File S/T-11, obtained from Frans Aeyelts, Halifax NS. - Vessel name Amakama, hailing port Halifax, trimaran designed by Roger Simpson, LOA 43' x Beam 27' x Draft 3' 6" x 5.5 Tons - Sea anchor: 18-ft. Diameter Para-Tech on 430' x 3/4" nylon three strand tether and bridle arms 70' each, with 5/8" galvanized swivel - Full trip line - Deployed in a whole gale in deep water about 260 miles north of Bermuda with winds of 40-50 knots and seas of 20 ft. - Vessel's bow yawed 10° - Drift was estimated to be 5-10 n.m. during 27 hours at sea anchor.
Charter skipper Frans Aeyelts has used the parachute sea anchor half a dozen times in Halifax to Bermuda runs. Like Voss and the Pardeys, he's not one to give any storm the benefit of any doubt. Transcripts:
Having used the chute several times convinces me that it is essential to the safety of the boat and crew. (Nobody is going to tell me otherwise, especially those who have never used one and have firm opinion about it!) October 22, 1987: This was the maiden voyage of Amakama to Bermuda, with final destination Barbados. Early during the morning the wind came up from the NW and kept increasing and veering. By noon we were clipping along nicely with a fresh breeze from the north. Wind force kept building and veering to NE. Speeds up to 16 kts. We decided that if the weather would not improve by 1600 hrs. we would put out the chute. Since this was the first try of the device in the open ocean, we wanted to deploy it in daylight. By 1700 hrs. the parachute had been deployed.
Seas are continuing to build, so is the wind (Force 8). Foam streaking down the steep waves - breaking crests. Twice a rogue broke over the boat. Too rough to cook. Everybody in their bunks. From time to time we look out to see how the weather is. Very noisy down below - 36 hours is a long time to be cooped up with five people on a boat. Cross seas from the north aggravating the confused sea state. Chute behaved very well. Trip line [full] made it easy to retrieve. Very good device. To heave-to under such conditions would be dangerous - you are taking the elements 50-60° on the bows and may sustain damage or capsize. Running off...? Also dangerous - waves were too steep. Retrieved parachute 0815 hrs. next day. Motorsailed in rough conditions (close-hauled SE wind) to St. Georges Harbor, Bermuda.
May 28, 1988: Fast moving front. Sea and wind came around from SSE to NE very quickly. Situation was such that we could no longer sail and had to put out the chute. By midnight the sea state had calmed down considerably, but was still "lumpy." Chute performed admirably well again, giving us relief from a long wet watch in cockpit. I figured it was better to sit at the para-anchor than risk sailing on, not knowing what was going to develop later. Tim and myself were able to haul back the chute without difficulty.
October 8, 1988: Left Halifax harbor at noon. Crew of three, including myself. NE wind, already blowing strong. Forecast called for 40 kts. Sailed for 6 hours - sea and wind force kept building as we left land behind us. Going very fast. After 3 hours of this we dropped the jib, next the main, and finally the inner stays'l. Because we were over La Have basin (approx 40 miles south of Halifax) well on the continental shelf, the seas built up to short, steep waves in a very short time. With two inexperienced (multihull) sailors on board I did not want to sail the night in huge seas. Parachute deployed. Safety first. This was a short-lived gale. A schooner that had left only 2 hours before us blew out her sails in the same gale and had to limp back to port. Better safe than sorry!
File S/T-12, obtained from Ted and Karen Cary, Weymouth MA. - Vessel name Sequester, hailing port Stuart FL, Searunner trimaran designed by Jim Brown & John Marples, LOA 34' x Beam 20' 11" x Draft 6' 5" (2' 6" board up) x 5 Tons - Sea anchor: 15-ft. Diameter Para-Tech on 400' x 5/8" nylon braid tether and bridle arms of 100' each, with 1/2" galvanized swivel - Partial trip line - Deployed in gale in deep water about 50 miles SW of Bermuda, with winds of 35-40 knots and seas of 8-12 ft. - Vessel's bow yawed 10° - Drift was estimated to be 10 n.m. during 10 hours at sea anchor (0.5 -1 kt. Gulf Stream).
By now the reader must have noticed the number of files that involve boats running into gales on their way to or from Bermuda. Transcript:
Before leaving Buzzards Bay for Bermuda I changed the boat to my secondary anchor and rode, and rigged my primary rode and bridle to the para-anchor. The 400' tether (two 200' sections) was then shackled to 30' of 5/16" chain, and that to the bridle's center thimble. Tether & bridle are all 5/8" double braid nylon.
The rode was chainlinked and flaked in one of my forward wet lockers, in the wing deck. The legs of the bridle I led around the bow pulpit stanchions and secured with masking tape and light line, tied with slip knots. To deploy all I had to do was unbag the chute, pull the slip knots, tie on my tripline and slam dunk.
As we approached Bermuda the wind headed us until it was nearly dead on the nose and building. I had the boat overloaded and in the steep, big waves (wind vs current) we were pounding the underwings mercilessly, making very little progress. Having the para-anchor we set it and had the option to stop, rest, and evaluate, and also run up an antenna wire for the Weatherfax to get some info. The developing LOW southeast of us was an unwelcome surprise and turned into Hurricane Grace two days later.... After 10 hours we made the decision to retrieve the chute and make a desperate motorsailing dash for Bermuda. Conditions were as bad or worse when we retrieved the chute as when we deployed it. One thing complicated the retrieval: we had a partial trip line [on two floats] and the retrieve float never did stay downwind of the chute, but appeared to lie almost 90° from the tether between the chute and the boat [probably due to the influence of the northwesterly current]. To retrieve it we couldn't just follow up the rode but had to motor off to starboard to pick up the float ball - not easy. Next time will use a FULL trip line. In any case, we made it to Bermuda (cheated and came over the reef - love these shoal draft boats) with about one gallon of gas left, and both of us totally whipped. Harbor radio sent the rescue boat around to lead us into Hamilton, where we sat out hurricane Grace. No offense, but I'd rather be in port than on the parachute for that event.
