D/M-20 SPARKMAN & STEPHENS 34 (Swarbrick)

S&S 34 monohullD/M 20

Monohull, Sparkman & Stephens

33' x 6 Tons, Fin Keel


Force 9+ Conditions

File D/M-19, obtained from Ben Tucker, Australia - Vessel name Gypsy2, hailing port Hobart, monohull sloop designed by Sparkman & Stephens and built by Swarbrick, LOA 33' x LWL 25' x Beam 10' x Draft 5' 10" x 6 Tons - Fin keel - Drogue: Seasquid on 150' (45m) x 7/16" (11mm) kermantle dynamic nylon double braid rode plus 6ft (2m) of 8mm chain - Deployed in  deep water midway on passage from Hobart, Australia to Bluff, New Zealand in winds of 45 knots gusting to 60kt and breaking seas of 20 - 30 ft. (6 - 10m) - Surfing down waves was inhibited, and speed was reduced to about 4 knots during 18 hours of deployment

Ben Tucker has over 70,000 miles of sailing experience, plus a million miles as an officer on a container ship. On this occasion he was sailing from Australia to New Zealand in early summer when he get caught in a strong gale:

On passage from Hobart to Bluff in early summer we got caught in a nasty low with strong westerly winds. Over the day the wind and seas built and quite suddenly it went from fun fast downwind sailing to dangerous just on dusk. We dropped the deep reefed main, and eventually ran with just a scrap of the roller reefing headsail set. As the seas built up we started surfing too fast for comfort down the front of the seas and deployed a sea squid on about 45 meters of 11mm kernmantle dynamic nylon rope that had previously been used for climbing.  About 2 meters of 8 mm chain was shackled between the drogue and the warp. 

The drogue immediately slowed us down and controlled the surfing. 

But a big problem with our setup was soon revealed, the stretch in the drogue warp, coupled with the short line and only a short length of lightweight chain caused the drogue to break free of the approaching wave and fly forward towards us through the air about 10 meters and then re-engage, this would allow the boat to accelerate quickly to 7 or 8 knots until the drogue reengaged and with a brutal jerk it then slowed us down again to around 4 knots, this would often rip the drogue back out of the water again, repeating the cycle.

It was clear that the wavelength was around 100 meters or so, as the drogue was visible behind us on the approaching crest when we were near the trough.

It was deployed off the port quarter with no bridle to keep it clear of the windvane. We added a length of 19mm polypropylene line approximately 100 meters long in parallel with the drogue. This slowed us down enough that the drogue remained in the water with a more steady pull. 

We rode out the night hand steering with a small scrap of jib sheeted tight amidships and the drogue and warp behind.  Many times the cockpit filled with water, and were buffeted badly by the bigger crests, bouncing down the wave face. But by early morning it had eased significantly. 

We found that the windvane had been damaged by the drogue line at some point, and the plastic sea squid drogue had a bad crack in it, probably due to the tumbling as it flew through the air, then tangled with the chain and reengaged. 

the biggest lesson was to avoid using a dynamic rope with a drogue, Have at least 100 meters of warp available and plenty of heavy chain on the end to keep it well under water.  

The next time I used a drogue sailing to Antarctica on my 33 foot yacht Snow Petrel I had no issues with a much longer line, approximately 120 meters of 18mm polypropylene and 10 meters of 10mm chain using a Seabrake HSD 300 and the pull was very steady and consistent.

Once again we have problems with drogues skipping out of the waves, in this case exacerbated by using a very stretchy climbing rope as a rode. Elasticity is crucial in the rode for a para-anchor so as to prevent shock loading, but in a drogue a non-stretchy rode, combined with some weight at the drogue end, helps to keep the rode submerged leading to a more constant rode tension.

Ben notes that the wave length was about 100m and the drogue rode about half that. One would expect that this might work well, placing the drogue on the back of the when one needs it most, ie surfing down the face of the same wave, but in this case the extreme stretching of the rode seems to have counteracted this, resulting in the drogue pulling out of the water with the concomitant rapid acceleration of the boat.

As the Furgusons on St. Leger (D/M 17) found, one needs to either have a long rode with more weight to cover a wider range of conditions (as did Ben Tucker on his next adventure), or else be able to adjust it from the cockpit to specifically tune it to the conditions at the time.

