D/T-8 Trimaran, Piver


Trimaran, Piver

35' x 20' x 3.5 Tons

4-Ft. Dia. Conical Drogue

Force 12 Conditions


File D/T-8, obtained from Warren L. Thomas, Charleston, SC. - Vessel name Lady Blue Falcon, hailing port Charleston, Lodestar trimaran designed by Arthur Piver, LOA 35' x Beam 20' x Draft 2' x 3.5 Tons - Drogue: 4-ft. Diameter cone, custom-made from heavy mesh (porous) material on 250' x 5/8" nylon three strand tether, with bridle arms of 60' each and bronze swivel - Deployed in an unnamed hurricane about 300 miles north of Bermuda with sustained winds of 80 knots and breaking seas of 30 ft. and greater - Vessel's stern yawed 30° and more with the owner steering.

To quote the immortal words of K. Adlard Coles in Heavy Weather Sailing, "When the wind rises to Force 10 or more and the gray beards ride over the ocean, we arrive at totally different conditions, and for yachts it is battle for survival, as indeed it sometimes may be for big ships." In July 1990, Lady Blue Falcon, one of Arthur Piver's original "Lodestar" designs, was off the northern coast of Maine sailing to Charleston, South Carolina, when she became entwined in a cyclonic system with sustained hurricane-force winds - an unnamed, minor hurricane. What followed was five days of sheer terror for the singlehanded sailor on board, Warren Thomas. The boat was driven without mercy round all points of the compass, eventually finding herself back in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

The only drag device on board was a 4-ft. diameter cone, custom made from some sort of tightly knit, porous, nylon mesh material. Thomas deployed it off the stern on 250' of tether and a bridle with 60-ft. arms attached to the outboard sterns of the floats. The bridle would not allow the boat to be steered freely, a major disadvantage in Thomas' opinion. In the chaos that followed, Warren Thomas tried quartering the seas by bringing both bridle arms to one float. This turned out to be a bad idea - made things much worse. To compound matters, the cone would completely pull out of the water at times, allowing the boat to lurch ahead at incredible speeds. The whole experience was traumatic and Thomas' recollection of the details are hazy - "due to complete blank of mind & loss of charts & notes" (to quote Thomas). Transcript:

I used the drogue off the stern of my Piver Lodestar in a mild hurricane 300 miles north of Bermuda, approx. 360 miles east of Cape Cod. Got blown 570 miles in 5 days, running completely out of control. Drogue's bridle would NOT let me steer at high speeds of 22 knots on 2-3 minute continuous runs. (Once rode a gale in Albermorle Sound with 45-55 knots for thirteen hours. It was a walk in the park compared to this.)

Seas in excess of 25 ft. but running faster than HELL! Wave patterns rather organized but about every hour a series of oddballs would come. I could hand-steer them, except at night when I could not see them coming. All this under bare poles. I was alone, scared and just hanging on. It was the biggest horror of my life. The sea won the war! Cannot erase the fury from my mind. First time that I have ever cried like a baby, I believe just from nerves.... Eating raw Taster's Choice right out of the coffee jar.... Wind blew all around compass. Was hovering around 80, gusts exceeding 100. I knew I was going to die. Just did not know when. Mr. tough-guy did die out there. Now only a cautious, humble sailor remains. Took two years to shed the fear and exchange it for a healthy respect for the sea. Am sure I am alive today because of luck only. If I had had a para-anchor I would still have needed luck, but I would have been rested enough to appreciate it!


D/T-4 Trimaran, Newick


Trimaran, Newick

31' x 26' x 1.5 Tons

4-Ft. Dia. Conical Drogue

Force 9-10 Conditions


File D/T-4, obtained from B.J. Watkins, Arnold, MD. - Vessel name Heart, hailing port Richmond VA, Val ocean racing trimaran designed by Richard Newick, LOA 31' x Beam 26' x Draft 5' (2' 5" board up) x 1.5 Tons - Drogue: 4-Ft. Diameter cone (unknown make) on 200' x 1/2" nylon braid tether, with bridle arms of 75' each and 1/2" galvanized swivel - Deployed in a whole gale in deep water about 300 miles NE of Bermuda with winds of 40-50 knots and seas of 20 ft. - Vessel's stern yawed excessively - Damage and risk of capsize lead to the abandonment of the boat.

