequent models underwent extensive tank tests in the Australian Maritime College, and Seabrake came to be. Abernethy's firm has since produced a wide variety of drogues for sailboats, powered vessels and even large ships and submarines. When Abernethy was in the United States Shane had the privilege of interviewing him in Los Angeles. A synopsis of that interview follows (by permission):

The development of Seabrake was preceded by ten years of commercial operation in Australia's Bass Strait. As a commercial fisherman and charter boat owner based in the most dangerous stretch of Bass Strait, I was routinely operating in heavy seas and often towing large game fish in them. I was frequently involved in Search and Rescue operations as well, towing various types of distressed vessels to safety. Typically, conditions involved combined seas in excess of 20 feet and sustained winds of 30 knots or more. On many outings I have encountered 50 ft. seas and 50 knots winds. The incident that occasioned the birth of Seabrake involved 80 ft. combined seas and winds peaking at 100 m.p.h. There were other factors that contributed to the development of Seabrake. Contact with many who have lost vessels in the Bass Strait in the past 40 years, for one thing. My own experience showing that "speed kills," and that conventional cone-shaped drag devices don't assist and in fact can be dangerous, for another. Moreover I have found that towing items such as large game fish, bundles of rope, etc. on a short warp can create too much drag and cause a "stall" at the wrong moment - the bottom of a trough. And towing them on a long warp does not always produce the desired effect either. Drag and restraint can vary from too much to too little, depending on the direction of pull and how much rope remains in the water.

From the above I endeavored to devise a drogue that could maintain a consistent ratio between speed and drag. Never is the statement "speed kills" more relevant than when applied to vessels running before strong following seas. Finding a happy medium is the key to success. Seabrake is designed to kick in at around 7-8 knots and then continue to increase its effectiveness as the load increases beyond this speed. The ultimate goal is to maintain helm and choice of direction while keeping the ship's speed below 6 knots. In survival conditions the trick is to prevent taking on board any water and keeping the vessel as buoyant as possible, which means avoiding breaking crests or becoming bogged down in troughs. This is only achievable if the vessel has headway and helm. In my experience, even in the worst conditions it is far easier to obtain "safe water" running with a sea than jogging into it [with the engine]. And this is where Seabrake comes in.

The development of Seabrake evolved from a need to travel in harmony with the sea, with room to maneuver, much the same as rolling along at speed in heavy traffic - as opposed to being out of control and all over the road. Seabrake, in simple terms, is a remote control two-stage speed regulator, activated by a compression spring that opens and closes the drogue's baffle gates. With the baffles closed the flow of water around Seabrake is laminar, exerting just enough drag to improve steering control below hull speed or safe maximum speed. Any sudden acceleration or surfing brought on by a wave crest will cause Seabrake's nose cone to extend, which triggers the compression spring and opens the baffles inward. With the baffles open the flow of water around Seabrake becomes turbulent, instantly increasing its drag by about 70%. Conversely, a sudden deceleration in boat speed (in a wave trough) will release the spring, which will close the baffles, instantly reducing drag and preventing a "stall."

By running before the seas under restraint of a two-stage system of speed suppression and compensation, a vessel may be steered through the worst conditions in relative safety. Reading the immediate wave astern and maneuvering to expose the least amount of stern - quartering the seas rather than taking them on square - is all that needs to be done in order to avoid both the PUSH and the FALL as a dangerous wave passes under the boat. The Seabrake principle has now been in effect for some 15 years and has been tested and evaluated both academically and in the field. It has saved many lives and vessels under horrific conditions, doing so without any technical knowledge or formal training on the part of the users - the "set it and forget it" principle truly applies here.

As a final comment I need only repeat my earlier statement, "speed kills." While running before heavy seas it is important to try to keep the speed range below 6-7 knots, but above 3 knots. Slowing down below 3 knots will result in loss of steerage and allow a vessel to wallow, which is equally unsafe. I base the above on personal experience, but note that individual applications may be subject to a great many variations. Following these guidelines, however, will assist in measuring the general situation.


NOTE: A rival Australian company, Broachbrake International Pty., Ltd., was manufacturing a similar plastic drogue called the Sea Squid for a while. John Abernethy brought suit against the company for infringement of certain legal rights. Broachbrake was subsequently issued a court order to cease and desist and has since stopped making the device. Abernethy told Shane that Sea Squid was an altogether inferior imitation of his product. There is an illustration of the now outlawed Sea Squid in file D/M-12 of this publication.

D/M-11 Monohull, Islander


Monohull, Islander

29' x 4 Tons, Full Keel & Cutaway Forefoot

36" Dia. Galerider Drogue

Force 8 Conditions


File D/M-7, obtained from William A. Forest, San Luis Obispo, CA. - Vessel name Seraphim, hailing port Morro Bay, CA, monohull, Islander Wayfarer, LOA 29' x LWL 24' x Beam 9.5' x Draft 4' x 4 Tons - Full keel & cutaway forefoot - Drogue: 36" Diameter Galerider on 200' x 1/2" nylon braid rode, with 1/2" stainless steel swivel - Deployed in a gale in deep water about 500 miles west of San Francisco, with winds of 35-45 knots and seas of 15-20 ft. - Vessel's stern yawed 20° - Speed averaged out to about 4 knots during 40 hours of deployment.


William A. Forest sailed Seraphim to Hawaii and back singlehanded in July 1989. On the way back he ran into a gale about 500 miles west of San Francisco. The wind was blowing out of the northwest, so he used a Galerider to slow Seraphim down and stabilize her attitude while continuing on in the right direction. Transcript:

I made the trip just to see if I could, and having done it I don't have to prove to myself that I can any more. The trip was made in 1989, when I was 66. The problem wasn't the boat, equipment or weather, but the chance that, as a single hander, I might get injured or break something. I did take a fall on the return trip, and cracked two lower ribs. I had not followed my own rule of wearing sneakers when on deck, and my bare feet went out from under me. Lucky it wasn't worse.

Until the time I deployed the Galerider on the way back, I had forgotten I had it on board. When the seas built up, the Monitor [wind vane] was unable to keep course as I sailed down into the troughs. The boat was surfing at that time, and the natural tendency was to try and round up, making it a dangerous broaching situation. This involved several hours of hand steering. Very tiring, at best. I took down the reefed main, hoisted the storm jib, and deployed the Galerider at 0200 hrs. on July 20th. I let out the Galerider rode to 150' initially, but later adjusted it between 125-200' to get best response, control and ride. The rode came in through the port after chock, taking half a turn on a corner cleat, then to my jib winch and onto another cleat. This way the strain was distributed between the first cleat and the winch, and I could take in or let out as the situation changed. As soon as the Galerider was deployed and the rode adjusted I had instant control. It was amazing. A note here that chafing gear must be used at the chock or the rode will easily wear through and the drogue be lost. It should also be noted that I had a 90 sq. ft. storm jib up. In order for the drogue to work properly it is necessary to have forward motion.

I adjusted the rode so that the Galerider was on the same side of the wave as the boat. In my case it was two waves back [on the same part of the wave as the boat]. I found that the strain was less on the line, and there were no jerks or rapid slowing as the boat moved forward. After deployment it was never necessary to hand-steer again. Once the Monitor wind vane was engaged I was able to unlash the tiller and my course became more exact. Sometime during early daylight hours a rogue wave from the port side carried away the wind vane sail and the dodger, filling the cockpit.

The Galerider worked well. There was plenty of searoom and the wind was blowing in the direction I wanted to go. However, in a situation of a dangerously close lee shore, and the loss of a rudder or sails, there is no doubt in my mind that a sea anchor would have been required. There is no law about not having both on board. In the unlikely event that I should go cruising again I would have both.

