S/M-39 Lotus 9.2 Cutter


Lotus 9.2 Cutter

30' x 4 Tons, Low Aspect Fin/Skeg

12-Ft. Dia. Sea Anchor

Force 10 Conditions


File S/M-39, obtained from Ann and Jim Wilson, Christchurch, New Zealand - Vessel name Karoro, hailing port Moncks Bay, NZ, Lotus 9.2 sloop, designed by Alan Wright, LOA 30' 2" x LWL 26' 3" x Beam 11' x Draft 5' 6" x 4 Tons - Low aspect fin keel & skeg rudder - Sea anchor: 12-ft. Diameter Para-Tech on 2 lengths of 220' x 5/8" nylon three-strand rode plus 120' of chain and a 35 lb. plow anchor, with 1/2" stainless steel swivel - Partial trip-line - Deployed in a storm in deep water about 400 miles ENE of the North Cape of New Zealand, with sustained winds of 50 knots and seas of 20 feet and greater - Vessel's bow yawed 20° - Drift was about 10 n.m. during 15 hours at sea anchor.

In March 1966, New Zealander Jim Wilson used a 12-ft. Para-Tech sea anchor on Karoro in a gale during a coastal passage from Dunedin to Christchurch. Four months later, en route to Tonga, he used it again in a much heavier storm.


The sea anchor - deployed on two lengths of 220' x 5/8" rope, knotted together with bowlines - held the bow into the waves for a period of fifteen hours, the vessel yawing through a total arc of about 30-45° (about 20° off to each side). The sea anchor was then lost when the rode failed at one of the knots.

Sometime after losing the sea anchor, Karoro was rolled while lying a-hull. This incident confirms the opinion rendered by Peter Blake in File D/T-1: "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." Most safety experts concur that lying a-hull in a storm is a recipe for disaster.

Here is a transcript of the feedback obtained from Ann and Jim Wilson:

After three good days of sailing to the northeast, out of Gisborne, making over 120 miles a day, we began to feel anxious about warnings of storm-force winds heading our way. The wind increased gradually in intensity and it became clear we would soon be in the storm. Jim went out and put both storm sails up. The mainsail had to be completely removed from the mast to make room for the small orange trysail. The storm jib was hanked onto the [removable] inner forestay, and the furling headsail rolled up completely and lashed. This took some time and Jim finally staggered below, wet and weary. The sails felt comfortable [with the vessel hove-to], but the wind kept gaining in intensity and the forecast was frightening - a band of storm-force winds, 50 knots, 400 miles wide. Soon the waves had become mountainous. I was too scared to look at them.

About 1500 hrs Jim decided to take the storm sails down and put out the sea anchor. He collected three lots of chain, one from under the floor boards, and quietly deliberated on which to use. Then the slow ritual of dressing up and harnessing and emerging into the wild, wet cockpit to sort out sea anchor, buoys and buckets of rope, tying everything up. The sails had to be removed and stowed below, and he finally moved all the gear to the bow. It was starting to get dark. He said he had to get it right the first time or we'd have had it. That put me into a mild state of panic. I followed his movements like a hawk, terrified he'd be washed overboard by a crashing wave and left dangling by his harness. He was wedged in the bow trying to untangle a maze of rope. The wind and waves crashing over were making it worse and his life line kept getting tangled as well. I suddenly felt he'd never sort it out on his own. I began to knock on the hatch window and yell over the sound of the storm, asking if I should come and help. He finally beckoned me out, so I took the headlamp and clipped onto the safety line. Once outside, the force of the wind was terrifying. I was so scared of getting washed off I practically crawled up to the bow and between us we went about untangling the mess of rope.

I found the free end he was looking for, tied the first buoy on and threw it over on Jim's instructions. I hurriedly played out the line which floated backwards. "Bring it in again," shouted Jim, "it's gone under the boat!" I suddenly saw the futility of it all. "It's hopeless," I shouted. At that he said, "OK, OK, throw out the other buoy." Over it went and then finally over went the sea anchor at last. Jim played out the warp and then the chain, and slowly we swung around into the waves. I found it hard to believe it was so much trouble. The whole performance had taken over three hours. (We have since devised a much easier system of deploying it from the cockpit, with chain already through the bow anchor roller fitting, with restraining pin in place, and the chain led back along the toerail, lashed in easy-release fashion, to the cockpit. We should, of course, have devised and tried this system before setting off.)

I crawled back inside. The gentle hove-to movement had changed to a jerky sideways rock, but now we were parting the waves with the bow and not taking them every which way. Jim finally came below and after a cup of hot chocolate we crashed into bed. I discovered that the high pitched whine of the wind, and the way it ascended the scale as it increased in volume, was what depressed me most. That, and the way it stayed at a high pitch for long periods without dropping, and all the frantic rattles and quivering in the rigging and the sudden loud bang as a wave hit us and the water pouring over the decking. I suddenly remembered the wax ear plugs I'd brought along for diving. I jammed a couple in my ears and blissfully all sound disappeared. Only the motion remained. It got me through the night. I think we all had a reasonably good sleep.