File S/T-13, obtained from Brian Hunt, Sacramento, CA. - Vessel name Born Free, hailing port Ventura CA, Searunner trimaran, designed by Jim Brown, LOA 37' x Beam 22' x Draft 6'11" (3' board up) x 5.5 Tons - Sea anchor: 18-ft. Diameter Para-Tech on 400' x 5/8" nylon braid tether and bridle arms of 100' each, with stainless steel 5/8" swivel - Full trip line - Deployed in a gale in 450 fathoms off the coast of Mexico with winds of 40 knots and seas of 20 ft. - Vessel's bow yawed 10° - Drift was 4.25 n.m. during 20 hours at sea anchor.
Brian and Trina Hunt were sailing Born Free from California to Norway, via Tahiti. In the trip down to Cabo San Lucas Born Free ran into nasty conditions off the coast of Mexico. Transcript:
We were actually having our best sail since the start of our voyage, nearly straight downwind with a single reef in the main and traveling along quite nicely with occasional surfs, which although exhilarating were not at all frightening. This was early in the morning and as the hours went by the wind continued to increase and the waves built in size until - under stays'l alone - we were surfing regularly down the faces of the waves which I would estimate to be 10-15' with very steep and sometimes breaking faces. It was really no fun anymore and with the conditions deteriorating I decided it was time to try the sea anchor. Deployment went well, using the DSB (deployable stowage bag), except for the tripline which fouled and had to be cut. We came bow-to the seas and the boat rode nicely. This was around 1:00 in the afternoon. As the day wore on the conditions continued to worsen and by nightfall I would estimate that the waves were in the 15-25' range, very steep and frequently breaking. The strongest winds and seas occurred at night, and not being able to see the surface of the water I could only estimate the wind at being something over 40 knots. Later, we met a vessel which had been in the same blow and they reported that their wind indicator was pegged at 60 knots for over 8 hours.
During the worst part of the storm we would sometimes be hit from the side by a large sea and it would knock our bow approx 60° off the dominant train. It would take the boat about 10-15 seconds to fetch up on the sea anchor and turn bow-to the seas again. At first light the wind had dropped to about 25 kts and continued to drop through the morning. I then pulled the sea anchor in. We had no damage and had spent the duration of the blow in our bunks. This is not to say we weren't frightened - we were, right to our very cores. But what is really scary to me is the thought of trying to steer through that mess in the dark when you couldn't pick your way through the worst of the waves. We probably would have made it through, but at much greater risk and discomfort to our boat and ourselves.
I've since related this experience to many other sailors and I'm still amazed at the lukewarm attitudes toward sea anchors. I usually have to tell them three times that it was used off the BOW and not the stern! Most think it is a multihull tactic and not in the realm of monohulls. However, heaving-to, running off and lying a-hull all require searoom, the lack of which could mean disaster. Not to mention broaching, rolling over, pitchpoling. Why risk these things?
File S/T-14, obtained from Ron Clisby, Grants Pass, OR. - Vessel name Nonchalant, hailing port Portland, trimaran ketch, designed by Norman Cross, LOA 46' 6" x Beam 25 ' x Draft 52" x 10 Tons - Sea anchor: 24-ft. Diameter Para-Tech on 100' x 3/4" nylon braid tether and bridle arms of 100' each, with 1" stainless steel swivel - Partial trip-line - Deployed in a low system in deep water about 450 miles NE of Tahiti with winds 25-35 knots and seas of 10-15 ft. - Vessel's bow yawed less than 10° - Drift was 12.7 n.m. in 38 hours at sea anchor.
The family of Ron and Sue Clisby sailed Nonchalant, a big, comfortable Cross trimaran, around the world in 1994. En route to Tahiti they ran into a blow. The weather fax was down and rather than take any chances they anchored her to the surface of the Pacific from 1330 hrs on 4/23/94 to 0330 hrs on 4/25/95. Here is a transcript of Ron's feedback, handwritten sometime during those two days:
Yesterday we deployed our 24' Para-Tech sea anchor for the first time, and are very impressed with the results. We were en route from the Marquesas to the Tuamotus when we encountered nasty weather, thunderstorms, lightning, etc., two nights ago. Our SSB and therefore weather fax are inoperative so we have been depending on a buddy boat for wx info. Yesterday they said we had been in a tropical depression during the night. We had winds around 20-25 k with gusts to 35 k and seas confused and around 10-15 feet.
It was still daylight and the kids were napping so we decided to deploy the chute. It worked beautifully and after some small adjustments we were inside baking bread. Today, our friends (hove-to 10 miles away) said the weather service is calling it a gale with winds to 43 k. They had wind gusts to 50 last night, but we had less (max 35 k) only 10 miles to the north.
This morning 0945 the seas are calm (gentle roll) and we have only 4 k wind at present. There are still lots of rain clouds in the area but I can see little holes of blue sky popping up to the west. After further clearing, we'll retrieve the chute and continue to Takaroa or Ahe.
P.S. With more complete weather fax info we likely would have continued on. But this has been a great learning experienced and we won't hesitate to use the chute when needed in the future.
File S/T-15, obtained from Andrew Cserny, Eldorado, IL. - Vessel name Gold Eagle, hailing port Raleigh, IL, trimaran ketch, designed by Norman Cross, LOA 42' x Beam 23' x Draft 4' x 7 Tons - Sea anchor: 18-ft. Diameter Para-Tech on 400' x 5/8" nylon braid tether and bridle arms of 80' each, with 5/8" stainless steel swivel - No trip-line - Deployed in an unnamed hurricane in deep water in the Gulf of Mexico, about 200 miles WSW of Tampa, with winds of 100 knots and seas of 30-50 ft. - Vessel's bow yawed 10° - Drift was estimated to be 30 n.m. during two days at sea anchor.