In subsequent telephone conversations Victor Shane asked William Forest why he didn't position the drogue on the back side of its wave when the yacht was surfing down the face of its wave (see Fig. 52). His answer was that he tried that, but given the particular situation - 35-knot winds - the yacht had a tendency to stall and wallow in the troughs. He added that in 50-knot winds he likely would have positioned the drogue on the "meatier" part of the wave.

In answer to the question as to whether he would prefer to take the seas squarely on the transom or on the quarter, Forest indicated that he would prefer to take them on the quarter with the drogue in tow, although it would depend on the particular circumstance. He stressed that every gale is different, every boat is different, and decisions such as where to position the drogue, or whether to use a bridle or not, or whether it is better to run directly downwind or to take the seas on the quarter are fluid decisions that need to be tailored to existing circumstances and conditions

Galerider drogue produced by Hathaway, Reiser and Raymond
Galerider drogue produced by Hathaway, Reiser and Raymond

D/M-12 Monohull, Norseman 447


Monohull, Norseman 447

45' x 14 Tons, Low Aspect Fin Keel

Sea Squid Drogue

Force 12+ Conditions

File D/M-12, obtained from Paula & Dana Dinius, Long Beach, CA. - Vessel name Destiny, hailing port Long Beach, monohull, Norseman 447 designed by Robert Perry, LOA 45' x LWL 37.6' x Beam 13' x Draft 6.5' x 14 Tons - Low aspect fin keel - Drogue: Australian Sea Squid on 200' x 1/2" nylon braid rode + 12' of 3/8" chain, with bridle arms of 20' each - Deployed in the Queen's Birthday Storm in deep water near 25° 55.7' S, 175° 28.4' E (about 400 miles SSW of Fiji) with winds of 80-100 knots and seas of 60 ft. and greater - Vessel's stern yawed 45° and more with the owner steering - Speed averaged about 6 knots during 15 hours of deployment - Destiny was damaged after somersaulting off a huge stacking wave and had to be abandoned.


In June 1994 a regatta of pleasure yachts left New Zealand, headed for Tonga. En route they were devastated by an unseasonable cyclone.

The event coincided with the celebration of Queen Elizabeth's birthday, and has been referred to as the Queen's Birthday Storm ever since. About half a dozen boats were abandoned. Two dozen sailors had to be rescued. The yacht Quartermaster sank with loss of three lives.

Destiny, the subject of this file, did a spectacular dive off the top of an eighty foot wave. Dana Dinius told Victor Shane that it was like going over the falls on a surfboard - the yacht fell straight down. He distinctly remembers being weightless while hanging on to the wheel. Destiny went end over end when she finally hit bottom, doing a cartwheel and snap roll that bent her mast all the way around the hull. Dana's leg was badly broken at the hip, incapacitating him. Paula somehow managed to drag him inside, where the two spent a night to remember, rescue aircraft circling overhead.

The life and death rescue drama that transpired the next day is described in great detail in other texts and videos, among them Tony Farrington's book Rescue In The Pacific (International Marine Publications), and Ninox Films's epic video, Pacific Rescue (Ninox Films, Ltd., PO Box 9839, Wellington, NZ).

At this point we would like to digress and say something else about the Queen's Birthday Storm: the cyclonic conditions were exacerbated by microburst-generated ESWs. The term ESW - extreme storm wave - was coined by Jerome W. Nickerson when he was head of NOAA's National Weather Service Marine Observation Program. "The ESW appears to be about 2.5 times the significant wave," wrote Nickerson in the NOAA publication, Mariner's Weather Log (Vol 29, No. 1 - see also Vol 37, No. 4, the Great Wave issue). ESWs arrive as colossal walls of water with a deep trench in front. When aligned with the seaway they may be technically classified as episodic (wave events that stand apart from all others during the analysis interval). When misaligned, they may be classified as freaks, mavericks or rogues, because they intrude into the dominant seaway at angles of up to 50°, causing "stacking" and "wave doubling" where they intersect with the regular significant waves. Sometimes ESWs come in pairs, the largest following on the heels of the first. On rare occasions they may even come in sets of three, a fearsome phenomenon dubbed the three sisters by ancient mariners.



Microburst producing a 'gust front' or 'shear line'
Microburst producing a 'gust front' or 'shear line'

Cold, dense air from the upper part of thunderstorm cell plummets downward. When it reaches the surface it spreads out on all sides, but most strongly in the direction of the movement of the storm. The outer edge is called a gust front or shear line. Bold arcs in lower right corner indicate dangerous area in which the gust front is sufficiently synchronized with the prevailing waves to reinforce/amplify a few significant ones into Extreme Storm Waves (ESWs). There were dozens of massive thunderstorm cells embedded within the Queen's Birthday Storm.

Putting all things together, several components can be applied to the Queen's Birthday Storm, setting the stage for the genesis of ESWs: Inordinately steep pressure gradients, resulting from the confrontation of differing air masses; a rapidly developing, warm-core cyclonic system, rotating clockwise in the southern hemisphere; wind field rapidly increasing to above Force 10 (50 knots sustained), producing significant waves of about 20 feet. The picture so far is fairly representative of the average storm. However, we now have to look for an additional reinforcing agent or catalyst by means of which significant waves can be built up to the 80-ft. monster that threw Destiny end over end in the Queen's Birthday Storm.

According to Jerome W. Nickerson, one such catalyst or reinforcing agent can be found in extreme downbursts. Such downbursts are associated with the rapid venting of energy bottled up in discrete thunderstorm cells embedded within the larger storm system. Thunderheads have been known to reach heights of 65,000 feet. The cold, dense downdraft from such a concentrated energy cell will sometimes produce wind gusts of 100-knots and higher - as with tornadoes. When such a downburst reaches the surface of the sea it could statistically synchronize with, organize, reinforce and amplify the existing significant waves into ESWs.

We already have a 979 mb cyclone in the Queen's Birthday Storm. Add sudden, catalytic release of energy bottled up in massive thunderstorm cells, pulsing down against the surface of the sea and thereafter spreading out on all sides (but most strongly in the direction in which the storm is moving) in the form of a gust front or squall line.

Speculation locates the genesis of an ESW at a place where the speed and direction of the moving gust front coincides with the speed and direction of the highest existing waves (lower right corner, bold arcs in Fig. 55). The developing ESW - the dominant wave in the train - will now collect more energy from the wind than the other waves. Moving faster, it will also merge with and collect energy from the smaller waves it is overtaking, in effect "stacking" and "snowballing" into the stature of a genuine extreme storm wave.

Was this the case in the Queen's Birthday Storm? Well, it could have been a contributing factor because we have many first hand accounts of violent thunderstorm activity. In fact there was so much electrical activity that many claimed to have seen strange lights - some even thought they had seen flying saucers. Commander Larry Robbins of the HMNZS Monowai (one of the rescue ships) reported seeing such lights, as did other personnel aboard the ship. "Suddenly the decks lit up... the sky just lit up and we could see for miles," said Lieutenant Andrew Saunderson. Jim Helden, captain of the cargo ship Tui Cakau III - whose Fijian crew took Paula and Dana off Destiny - saw the electric show, as did Paula and Dana Dinius themselves. Said Paula in the interview that she and Dana did for Ninox Films, "The lightning was approaching... I believe we went right through the center because of this lightning show... it was just amazing... you could just see it coming directly, and then it was on us, and it was just all over us... you could feel it as it cracked... it would just go through your body."

One can also infer microbursts from the baffling testimony of Dana Dinius himself. Dana was bewildered by the chaotic nature and direction of the wind as he struggled with Destiny's helm: "We had 85 knots of wind, and it really wasn't a wind... it was a mist, it was really intriguing... there was a real presence there, an evil that we felt... the wind would come in from the right or the left and swirl up in front of us in a big mist, and then it would exit... and it might exit forward, it might exit over my shoulder... it wasn't a consistent type of a wind, and with the lightning cracking all around us, it was... we can only describe it as a real evil." (Courtesy Ninox Films).