Saturday morning, June 22, suddenly Guy said "We're going backwards." Jim saw the loose chain out of the front hatch and said, "My God I think we've lost the sea anchor." My hand flew to my mouth in horror as Jim raced about. "It's OK," said Guy, "it's a much nicer motion now" [the vessel now lying a-hull]. I thought of the sea anchor floating away behind us. Poor Jim was struggling away at the bow, winding in the chain. He'd put so much effort into researching, buying and setting up the sea anchor, and phutt! Just like that, it was gone. He came in and said that the sea anchor warp had broken. He could hardly believe it. It was the same one he'd been towed by, off Akaroa, when the skeg and rudder went. Though he had been towed on these warps, under wild conditions, and therefore thought them tried and true, they were getting old; worse, we only had thimbles spliced in one end of each of the two, the other ends being bowline-knotted, which although tested before under tow (and afterwards, amazingly, the bowlines were undone quite easily) we should have known that a knot is a weak point; and it was at one of the knots that the rope broke.

Jim lashed the tiller to one side and we lay a-hull with no sails. The motion was certainly more comfortable. We put the wooden washboards in the lower half of the companionway and the clear, perspex panel in the top, and slid the hatch cover shut as usual. Sheer stupidity - had we had all the washboards in, instead of this flexible clear upper panel, we would have taken in very little water later.

It was mid-afternoon when we were knocked down. There was no warning. No roar as the rogue wave approached us. It was deceptively quiet and I had momentarily undone my car seat belt that Jim had rigged up in my bunk. I'm not sure why, but I certainly paid for that folly. It seemed like slow motion as I rolled out and hit the table, breaking it off the wall. Then the sound of rushing water. I looked up and saw a waterfall pouring through the gap in the companionway. The clear perspex panel had popped out like a cork. Then Jim was hauling me under the armpits. He said, "We've just been knocked down - we'll come up again." I don't remember coming back up. I was too busy making horrible groaning noises as I struggled to get air into my lungs. My legs were caught in a swirling tangle of quilt, twisting like seaweed in the water. Then I was tossed onto my bed. I seem to remember Jim and Guy baling with buckets.

There was a sharp pain in my ribs and I was straining to breathe, but only getting a small amount of air in. I hoped my lungs weren't perforated. Jim left off baling and raced to the radio. He got through to T.M. [Taupo Maritime] Radio and told them what had happened. "I think I've broken my ribs," I chattered through my teeth, while shivering. A doctor came on the radio and said to take my pulse and respiration, and to keep me as dry as possible. The storm was still raging. We had all the wooden washboards in but there was no guarantee that it wouldn't happen again. Jim and Guy were now as scared as me that we might have another knock down. Jim had strung me in my bunk even more firmly, but every time there was a loud bang on the side of Karoro I'd grab the rail and give a terrified shout.

By Sunday morning, June 23, the storm was over, but we were a depressing sight. I was immobile and on pain killers. The inside was a mess. The radar was out. The new spray dodger had ripped out its attachments, the frame and stainless steel grab rails bent. The VHF aerial was ripped off, and the wind arrow and lights on top of the mast were gone. Blessedly the sun came out. Jim wanted to carry on to Tonga, saying at least we'd be in warm waters then. I couldn't envisage another week at sea. Jim unhappily agreed to go back to New Zealand, although later he realized we'd done the sensible thing. He started the motor, checked out the chart, and found our closest option to be Great Barrier Island. We felt so lucky to have dry batteries, engine and GPS, and the SSB still working. Apart from me getting thrown out of my bunk, we had gotten knocked down on the best side, leaving the batteries high and dry. We turned and headed back. By evening there was some semblance of order.

The next few days are pretty much blurred in my mind. I remember constantly asking "what day is it?" Time seemed to go so slowly. Nights were quicker with escape into sleep. We ran into strong northwesterlies. By Monday we were beating into 40-knot winds.... On Tuesday night we were closing in, but Taupo Maritime Radio had for some time been broadcasting navigational warnings of the New Zealand Navy's target practice along the Coromandel Coast... we were right in their firing line! Jim contacted T.M.R. and told them we'd been knocked down, on our way back, and in the line of fire. It was comic. Racing into stormy winds and big waves, saved from the depths of the sea, only to be fired on by our own navy. Guy and I were cracking up - me painfully....

On the quiet, still, cloudy morning of Thursday June 27, 1996 we motored into Tauranga. I had dropped into a deep sleep. I finally came to with the sound of voices. Jim was talking to a man who was helping us tie up alongside the marine. We'd made it!

Did the Wilsons sell the boat and buy a cozy little sheep farm inland? No! Ann & Jim recently returned from another long trip! Jim Wilson's hand-written note on the filled out DDDB form that Victor Shane had been anxiously waiting for reads thus: "Just returned from 6 months on Karoro, to Tonga and back. No need for sea anchor this time - no knockdowns! But very glad we had a replacement on board. Wouldn't now go to sea without one."



S/M-37 Monohull, Pearson 424C


Monohull, Pearson 424C

42' x 11 Tons, Low Aspect Fin Keel

18-Ft. Dia. Sea Anchor

Force 8-9 Conditions


File S/M-37, obtained from William T. Dwyer, Jr., Chicago, IL. - Vessel name Overdraft, hailing port Chicago, Pearson 424C cutter, designed by William Shaw, LOA 42.4' x LWL 33' 8" x Beam 13' x Draft 5' 6" x 11 Tons - Low aspect fin & skeg rudder - Sea anchor: 18-ft. Diameter Para-Tech on 300' x 5/8" nylon braid rode with 5/8" stainless steel swivel - Partial trip line - Deployed in a gale in deep water about 350 miles NW of Bermuda, with winds of 35-45 knots and seas of 12-20 feet - Vessel's bow yawed 20° - Drift was undetermined due to the proximity of the Gulf Stream.

