D/T-1 Trimaran, Steinlager


Trimaran, Steinlager

60' x 52' x 5.5 Tons

Seabrake MK I

Force 11+ Conditions


File D/T-1, obtained from Sir Peter Blake, Auckland, NZ - Vessel name Steinlager, hailing port Auckland, Maxi racing trimaran designed by David Allan Williams, LOA 60' x Beam 52' x Draft 5' x 5.5 Tons - Drogue: Seabrake Mk I on 300' x 3/4" nylon braid rode and 30' of ½" chain - No bridle - Deployed numerous times in the Bicentennial Round Australia Two-Handed Race with winds of 55-70 knots and large, confused seas - Vessel's stern yawed 10°.

Sir Peter Blake is one of the most experienced sailors on the planet earth (500,000 blue water miles). His heavy weather experiences span the entire gamut of gales and storms on board every conceivable type of small craft both monohulled and multihulled. Victor Shane had the privilege of interviewing Peter on the telephone just after his team won the America's Cup on the New Zealand yacht Black Magic in May 1995, in San Diego. The interview revolved around a number of subjects. Here is a transcript (by permission):

The 1988 Round Australia Race: The Bicentennial Round Australia Two-Handed race started on the 8th of August 1988 from Sydney to Sydney [anti clockwise], with a number of stops in between. You go up inside the Barrier Reef to start, go round through Torres Strait to Darwin, down the Indian Ocean to Fremantle, and then come along the Great Bight of Australia to Adelaide, down to Hobart, back up the east coast of Tasmania, back through the Bass Strait towards Melbourne, and then through the Bass Strait again up to Sydney.

The Seabrake [MK I] was used in the first storm, which occurred within the first twelve hours of the race. We had winds of 55-60 knots from dead behind against very big seas because of a south going current. The wind was southerly and the set was going south so it built very big seas. We used the Seabrake again between Fremantle and Adelaide, across the bottom of Australia. We used it with a vengeance there and it definitely saved the boat and the crew in a full force winter storm coming in from the Southern Ocean. We used it again between Adelaide and Hobart, along the bottom of Tasmania, again with a severe weather front coming through, and then later on we used it again between Melbourne and Sydney, just coming up round the corner from the Bass Strait turning north. On this occasion we were beating into it with reduced sail when my partner Mike Quilter suddenly yelled at me as I was down below getting ten minutes of sleep. He said, "come up quick," and in about two minutes the wind went from 25 knots northerly to about 50 knots southerly. And so the Seabrake went over the transom straight away, no sails set, and the sea still coming from the north, but the southerly wind was driving us hard into those sea, so if we hadn't slowed the boat down I think it would have broken up.

The worst case scenarios were on two different occasions. One was on the day we started the race [8 August], and if I hadn't had the Seabrake I wouldn't be talking to you now, probably. And the other occasion was the day and a half before the finish, when I think if we hadn't had the Seabrake there was no way we could have slowed the boat and the lightweight racing trimaran would probably have self-destructed, again because the wind changed and we were being driven headlong into northerly seas by a 50-knot wind from the south. These were very big breaking seas, real breaking waves collapsing down their full fronts.

Using the Seabrake without a bridle the trimaran steered very well [without autopilot]. We pulled the centerboard up and the boat basically blew down wind with the Seabrake off the back. It was really great, no keel to trip over, no roll, no yaw, nothing, just straight downwind, fantastic. Multihulls are very good like that, much better than monohulls. No need for bridle, just a single tow line coming to a great big winch.

 In extreme conditions an improperly positioned drogue may come flying out of a steep wave face when boat is surfing down another steep wave face. Positioning the drogue on the back of the next wave will help prevent this. The use of chain next to the drogue will help as well.
In extreme conditions an improperly positioned drogue may come flying out of a steep wave face when boat is surfing down another steep wave face. Positioning the drogue on the back of the next wave will help prevent this. The use of chain next to the drogue will help as well.