Only a severe microburst - or macroburst - could have exhibited such chaotic characteristics (meteorologists call downbursts with outflow diameters of no greater than 2.2 nm microbursts, and those with outflow diameters greater than 2.2 nm macrobursts). Depending on her position beneath the downburst, Destiny might have been blasted with 80-100 knot gusts from any number of directions. Transcript:

On June 4, 1994, five days out of Auckland, New Zealand, approximately 400 nm SSW of Fiji, my wife Paula and I were hit by an out of season 979mb cyclone. It was to come without warning and deliver constant 80-85 knot winds (gusts over 100 knots) and 15 meter breaking seas. At the storm's conclusion 21 people were rescued, 7 cruising boats abandoned and, sadly, three lives lost. Our boat and home for seven years, a Norseman 447 named Destiny, was a 45 foot fiberglass performance cruiser designed by Robert Perry. Unfortunately, she was not to survive the storm, pitch-poling off a 100 foot stacking wave resulting in severe damage to both the boat and her crew.

The cyclone dropped on us without warning. Our land-based weather service had forecasted for us 35-40 knots of wind during the evening, coming from a 1005mb LOW located to the north around Fiji. Since our weather fax printouts from both New Zealand and Australia confirmed that report, we had no reason to suspect anything else. At 1800 hours, after our evening check-in and with 3 meter breaking seas behind us, we elected to go to bare poles and deploy our drogue. At the time we felt it to be a bit of an overkill, but thought it would provide us with a relatively quiet night. Our drogue was an Australian SEA SQUID, an orange plastic cone designed to channel water into its sides and out the rear, creating a braking effect. Not expecting any real weather, we deployed it off the port side on 200 feet of 1/2 inch yacht braid, and 12 feet of 3/8" chain to hold it down under the surface. The line was run through the aft port chock and up to the primary winch in the cockpit. A bridle of sorts was jury rigged by tying a shorter piece of 1/2 inch line to the rode and running it back to the primary winch on the starboard side. By adjusting the length of the both leads we could get the drogue to trail directly behind the boat, or to either side.

SEA SQUID (no longer available).
SEA SQUID (no longer available).

During the night the seas increased to giant mountains towering well above the mast. It had the look of traveling through snow-capped mountains during a lightning storm. The P-3 Orion crew that held station over us during the rescue, said their ground search radar was giving them 80 to 100 foot variances, indicating trough to peak heights. We found our drogue set-up to be optimal in conditions that far exceeded what we expected that night. Destiny was held to 3-4 knots in the troughs and 7-8 knots running down the giant wave faces. There seemed to be little or no yawing, and steering control, while being a little sluggish from the trailing drogue, was responsive enough to handle the storm. The ride in general, although very wet, was relatively smooth.

Although the speed was well under control we still felt it necessary to hand steer the boat. The blast of wind hitting the transom as we raised up out of the trough (generally 35 knots in the trough and 80+ on the crest) was strong enough to drive the stern of the boat hard to port or starboard. Reaction had to be quick and complete enough to bring the stern back around before the breaking seas engulfed it. Failure to complete this maneuver left us exposed at an angle to the breaking seas, which would in turn push the boat further around, greatly increasing the danger of a broach/roll. There were times we were hit so hard that Destiny, even with the helm hard over, barely corrected stern to the seas before the next wave crest. It is our feeling that the autopilot (an Auto Helm 6000-Mark II) would not, at the peak of the storm, have been able to correct fast enough to complete the maneuver.

We feel our chances of surviving the storm were greatly increased by choosing an active role at the helm. This decision took into account exhaustion and exposure. Warm, tropical weather diminishes exposure problems, and as for exhaustion, we've learned in extreme conditions the pure adrenaline pump will keep you going many more hours than you think is humanly possible now. Had we been in a colder climate we may have decided differently. We also realize that an active technique is not for everyone. For those who do not wish an active part, a much larger drogue that would hold the boat at a snail pace, "perhaps" would give the resistance needed to stay stern-to with the aid of an autopilot. We are sure, however, the boat would take a terrible beating given the size and power of the seas we experienced. As it was, we lost most of our cockpit canvas and saw extensive damage to the supporting stainless steel long before the pitch-pole.

What was learned:

1) 200' of rode is not enough. Twice during the night our drogue broke loose and pulled out of the wave behind us. Destiny shot from 7 knots to 14 knots in the bat of an eyelid. Had there been any way to extend the rode at that point we would have, but by then the weather was critical. The cockpit was constantly awash. Hanging on and steering was all we could manage. We learned that given a shorthanded crew, the rig you go into extreme weather with is most likely what you will be forced to stay with for the duration. Hindsight tells us that even if we didn't think we would use it, we should have rigged more line. Our suggestion is to have the stern anchor rode rigged so you can attach the drogue at a moment's notice.

2) We found that directly downwind was the most stable and survivable course. In our case, at 7 knots, burying the bow was not a concern. Our biggest concern was being caught sideways and rolled. We attempted to cheat to the SSW whenever possible to work out of the dangerous SE quadrant of the storm, but found it almost impossible to make much ground without putting the boat at risk of a broach.

3) The most critical point of the storm, with respect to survival, came when the winds had subsided a little, during the eye of the storm. The wind was never the real problem. As it fell from the 80's to the 50's the seas, which up to this time had their crests blown flat, began to break more top to bottom. The wave faces became steep enough to force corrections port or starboard to keep from broaching in the troughs, even traveling at 7 knots. Three times during the morning hours, Destiny's keel broke loose and we slid down the wave face like dropping in an elevator. It was at this point we felt control had been lost and we issued our PAN PAN call. As the wind began to clock south and increase again, there developed a secondary wave direction which created a "stacking effect." Ultimately, we feel that's what killed Destiny. Two or three breaking waves stacking on top of one another produced a bottomless situation. Under those conditions we don't think any drogue could have held the boat from that fall. There comes a time in extreme conditions when your survival boils down to the luck of the draw. We feel this was one of those times.

4) We have been asked if our chances would have been better with a sea anchor. Not having tried one we will never know. We do know that after the boat pitch-poled and had been dismasted, we were lying a-hull for many hours. During that period we suffered countless 120° knock-downs, but were never rolled again. Perhaps the broken mast, which was wrapped around the boat, gave it additional stability? Who knows. The boat did take the pounding and seemed to hold up pretty well. But it should be noted here that conditions were such that things could have gone pretty much any way at that point. Had the boat broken up, a hatch tear off or a window break (we had the storm shutters on), we would not be here today. To attempt to man a life raft in those conditions would have been a sentence of death.

Being inside, without control, was the first time we felt helpless to protect ourselves. Because the boat withstood the pounding [while lying a-hull] one could make a case for the para-anchor. However, given the size of the seas we were in, we would worry about how the anchor is attached to the hull. The issue of chafe goes without saying, but even more worrisome is the question of attachment points. What stresses are at work when you are hit by a breaking wave taller than a telephone pole moving along like a freight train? And this continues for 12 to 16 hours? We question the ability of many cruising boats to hold up under those conditions. Still, all things being equal, with adequate warning of extreme conditions, we feel we would chose to go with a large para-anchor, 500 feet of heavy line, attached with a wire bridle distributing the load to points throughout the hull. In our opinion, there is a good case for both a drogue and a para-anchor aboard a seaworthy cruising yacht. In the final analysis it's up to each of us to decide on the solution we can live with. When that moment comes, it's nice to have options at hand.

In subsequent telephone conversations Victor Shane pressed Dana Dinius about the perennial question as to whether one should run directly downwind or try quartering the seas. After thinking about it Dana replied that on Destiny, in that storm, it had to be directly downwind. However he added that in other situations he might decide to quarter the seas, especially if the bow was beginning to bury itself in the base of the next wave now and then.