Dr. Andrew Cserny purchased Gold Eagle (File S/T-8) from Daniel York in 1992. In March 1993 he and his wife set off from Mobile Bay, Alabama, for Cape Sable at the southern tip of Florida - six hundred miles as the crow flies across the Gulf of Mexico. En route they were hit by an unforecast, unnamed hurricane that did considerable damage to the Florida peninsula, sinking one freighter (30 people rescued, a number missing), driving another freighter aground, and sinking a number of small craft, among them a 39-ft. monohull, whose owner and wife were lost at sea. Here is a transcript of Dr. Cserny's harrowing experience - a sobering reminder of what the unpredictable sea is capable of:
We departed Mobile Bay the afternoon of March 10, 1993, on a rhumb line from the sea buoy off the entrance to Mobile Bay heading toward Cape Sable at the southern tip of Florida. The weather was fine, the forecast on the VHF called for possible thunder showers that night along the southeast coast of Alabama and the Florida panhandle, with winds gusting to 17 knots, choppy inland waterways and seas rising to 6-8 feet from the coast to 50 miles offshore...
We sailed under a club footed jib, main sail and mizzen, this being a rather conservative sail plan for our boat, with the winds being anywhere from 8 to 18 knots during the night. Sea and wind conditions continued the same on the 11th and at daybreak we doused the club footed jib and raised the genoa instead, and continued on the rhumb line. Toward the latter part of the afternoon the wind started to head us and we kept going farther west of our rhumb line, so that by around five in the afternoon we were approximately fifteen nautical miles west of our rhumb line.
At this point rather than tacking back toward land, which would have put us in a northeasterly direction and amounted to almost going backwards rather than toward Cape Sable, we decided to deploy the sea anchor and so to speak "park" the boat for the night, rather than trying the motor or trying to sail and really pinch the boat close-hauled. I was not expecting deteriorating conditions, I just wanted to rest for the night and to see if the wind would perhaps change and come from a more favorable direction so we could continue on the rhumb line. I was not aware that the storm was coming, therefore I did not lash down the sails as I would have. Matter of fact, I probably would have taken the sails off if I had known the storm was coming.
After deploying the sea anchor successfully, and watching the boat ride with an easy motion up and down the waves while tethered to the sea anchor, in roughly 6-8 foot waves, we decided to go to bed for the evening. All sails were furled and tied down with bungee straps. I awoke sometime after dark to a rhythmic crunching noise in the aft portion of the boat, which did not sound normal. When I went to investigate, I found that the sea state and the wind had built up considerably and occasional waves were slamming into the open cockpit area. When I lifted the hatch covering the steering compartment, I saw that the Morse cables attached to the steering quadrant had ripped loose from the wooden supports that were used to anchor them, and the steering quadrant was swinging wildly about. We secured the steering quadrant with lines 5/8 inch and 3/4 inch diameter, two of these lines on each side of the quadrant. Within half an hour these had chafed completely through.
The winds and seas continued to build in the dark, and by two in the morning I thought we were probably in a Force 10 gale. Sometime during the night we were hit by an immensely strong burst of wind which I presumed must have been a twister, because the pressure inside the pilot house fluctuated rapidly, the windows rattled, the doors to the pilot house rattled, and the sliding hatches tried to come off the top of the boat [lift off their rails]. The front windshields flapped wildly up and down, the wind shrieked horribly with pitch and intensity I have never heard before although I have been in an automobile traveling at 135 miles per hour. It lasted maybe a minute to a minute and a half and it was during this time that the sails tore loose and began flapping wildly from the front to the back of the boat. The main sail was torn loose from its track in places. It was torn from the bolt rope, flopped wildly over the starboard side of the boat and self-destructed. In the same extremely high wind or twister that hit us, the mizzen sail was torn loose. The speaker for the loud hailer was torn loose from its mounting and carried away. The club-footed jib tore loose. It was shredded, and the boom flailed wildly about, causing holes and damages....
The seas continued to build, the wind shrieked, the sails continued to flog wildly, the spray was driven it seemed horizontally across the surface of the water and was leaking in around the top of the windshield and the left pilot house door fairly profusely. Waves were probably 25 to 30 feet in height, maybe higher, with breaking crests which regularly broke over the bow. One had to literally hold on all the time just to exist. Even sitting down, one had to hold on.
Then we were struck by what I would consider to be a rogue wave. I was holding on to the steering wheel in the pilot house at the time. I was thrown across the pilot house and crashed through the door on the right side and landed outside the cockpit on the right side of the boat. At the same time everything that was loose flew from the left side of the boat to the middle of the boat or over to the right side. For example, the toaster sitting on the left side of the boat on top of the kitchen cabinet flew across the boat and landed on the right side on top of the nav station, approximately two feet higher than where it was sitting on the kitchen counter. Everything in the boat literally got scrambled. Rest was possible only on the floor of the main salon, wedged between the icebox on the right and the dinette and the galley cabinets on the left.
I am not sure exactly when, but I suspect probably when the rogue wave hit, the sea anchor also tore loose a bridle leg, carrying with it the hardware for mounting the trampoline, because, sometime after daybreak we noted that the bridle for the right side of the sea anchor was totally gone. There was a hole in the bow on the right side [starboard ama], and the boat was riding to the sea anchor from one line, which was cleated off to the left side of the main bow. And sometime during the course of the day, this line chafed in two. But before it chafed in two, it periodically caught the [steel] anchor and flipped it out of its mounting on the bow, breaking part of the anchor bracket and bending another part - actually lifting the stainless steel plate that the anchor bracket and the pulpit were welded to. Eventually, the line to the sea anchor, now no longer being protected from chafe by the snatchblock on the float bow, chafed itself to destruction on the anchor bracket. I am not sure at what point the last attachment of the sea anchor parted, but after this, we were mostly broadside to the waves, and in a most vulnerable position for being flipped over.
The storm continued to rage. The boat laid most of the time broadside to the waves which were breaking over the port float. The wind continued to shred the sails and I considered it almost suicidal to go outside and try to stow the sails which were basically destroyed by this time anyway.