The drogue pulling out: On a few occasions we found that when we started to surf very hard the Seabrake broke free of the seaface behind. Depending on if we had it at the right distance behind the boat or not, it sometimes broke free and nearly caught the boat up. I mean it came whistling through the air like a rocket and we severely damaged the first one and replaced it with another, which we then tied all our anchor chain to, between the rope and the drogue - probably about 30' of ½" chain - then it was just fine and didn't pull out any more. We broke the original Seabrake up because it wasn't designed for such a large boat (we had a 400 sq. ft. wingmast on Steinlager) and that particular Seabrake was designed for boats up to 45 feet I suppose, and a bit heavier. But it did a marvelous job nevertheless. Once we added the chain it didn't pull out any more and it worked well.

ENZA: Far more recently we did a run around the world with a boat called Enza, New Zealand. We broke the record for non-stop around the world on this 92' x 43' catamaran. We went around in 74 days and 22 hours, and really I think there's a lot more to be learned from that, an enormous amount more than the Round Australia Two-Handed Race, mainly because it's fresher in my mind. At one time we were in sustained seas that we estimated over 60 feet, totally breaking down their fronts. And on the second occasion, when we had all warps out, not only did we have 40-50 ft. seas coming from behind, but also seas of 50-60 ft. coming at right angles from the port beam and it was a nightmare. We just about lost the boat on two occasions at that point going down the mine, until we got the drogue out the back and then suddenly we could relax. That really was a matter of survival. It was an "if we don't get the drogue out we're not going to be alive" scenario. There was no maybe to it that time.

We spent quite a bit of time in the last 24 hours from the finish in full Atlantic storm conditions on Enza and we used what we had on board, which was all of our anchor chain and every single bit of rope we had, strung in a bight off the back and that worked fantastically. That was just as good. Two bridles, made up from 300 meters of rope on each side, and then right at the end we had all of the anchor chain, which was I suppose about 30 meters parceled up, and around that we had wrapped the anchor warp and seized it all up so that it made like a big bundle, but a heavy bundle, and that worked extremely well. It wasn't as easy to deploy as the Seabrake, however, took a bit of getting out and a bit of getting it back. The Seabrake we used to throw over with no hesitation, and it no doubt saved us on a number of occasions just because it was so easy to use.

Sea anchor or drogue? I've got my own view, and not just the facts. I've been hove-to in cyclones, I've run before, I've used trysails, I've dragged things, I've been beam on, you name it, on every sort of vessel. To me the biggest thing is that you must be prepared. I think that a lot of people get into problems because sometimes these weather patterns creep up on you and then suddenly it really is very nasty and you haven't quite realized it, and then to get out the necessary drag device, whatever it may be, is almost too late. By then people are seasick if it's a cruising boat, or they're not too used to it, or not necessarily experienced. So to have something easy to put over, such as a Seabrake, or whatever drag device you are using, I think that is very important. I have never layed to a sea anchor in earnest, but I can see that it might be reasonable. I tried lying to a sea anchor with my own trimaran once. We used a jet aircraft drogue parachute, but the trimaran had a big wingmast, and we could never anchor her conventionally by the bow anyway, having to anchor her by the stern instead. And we finally blew that parachute out, there was so much load on it. So I don't think there is any fixed answer to a set of conditions, though I think that if you've got searoom I, personally, would always go with a drag off the back. But if you haven't got searoom you haven't got an option. On a number of occasions in the Round Australia Race, on Steinlager, we would be on a lee shore with nasty weather coming in and we would actually keep an eye on the geography of the shoreline, even though it was a hundred miles to leeward, knowing that if conditions were to really turn bad we weren't going to be able to go to windward - no boat goes to windward in a storm - and we were going to have to run downwind, and the best thing probably would have been to find a place that didn't have steep cliffs and run the boat up on beach as far as possible. Run it up on a sandy beach and just get off the thing.

Quartering the seas? I don't necessarily go along with the idea of quartering the seas [with drogue in tow]. I think that it depends on what you are on, and if you're on a multihull it's definitely much better to be running squarely downwind, because if you're running with the wind on the quarter you're likely to dig a bow and loose it much more easily. Better to run absolutely downwind [in a multihull]. It's dangerous to take the seas on the quarter, and much, much better to take them square on the transom; that's in a multihull - a trimaran or a catamaran. A monohull, I think, is a different scenario, and I might agree with the quartering idea.