On another matter, Dana confirmed that he and Paula felt most vulnerable when the wind dropped in the eye of the storm. He said, "as the wind dropped, the waves became hollow." This is something that Shane had heard before, something that one should be prepared for. Compare with John Glennie's statement in File S/T-7: "Without the wind regulating the seas, I was afraid that two or three waves might ring hands and turn into rogues."

D/M-13 Monohull, Mason


Monohull, Mason

46' x 12.5 Tons, Full Keel

30" Dia. Conical Drogue

Force 11+ Conditions


File D/M-13, obtained from Evo Zembal, Nanaimo, BC. - Vessel name Sine Timore, hailing port Nanaimo, monohull, Mason 39, designed by Al Mason, LOA 46' x LWL 39' x Beam 12' x Draft 6.5' x 12.5 Tons - Full keel - Drogue: 30" Diameter Jim Buoy cone (Cal June, Inc.) on 600' x 1/2" nylon braid rode, with 1/2" galvanized swivel - Deployed in a storm in deep water about 1200 miles northeast of Hawaii with winds of 60-70 knots and seas of 25-30 ft. - Vessel's stern yawed 45° and more with the owner steering - Speed was reduced to about 4 knots during 16 hours of deployment.


Sine Timore ran into a Force 10-11 storm on the way back from Hawaii. She was doing 8 knots on bare poles when the 30-inch conical drogue was deployed.

Jim-Buoy 30" cone "Not For Storm Use"

When this yacht was in Santa Barbara Victor Shane was invited on board and it didn't take very long to realize that she and her crew had been through a terrifying storm. Shane was then amazed to find that the drogue that had reputedly saved this boat was a 30-inch diameter Jim-Buoy cone, the sort that grandpa uses when he is trolling for fish in his 15-ft. aluminum skiff!

Cal June (North Hollywood, California) does not manufacture these particular cones for use in heavy weather. They are classified as "trolling sea anchors" and the words "Not For Storm Use" are printed on their containers. Notwithstanding, this one did see combat duty as a storm drogue on 12-ton Sine Timore!

When Shane examined the cone he saw that most of the seams had indeed ruptured. The device was in fact on the brink of catastrophic failure, leading him to suspect that the crew of this yacht had somehow dodged a bullet. Perhaps the cone lasted so long because Evo Zembal used 600' of 1/2" nylon rode. Transcript:

Barometer steadily dropped from 1029 to 999 in ten hours. We deployed the drogue when the wind speed had built to 55 knots sustained. A few minutes later the boat had slowed down and the ride was actually very comfortable compared to what was going on outside the boat. We stopped sliding down on the wave faces. This was the first time in my life that I had ever used a drogue. I didn't know that I had to use a swivel. Another thing I didn't use was a bridle from each side of the transom, this way the swing was sometimes up to 30°. I really believe that the drogue saved my life and the boat.

D/M-14 Monohull, Twister


Monohull, Twister

28' x 5 Tons, Full Keel

Series Drogue - 90 x 5" Dia. Cones

Force 10 Conditions

File D/M-14, obtained from Professor Noël Dilly, London, England - Vessel name Bits, hailing port Medway, Kent, monohull, Twister sloop designed by Holman and Pye, LOA 28' x LWL 25' x Beam 8' x Draft 5' x 5 Tons - Full keel - Drogue: Jordan series, 90 x 5" diameter cones on 320' x 3/4" Multiplat nylon braid rode, with bridle arms of 20' each and 35 lbs. of chain spliced into the end of the array - Deployed in a storm in deep water about 25 miles west of Cape Carvoeiro, Portugal, with winds of 50 knots and seas of 15 ft. - Vessel's stern yawed 10° - Drift was about 50 miles during 50 hours of deployment.


The Jordan Series Drogue consists of dozens of tiny cones spliced into the long rode
The Jordan Series Drogue consists of dozens of tiny cones spliced into the long rode

Noël Dilly has been sailing for 40 years and is Yachting Monthly's correspondent for Medway and North Kent, having written numerous articles, including Making And Using A Series Drogue (May 1994 issue of Yachting Monthly). A professor at St. George's Hospital Medical School (University of London), Dilly is one of the planet's experts on drag devices. An associate of the late Geoff Pack (Yachting Monthly), and also Peter Bruce (editor of Heavy Weather Sailing), the professor has been wrestling with the subject of heavy weather tactics for decades. Apart from making several series drogues, he has numerous other drag devices in his possession, including a 9-ft. BUORD sent by Victor Shane, a Para-Tech sea anchor and Delta Drogue, an Australian Seabrake, etc.

On the occasion of this file Dilly and clan were sailing Bits to the Mediterranean when they ran into a storm near tiny Berlenga Islands (about 60 miles up the coast from Lisbon). Transcript:

Bits, a Twister, long keel, 28 ft. LOA, 8 ft. beam, Holman and Pye design. Weight when hanging from a crane, 5 tons. We built her over 3 years in the hospital car park, hence the students nicknamed me "Noah." Main influence on our fitting out was my experiences in a Contessa 32 in Fastnet '79. We use our series drogue whenever going to windward is a bore, that is, usually winds in excess of 30 kts. It is just not worth the bashing. Summer gales do not last above 30 kts much more than 15 hours and we do not seem to lose much more than 10-20 miles downwind of our starting position on the drogue.

The longest we have hung to the drogue is 50 hours off Portugal, on a passage to Gibraltar from Portsmouth. It was January, wind NW Force 7-11 for 3 days, sustained Force 9 for 18 hours. Our wind gauge does not go above 50 kts, but BBC said we had a Force 11. Position, off the Berlenga Islands, near Cape Carvoeiro. We saw the Berlenga Islands from wave crests when we deployed the drogue, and could still see them 3 days later when we recovered it. I suppose we had moved about 10-15 miles, but I was not in the mood for measurement. However we were fit enough to ignore the temptation to sneak into Lisbon for R & R and carry on towards Gibraltar.

Deployment: There are two ways of storing the drogue. We used to wind it onto a spool, weighted end first, with the bridle last. The idea was to attach the bridle, and feed out the drogue from the spool. But spools are awkward to store. Now what we do is store the drogue in a sports bag (zipper whole length of bag). We flake it in so that the bridle is at the top. This arrangement gives a great option of storage sites. We mark the two bridles with a piece of thick tape so that we know the correct lengths of the lines without having to adjust the deployed drogue, and, if necessary, we can deploy at night. Before we deploy the drogue, we remove the vane from the self steering and release the paddle. For deploying the drogue, we drop the trysail, but continue at about 15° from dead downwind under storm jib. Once the drogue is deployed we secure the tiller amidships with 1/4" bungee.

Riding sail: Our storm jib is much smaller than the average storm jib and we rig it on a removable inner forestay (another invention I have fiddled with). This jib is 5ft x 4ft x 3½ft. The forestay extends from the cross tree [mast spreader] to the samson post. The jib flies about 4 feet off the deck. It is tiny, I would hate to think of the conditions in which I would be forced to take it down. I think it stabilizes the boat directly downwind. I picked up the idea when fleeing before the Fastnet winds. I like this idea of using a riding sail with the series drogue, but I would also treat Don Jordan's comments with great respect. I suppose that he is worried that the wind and waves may be coming from different directions [Jordan designed the series drogue for use without riding sails]. Once the drogue is deployed, we harden up both jib sheets so that the sail is amidships, and leave it.

Motion of the yacht: I think the series drogue ride is a stable affair. Once deployed, description of the new motion of the boat as "bungee jumping" is a good one. Be prepared to hang on, or better still retire to your berth [Jordan recommends that everyone be strapped in by aircraft-types seat belts inside the boat]. In the troughs, she feels loose. As you rise up the wave and the wind hits with full force she hardens up. Surprisingly this is the best time to do things below deck. Usually that's all there is to it, but if you get accelerated by a crest, you can feel it and hang on for the quite dramatic deceleration. Once the crest has passed these things stop, and you are back to the up and down thing. It is all very slow and undramatic, until there is the violent motion associated with the odd crest strike.