The Gulf Stream is a 60-mile wide, swift (up to 5-knot) eastward flowing current. Past Cape Hatteras the stream is known to meander from side to side like a river. These meanders may change periodically, peeling off from the main body of the stream to form intense eddies. The eddies are sometimes called "rings." As the Stream moves eastward, warm rings are formed to its north and cold rings to its south. These discrete rings often migrate and meet back up with the main body of the Stream after months, or sometimes years.

Since the Gulf Stream transports warm water from southern latitudes one can usually tell whether one is entering or exiting it by the abrupt change in water temperature. At its edges, and deeper down, the Stream consists of a distinct, temperature gradient. This thermal gradient may extend deeper than 6000 ft. beneath the Stream.

Since cold water tends to dive beneath warm water, theoretically it may take a large sea anchor down with it - if it is deployed at an exact boundary zone. This is something that one has to be cautious of if one has to use a sea anchor in the Gulf Stream, especially in the fringes of a cold eddy. If this is the case one should rig a full trip line, one that allows the canopy to be readily tripped and retrieved without having to power up to the secondary float of a partial trip line. Otherwise the anchor may have to be cut away. There may be a possibility that this is what may have happened in the case of the S/V Overdraft. Transcript:

We departed Newport, RI on the afternoon of June 1, 1997 bound for the Mediterranean via the Azores. NOAA and a private weather forecaster called for NE winds 20-30 kts and recurring low pressure systems along a frontal boundary lying east to west along the 40th parallel, dropping to the southeast. Our plan was to sail SSE to approximately 38° N where we would cross the Gulf Stream and then sail SE until we encountered the westerlies. The going was rough, with winds from the NE higher than predicted.

Some time in the early morning of June 3, we entered the Gulf Stream heading south. Winds over the prior 24 hours had been NE at Force 6 to 7. Throughout the morning, winds increased to Force 8 to 9 with one observed gust of 55 kts apparent. We were sailing downwind in a following sea doing 8+ kts by the speedo. The waves became tall (10-12' with frequently higher waves of approximately 20'), and steep, as the seas ran counter to the Gulf Stream. Graybeards covered the sea as the tops of the waves broke against the current. We were sailing almost due south with the wind against the current, and although our knotmeter was registering hull speed, we were making approximately 4 kts over the bottom according to the GPS. I determined that we could not exit the Stream before nightfall on our current course, and decided to attempt to head ESE to escape these dangerous conditions before dark.

We proceeded ESE under staysail, deeply reefed main and engine to maintain as much directional control as possible. We took the non-breaking waves just aft of the beam and fell off to take the large breakers on our port quarter, or headed quickly up to take them at a 60° angle off the port bow. On three occasions when attempting to run off we were caught by a breaker and broached to starboard with the spreaders in the water and the wave breaking over the port side, filling the cockpit with 2½ feet of green water. By dusk we had reached the edge of the Gulf Stream, which we determined by a significant drop in water temperature. The waves became more trochoidal [rounded] in shape with fewer breakers. I decided at this point to set the sea anchor for the night as the crew had experienced miserable weather for three days and had no food or sleep for almost 24 hours.

An 18 foot Para-Tech sea anchor was deployed off the bow on 300' of 5/8" nylon braid line with 5/8" stainless swivel and no chain. The para-anchor had the standard float line with a 12" diameter plastic float buoy securely attached. After deployment the boat lay bow to the wind and did not yaw significantly from side to side, although Overdraft continued to pitch sharply, as the seas, while improved, were still quite steep. The boat lay to the sea anchor all night in winds of Force 7 decreasing to Force 6. Seas remained at about 8 feet.

At first light, we found that the rode was pointed downward at an angle of 35-45° off the port bow. Overnight the rode had chafed through the teak cap rail below the chock in an arc, cutting downward 3/4" to 1" into the wood. It was apparent that the boat was being pulled by the para-anchor in a northeasterly direction against the wind and sea. A comparison to the position check at the time the anchor was set showed we had move NE more than 3 nm overnight. The strain on the anchor rode was significant.

We attempted to retrieve the sea anchor by motoring in the direction of the anchor and pulling on the line - without success. The anchor seemed to dive deeper as we motored towards it, and we were only able to recover line as the boat rode down into a trough. As Overdraft rode back up the next crest, the rode was cleated and came under extreme tension with the anchor pulling downward on the bow. The wind was beginning to increase again and I feared that the crew attempting to retrieve the anchor by uncleating and cleating the line between waves could suffer serious hand injury, given the tension on the rode and the sea states. At this point I cut the anchor away. We had only recovered about 10 feet of line.

My supposition is that we had not sailed completely out of the Gulf Stream, and that the sea anchor was pulled downward by the northeasterly flowing current which may have been stronger at depth because of the counter-acting surface conditions caused by wind and waves. I do not believe the float became detached as it was securely tied and floating free upon deployment. Clearly, we were still in the influence of the Stream or we could not have moved northeast overnight against the wind and sea. An attempt to plot our position on a May 30th Gulf Stream analysis weather fax is enclosed, and it shows us at approximately the edge of the Stream on 0700 June 4. I find our overnight drift the more compelling evidence that we were still in the Stream because the potential plotting error of both the boat's position and the Gulf Stream location on this large scale fax is very large. For what it is worth, I don't believe setting the para-anchor in full current of the Gulf Stream in the conditions we experienced would have been a successful strategy. Because of the steepness of the seas and their frequent breaking, the boat would have taken a terrible pounding. The current would have pulled us NE into the seas, and because the anchor "dove," the bow would have been held down, further impeding the boat's ability to ride over the breaking seas. This experience has convinced me that (not even considering the loss of the gear) a sea anchor should not be set in a strong current running counter to the wind and seas except in a case of absolute last resort.