Lying A-Hull: I've hove-to in some really extreme conditions. I'm happy to sit there, but would be absolutely against lying a-hull anywhere. I don't think lying a-hull is a mode of survival that one should contemplate if conditions are really severe. In moderate conditions, if you're not too worried about the sea state, maybe it's OK. But lying a-hull in a storm is a recipe for being rolled, or having the deck or the cabin top stove in and heavy water come inside. I think that the other approaches are better. Even though lying a-hull is natural and sort of easy, I definitely don't think it's a tactic that people should use, unless they haven't got another option.

D/C-6 Catamaran, Prout


Catamaran, Prout

37' x 16' x 7.5 Tons

Seabrake GP-24

Force 7 Condition


File D/C-6, obtained from Robert Harnwell, Berwyn, PA. - Vessel name Malaika, hailing port Philadelphia, Snowgoose catamaran designed by the Prout brothers, LOA 37' x Beam 16' x Draft 2.8' x 7.5 Tons - Drogue: Seabrake GP-24 (24" diameter) on 100' x 5/8" nylon three strand tether - No bridle - Deployed in a gale in deep water about 200 miles WNW of Cape Finisterre (Spain) with winds of 30 knots and seas of 12-20 ft. - Vessel's stern yawed 10° - Speed was reduced to 4-5 knots during 48 hours of deployment.

Seabrake GP
Seabrake GP

Malaika was sailed from England to the Chesapeake Bay in August 1995. Like most Prout catamarans her mast is stepped aft. With her center of effort so far back she has a slight tendency to want to round up into the wind, and will yaw slightly more than other catamarans when running downwind. Taking the main down and using headsails will reduce this the yawing - and the weather helm. So will towing a speed-limiting drogue. This applies to any vessel with a mast stepped aft or a center of effort well back - schooners, for example. Transcript:

Deployed the drogue a number of times across the Atlantic. From England to the Azores the wind was straight behind. In the gale she was surfing 10-12 knots down the big ones, slewing around at the bottom. In a big, heavy boat like ours that's really fast. Deployed the drogue and it slowed the boat down to about 5 knots - like putting on the brakes. At one point had to roll out more jib to keep up speed and control the boat. We had a sail up throughout the 48 hours with the drogue. Most of the time she would track straight, slewing around only at the bottom of the waves.

No bridle, primarily because the boat is equipped with a real heavy duty cleat and roller for the stern anchor, slightly off the centerline of the boat, about 3 feet off the centerline. No noticeable difference. The wind was knocking us around and you really couldn't tell that the cleat wasn't on the centerline of the boat. Steered by hand through the worst of it. The autopilot in most cases could do a better job steering than we could, but there were times when you would get a succession of waves, of one, two, and three waves, and on the third one you knew that you had to get on the helm yourself, because you could feel that the boat was going too fast and you were going to lose control at the bottom of the wave - when you came off the bottom of the wave the autopilot wasn't going to be able to keep the boat straight so you had to take over. But she didn't yaw about significantly in those conditions. A couple of times things got thrown around down below, but that was about it.

Due to higher speeds on catamarans, use caution in deploying a drogue. We almost lost control of it when we first put it overboard. It took off so fast and it had so much drag that it almost overwhelmed both of us. My suggestion would be to practice deploying it beforehand, which is what we really should have done. We lost the polypropylene trip line due to a slipped knot and had to pull the drogue back in with a winch - it's like having a bulldog pulling against you at the other end.

[Positioning the drogue:] The drogue grabbed anywhere it was off the stern. Sometimes it would come out of the front face of a wave, so I guess the farther back you position it the better off you are. Given the moderate conditions [30-knot winds] we didn't want it much more than a 100 feet off the stern, worrying about having to haul it back again. It would have worked fine 25 feet off the stern, but at a 100 feet everything was a little more stable. You need to use good chafing gear. We had the rode running through an anchor roller. Even with the roller and the nice, smooth metal surfaces, I had to let out a little line every twenty minutes or so.

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.