Cones surfacing: A very rare event. I have seen them revealed when a particularly steep wave was approaching. I suppose there were about 10 cones visible, but I was trying to fix a second safety harness clip at the time, and found that pretty urgent. In Force 7,8,9 I have never seen the cones surface. In wind strengths above that it is so difficult to look to windward, the spray hurts too much. Indeed our storm gear includes a pair of industrial safety goggles so that we can try to inspect the drogue/sea interface during the storm.

Chafe: Chafe is the great enemy of all drag devices. To counter chafe at the weight end we enclose the chain-to-rope splice in a spiral whipping so it cannot move [Dilly uses a length of chain instead of the usual 35 lb. weight]. At the bridle end we enclose the lines in thick-walled polyethylene tube where they pass over the transom.

Hatches & life raft: We have massively strong washboards. We seal the cockpit hatch joints with 2" duct tape, also the cockpit locker lids (we have discovered how leaky allegedly waterproof locker lids can be). Finally we move the life raft into its gale storage position, which is on the cockpit sole. It is secured in place by two straps that are jointed by a long pin, such that if you pull the pin the straps are released. This storage has two advantages. First it reduces the weight of water in the cockpit when you get pooped. And second, it is a much more secure place for the life raft than exposed on deck where a breaking storm sea might easily take it, just when it might be needed.

Cockpit drain holes: Four 2-inch diameter cockpit drain holes are not adequate as it takes several minutes for the cockpit to drain. Next time I would try 4-inch diameter drains, but the hazard is then of sheets and lines being washed down them.

Recovery: We have a bridle long enough to use the genoa winch to wind in the drogue. I takes ages, but we have plenty of time. My daughter Sarah has suggested that next time we take a line to the bow, outside everything, release the drogue, and lie bow to it, then use a combination of the anchor winch and motoring to recover it, just like recovering an anchor.

In subsequent communications Victor Shane also asked Professor Dilly why he and other safety experts recommend that the angle subtended by the bridle arms be about 30° or less.

The principle applies to any storm bridling system, including those utilized by multihulls using sea anchors off the bow. As the bridle arms are shortened the angle increases and the toggle force on each attachment point can grow precipitously - farmers still use the principle to dislodge tree stumps. The professor's answer was brief and to the point:

Why 30°? There are good mechanical equations that show that as the angle between the two lines increases the load on them increases severely. 30° Is well within the safe angle. It is just about the same as the Hawaiian chappies idea of twice the transom width for the length of the bridle arms.

Bridle arms set at an angel of 30°
Most experts agree that the bridle arms should subtend an angle of about 30°. As the angle increases the toggle force can multiply severely.


D/M-15 Monohull, Contest 40


Monohull, Contest 40

40' x 8 Tons, Fin Keel

Series Drogue - 120 x 5" Dia. Cones 

Force 9-10 Conditions

A Jordan Series Drogue consists of dozens of small cones spliced into a long rode


File D/M-15, obtained from Robert J. Burns, Townsville, Australia - Vessel name Peter Sanne, hailing port Detroit, MI, monohull, Contest 40, center cockpit ketch designed by Conyplex, LOA 39' 9" x LWL 29' x Beam 12'6" x Draft 6' x 8 Tons - Fin keel - Drogue: Jordan series, 120 x 5" diameter cones on 300' x 3/4" nylon double braid rode, with bridle arms of 15' each and 35 lb. anchor at the end of the array - Deployed in a whole gale in the Gulf Stream with winds of 45-55 knots and seas of 20 ft. - Vessel's stern yawed 20° - Drift was about 12-15 nm during 6 hours of deployment, with a 3-4 knot current running.


Robert Burns made up his series drogue with the help of Professor Noël Dilly (previous file). En route to Newport from Bermuda he ran into a whole gale in the Gulf Stream and deployed it. Six hours later he lost the series drogue due to chafe. He then deployed a 2-ft. diameter conical parachute type drogue. This is an important file which provides an immediate comparison between the two different drogue concepts. The following are excerpts from Burns's article entitled Streaming A Drogue, appearing in the December 1993 edition of Yachting Monthly (reproduced by permission):

I've run before rising gales, but never with such menacing seas. There were three distinct inter-active wave patterns that combined to form massive pyramids which collapsed periodically in an immense surge of white water. As long as I could avoid the breaking portion of the waves there was little danger of sustaining damage from the mass of breaking seas colliding with the yacht.... We were truly surfing now, down wave faces that would break behind us, catching us as we increased speed, then engulfing the yacht in white water. Steering required intense concentration to keep the stern pointing in the direction of the breaking sea and present the minimum surface area, reducing risk of broaching. I was conscious of the forces of the rudder. The last thing we needed was to lose steerage.... If the storm was going to build for another four hours, it was time to try another tactic before it got too dark to see what we were doing.... The series drogue consisted of a 300ft length of 3/4" double braid nylon that had 120 5-inch diameter cones spliced onto the line through their axes. The drogue had an anchor attached to the outboard end for a weight and was attached to the stern with a bridle. The gusts were furious now. The seas were 25-30 feet with faces at 45 degrees and 50 degrees and breaking frequently. The shrieking of the wind in the rigging and the whip-like crackling of the ensign was making me most anxious. It was time to stop. We were above hull speed most of the time now, and it was hard to control the vessel. I sent Curley astern to kick the anchor over the side that would commence the deployment of the drogue.

The drogue had been rigged at the stern with anchor attached. As soon as the weight was released the drogue line paid itself out of its storage box. The tow line streaked out with dramatic speed and force. After less than a minute the drogue was deployed and the cones began to exert their resistive force on the bridle. The slowing effect was phenomenal. Deploying the drogue was like bungee jumping off a 30ft wave with a 40ft. yacht. The feeling of being elastically attached to the sea itself is hard to imagine. After a minute or so we had slowed from 8 knots to 1.5 knots. The stern was pointed aggressively into the wind and sea. It was as if we had entered a calm harbor of refuge. The yacht held her position near the top of the waves' crests. When a wave approached and threatened to break on board, the drogue would pull us up and over the top of the breaking waves. There was no possibility of a breaking wave hitting us broadside, as we were always above the majority of the white water.

We furled the remaining portion of the jib, tied off the helm, checked to make sure everything on deck was secured, and then went below. Inside the main cabin the noise of the gale was much less. With the reduction in the yacht's motion, our situation seemed not too bad. We were all exhausted and took the opportunity to try to get some sleep. The time was 2130. I got up several times to check the situation. Despite the roar of breaking seas as we were pulled over the tops of breaking waves, I slept surprisingly well....

At about 0230 the sound of waves falling on deck seemed to increase and the motion of the yacht changed. Gone was the elastic "bungee effect." I was about to climb out of my bunk and put on harness to inspect the rig, when the boat heeled sharply to port under the force of a wave striking the starboard quarter. The sound of flowing water was everywhere. In the next instant the companionway doors shattered, and an angry stream of water rushed into the saloon.... I reached for the nearest overhead light... it came on to reveal the main saloon with 2-3ft of seawater sloshing above the cabin sole. Debris of the splintered hatch floated with charts, books, wet blankets and sleeping bags. The cockpit was full to the top of the coamings with frothing sea water. The night was dark, but I could still make out the towering peaks of white water around and above us. I glanced at the wind instruments; we were lying with the wind just aft of the beam, we had no headway. "So," I thought, "this is what it is like to lie a-hull." The priorities were to clear the boat of water, and try to repair the shattered companionway in case we were boarded by another sea. And to check what had happened to the drogue. The crew were in favor of launching the life raft. I recalled previous conversations about abandoning a damaged yacht. In the 1979 Fastnet Race it had been a major contributor to loss of life. We were still very much afloat. The thought of taking to a life raft was not at all appealing to me.... My priority was to reset the drogue.