NOAA chart of the Gulf Stream for 30 May 1997.  X marks the location of Overdraft. (Courtesy of JENIFER CLARK'S GULFSTREAM).
NOAA chart of the Gulf Stream for 30 May 1997. X marks the location of Overdraft. (Courtesy of JENIFER CLARK'S GULFSTREAM).

CAUTION: Do not deploy a large sea anchor in the axis of a major current unless it is absolutely necessary. Use a full trip line if you do, else stand ready to cut away the rode if you are absolutely certain that a cold eddy is taking the parachute down into the depths. You will be able to tell that this is so when the main float begins submerging and then finally disappears, by the significant increase in the angle at which the rode is leading downward, and by an unmistakable downward pull on the bow of the vessel.

If you are in the vicinity of a major current and there is a gale on the way, the best strategy is to try to traverse the current at right angles and get well clear before deploying the sea anchor. By and large ocean currents are a mixed blessing. The free ride that they may provide can be very costly at times. Some experienced sailors prefer to stay out of them altogether. The Pardeys have this to say about major currents in Storm Tactics: "Another thing we've learned the hard way is to avoid the axis of major currents. Even though it is tempting to grab the free lift offered by the Gulf Stream, you increase your chances of meeting unusual weather patterns and rougher seas."

S/M-36 Arpège 29 Sloop


Arpège 29 Sloop

29' x 3.6 Tons, Low Aspect Fin/Skeg

12-Ft. Dia. Sea Anchor

Force 8-9 Conditions


File S/M-36, obtained from Eleanor Tims, West Hagbourne, England - Vessel name Moon River, hailing port Southampton - Arpège sloop, designed by Dufour, LOA 29' x LWL 22' x Beam 10' x Draft 5' x 3.6 Tons - Low aspect fin keel & skeg rudder - Sea anchor: 12-ft. Diameter Para-Tech on 300' x 5/8" nylon braid rode with 1/2" stainless steel swivel - Partial trip line - Deployed in a gale in deep water about 50 miles north of Casablanca, with winds of 35-45 knots and confused seas - Vessel lay broadsides to the seas due to fouled sea anchor - Drift was about 80 n.m. in 32 hours.

Eleanor Tims has been a die-hard sailor for twenty years and has her own sailing school in the UK, offering practical boat handling and confidence-building courses. She has cruised her Dufour Arpège 30 out of Hythe Marina in England, sailing nearly 5,000 miles a year, now and then shaking a white-knuckled fist at Fastnet Rock on a passage to the fair harbors of Ireland, or waving a hasty goodbye to Ushant Island on a wind-driven - compulsive - jaunt to Santander harbor on the northern coast of Spain.

Eleanor is addicted to sailing. She has written many articles describing some of her hair-raising experiences at sea, the most infamous of which took place in the Bay of Biscay in 1994 - Force 9 and 25-foot seas, the mast about to come down, crew seasick, the diesel and the VHF dead, a roller furling genoa in ribbons and turned into screaming banshee, rocky islands and shoals looming close in the night, etc. etc.

Somehow the indefatigable, indomitable Eleanor Tims manages to emerge from such ordeals with a wave, a nod, a wink and a wicked sense of humor. Where would we all be without our sense of humor at sea?

In November 1996 Eleanor and friend Tom were sailing Moon River to the Canaries from the Moroccan harbor of Mohammedia when they ran into a gale and tried to deploy a sea anchor. What follows is a hard-won lesson that the lady would like to pass on to others:

We left Portugal for the Canaries with a favorable NE wind and decided to divert to Casablanca, Morocco, in order to break the long 600 mile leg into two stages and also to visit an "exotic" country. After leaving the harbor of Mohammedia our tack lay to the SW, but the wind, which had been from the NE for a long period, did a complete volte-face and came from the SW. I decided, nevertheless, to leave, as the forecast was for Force 5/6 and I thought that I could lay in a long tack to the NW and then to the South and perhaps the front would pass over in that time. However, things did not work out according to plan, as firstly there were very big seas running and secondly the wind increased past Force 6, to 7 and then 8. We were already becoming very tired and it was obvious that the time had come - indeed was past, as it was now dark - to put out the para-anchor.

Because it was dark, I took a long time in carefully preparing everything to ensure that is would run smoothly when launched, perhaps an hour. When I went up onto the foredeck, it was found that the deck-light was not functioning, so I had only the fitful light of a flashlight shone from the cockpit towards me. First of all I launched the pickup buoy and line, followed by the float buoy, but these were torn from my hands by the wind (nearly 40 knots) and by waves sweeping over the deck and over me. I then realized that the genoa furling line made things complicated and that I ought to have launched all this gear beneath the furling line instead of above it, so I pulled it in and tried to stuff it back into the sea under the line instead of over. Trying to do this caused a tremendous snarl-up, so I was forced into spending a long time lying sprawled on the deck in the almost continuous dark, with waves washing over me, trying to sort it all out. Eventually I decided I had it just about right and once more launched it all, following it finally with the para-anchor and 100 metres of rode. This done we turned in. However, things didn't seem right somehow. The bow was clearly not pointing into the waves, as every wave swept us over sideways, sometimes very nearly beam on, is how it felt. We were quite clearly lying ahull, and an inspection of the wind instrument confirmed that wind and waves were beam on. We passed an entirely wretched night, and were so tired the following day, with the wind steady at about 40 knots, that we were too tired to do anything much about remedying the situation. I did realize that the para-anchor hadn't opened, and as I could see both buoys close together, I also realized that the whole lot had snarled up together. We attached the rode to the [steel] anchor and let out a few metres of chain, so that it now ran out of the boat through the bow roller instead of through a deck fair-lead. This didn't improve things at all, in fact it probably worsened them, as I suffered some damage to the bow roller as a result. We had another perfectly horrible day, drifting backwards for the Strait of Gibraltar, far beyond our original starting point [more than 60 miles].