On the morning of the 14th the wind had subsided sufficiently to enable us to get outside of the pilot house and at this point I rigged the mizzen sail, using the reef points in the mizzen to lash the upper part of the sail, which had shredded away from the lower part. I repaired the clew of the genoa. We used sails to steer the boat and were able to set a course heading toward Ft. Meyers, which was the nearest approach to land. We still had no steering. Once we got underway with the sails and were able to steer with the adjustments in the sails, the seas no longer broke over the transom and we were able to bail out the rear compartment, which gave us access to the steering quadrant. Fortunately I had numerous tools on board, as well as a good assortment of fasteners, and by cutting up some of the floor boards, and after hours and hours of jury rigging, we were able to effect a workable repair of the steering quadrant.... While I was effecting the above mentioned repairs, my wife June was able to make contact with a passing tanker, which was rather surprised to see us still out there afloat and under sail, and told us that they had been beaten up fairly badly, and we had just lived through a Force 12 storm with 30-50 ft. seas and 100 knot winds.
For the next three days we beat into seas ranging anywhere from 8-12 feet. The waves were coming directly at us, and at a normal cruising RPM of 1500 to 1700 RPMs we were making anywhere from two to four knots over ground as measured by the GPS. While beating into the wind and waves we took water in over the main bow where the trampoline attachment had torn loose, as well as where the cap for the anchor chain was torn loose, and everything in the front part of the boat got soaked. The starboard part of our float took on a considerable amount of water through the hole ripped out by the bridle. However, I used rags and fiberglass impregnated cloth to repair this defect, and was able to bail out the water from the right float. We dropped anchor in a bight just north of Matanzas Pass on the 17th. It was the first time we had been able to sleep in our bunks since the 10th.
Comments: The sea anchor was eighteen (18) foot diameter, manufactured by Para-Tech Engineering, with a 5/8" nylon rode 400 feet long and bridle arms of the same material, 80 feet long, with stainless steel swivels. There was a trip line at the apex of the parachute. Actually, the initial part of the trip line consisted of a nylon strap, maybe 10-12 feet long, possibly slightly longer than that, to which was attached a plastic float, possibly 8-10 inches long, maybe 4-5 inches in diameter. Then attached to this was a length of nylon line maybe about 30 feet long.
I made my first mistake here by taking the float off from the nylon strap, tying the nylon strap to the 30 foot nylon line, then attaching the float to the end of the nylon line. In retrospect, this was the wrong thing to do, and I suspect that the trip line kept fouling the parachute, causing the parachute to periodically collapse, then the parachute would unwind itself and it would hold again for a while and then it would collapse again, allowing the boat to surge backward to a much greater extent than it would have if the parachute had been fully opened out all the time. While riding to the sea anchor, at times we would head into the wind and waves and take the waves just fine, then all of a sudden we would start slipping and turning sideways with respect to the wind and waves. I'm sure at these times, the parachute anchor was collapsing. I went out on the bow and tried to pull the sea anchor in but this was impossible, even with the chute collapsed and taking the waves on the port beam, there was enough tension on the line that it made it impossible to pull it in. At times, the sea anchor would undoubtedly unwind and fully deploy itself and we would be riding quite securely on the bridle, heading into the waves again.
I suspect that when the rogue wave hit, the chute was collapsed, because the rogue wave hit us pretty much broadside on the port side of the boat. I suspect that at this time we came close to being capsized, and quite possibly the parachute anchor, even though it was collapsed and allowing us to lie broadside to the waves, probably kept us from going over. I do not know for a fact, but I suspect that the attachment points of the bridles were torn loose from the bows at this time, thereafter, the bridle was then attached to the bow of the main hull and really no longer acted as a bridle, chafing at times against the anchor and the anchor bracket. As a result of this, the lines eventually chafed through and we lost the sea anchor altogether. From then on we were lying a-hull, but always presented the port side and sometimes the port front quarter of the boat throughout the rest of the 1½ days that the storm lasted after this.
If we had been running downwind in these waves, I suspect that we might have been pitchpoled, and I'm certain that had we been running when the rogue wave hit we would have been pitchpoled. I also suspect that had the sea anchor been properly deployed and properly attached, that we would have survived the storm with only our sails blown out.
Lessons Learned: 1) I believe the weather forecast on the VHF is unreliable. Next time I venture offshore I will be listening to the weather forecast on the single side band. 2) When deploying the parachute anchor, next time the float will be attached at the end of the trip float line or the strap that comes directly off the apex of the parachute, then the longer trip line will be attached to the float. This float line will be fairly short and made of polypropylene line with float attached to it, making sure that it will not sink down and foul the parachute anchor. 3) I have replaced the sea anchor with another 18 foot parachute by Para-Tech. This one is now in a pack which can be deployed without taking the chute out of the bag. You can just throw the whole thing into the water, which I think is an improvement. The tether is 5/8" nylon, 500 feet long. There is an oversized stainless steel swivel. The bridle arms are longer now, made of 3/4" Dacron, which is less stretchy than nylon and hopefully better resistant to abrasion. The geometry of the attachment of the bridle to the boat is now different. I believe that it is significantly better. The two legs of the bridle now come through the points on the bows of the amas where the stainless steel plate holding the snatchblock is much more substantial than what was there before. The snatchblocks are considerably more substantial than the ones they are replacing. The bridle is led straight back onto the deck of the ama and tied off to a cleat which is through bolted to the main deck, and underneath is attached and through bolted to an L-shaped steel backing plate, in turn through bolted to the main crossbeam. With this geometry, all the strain will be taken by this oversized cleat and the snatchblock on the point of the ama will only act as a fairlead to be subjected to very little strain, and nothing like the forces that this same point was subjected to before, that being the reason why things pulled out. 4) The jacklines I had rigged before were of 1 inch nylon strap with 4800 breaking strength. I religiously used the harness and the tether whenever I ventured outside the pilot house. At the end of the storm the port jackline had chafed completely in two where it had been riding against the babyshroud on the port side. There were no cotter pins or rough or jagged edges on the babyshroud or on the turnbuckle. I'm sure that any round line would have also chafed in two. The new jacklines will be made out of stainless steel wire covered with plastic coating that will not chafe in two. 5) The Morse pushpull cables have been replaced with hydraulic steering. The attachment points are much more substantial than before. Previously, the anchor points for the cables were secured to a sheet of 3/4" plywood by four 1/4" stainless machine screws. The whole attachment point just literally ripped a 2 x 4" rectangle of the 3/4" plywood completely out and rendered the steering useless. The new steering parts are much more massive.