I found the bridle dangling over the transom, severed on both sides. The 3/4" nylon bridle had been abraded by the self-steering mounting brackets. There was damage to the stern pulpit and deck fittings, evidence of the forces and motion exerted on the hull by the drogue before it parted the bridle. It was imperative to get the stern facing the seas again. I pulled several lengths of anchor rode and mooring lines out of the aft lazarette, tied them together, and streamed them over the transom. This had little effect as the line was mostly polypropylene and skipped along the surface. Every moment we continued to lie a-hull we were at risk of being struck by another breaking monster. I recalled that I also had a small hand-made parachute-type sea anchor stowed below. My wife had constructed it some years ago for our coastal cruising around Tasmania and it had never been used.

The parachute sea anchor was a 2ft diameter cone made of synthetic canvas with ¼" polypropylene lines braided together to form the shrouds. It looked frail in comparison to what it had to stand up against. I tied the parachute to the longest length of line and let it slip over the side. Nothing happened at first. When all 300ft of line was out and the chute was subject to some forward motion the line came taut. There was no bridle now, so the tow line was only attached to the starboard stern cleat. The yacht yawed to port, aligning the stern almost into the wind and sea. Our forward velocity was about 2 knots. Big waves would cause us to surge forward and down the waves faces, as the chute didn't have sufficient surface area to slow us down against the push of big seas. We were much better off now. If the chute held we would be safe.

Gone was the feeling of "bungee jumping" [associated with the series drogue]. The forces exerted by the chute were sharper [jerkier] and nowhere near as powerful. However, the strategy of lying stern-to was still the most comfortable and safe. The little chute did well. We had no serious broadside wave strikes, even though there were still a lot of breaking seas around us. The chute was not able to pull us up and over the breaking waves, so the occasional wave dumped on the stern. As the yacht had a center cockpit, there was less danger of it being filled.... Dawn came slowly. The fury was fading from the wind and it seemed like the little chute would see us through the gale.... We cranked out a tiny bit of jib from the furling gear. The yacht pointed directly downwind, similar to riding with the series drogue. I wondered why I had not thought of using a bit of jib earlier.... By noon 6 June we had crossed the Gulf Stream axis into the cold water of the US continental shelf.

Robert Burns constructed another series drogue for his next boat, the 50-ft. aluminum Holman & Pye ketch, Eclipse, which he and his wife Kathryn sailed to Australia.


D/M-16 Monohull, Cutter


Monohull, Cutter

65' x 18 Tons, Fin Keel

Series Drogue - 144 x 5" Dia. Cones

Force 9-10 Conditions


File D/M-16, obtained from John A. Traylor, Alta, Wyoming - Vessel name Beyond, hailing port Portland, Oregon, monohull cutter, designed by John Traylor, LOA 65' x LWL 56' x Beam 12' 8" x Draft 8' x 18 Tons - Fin keel - Drogue: Jordan series, 144 x 5" Diameter cones on 330' x 1"- 3/4"-5/8" nylon braid rode, with 24' of 3/8" chain at the end of the array - Deployed in a whole gale in deep water about 90 miles west of Point Conception, California, with winds of 40-60 knots and seas of 18-24 ft. - Vessel's stern yawed 10° - Drift was about 68 nm in 33 hours of deployment.

Before setting off on a major ocean passage John A. Traylor equipped Beyond with a number of drag devices, including a Para-Tech sea anchor and a Jordan series drogue. The series drogue was used in a gale off Point Conception. Transcript:

 The drogue took me personally about 24 man hours to construct, from a kit sold by Dave Pelissier (Ace Sailmakers). Once I had tied a few cones on the rode, construction was easy, but of course boring! The tow-rope specified for our 18-ton cutter is: first third 1" nylon braid, second third 3/4" nylon, and the last third 5/8" nylon. Total number of cones: 144. We did fabricate a bridle, each leg being about 25 feet long, leading to large port and starboard bronze cleats on the stern. The end weight was four fathoms of 3/8" chain.

It took me about thirty minutes to bring the gear up from below and lash the bag into deployment position, and rig the bridle. The most difficult task was to remove the Aries vane (one of Nick Franklin's last models, which can be quickly dismounted). This was a bit dangerous - I had to go down into our stern "sugar scoop" and unhinge the vane, all the while watching for the next wave which might sweep the scoop. Once the Aries was secured, deployment was very easy. Just drop the chain off the stern and stand clear.

There was no noticeable shock [when the drogue took hold], but I could clearly see the heavy nylon rode stretching and squeezing the water out as it absorbed the load. We had been running under bare poles. Over a period of perhaps 40 seconds our speed dropped from 8 knots to about 1 3/4" (one and three-quarters) knots. The rudder was lashed amidships with a nylon bungee. There were no signs of rudder stresses. Chafe was not a problem throughout the duration of the 44 hour gale, but would have been if we had not removed the Aries vane gear.

Our vessel is 65 feet long and has a center cockpit. We had no water shipped in the cockpit, so I cannot comment on the performance of the cockpit drains, companionway, etc. The rather large "sugar scoop" stern was frequently swept by the cresting seas, and the noise was occasionally quite loud. On several occasions large waves broke astern and completely filled the "scoop." But the series drogue kept the hull very well aligned into the seas, with at most 10 degrees of occasional yaw. Once the long narrow hull was held stern to the seas, the wild ride was much smoother. Either my wife or myself stood watch in the deckhouse, where we could look astern and watch the seascape.

The gale abated rather quickly in the early hours of 27 October. The seas were quite lumpy and with no wind to steady the ship, the strain on the rigging was a concern. We decided to attempt to retrieve the drogue immediately, rather than wait for the light of dawn. With a rolling hitch on the bridle, and line led to our largest coaming winches, we found we could retrieve the drogue, albeit slowly, without damaging the cones. We were about 15 minutes into this process (and had retrieved about ¼ of the total) when my wife noticed a tanker to the northwest, already well over the horizon and with leading lights lined up directly on us. After two attempts to raise him on VHF with no response, we could now see the foam under his bow from the bright moon overhead. I had my wife standby with a knife, ready to cut away the drogue if necessary. But much to our relief we were able to "rouse the watch" on the ship by playing our 600,000 candlepower spotlight on our mast and finally, I must admit, on the bridge of the ship, perhaps a mile away! We soon heard a voice (Greek?) in unmistakably angry tones on the VHF. After a short explanation, he bore away and wished us "Bon Voyage!"

All in all, we were most pleased with the performance of the drogue. My main concern with our particular installation is the necessity to remove the Aries vane gear. This exposes the crew to some definite risk of injury. If the gear is left in place, it will eventually be destroyed and the series drogue will probably be lost as well. One would hope to foresee the onset of serious weather and make preparations in advance, but as our experience with the rapid (and poorly forecast) onset of this gale shows, this is not always possible.

D/M-17 Monohull, Cutter


Monohull, Cutter

41' x 8 Tons, Modified Fin Keel

36" Dia. Galerider Drogue

Force 11 Conditions


File D/M-17, obtained from Michael & Doreen Ferguson, Auckland, NZ - Vessel name St. Leger, hailing port Vancouver, monohull, G.R.P. cutter, LOA 41' x 8 Tons - Modified fin keel - Drogue: 36" Diameter Galerider on 250' x 3/4" polypropylene three strand rode, with 5/8" stainless steel swivel - Deployed in the Queen's Birthday Storm in deep water about 400 miles south of Fiji with winds of 60 knots and seas of 40 ft. and greater - Speed was reduced to about 3.5 to 4 knots during 60 hours of deployment.