D/T-6 Trimaran, Searunner


Trimaran, Searunner

31'x 18' x 2.2 Tons

Sea Squid Drogue

Force 7-8 Conditions

File D/T-6, obtained from Donald Longfellow, Garden Grove, CA. - Vessel name Take Five, hailing port Ventura, CA, Searunner trimaran designed by Jim Brown, LOA 31' x Beam 18' x Draft 6' (3' board up) x 2.2 Tons - Drogue: Australian Sea Squid on 130' x 7/16" nylon braid tether with bridle arms of 30' each - Deployed in Papaguyo winds in 100 fathoms of water about 30 miles off the coast of Nicaragua, with winds of 30-35 knots and seas of 8-10 ft. - Vessel's stern yawed 20° with autopilot steering - Speed was reduced to about 5 knots during 18 hours of deployment.

Another reminder that the Australian Sea Squid is no longer available. Transcript:

The Sea Squid was deployed 18 hours after leaving Costa Rica and approximately 30 n.m. off the coast of Nicaragua. The seas had grown during the night as my distance offshore grew, and by morning I was becoming concerned about the way the occasional cross waves would knock the stern 40 degrees sideways to the primary wave track as the boat accelerated down wave faces. Neither the electronic nor the mechanical autopilot was quick enough to correct this and I was in no mood to start hand steering. Still, I didn't feel safe risking the boat getting beam-to on the wave faces, especially when it was traveling at over 6 knots. Top speeds down some wave faces were 8-10 kts (double-reefed main up, sailing almost dead downwind.) I didn't want to go bare poles, but I wanted speeds kept under 6 kts. and the yawing reduced. It seemed like an appropriate time to baptize the Sea Squid (it was already hooked up, ready to go).

Over the side it went with no noticeable shock when the line went taut. The effect was immediate and quite apparent, speed down wave faced maxed at 6 kts. (curious though, my ambient speed remained nearly the same as before, 4-5 kts.versus 4-6 kts). Yawing was noticeably reduced. The self steering was now able to handle conditions, allowing me to get much needed rest (singlehanding). Occasionally the Sea Squid would briefly pull free when it was on a wave face. This removed tension on the bridle with unfavorable results. It wasn't a major problem, but I felt it could have been under heavier conditions. Seems to me this could be rectified with the addition of some chain to the drogue's line. There was a Galerider drogue aboard, but I never used it during that trip. It is one size larger than the company recommends for my boat displacement (36" dia. instead of 30"). If I had encountered heavier conditions than the one above, I would have used the Galerider instead of the Sea Squid. There is no doubt in my mind that the sea conditions on that day presented only two reasonable options for my boat: para-anchor, or running down the swells. I would no sooner leave on a cruise without my para-anchor and drogues than I would leave without secondary anchors and heavier headsails.

D/C-8 Catamaran, Crowther


Catamaran, Crowther

40' x 26' x 3 Tons

Sea Squid Drogue

Force 9-10 Conditions

File D/C-8, obtained from Dr. Gavin Le Sueur, Mallacoota, Australia - Vessel name Windswept, hailing port Mallacoota, catamaran, designed by Lock Crowther, LOA 40' x Beam 26' x Draft 2' 6" x 3 Tons - Drogue: Sea Squid on 300' x 3/4" nylon braid tether, with bridle arms of 28' each - Towed in a whole gale in deep water from Perth to Adelaide with winds of 40-50 knots and seas of 20-30 ft. - Vessel's stern yawed 20° - Speed was reduced to about 4 knots.

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

Although the Sea Squid is no longer in production we are presenting files that involve its use because they contain invaluable insights relating to the use of speed-limiting drogues in general. Dr. Gavin Le Sueur (see also S/C-16) used Australian Sea Squid drogues in the rough 1988 Two Handed Around Australia Race, the same race in which Peter Blake participated on Steinlager II (File D/T-1). Transcript:

I was offered a 40ft Crowther catamaran to sail in the 1988 Two Handed Around Australia Race. I crossed the starting line with Catherine [wife to be] as my crew. We were given a plastic "Sea Squid" drogue to test during the race. The first night brought a southerly buster that capsized a 35ft trimaran (Escapade), sank a police launch and cost the life of a crewman on a monohull (Boundary Rider). We towed the Sea Squid on 300ft of 1" braided nylon. It porpoised all night [diving in and out] and by dawn we were just dragging rope with a small plug of plastic shackled on the end. At the first stopover we were given a second Sea Squid. This one had a reinforced head (fiberglass resin poured into the bolt attachment). After a gale in the Coral Sea the inlet valves of this Sea Squid had split and folded back. Again this one would leap out of the water on occasions. At Darwin we were given a third Sea Squid to test. This time the inlet valves were smaller and reinforced across the center. We added 6ft of anchor chain right next to the drogue. This stopped the porpoising.