During the entire storm we moved approximately 30 nautical miles according to our GPS. However, during at least half of the storm, the anchor was totally gone and during the first half the storm the sea anchor worked off and on, so you can't really say that we drifted 30 miles at sea anchor. Having observed how the boat reacted to the sea conditions when she was being held by the sea anchor, and comparing the actions of the boat without the sea anchor, there is no doubt in my mind that the sea anchor is the ultimate survival tool in heavy weather offshore. I am also certain that had our sea anchor been deployed and attached properly we would have had a much easier time, and felt much more secure. The motion of the boat and therefore our comfort level inside the boat would have been much better. It is quite possible that the steering quadrant would not have torn up because we would not have surged backwards so much with each wave. I believe that with the sea anchor properly deployed, we would have had a frightening but manageable experience, instead of the almost three days of sheer terror that we lived through, not knowing from one wave to the next if we were going to be capsized.
File S/T-16, obtained from Gary Cagné, Vancouver, BC. - Vessel name Spirit Of Tsitika, hailing port Victoria BC, trimaran, designed by Jay Kantola, LOA 35' 6" x Beam 24' x Draft 5' 6" (2' 6" board up) x 3 Tons - Sea anchor: 24-ft. Diameter military chest reserve on 300' x 9/16" nylon three strand tether and bridle arms of 50' each, with 5/8" stainless steel swivel - No trip-line - Deployed in a gale in deep water about 50 miles off the coast of Baja California with winds of 35-45 knots and seas of 12-15 ft. - Vessel's bow yawed 10° - Drift was estimated to be 9 n.m. during 17 hours at sea anchor.
There is a certain grace and elegance associated with Jay Kantola's designs that one has to see to appreciate. His boats tend to remind one of certain benign and beautiful birds that roam across vast oceans on great wings. Not the feisty, competitive, acrobatic Frigate bird, whose flying skills and prize-winning antics one might associate with one of Richard Newick's masterpieces, but perhaps the magnificent, gentle, white-winged, black-browed Albatross of the Southern Ocean.
At least this was Shane Victor's impression when he first saw Spirit Of Tsitika tied up in Santa Barbara harbor. Two months after visiting with him, Gary Cagné and his companion Claire ran into a gale off the coast of Baja California. Transcript:
On the way to Cabo San Lucas we discovered an incredible lagoon on the east side of Mag Bay, in which we spent several days lounging and hiking and bird watching. It's finally beginning to warm up a bit. Just left this morning with a nice offshore light westerly filling the new spinnaker we found at a thrift store in Santa Barbara for $25!
As you can see we finally had a good opportunity to use the parachute sea anchor, and we're ever happy we did. We had the wind on the nose for 24 hours or more with torrential rain the whole time, and with a long offshore tack we ended up 65 miles NW of Cape Lazaro (near Bahia Santa Maria) when the wind got up to 35 kts at 1500 hrs. So we opted to set the chute, rather than continue beating to windward in those conditions. As soon as we were deployed (the deployment bag worked fantastic) the wind increased to 45 kts and gusting higher, with a steep short chop (8-10 ft.) on top of a large westerly swell of about 12-15 ft.
The seas lengthened later on as the gale continued, enabling the bows to ride a bit higher. Initially they were picking up the tops of the [short, steep] waves and spraying the whole boat, pouring rain all the while and the barometer continuing to drop. Pretty easy ride once the waves began lengthening, and about 0300 next morning the wind eased off a bit and switched to SW 25-30. By first dawn we had a light westerly and very confused seas coming from various directions. We got underway after winching in the chute (very easy) and arrived safely, with no damage, later that night in Bahia Santa Maria. The next day we heard about Whistlin, a 37-ft. Searunner and several other boats that ended up having to power [jog] through the storm, suffering miscellaneous damage - mostly losing gear over the side and diesel problems. One monohull suffered a knockdown, and the group closer in to shore reported gusts to 60 kts! Whistlin has a surplus parachute on board but still needs to re-sew the shroud lines to it.
Note: When we retrieved the parachute, we found that the float line had twisted itself many times, and even part of it was caught in two of the parachute shroud lines. So we learned that it is necessary to have a swivel for the float line as well. Claire and I are feeling more confident now that we've had our first parachute sea anchor experience and know how well it works.
File S/T-17, obtained from Richard R. Barrie, Van Nuys, CA. - Vessel name Fifth Fox, hailing port Channel Islands, CA, trimaran designed by Jay Kantola, LOA 34' x Beam 24' x Draft 3' x 3 Tons - Sea anchor: 28-ft. Diameter C-9 military class parachute on 400' x 3/4" nylon three strand tether and bridle arms of 100' each, with 3/4" galvanized swivel - No trip-line - Deployed in a Pacific storm in deep water about 1000 miles west of Guadalajara, Mexico, with winds of 55-70 knots and seas of 20 ft. - Vessel's bow yawed 10° - Drift was estimated to be 12 n.m. during 72 hours at sea anchor.
Sailing to Los Angeles from Panama, Richard Barrie decided to take one long - 1000 mile - tack out to sea and back, avoiding the Pagagayos, Tehuantepeckers and other hazards that one ordinarily associates with the Central American coast. However, Fifth Fox ran into a storm well offshore. Transcript:
During the last week of May, 1984, my wife and I with our two daughters left the Las Perlas Islands in Panama, and headed back to California. The first two weeks of the trip north were idyllic, 15-20 knots beam reaching with the spinnaker and the Tiller-Master doing all the work. During the second week of June the wind gradually went northwest and increased.
Before noon on the second day of the wind shift, a strong gust hit us (we had put a reef in the main, but still had a 120 genoa up) and the lower after stay on the port side parted at deck level. My first thought was to deploy the parachute, fix the shroud and continue on. We deployed the chute off the stern [on the fly] going downwind without a trip line in moderate conditions. I fully expected to replace the lower shroud and continue on. While sitting to the chute during the first hour or so, I went up the mast with a new Sta-Lock attached to a new lower stay. While I was at the spreaders attempting to exchange the wire, the wind quickly increased from a steady 30-35 knots to a steady 50 knots with higher gusts, with the sea state increasing rapidly. I had never been seasick in all my life, yet I became nauseous. I could not continue with the work aloft so came down the mast and jury-rigged the lower at the deck with some wire clamps. That took the S-curve out of the mast so we could sail if the chute let go.