Day 3 saw me in more positive mood. "We have to get this thing in," I told Tom, so he did the muscle work. The wind was still 30+ knots and it took us about 50 minutes to bring the bundle in, and then the sad story could be seen. What had happened was that the tripping line had twisted round and round itself until it was as stiff and unwielding as a metal spring and that this metal-like mess had ensnarled with it some of the shroud lines of the para-anchor. (The latter had not opened - had just lain in the water like a lump of cloth). Later, on arriving at a harbor near Cadiz when I was able to put it all out onto a dock and try to disentangle it, I found I had to cut away the tripping line - it had practically fused into a couple of "springs." These had abraded 11 of the 12 shroud lines and had indeed broken three of them. I knew I should return it to the factory [for repairs] but I did not dare let it out of my hands. I knew I would need it again and I intended to use it again. So I took it to a local sailmaker, spread it out on his floor and we agreed as to how to repair it. He sewed some very strong sailmaker's tape into the shroud lines, restoring them all to a good state and ensuring that they were all the original length.

On Christmas day we left again for the Canaries. Same story. Weather got bad, decided to put out the para-anchor and this time to do so before dark. I had bought a new tripping line, 50 metres of floating line. This went out OK, then the float buoy.... Got the float out and the parachute. Absolutely brilliant! The bow came right round into the waves and yawed from side to side, but I could see the parachute had opened. Good, so far, I thought. I then uncleated the pickup buoy, stood up and tossed it into the sea over the pulpit. I had cleated off the anchor rode at about 20/30 metres, and was going to let more out in progressive lengths. However, I never got as far as that because in a twinkling the parachute had opened, the rode-tightened to steel-bar tautness, and, horror of horrors, not only was it leading OVER the pulpit, which folded down as if made of butter, but it was also once round the forestay and my precious furling gear. How that happened I have next to no idea because I thought I had been very careful... I think this story illustrates the dangerous effect of being tired and maybe also of being short-handed.

OK, still enough daylight, probably, to winch it in and start again. However, we were hampered by the weather conditions from doing anything at a reasonable sort of speed. Rain, like a dense monsoon, fell like rods of iron, flattening the sea, doing a sort of white-out and flattening me too! Eventually got the chute back on deck. Exhausted. And dark now. OK, why didn't I motor up to the pickup buoy and pick it up? Because as I hadn't stitched the damned knot up, just tied it to the [float-line] swivel, it had come undone and is now floating happily around the north Atlantic, trailing its new rope!

Well, it was dark, I was soaked and exhausted, and felt unable to sort out the mess of lines, so bungeed it all away and off we went into the night and Force 7/8 - increasing - big seas, 4-6 metres. Later the night turned into a nightmare. I was making very poor progress with small sails, only about 2 knots, and a ship (whose Officer on Watch was clearly not on watch as I even fired a flare) collided with us! In order to prevent the mast from falling (an upper shroud was torn away) I decided to go back - 200 miles - to Cadiz. I think I am lucky to be alive, as after that the wind increased to 40+ kn steadily, gusting up to 55, and we had to hand-steer under the most minute sails, in waves that must have been 8-10 metres high....

Somehow - by hook or by crook - Eleanor managed to outdo Neptune and bring her ship back into safe harbor at Cadiz, whence she contacted Victor Shane. Shane then passed her feedback on to Don Whilldin of Para-Tech Engineering in Colorado.

Although it would appear that in this case the para-anchor and float line assembly may have been fouled even as they hit the water, Whilldin nevertheless went to work on the design of the Deployment Bag, to see if there was any way in which he could somehow further reduce the chances of float line foul-ups. The simplest solution, of course, would have been to forego the float-line altogether. Unfortunately the float line and float are necessary to keep larger para-anchors from sinking straight down when the wind dies.

So Whilldin made a modification to the deployment bag instead. The thirty feet or so of colored float line, previously coiled outside the Deployment Bag, is now tucked into a "kangaroo pouch" under it. With this minor design change there is less chance of float line foul-ups. Whilldin reasons that once the parachute has opened up and is under stable tension the chances of float line foul-ups are greatly reduced. Likely most of those foul-ups occur in the pre-inflation stage, when the parachute is a shapeless mess of loose cloth and shrouds.

Don Whilldin sent the English lady stranded in Spain a brand new sea anchor, in appreciation of her contribution to design improvement. The redoubtable Eleanor Tims has since crossed the Atlantic.

S/M-30 Venus 46 Ketch


Venus 46 Ketch

46' x 19 Tons, Low Aspect Fin/Skeg

24-Ft. Dia. Sea Anchor

Force 9 Conditions


File S/M-30, obtained from F. Bradford Smith, Newton PA. - Vessel name Kindred Spirit III, hailing port Baltimore, Venus Ketch, designed by Bob Salthouse, LOA 46' 6" x LWL 36' 6" x Beam 13' 6" x Draft 5' x 19 Tons - Low aspect fin keel & skeg rudder - Sea anchor: 24-ft. Diameter Para-Tech on 500' x 3/4" nylon double-braid rode with 3/4" stainless steel swivel - No trip line - Deployed in a gale in deep water about 600 miles east of Miami, with winds of 40-50 knots and seas of 20-25 feet - Vessel's bow yawed 10° with the mizzen up - Drift was minimal during 18 hours at sea anchor.