St. Leger was in the same June 1994 "Queen's Birthday Storm" that claimed three lives and numerous yachts. Her Canadian owners, Michael and Doreen Ferguson, sent the following report to Skip Raymond of Hathaway, Reiser and Raymond, who then forwarded it to Victor Shane for inclusion in the database. Transcript:

We launched St. Leger in 1 May 1982. She is a 41 ft. G.R.P. cutter with modified fin keel and fully unbalanced rudder, using a "Sayes Rig" self-steering vane. We moved aboard St. Leger the day before the launching and have lived aboard since 1982. We retired in 1991, Mike was a Sargent with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police - the NCO I/C of Marine Services with commercial maritime qualifications. After a hair raising experience in severe weather in Queen Charlotte Strait in 1989, we purchased a Galerider drogue directly from Hathaway, Reiser and Raymond after seeing an advertisement in a yachting magazine.

In May of 1991 we left our home port of Vancouver, Canada, and headed for Alaska. Thus began our life as full time cruisers. In April 1993 we crossed the Pacific from Mexico, arriving in New Zealand in November of that year.

In June 1994 we departed Tauranga, New Zealand, bound for Fiji, with only Michael and I aboard. At 1600 hrs on our second day out and approximately 75 miles from the North Cape of New Zealand, we first heard of a low pressure system situated over Vanuatu, predicted to track southeast into our intended path. The weather forecast in our area predicted southeast winds 35-40 knots, not particularly severe, so we decided to continue on our course under reduced sail. Later, under bare poles and in deteriorating conditions, we ran before it in very steep, short seas, and the wind sustained at 50 knots, with higher gusts.


At about midnight on day 2 of the storm we decided to deploy the Galerider as our boat speed was now 11-12 knots in precipitous seas. We deployed the Galerider using a single line off the starboard quarter, approximately 250 feet of 3/4 inch three strand polypropylene line. We selected polyprop three strand because of its floating ability. Our plan was to slow St. Leger down, whilst still maintaining steerage using the "Sayes Rig" vane, due to shorthanded crew. Immediately upon deployment our boat speed was reduced to 3.5 to 4 knots and we felt much more comfortable.

The wind vane continued to steer beautifully, but as St. Leger slowed down in the troughs of the huge seas the tow line and Galerider tried to catch up to us, leaving a loose coil of 12 to 15 feet of tow line floating in close proximity to the vane's trim-tab steering paddle. Fearing that the slack line might tangle in the trim-tab and surely tear it off, Mike began bringing in the slack each time we were in a trough, using a primary cockpit winch, until the Galerider was approximately 80-90 feet behind the boat. The drogue was in the same wave as St. Leger, but on the other side of the crest [on the back side]. We observed the Galerider for hours! A small "half-moon" section of the drogue was visible at times, and we noted the three strand polypropylene tow line did not unwind, nor did the Galerider oscillate or rotate. And best of all, this enabled the wind vane to steer the whole time.

We towed the Galerider without incident for 60 hours, with winds at 60+ knots (our "Swoffer" wind gauge was pegged at its limit). At approximately 0800 hrs on day 5 the wind had dropped to 18-20 knots. The low pressure system was east of the Kermadec Islands and moving away from us. The seas were still high, but we readily retrieved the Galerider, which was in almost new condition with no damage or excessive wear after a tough workout!

We should also mention that the New Zealand Air Force Orion aircraft searching the area [for other vessels in distress] made a low pass over us and we advised them by radio that we were OK and not in need of their assistance. Our sails were set and we spent the next week hard on the wind in light northerly winds with very lumpy, confused seas. We arrived safely in Suva, Fiji, where we exchanged tales of the "Queen's Birthday Storm" that claimed three lives and seven cruising yachts. Everyone involved was interested in what "worked" and what didn't.

D/M-18 Monohull, Cal T-2


Monohull, Cal T-2

27' x 3 Tons, Fin Keel

36" Dia. x 72" Conical Drogue

Force 9-10 Conditions

File D/M-18, obtained from Wes Thom, Brownsville, TX - Vessel name Paper Dragon, hailing port Annapolis, monohull, Cal T-2 designed by Bill Lapworth, LOA 27' x LWL 24' x Beam 10' x Draft 5' x 3 Tons - Fin keel - Drogue: 36" x 72" heavy duty, Coast Guard approved cone made by Cal June, on 125' x 1/2" nylon three strand tether and bridle arms of 10' each, with 1/2" galvanized swivel - Deployed in a whole gale in deep water about 125 miles west of Bermuda with winds of 45-50 knots and seas of 20-25 ft. - Vessel's stern yawed 20-30° - Speed was reduced to about 2 knots during 48 hours of deployment.


Wes Thom has delivered yachts on the east coast and across the Atlantic. En route to Bermuda on his own boat, a 27-ft. Cal T-2 designed by Bill Lapworth, he had occasion to use one of the heavier 36-inch diameter Coast Guard approved cones manufactured by Cal June of Los Angeles. This is quite a large cone, about six feet long, not to be confused with the smaller "fish trolling" ones made by Cal June. It was deployed on 125' of rode and Wes Thom and his wife saw it being repeatedly tumbled by the crests. Thom did not consider the tumbling a drawback at the time because the cone would always recover and re-exert its pull at the needed time. Transcript:

We had been sailing from Cape May to Bermuda. Two days out, on a Wednesday, we talked to a Russian tanker by radio and were warned by an individual, who seemed to be out of breath, to head back for the mainland immediately. Basically he told us that a bad storm was on the way and a small boat like ours had no business being out there. He said they were increasing their own speed to full speed to avoid the storm. We thanked them, but told them we could not get to land that fast. They said "God bless you, we will pray for you."

At 7000 hrs Friday we had a full main and 150 jib up. As the wind increased we rolled in the 150 and hanked on a working jib. At 1100 hrs first reef in main. At 1200 hrs 2nd reef. At 1400 hrs storm jib. At 1500 hours no main. At 1600 hrs bare poles. At this point we were still going in the general direction of Bermuda about 1.5 knots, and a little concerned about the reefs around Bermuda if the storm blew us all the way there. We were 100-125 miles west of Bermuda, our course NE, the wind out of the south. As our speed increased to about 6 knots, occasionally surfing at 10-11 knots, we put out two warps. No knots, no weights, just 150' of 5/8" line [nylon three strand] off the port winch, and 300' of 1/2" [nylon three strand] off the starboard winch. With the warps out our speed came back down to 1.5 to 2 knots, still heading NE. We thought if we needed to we could always use the port winch to pull the warps in and add weights etc. In reality we could never have done that. The strain on each warp, even after the worst part of the storm, was amazing. The 5/8" warp was pulled so tight it would make noises like a cello string, and the 1/2" warp had an even higher pitch, like a guitar string. After putting out the warps we later rigged a 125' piece of 1/2" line, the end securely bridled through corner stanchion bases, with a 2-size larger CAL JUNE conical drogue [36" x 72" Coast Guard Approved "Storm Sea Anchor"]. When our speed got back up to 6 knots [with warps in tow] we deployed the cone, which brought our speed back down to 1.5 knots [the two warps coming off port and starboard winches and widely spaced to right and left, the Cal June cone and its tether in the center].

Most of the waves seemed to be breaking before they got to the boat, but a few would drop 10" of water in the cockpit. At night we also steered by listening for the oddball waves crossing the others. They sounded a bit like a train when they hit, rocking us sideways if we had not turned down wave for them. The main waves were out of the SW. The odd ones from the S or SSE.

In the daylight we could see that the waves were not less than the height of our spreaders (about 25') and about 150-175' from crest to crest. We were in deep water east of the Gulf Stream, WNW of Bermuda, still headed NE. We could look behind and watch the drogue start up a wave as we came over a crest. We could see it tumble on its own crest as we slid down the back side of ours. About the time we were in the trough it would grab again, and up and over the next crest we would go. We could clearly see the yellow cone tumbling repeatedly. It would get rolled, get tossed around, go end over end and everything in between. But it wasn't getting turned inside out, and it seemed to be doing its job when needed.