After sitting on the parachute anchor for a few hours, I was in the cockpit when a huge wave pushed the boat up to the crest and back on the rudder. The rudder had been locked in place amidships with the Tiller-Master. In the middle of this particularly large cresting wave, I heard a sickening crack and looked down and saw the tiller head starting to swing independently of the tiller. It was very apparent what was wrong. Fortunately there was a hole in the rudder blade itself, so with a stout line tied to the port float near the transom, I dove in the sea and rove this line through the rudder blade, with a knot on either side, then on to the starboard float. This action no doubt saved the rudder....
For the next three days we were anchored to the parachute, with the wind screaming and the waves cresting. While it was difficult to sleep soundly, we could at least sleep. As time wore on, it became apparent that we and the boat were safe, even with the wind flicking salt water bullets at us at 50 or 60 knots. The wind moderated to 35 knots after the third day and we cast off the lines and sailed up to the float and retrieved the parachute quite easily. Previously we had deployed the parachute with a trip line and it fouled rather quickly. I resolved then never to use a trip line again. I will now carry two parachutes for insurance.
I took star shots each evening and morning during our three day stay in this part of the ocean and was quite surprised to find that we moved only 12 miles in a southeasterly direction.
File S/T-18, obtained from Steve and Cheryl Bow, Auckland NZ. - Vessel name Labyrinth, hailing port Auckland, Searunner trimaran designed by Jim Brown, LOA 40' 10" x Beam 23' 6" x Draft 6' 11" (3' 6" board up) x 7.5 Tons - Sea anchor: 28-ft. Diameter Australian army cargo parachute on 400' x 3/4" nylon three strand tether and bridle arms of 90' each, with 5/8" galvanized swivel - Partial trip-line - Deployed in a storm in deep water about 270 miles south of Kermadec Islands with winds of 50-60 knots and seas of 30-35 ft. - Vessel's bow yawed 10° - Drift was 6.2 n.m. during 41 hours at sea anchor.
Steve and Cheryl Bow cruised the world aboard their 40-ft. Searunner Labyrinth. On 15 June 1995 (a year after the Queen's Birthday storm) they left Auckland and headed north for Tonga. Two days later they ran into a Force-10 storm about 270 miles south of the Kermadecs. Transcript:
We are a two-handed husband and wife crew. It was our plan to leave NZ on the back of a low that was at that time centered near Mt. Taranaki. Following it was a huge high over Australia and the winds between the two promised fair sailing. No fronts or depressions were forecast or expected from the coming weather. Our first days run was a rolly 155 miles broad reach in a 30 knot SW breeze and we were feeling very happy about things until we discovered water in the bilge at 2200 hrs on the 16th June. A porthole under the wingdeck had blown in and was leaking considerably. We effected a temporary repair and that took us through to daybreak.
At 0800 hrs we changed course and ran off before the wind for 6 hours while I epoxied the portholes closed with underwater epoxy. While we were running off, the latest weatherfax showed that a rapidly deepening low had formed north of Sydney and was heading our way - fast. If we hadn't had to run off to make the repairs we would have been OK, but as it was we were right in its path. Knowing that we were in for a rough night I went to bed, leaving Cheryl to do a long watch so that I would be fresh for the evening. When I awoke at 1800 hrs the winds were gusting over 30 knots from the NE and Cheryl had hove-to. We had two reefs in the main and the stays'l set; at this point the boat was comfortable despite the worsening seas and we settled down to sit it out. The 2000 hrs fax showed a second rapidly deepening low had formed behind the first.
Between 1400 and 1930 hrs the barometer dropped from 1005 bar to 998 bar. When the winds reached 50 knots and the barometer was still dropping we had to make the decision - run off, or set the parachute. It was 1930 hrs and very dark, we could see the approaching seas only by the foam as they broke, and the spray was being driven horizontally by the wind. The seas were still building and had reached the unstable stage, with steep faces and rolling crests. We carry a SEABRAKE on board which was set up ready to go, however we opted to set the parachute for two reasons: 1) We were both very tired and probably not up to spending a considerable time helming a running yacht in steep seas; and 2) The NE wind would have been driving us back towards the North Island of NZ. With further depressions developing and no early respite expected, the parachute was selected as the better option.
We set the parachute. We had never set it before, however I had read all the information I could acquire and had watched the video prepared by Para-Tech. It had been assembled as per their instructions, complete with one of their deployable storage bags. It was deployed over the weather bow while still hove-to, and worked like a charm. It was gusting 60 knots and more by the time we had it set, and it was difficult to see or work on deck because of the driven spray. As the tension went onto the tether we were swung gently around bow to and then sat there. The hard part was getting the stays'l and main down and under control in the high winds. The centerboard had already been pulled up.
At 2400 hrs the barometer had dropped to 993 bar and the wind speed was rarely below 60 knots. The motion of the boat was good, just a steady rise and fall to the waves with an occasional loud BANG! as a cross swell broke against the hulls. Despite my previous fears of excessive strain on the yacht the bows were NEVER pulled through any of the breaking crests, instead rising up and over them. There was tremendous strain on the bridle and tether, which "hummed" at times. Despite the noise the motion was easy enough for us to get sleep and cook between watches.
Waves continued to break on either side of the yacht, but we appeared to sit in a "slick" behind the parachute where there was only foam. We rigged nylon chafe protection on the bridle near exposed metalwork on the yacht and I checked for chafe every hour, both there and at the snatchblocks on the bows. At the end of 41 hours we still did not have any chafe. A mistake I made was in relying on the hydraulic steering ram to hold the rudder amidships. The force on the rudder from cross swells and rogue waves was substantial enough to drive the hydraulic ram to the end of its travel, and the rudder hard over. This was cured by shackling sheets [ropes] direct to the rudder and winching/cleating it off amidships.