While crossing the Southern Ocean from Perth to Adelaide all competitors went through gale after storm. We could not carry full sail for 3000 miles! We towed drogues and warps for most of the way. The last Sea Squid worked famously. With the chain, reinforcing and altered inlet valves, we had no further structural failure. It was speed limiting to approximately 7 knots. We no longer surfed down waves, and often would add sail before taking in the Squid so that we could maintain a constant 7 knots and not stall in the troughs.

The drogue bridle ran inboard from each hull to two winches so that the arms could be adjusted for steering. The tether itself continued into the cockpit and the bridle arms were spliced together and the combined end bent onto the tether with a rolling hitch with a lock. The tether was then let out until the bridle grabbed. It was secured to another winch as a backup if the bridle arms failed, or the knot came undone. This never happened. We finished the Around Australia Race in second place in the 40ft division, third multihull over the line behind Steinlager (Peter Blake) and Verbatim (Cathy Hawkins and Ian Johnston). On the finish line I asked my crew to marry me and surprisingly she said yes!

Our drogue system has continuously undergone experiment and changes. These changes are entirely experimental and apply only to our catamaran, but may be of use to others. Our first problem was the stowage of the Sea Squid, and rigging it for convenient use. It meant getting out our short length of chain off the breakfast anchor line [lunch hook]. It usually meant digging the Squid out from the recesses of the bow. We read about textile drogues and have tried four systems since 1992. The first was a scaled down parachute. It worked out but slowed the cat to less than 3 knots in 35-knot winds. Too slow to avoid getting pooped. We then tried a "series" drogue, provided as a trial. It slowed the boat, but was a stowage mess and very impractical. We then tried a textile drogue that was fluted. It was like a normal parachute (3ft diameter) but with the middle ten inches removed and the continuous shrouds holding the two pieces of material together [see image below]. This fluted drogue worked as well as the parachute - 3 knots and too slow in 35-knot winds and 12ft seas. We had the drogue re-shaped by Para-Anchors Australia, the outlet hole enlarged and a rope tie put into the ends of the shrouds so that we could adjust the outlet [as with a drawstring bag].

Adjustable pull, "fluted" drogue conceived by Australian Gavin Le Sueur is similar to drogue used by NASA to lower the Pathfinder mission onto the surface of Mars. Note the drawstring arrangement on the smaller ring, allowing the outflow diameter to be adjusted from 14" to 4" to increase or reduce pull. The optimal pull for a particular boat will have to be determined through prior trial and error and in practice runs. The drogue cannot be adjusted while in use.
Adjustable pull, "fluted" drogue conceived by Australian Gavin Le Sueur is similar to drogue used by NASA to lower the Pathfinder mission onto the surface of Mars. Note the drawstring arrangement on the smaller ring, allowing the outflow diameter to be adjusted from 14" to 4" to increase or reduce pull. The optimal pull for a particular boat will have to be determined through prior trial and error and in practice runs. The drogue cannot be adjusted while in use.

With all three drogues and the Sea Squid we put out to sea for a twelve month cruise. We have used the variable outlet - fluted - drogue four times in anger, using it to control our speed, or to stop surfing, or to ease the work of the autopilot. In 37-knot gusty conditions we sailed up to 8 knots with the outlet open. We put up our storm spinnaker (a small, bulletproof racing kite with a low center of gravity) and we were unable to push the boat speed over 8 knots. With 200ft of rode it appeared that the drogue rapidly increased the turbulence as we increased the pulling power [by adding sails]. It was as though we had hit a speed barrier. We winched it in (about ten minutes hard yakka) and then re-launched it with the outlet hole tightened up (from 10 inch diameter to 4 inches). We were then back to three knots boat speed. Again we were unable to exceed this speed. It took a bit longer to haul it in the second time but the exercise seemed fruitful. I thought it justified further development and sent a copy of the reports to Para-Anchors Australia. Why a variable drogue? Vary the outlet hole so that one drogue can work for different boats. On any boat, with practice (essential) you can "dial a speed limit." A simple system that is stowed in the cockpit without hassle. At no time did any of the textile drogues break the surface, although I would add a weight if I was to run downwind in tumbling sea conditions.