Most of the time we could let the autopilot steer. We could get 2-3 hours of very good sleep, even with the freight trains coming every once in a while. Once, when I was inside and looking through a port hole I saw the bow get buried by green water, which then turned white, and rolled off, and I could see the bow again. Sunday morning (48 hours later) it starting moderating. By 1600 hrs we had hauled in our CAL JUNE. It had to be winched in, a few feet at a time, when it was tumbling on the crest behind us. The sea was still sloppy when we set sail and the last warp [which was still left out] served to ease our motion.

We believed we had been blown 50-75 miles WNW of Bermuda and set a course for south. Monday morning we got our first celestial sight, and a few hours later a running fix, but something was very wrong. Our intercepts were very long and our sights had never been this far off before. Theory says you don't have to know an exact DR. Just guess. So I picked 500 miles NE. The intercept said no, not there. I tried 500 miles NW - no not there. I tried 500 miles SE - not there either. But they all said "here," so I moved my DR there, and sure enough, I knew where we were. From the last known DR position we had been blown 125-150 miles. We had overshot Bermuda! By Monday about noon I knew we had sailed south past the East Coast of Bermuda and now had to double back to the NW to get to our destination. Monday night we were in St. Georges Harbor, tied up, in good condition, undamaged, safe. Our only loss was the 150' x 5/8" three strand warp. It had unlayed and hockled in the middle, in random 10' sections, and had to be scrapped. Not much to pay for a safe trip.


D/M-19 Monohull, Sparkman & Stephens


Monohull, Sparkman & Stephens

39' x 8 Tons, Fin Keel

Seabrake MK I

Force 10+ Conditions


File D/M-19, obtained from W.R. Allen, Milson's Point, NSW, Australia - Vessel name Adele, hailing port Sydney, monohull, Superstar sloop designed by Sparkman & Stephens, LOA 39' x LWL 35' x Beam 12' x Draft 6' x 8 Tons - Fin keel - Drogue: Seabrake MK I on 200' x 5/8" nylon braid rode - Deployed in cyclone Bola in deep water about 50 miles NW of the North Cape of New Zealand with winds of 60 knots and seas of 40 ft. - Vessel could be steered through a wide arc in the proximity of land - Speed was reduced to about 3-5 knots during 36 hours of deployment.

Seabrake Mk I
Seabrake Mk I

The Seabrake used in this file was the same model used by Peter Blake in D/T-1, the more expensive MK I, with the spring-loaded gate mechanisms. The mechanism is adjustable and can be set to open the gates at a certain speed, instantly increasing drag by about 70%. Refer to inventor John Abernethy's explanation of the workings of the spring-loaded mechanism in File D/M-10. The earlier versions (likely this one) had ballasted nacelles to help keep them submerged, while later versions relied on a length of chain in the rode. Transcript:

Since purchasing the Seabrake I have made four Tasman crossings - Sydney to Auckland and return. The first two crossings were reasonably monotonous. The third included my involvement as a competitor in the Trans Tasman Transfield Challenge Race [Feb/March 1988]. In this race competitors were savaged by cyclone Bola in the vicinity of Three Kings Island and the North Cape of New Zealand. We ran into Bola on the approaches to the northern tip of New Zealand. There was no race warning and the first advisory we had was a weather forecast from a shore-based NZ radio station! Needless to say this warning was passed rapidly through the fleet! We passed through Bola whilst it was centered in the area of Three Kings Islands, Cape Reinga and North Cape. Retrospectively the weather maps indicated that Bola had three centers concentrated in the area at the time.

We had to make an important decision regarding our course across the top of NZ, a particularly treacherous piece of water in bad weather. Even in settled weather the NZ pilot advises that small vessels should approach no closer than fives miles to land. In rough weather fishing boats and even large vessels have been lost, in some cases without trace. This is largely due to strong currents flowing up and down the West and East coasts, and shallow waters (120-130 meters). In bad weather the safer course is to keep northward of the Three Kings and proceed via the Three Kings Trough in deep water (more than 1000 meters). This is the course we adopted.

At 2200 hrs on the 7th March at 33° 36' S, 169° 17' E, we were under bare poles and had set the Seabrake. Shortly thereafter we suffered a 90 degree knockdown, but apart from a few bruises there was no damage. However through this incident we were made very much aware of the confused nature of the seas and that we were catching the odd rogue cross sea. On the 8th, 9th and 10th March we proceeded in a SE direction following the Three Kings Trough, towing the Seabrake. During this period of heavy breaking seas with winds in excess of 60 knots the Seabrake was in continuous use, doing a marvelous job steadying our progress and giving us a strong feeling of security regardless of the conditions. At no stage did Adele show any tendency to broach and it was always possible to maintain a measure of control, despite the extreme conditions.

With the wind generally NW we streamed the Seabrake from the starboard primary winch, which meant the brake was mainly on the quarter, though when the occasion demanded with a particularly big sea we would run straight before. I am not aware of any period when the brake was not on the back of the next wave. On the crest of a wave we would occasionally pull the brake clear [out of a wave face] but it always dug in to hold us for the next one. We made no adjustments to the spring-loaded mechanism which was set to operate [kick in and generate 70% more drag] at 5 knots, and generally we were able to maintain that speed.

We had no problems with chafe and we did not use chain or any other means to weigh the brake down. Wind speed was variable between 40 and 60 knots and for shorter periods 60 plus. Difficult to estimate the height of waves. With a fifty odd foot mast we would on occasions be buried in the trough. On the 8th we had periods of heavy rain followed by gusty winds up to 50 kts. On the 9th with storm jib set the log says "from midnight to daybreak ran before heavy breaking seas - Seabrake probably saved us from being rolled in the early hours of the morning. During the day and evening conditions too rough to get sailing so jilled along at 2-5 kts under Seabrake in a SE direction away from North Cape." On 10th March conditions had moderated and we were able to proceed under full sail.

On the return journey, Auckland to Sydney, we experienced peak conditions. A high extended right across the Tasman with a broad front covering most of the North Island of New Zealand with a narrow front bordering the New South Wales coast [of Australia]. We left New Zealand in extremely light conditions having to motor up the East Coast until we cleared the Three Kings. Thereafter we moved in an easterly air flow right across the Tasman.

As we approached Australia the wind steadily increased. This was further exacerbated by low pressure areas developing north and south of the high. During the last five days we experienced winds in excess of 40 knots for most of the time, including a squall which lasted about an hour which was an absolute white out of wind-driven seas, which we estimated in excess of 100 knots.

Throughout the period of five days we towed the Seabrake off the weather quarter. Initially we sailed under trysail and boomed out storm jib. As conditions increased in severity we progressively lowered the trysail then the storm jib. Later the cockpit spray hood and life buoys, to reduce windage.  As you can imagine, with an easterly air stream extending right across the Tasman the seas built up and were breaking dangerously, particularly at times when the winds reached about 50 knots. Adele handled the conditions extremely well with the Seabrake out. It was quite remarkable how in the midst of a breaking wave it would hold the boat momentarily and allow the wave to sweep forward and away from under us.

As you will have gathered from this I have the highest regard for the Seabrake. Even under the worst conditions the brake always gives a measure of control and at the same time enables you to make progress. Not the least virtue is a sense of security and a great boost to your confidence at time when your morale could be at low ebb. The downside is that they are comparatively heavy and they take up room in the cockpit, though this can be overcome to some extent by mounting them on special brackets [on the stern pulpit]. Still, for safety at sea, anything is worthwhile.

I have also had some experience with parachute anchors which are also great, particularly with prolonged periods of heavy weather when you want to get some sleep and rest up for a period. You can really sit back and enjoy a good storm! The main problem is with chafe and this needs constant attention.