Kindred Spirit III was designed by Kiwi naval architect Bob Salthouse for New Zealand waters. She is a 46-ft. double headsail ketch displacing about 38,000 lbs. In late October 1985 she was being sailed from St. Croix USVI to Baltimore MD when she ran into foul weather. On board were the owner and skipper, age fifty four, himself an experienced sailor with moderate offshore experience, his wife, and a male crew member, age fifty six, an experienced coastal sailor. A 24-ft. diameter Para-Tech sea anchor was deployed on 500' of 3/4" nylon rode. This is the largest sea anchor Para-Tech makes for small craft and requires at least two crew members to deploy and retrieve. F. Bradforth Smith provides a compelling - step by step - account of the logistics that are involved in the deployment and retrieval of a large sea anchor on a large yacht:

Kindred Spirit III was newly purchased by her owners, who had spent the previous two months planning the delivery and preparing themselves and the boat for the trip. The preparations included the purchase of a parachute-type sea anchor system consisting of a 24' diameter Para-Tech model; 600' of 3/4" braided nylon rode made up in two 300' shots so that the rode was of manageable weight, each shot having heavy duty thimbles (one with thimbles at both ends, and one with a thimble at only one end); a 3/4" stainless swivel for connecting the rode to the anchor shackle; and a 7/8" galvanized shackle for connecting the two shots of rode to each another. Additionally, the owners installed heavy duty hawse holes in the forward bulwarks approximately three feet aft of the stem. These were specifically intended as the lead for the sea anchor rode, and were deemed necessary because Kindred Spirit III's bow chocks were open top chocks and were located atop a 6-inch bulwark, resulting in an unfair lead to the bow cleats seated on deck. The presence of twin steel anchor roller and a large deck-mounted winch made a chafe-free lead directly over the bow problematic.

Six days out of St. Croix Kindred Spirit encountered a line squall which destroyed the leach of her 135% roller furling Kevlar tape drive genoa, rendering it useless and unrepairable with the materials and equipment on board. Proceeding under staysail, reefed main and mizzen, Kindred Spirit was faced with backing wind, and in late afternoon of 2 November was motorsailing into building wind and seas under staysail and mizzen only. Although the boat was moving comfortably and under full control, at 2000 the skipper decided to heave-to because the wind continued to be unfavorable, the seas were continuing to build, and he was concerned that the crew not become fatigued.

Hove-to with staysail and unreefed mizzen, Kindred Spirit rode out the night in comfort, and the skipper enjoyed a full night's sleep. At 0600 on 3 November the skipper decided to deploy the sea anchor because both wind and seas had continued to build during the night and, while the vessel continued to ride comfortably hove-to, the failure of the genoa caused the skipper to have concerns that the other heretofore undetected gear weakness could result in damage to the staysail, the mizzen, or the running rigging, any one of which could produce a dangerous situation.

Additionally, the barometer was reading 1020 and above, indicating that what was being experienced was not a passing low pressure front or cell, and thus no reasonable estimation could be made of the current situation's expected duration. (It was later determined that what was experienced was probably a strong local enhancement of the NE trades, occasioned by a deep low pressure trough which had fallen off the US southeast coast the previous day, creating tightly-spaced isobars between it and the high pressure ridge around whose backside Kindred Spirit's route was planned).

The sea anchor, rode and related hardware, all stowed in the V-berth forward, were brought to the center cockpit and assembled. Both the movement of the equipment and its assembly were difficult due both to weight (even at 300', the rodes weighed in with thimbles at almost 70 lbs. each) and to the motion of the boat as it rode 20+ foot waves. This process, which required managing 600' of 3/4" line in the center cockpit in a manner which permitted access to both ends of each of the 300' shots without creating any tangles, was slow, tedious work which took almost two hours to complete. In the skipper's opinion, attempting to accomplish this task hurriedly in an emergency situation is a recipe for disaster, and attempting it on an open foredeck in any kind of severe weather is unwise.

Once fully assembled and checked, including double mousing of the shackles, the bitter end of the rode was led forward outside all rigging and lifelines and was inserted through the hawse hole from the outside in and about 150' of rode was pulled through the hawse hole and made neat and fast on the foredeck. This rather awkward process was required because the heavy duty thimbles on the 3/4" line would not fit through the hawse holes, even though the hawse pipes installed were the largest available from boating catalogues. A six foot length of fire hose was slipped over the rode's bitter end using a boat hook as a needle, and was then run down the rode to the hawse hole, where it was made fast to the bow cleat. This was accomplished by cutting a "V" shaped notch in one edge of the flat fire hose, and then running a short piece of 3/8" line with a stopper knot through the hole and tying the fire hose to a cleat [so it could not migrate]. This was the only trip to the foredeck required during the entire deployment operation. A 20" round fender buoy to serve both as a locator and as a trip line float was attached to the short nylon web tether provided with the sea anchor. No other trip line was used.

The sea anchor was then deployed from the relatively protected amidships weather deck adjacent to the center cockpit with the boat still hove-to. During deployment, the rode was snubbed about every 50' both to encourage the anchor to emerge from the storage/deployment bag and to help assure that the rode was running free. The boat did not respond to the sea anchor until almost all the rode was deployed and some substantial load was on the rode, at which point she came smartly round to windward and lay about 20° off the wind. The staysail was then doused and secured before it could drive the bow further off the wind and broadside to the waves.