We sat to the parachute for 41 hours; the wind went up and down averaging 45 knots and sometimes dropping below 30 knots. At 1230 hrs on the 19th June the wind was still 30 knots but had backed to NW. We opted to pull up the parachute and make a run for it north to try and get above the depressions. All went well retrieving the chute except that just as I was about to pull it in over the side of the boat the retrieval line ripped off the apex of the parachute and the chute filled again! We were drifting broadsides at the time and making quite a bit of way. I nearly got pulled over the side and lost most of the skin off my hands while trying to re-cleat the tether. This could not have happened with a purpose-built sea anchor! A 28 ft diameter parachute is almost impossible to retrieve in those conditions with no retrieval line and only two crew. We tried for over two hours and in the end I had to cut it free.
If we had known what we would face for the next 48 hours we would have stayed on the chute. We started off hard-on into the wind which was averaging 25-30 knots. This became a tight reach as it was more comfortable. Seas were rough and confused and repeatedly broke against the hulls.... Each time we hit one we would stop dead in our tracks. The noise was incredible and with the front of the boat continually getting swept by the seas I was worried that something would get broken if we didn't slow down (it turned out that we did break a stringer in the forward section of the stbd float).
On 21st of June we finally ran out of the weather. Incredibly a fourth low had formed and taken the same path as the other three, but by this time we had climbed out above it. We would never put to sea for an ocean passage again without a parachute.
File S/T-19, obtained from Mel Pearlston, Petrolia, CA. - Vessel name Surrender, hailing port Petrolia, trimaran ketch, designed by Arthur Piver, LOA 55' x Beam 25' x Draft 4' 7" x 15 Tons - Sea anchor: 24-ft. Diameter Para-Tech on 600' x 3/4" nylon three strand tether and bridle arms of 75' each, with 5/8" stainless steel swivel - No trip-line - Deployed in a North Pacific storm in deep water about 500 miles west of Humboldt Bay (California) with winds of 70-80 knots and seas of 50 ft. - Vessel's bow yawed 10°.
Mel Pearlston was sailing Surrender back to California from Hawaii in 1992 when she ran into a September storm. A 24-ft. diameter Para-Tech sea anchor was then deployed, which kept her three bows snubbed into the seas for about three hours. The anchored trimaran was then struck by a rogue wave coming in at an angle of 30-40°. As to what happened next, the best that Pearlston and Shane could determine after long telephone conversations is as follows. Either the trimaran was picked up and carried sideways, inducing considerable slack in the system, which allowed the yacht to lie a-hull temporarily. Or the sea anchor itself was picked up and thrown - possibly fouled - by the same rogue wave, causing the line to go slack and the yacht to lie a-hull. Or a combination of both (Fig. 40).
Although mercifully rare, large breaking rogues are capable of dealing swift and unexpected death blows to small craft. One needs to try to come up with additional tricks that might improve one's odds of survival in the event of such an encounter. Perhaps one such trick would be to deploy an auxiliary - smaller - sea anchor on a much shorter line off the approach ama, if one knew which side the rogue was going to come from. Or possibly the main hull, if one did not. This sort of strategy was once used on some of Richard Newick's earlier Vals, the idea being that if a capsize couldn't start it couldn't finish. Several OSTAR Vals, among them Three Cheers, rode out storms on double sea anchors. Perhaps this auxiliary sea anchor could be a weighted, 3-5 ft. diameter cone with a wire hoop sewn into the skirt to keep the mouth permanently open, deployed on 30-50 feet of line.
Conditions being life-threatening Pearlston made a quick decision to cut away the rig and run downwind. Transcript:
Surrender left Kauai, Hawaii in early September, 1992, when hurricane Iniki was just leaving the coast of Baja and turning west across the Pacific. There were three of us aboard Surrender, a modified Piver Enchantress, stretched to 55'. Surrender had been lovingly and heavily built over a twenty year period by a master craftsman, and I had been sailing her for five years in the Eastern Pacific. After sailing north on a port tack for a week, we turned right and headed across the top of the North Pacific High for our home port of Humboldt Bay. Just about this time hurricane Iniki was devastating Kauai, destroying every boat on the island. The distress channels were full of incoming calls, spread over a thousand mile radius. We were counting our blessings for having left when we did, thinking that we were home free.
I awoke three mornings later about five hundred miles west of Cape Mendocino to the blackest and most ominous horizon I had ever seen. The forecast was for a low pressure system to produce 40 knots of wind and seas of from 15 to 20 feet, but I didn't believe a word of it. The wind built quickly from the NNE to 45 knots, at which point I made the decision to deploy our 24' Para-Tech sea anchor. The anchor was attached to 600' of new 3/4" three strand, 75' bridle arms, a 5/8" SS swivel, and was secured to the boat by massive, custom-made stainless steel bails on the bow of each ama. No trip line was used, but two 24" diameter mooring balls were used for floats, together with a man overboard pole to make visual observations and recovery easier.
By the time the sea anchor was deployed and the boat buttoned up (which included lashing the helm amidships), the wind had built to fifty knots and the seas were building quickly. Over the next three hours we rode extremely comfortably to the sea anchor while conditions continued to deteriorate. The wind increased to a sustained 70 knots, gusting over 80. The larger waves were in the fifty foot range, and the swells were 600 feet apart. While riding to the sea anchor Surrender did not yaw perceptibly. As we rose to each wave the boat would rise and begin to be carried back until the anchor rode came up tight. Then, like a huge rubber band, it would gently pull us through the top of the swell. It was truly a testament to the use of the sea anchor. To this day I remember thinking how eerie it was that we could be so comfortable in such conditions.