Dr. Le Sueur's "fluted" parachute drogue is similar in concept to the ringsail and disk gap-band drogues used by NASA and the Aerospace Industry. Alby McCracken of Para-Anchors Australia has developed Dr. Le Sueur's idea - replete with drawstring drag adjustment - and is now offering models for sale (see Appendix III at the back of this publication).

D/C-7 Catamaran, Shuttleworth


Catamaran, Shuttleworth

34' x 18' x 2 Tons

 Sea Squid Drogue

Force 8 Conditions


File D/C-7, obtained from Mark J. Orr, Leigh On Sea, UK. - Vessel name Shockwave, hailing port Southampton, ocean racing catamaran designed by John Shuttleworth, LOA 34' x Beam 18' x Draft 18" x 2 Tons - Drogue: Sea Squid on 200' x 7/16" nylon three strand tether, with bridle arms of 30' each and 1/2" galvanized swivel - Deployed while racing, in a low system in deep water about 100 miles west of Cape Finisterre (Spain) with winds of 35 knots and seas of 10-15 ft. - Vessel's stern yawed 20° - Speed was reduced to about 10-12 knots with double-reefed main and half-furled Genoa.


Transoceanic racing skipper Mark J. Orr is affiliated with Prout Catamarans and has participated in numerous multihull races. In the 1995 Azores and Back Race he used an Australian Sea Squid drogue to maintain speed and stability. This feat can be accomplished with high speed plastic drogues like the discontinued Sea Squid or some of Seabrake's solid units - the MK I or the HSD 300. In high winds the forward pull of relatively large sails is opposed by the rearward pull of the drogue and the yacht in between is then able to move at relatively high speeds as though on railroad tracks - if the drogue doesn't fly out of the wave faces. Transcript:

Fortunately it was not our para-anchor that we had to use, but our Sea Squid drogue, which worked brilliantly. Whilst racing from Falmouth to San Miguel, Azores, in the Azores and Back Race, we had a fantastic multihull sail on the way down. After a strong beat at the start, the wind steadily came round to a reach, and then a broad reach whilst steadily building. Late on day two we were sailing with the wind angle at 110° from the starboard bow in a brisk F6-7. The seas were building and the boat was enjoying some marvelous surfing with speeds steadily in the 15-18 knot range. As the spinnaker was doused for full genoa and the mainsail reefed, the roller furling became jammed with half the genoa furled. The mainsail with 2 reefs was fine. As the surfs became longer and faster there was the occasional danger of the bow digging in too much.

Having decided that we wanted to press onto the Azores as quickly as possible, we did not want to reduce too much sail. At the same time we wanted to keep the stern down in the water and prevent the bows digging in. The drogue seemed the ideal answer. We deployed in on two 35' bridles and 200 ft. of 10mm three strand nylon. Once deployed the boat continued under 2 reefs in the mainsail and half furled genoa at 10-12 knots for the next 8 hours. Not once did the bows seriously dig in, and the stern seemed glued to the water. We hand-steered to get round waves that might slow us down, but on reflection could have used the autopilot and rested. It was amazing how secure the boat felt with the drogue out. As the boat accelerated too quickly (on a surf) there was a gentle dampening pull on the stern from the drogue that kept the acceleration gradual and within control. Lessons learned were that the bridles could have been longer, and I would have preferred a stainless steel swivel between the bridle and the tether. We had rigged up for the para-anchor off the bow and used its bridle for the drogue, which was fun to de-rig. However for the leg from the Azores back to Falmouth we rigged bridles from bow and stern so that we only had to attach the tether and the appropriated drag device. We will do this in future passages as it will speed deployment and save energy. It was the first time we had used the drogue on this boat and it was brilliant. If we had not had the drogue we would have had to slow right down. Having it on board meant that we could maintain a good racing performance in apparent safety.

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."