The unreefed mizzen, of approx. 195 sq. ft., was left up as a riding sail the entire time at sea anchor, the intent being to get the boat to lie 40+ degrees off the wind in an attitude similar to that achieved when hove-to. While this did stabilize her motion somewhat, the sheeting angle needed to bring the bow down the desired amount was, in the skipper's opinion, such that too great risk of sail damage existed, so closer sheeting resulted in a stable wind angle of about 30 degrees.

Laying relatively quietly to the sea anchor, Kindred Spirit received only spray on her deck for the 18 hours she lay-to, except for one boarding wave which was the second of two very steep and large waves so closely spaced that her bow was unable to rise from the back of the first to ride the face of the second. The sea anchor consistently "pulled" her bow through the face and crests of waves. Although the anchor rode was bar tight, no jerkiness was experienced, and the rode seemed, between stretch and catenary action, to exert a constant pressure on the deck cleat to which it was secured.

The sight of the 20" round red float bobbing happily on the crest of the next wave in the train was a sight reassuring beyond description. On the other hand, the 3/4" rode, so massive in the cockpit, looked every bit like a string, from which it seemed Kindred Spirit was hanging for dear life. On several occasions the skipper was grateful that he had gone up a size from the rode size recommended.

Every two hours or so a foot or two of rode saved on deck for the purpose was released to even out any chafe. No chafe or even black marks from the inside surface of the fire hose was ever noted. Because the load on the rode was very high, the paying out of rode was a testy business. To avoid even the possibility of a runaway rode and possible loss of the sea anchor, an amidships cleat was used as a second securing point, and the rode was secured to this cleat with enough slack to permit both the paying out of the desired foot or two and the reattachment of the rode to the primary bow cleat. While this arrangement was never tested to its fullest, there were small mishaps which proved the value of the double attachment. Serious injury to hands and fingers is a real danger here, and must be taken seriously.

The skipper had intended to utilize a "Pardey bridle" to bring the bow 40-50° off the wind, primarily for comfort. The riding snatch block normally used in this setup was not attached to the rode before the rode was under load due to the risk of mishap during deployment. After deployment, it was discovered that the 6 foot chafing gear extended so far down the rode that it was impossible safely to reach beyond it to attach the snatch block. The load on the rode was so great that the skipper decided to not risk mishap by attempting to bring the rode alongside to permit attachment of the snatch block, and the bridle idea was scrapped. While the boat's motion was not extreme, it was uncomfortable and enervating. The relative comfort of lying hove-to was significantly higher than the motion experienced lying to the sea anchor without the benefit of a twin attachment point scheme. During future deployments a shorter chafing gear rig will be used and the snatch block will be deployed as a high priority.

During the morning of 4 November the wind and sea began to abate, and by noon the sea anchor retrieval process began. The initial retrieval of the rode was relatively straightforward, as Kindred Spirit was slowly motored toward the sea anchor guided by the orange float, which proved invaluable for this purpose. Due to the remaining wind and sea, constant attention was required to assure progress in the direction of the anchor, and prearranged hand signals from the foredeck to the helm were an absolute necessity. As the rode came aboard, the problem of a now wet 600 feet of 3/4" line on the foredeck became serious. As a practical matter, there was nothing to be done during the retrieval process except to assure that the rode was securely on board and not underfoot. As the float came to be retrieved a significant unexpected problem presented itself.

Upon securing the float aboard, attention was given to the retrieval of the sea anchor itself. Buoyed (no pun intended) by the successful sea anchor experience, the foredeck crew failed to anticipate the extreme load still on the nylon web [float line] tether due to the weight of the now deflated but wet 24 foot nylon parachute and to the strong motion of the boat as she bobbed in the sloppy leftover seas. The male crew member got his upper arm tangled in the webbing, and caught between the webbing and the upper lifeline. Before he was able to extract himself the loads badly bruised his upper arm. Had the tether been smaller in diameter, or had the crew member caught a wrist or finger, broken bones would have been distinct possibilities. It is strongly recommended that much greater consumer education emphasis be placed on the loads and resultant potential dangers associated with anchor retrieval. In the skipper's opinion, retrieval is at least as dangerous as deployment and is especially tricky due to the random load cycling resulting from the uneven motion of the boat as the anchor rode and tether become shorter at the late retrieval stage. Visions of plucking a deflated sea anchor from the water while hanging over the bow with a boat hook are not only fantasies for all but the very smallest equipment, but are also downright dangerous because they so grossly misrepresent the actual loads and associated dangers of sea anchor retrieval.

Upon final retrieval, the anchor, rode and miscellaneous hardware was stowed on the large afterdeck. While this exposed the rode to sunlight, no practical alternative was found which did not involve dragging 600 feet of salt water soaked rode through the salon to the forward head. Minimum sea anchor equipage should include a tarp or other device with which the retrieved rode and sea anchor can be securely protected from the sun and still remain on deck. Future enhancements to Kindred Spirit's storm preparations will include two life raft canisters permanently attached to the aft cabin roof, customized with adequate drain holes and thus intended to permit both dry and wet storage of the sea anchor, rode, and miscellaneous hardware. An anticipated benefit of this arrangement is the ability to substantially make up the sea anchor assembly before departure, thus significantly reducing the time required to deploy.