At the height of the storm I felt the boat rising to a particularly large swell. At some point I realized that this wave had come from a point some 30 to 40 degrees off our starboard bow. At the top of the wave, after the anchor rode had stretched out and we were being pulled through the crest, something happened and the tension on the rode was suddenly released. Surrender free fell backwards down the face of the wave, and upon landing was completely submerged. Sometime during this fall one of the forward salon windows was broken. After assuring myself that the boat was still upright, I took stock of our situation. The main cabin had three feet of water in it. All of the items stowed on the starboard side of the boat were now on the port side. Upon going topside, I found that our decks had been swept clean of all stowed gear, including items that had been secured with heavy webbed strapping. I nailed a piece of plywood, with a closed cell foam gasket secured to one side, over the broken window. Next I went forward and cut loose the sea anchor bridles because the boat was broadside to the swell and there was no appreciable tension on the rode, and I assumed that the sea anchor was gone. I did this so that the rode would not foul our prop or rudder as my intention was to run down swell and deploy drogues. In retrospect, this was a poor decision. I did not consider the possibility that the anchor was tumbled and/or fouled. All I could think of was not spending one more moment than necessary with Surrender broadside to those huge seas.
While I unlashed the helm, I made my next mistake. I attempted to start the engine for maneuverability without checking the engine room. Apparently the starter had gotten wet and it immediately shorted out causing billowing clouds of smoke to emerge from the engine room. At the same time I realized that the helm was not responding and when I inspected the rudder post my worst fears were confirmed. The two inch bronze post had snapped below the steering quadrant. It appeared to have twisted like a piece of plastic almost 90 degrees before breaking. There was less than half an inch of mangled post left to work with - far less than that needed for my emergency tiller to attach to. The next eighteen hours passed in a blur. We bailed the boat out with buckets, as the books and food on the cabin sole of the salon turned the water into a thick gruel that foreclosed the use of either our electric or hand pumps. The wind had subsided to fifty knots, and the seas to the 30 foot range by this time, and a small amount of headsail allowed Surrender to ride hove-to quite comfortably. By the end of this period I was able to jury rig a steering quadrant to the rudder post utilizing a modified clamp-on quadrant from an Alpha auto pilot, and we got back underway. The next five days were spent limping into Humboldt Bay fighting the cold (we had no dry cloths or blankets) and our dwindling supply of amps.
Better decisions would have left us with an answer as to whether some part of the sea anchor system had failed, or if the sea anchor had merely been tumbled and/or fouled, and if so, whether it might have eventually recovered and restored its pull. In any event, I have never traveled offshore since without two complete sea anchor rigs aboard, and would never hesitate to recommend their use for rest, repairs, or as a defensive storm tactic. I consider it the single most important tool we carry.
File S/T-20, obtained from Gary Habersetzer, Raymond, WA - Vessel name Amenity, hailing port San Diego, Tri-Star ketch designed by Ed Horstman, LOA 40' x Beam 24' x Draft 38" x 6 Tons - Sea anchor: 24-ft. Diameter military parachute on 400' x 5/8" nylon three strand tether and bridle arms of 60' each, with 1/2" galvanized swivel - No trip-line - Deployed in a gale in Mexican coastal waters about ten miles from Magdalena Bay with winds of 35-50 knots and seas of 8 ft. - Vessel's bow yawed 10° - Drift was minimal during 12 hours at sea anchor.
Gary Habersetzer is one of the original group of multihull builders/sailors who learned how to use parachute sea anchors directly from John Casanova (File S/T-1). The group included Carol Donovan, owner of the 35-ft. Horstman Tri-Star Lion's Paw, Jim Staggs, owner of the 41-ft. Nottingham trimaran Whither, Jack Beadle, owner of a 32-ft. Simpson Wild "Shifter" trimaran, and Bob and Marilyn Braggins, owners of the very first flush deck Horstman Tri-Star ever built, Puffin.
Gary bought his first surplus military parachute from John Casanova in 1975, using it in a whole gale aboard his first multihull, a 31-ft. Piver AA trimaran off Cape Mendocino, California. When Gary, along with Bob Braggins, was invited to fly over and help sail a newly-built Horstman Tri-Star from Seattle to San Diego, he brought along two parachutes.
The story about him boarding the plane with two 28-ft. C-9 parachutes rolled up under each arm - causing not too little anxiety among the passengers - is well known in multihull circles. Bringing those parachutes turned out to be a wise decision, however, because the Tri-Star ended up having to use one in a gale off the mouth of the Columbia River.
In the July/August 1979 issue of Multihulls Magazine Joan Casanova wrote about the dangerous behavior of the boat prior to deployment (reproduced by permission):
The small Tri-Star rose above the monstrous waves, sliding swiftly down each face. Every few waves which passed under the boat were just a little larger than the last ones. It sent the tri skidding off at a 45° angle, nearly coming to complete broaching position in the trough. the action gave the helmsman anxious moments before the boat would respond to the helm. All aboard knew the dangers of that position. They were aware that the tri exceeded a safe speed. Below decks all gear was rolling in the aisle. It was only a matter of time before the growing seas would roll the lightweight trimaran over. Bob Braggins, skipper of Puffin, reflects in his tone of voice those anxious hours, as if reliving them.
"I'm sure we would've gone over if we hadn't put out the chute. We had difficulty putting it over the side at first. The wind got hold and wanted to open it on deck. As soon as it took hold in the water, the boat began to ride easily and we began to relax. It was my first time using a chute, and believe me, I am sold!!"
Gary has used the parachute sea anchor too many times to list all of them. On the occasion of this particular file he and his wife Karen were sailing Amenity from San Diego to Cabo San Lucas when the wind and seas suddenly came up near Magdalena Bay. Amenity was hove-to for twelve hours, after which she resumed her cruise south. There is a photograph of Gary and Karen folding the parachute on Amenity's deck in the July/August '79 issue of Multihulls. The photo was taken by Joan Casanova.
In 1976 Gary Habersetzer went into business for himself as head of Marine Repair Service in San Diego. After two decades of multihull building experience he founded Pedigree Cats in Seattle in 1995. The company now builds large multihulls. At this writing there are several large Horstman Tri-Stars in the works, including one that is 105 feet long. A 52-ft. Shuttleworth design with a high-tech Aero-Rig is nearing completion. Pedigree Cats has also received an offer to build catamarans for an Austrian concern.
The short note that Gary sent in along with the filled out DDDB form reads thus:
I think you now know why we list the chute as standard equipment on all the cats we build. We have used them and know that you should not leave the dock without one.
Using Parachutes, Sea Anchors and Drogues to Cope with Heavy Weather – Over 130 Documented Case Histories