In order for a medium-pull drogue to take greater control bridle should be attached to the extreme outboard ends of the floats. (Review also Figs. 22, 23 in Section 4 for options relating to the attachment points of low-pull drogues that may require hand steering).
In order for a medium-pull drogue to take greater control bridle should be attached to the extreme outboard ends of the floats. (Review also Figs. 22, 23 in Section 4 for options relating to the attachment points of low-pull drogues that may require hand steering).

B.J. Watkins was singlehandedly sailing Heart from Annapolis to England to participate in the 1988 C-STAR (Carlsberg Singlehanded Trans Atlantic Race). Her intent was to become the first American woman ever to finish that race. "That is not what happened, unfortunately," writes B.J. in an article entitled The Agony of a Premature Defeat (March/April '88 issue of Multihulls Magazine).

B.J. departed Annapolis on 9 April 1988. On the third or fourth day out the boat hit something, damaging the rudder. A week later, 380 miles NE of Bermuda, Heart ran into a whole gale. B.J. set a 4-ft. diameter, conical drogue - unknown make - off the stern.

While the cone was too small to pull the bows into the seas (B.J. had tried that once and the boat just laid beam-to), by all tokens it should have done a good job of pulling the stern into the seas. But it did not. Why not? Likely because of the incorrect attachments points of the bridle. Heart was practically identical to Galliard (file D/T-2), both trimarans being Newick Val 31s. The difference was that Tom Follett deployed a 5-ft. diameter Shewmon with a bridle leading to the extreme outboard ends of the floats, whereas B.J. deployed a 4-ft. cone with a bridle secured to chain plates located on the cross-arms, inboard and forward.

The cone may have been on the wrong part of the wave train as well. In order to keep the stern aligned into the full blown gale B.J. found that she had actively to steer the Val trimaran. The pull of the drogue was not constant. Now and then the yacht would surf down the face of the steeper waves. To steer risked further damage to the rudder. To not steer risked a broach and possible capsize. The barometer kept falling. Components began failing. The seas built up and finally started to break over the small trimaran.

The situation became untenable and B.J. had no alternative but to turn on the EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon). She was taken off the crippled trimaran by the Dutch container ship Charlotte Lykes.

B.J. Watkins had spend about $50,000 in preparing her boat, which was uninsured once it was 200 miles from the U.S. coast - a bitter loss. A transcript of the DDDB feedback submitted by B.J. Watkins follows. It includes portions of related correspondence with Donald Jordan (by permission):

I have enclosed a copy of the correspondence I had with Donald Jordan. I hope this is helpful. Mr. Jordan and I have reached the conclusion that the reason the sea anchor did not pull the stern to the seas was because of the location of the attachment points. We feel that they were too far forward on the boat and too far inboard....

[From the Jordan correspondence]: I cannot tell you exactly what size drogue I had. It was a cone shape, approximately 4 feet in diameter at the widest point. It was original equipment which came with Heart, so I do not know the exact measurements. I had attached snatch blocks to half-inch "D" shackles whose pins formed the pins for the turnbuckles on the mast rig. The bridle lines ran through the snatch blocks to the primary winches. I am at a loss to explain why the boat did not ride stern to the wind. My experience with Heart prior to rigging with the wing mast was interesting. I had on a previous occasion deployed the sea anchor from the bow of the main hull, no bridle. This was done in Long Island Sound, 50-knot winds, 5-8 foot seas, no bridle. Heart laid beam to the seas at that time. We had the board up but the rudder was in place. Dick Newick suggested that possibly if we had raised the rudder we might have then set bow-to. The action of the sea anchor at that time prompted me to investigate further. We added the bridle and decided to try stern-to.... I agree that the best arrangement is to attach the bridle to special reinforced fitting provided at the aft ends of the amas.

UPDATE: Two years later B.J. Watkins and her teammate Boots Parker were participants in the 1990 Two Handed Transatlantic Race on the 45-ft. Peter Spronk catamaran Skyjack. On their way to England they lost both rudders (the shafts had been fabricated out of aluminum instead of stainless steel). And, while attempting to limp to the Azores on one spare rudder they ran into two Force 8 gales!

However, this time B.J. had an 18-ft. diameter Para-Tech sea anchor on board. In the second gale she deployed it. The orange parachute pulled the bows of Skyjack into the teeth of the gale, parking the boat and minimizing damage.

In a subsequent telephone conversation with Victor Shane, B.J. said that the parachute sea anchor performed in a most satisfactory way - it was a morale booster and it allowed them to "call time out" in a difficult situation.