In summary, the parachute type sea anchor performed in a flawless manner during deployment in moderate gale wind and sea conditions. The ride while at sea anchor was uncomfortable but is expected to be substantially enhanced by use of a bridle off the side of the vessel, thus permitting the adjustment of the vessel's attitude to wind and seas. The 24' diameter sea anchor and its 3/4" rode are large, heavy pieces of equipment whose assembly, deployment and retrieval require very detailed planning and a realistic understanding of the conditions on a vessel in circumstances which make such deployment desirable. Finally, the notion that a 24' diameter sea anchor is a practical means of stopping for lunch is just not a realistic expectation. Heave-to for lunch, leave the sea anchor for when conditions make lunch an effort.

This skipper is grateful that his first deployment was in conditions which were relatively forgiving, and I encourage anyone purchasing a sea anchor to fully deploy, lie-to and retrieve it in moderate conditions. The education thus obtained cannot be described. And, don't leave home without one.

S/M-29 Morris Justine Sloop


Morris Justine Sloop

36' x 9 Tons, Low Aspect Fin/Skeg

15-Ft. Dia. Sea Anchor

Force 9 Conditions


File S/M-29, obtained from Robert K. Gwin, Jr., Orange Park, FL. - Vessel name Osprey, hailing port Jacksonville, Morris Justine sloop, designed by Chuck Paine, LOA 36' x LWL 30' x Beam 12' 6" x Draft 4' 9" x 9 Tons - Low aspect fin keel & skeg rudder -

Sea anchor: 15-ft. Diameter Para-Tech on 300' x 5/8" nylon three strand rode with 5/8" stainless steel swivel - No trip line - Deployed in a whole gale in shallow water (100 fathoms) about 300 miles ESE of Jacksonville, with winds of 45-50 knots and seas of 15-20 feet - Vessel's bow yawed 20°

Like so may other case histories the benefit that Osprey derived from her sea anchor was all too brief. The rode chafed through. Transcript:

We actually did not deploy our sea anchor until the storm had peaked and perhaps began dropping. The storm had been building the previous day and we had hove-to the previous evening under storm staysail and double-reefed main. The boat rode fairly well under this configuration, but there was a lot of movement and about 2:00 AM we took a 80-90° knockdown which carried away our deck-mounted life raft and did some other damage.

We remained below until sunlight and decided to deploy the sea anchor to stabilize the boat. We lowered the stays'l and deployed it as instructed. It filled fairly quickly and appeared to have a quieting effect on the boat's motion. Unfortunately the rode was chafing on the bow roller next to the anchor due to the movement of the boat (¸ 20° yaw + more when the boat was hit by a cross sea). Attempts to re-route the rode resulted in the rode and the sea anchor being lost.


1) The primary anchor had not been stowed before going offshore, so the bow roller was not available for use, and the anchor caused chafing.

2) A practice run had not been done.

3) Insufficient chafe gear was available for use. We did notice that there was no jerkiness or surging with the anchor deployed. The tension on the rode was terrific.

S/M-28 Camper Nicholson Sloop


Camper Nicholson Sloop

35' x 7.5 Tons, Low Aspect Fin/Skeg

15-Ft. Dia. Sea Anchor

Force 7-8 Conditions


File S/M-28, obtained from John G. Driscoll, Holywood, County Down, UK - Vessel name Moonlight Of Down, hailing port Southampton, Camper Nicholson sloop, designed by Raymond Wall, LOA 35' x LWL 24' x Beam 10' x Draft 5'6" x 7.5 Tons - Low aspect fin keel & skeg rudder - Sea anchor: 15-ft. Diameter Para-Tech on 380' x 5/8" nylon braid rode and 60' of chain, with 1/2" stainless steel swivel - Partial trip line - Deployed in a low system in deep water about 300 miles WNW of Bermuda with winds of 30-40 knots and seas of 12 feet - Vessel's bow yawed 30°.

UK sailor John Driscoll learned some lessons about the use of the Pardey bridling system when he crossed the Atlantic in November 1996. He offers the reader some valuable advice about having a game plan - and practice time:

Our vessel Moonlight Of Down was on a passage from Newport, Rhode Island to Bermuda, manned by myself and my wife. At 2200 hrs 1 Nov 96 the vessel was hove-to under triple reefed mains'l in a SW Force 7 wind with a rough sea, as it was not possible for the off-watch crew to sleep when underway. By 0000 hrs 2 Nov it was blowing SW Force 7-8 as a trough or local low center passed by. It was decided to deploy the Para-Tech sea anchor. This had not been attempted before, but practice runs of the deployment procedure had been carried out to the point of dropping the DSB [deployable stowage bag] overboard,

The drill calls for the 5/8" octo-plait [8-ply braid] rode to be passed forward from the cockpit - outside everything - and shackled onto the shank of the 33 lb. Bruce, main bow anchor. 20 Meters of chain is then run out. A "Pardey Bridle" is rolling-hitched to the chain, and a further 10 m of chain run out. The parachute buoy, tripping line, primary float, float line, DSB and the main part of the 120 m nylon rode are then deployed from the safety of the cockpit.

The drill went perfectly, no problems, and the vessel lay at 50° to the wind on the starboard tack with some tension on the bridle. The vessel then tacked and lay with the bridle under the boat. The vessel tacked every ten minutes or so. It was decided that the weight of the anchor and chain were too great for proper bridling (angles wrong), so some chain was reversed and the bridle re-attached. No improvement. At 0430 it was noted that the wind had dropped to Force 6 so it was decided to lay without a bridle, head to wind - so the crew could sleep.

A rapid, severe roll developed with the vessel occasionally tacking about 30° each side of the wind. Sleep, or even rest were completely impossible, and it was decided to recover the sea anchor at first light, by which time the wind had dropped to Force 4.

The anchor was brought aboard with the windlass. The vessel was motored up the rode, which was recovered by hand to within 30 m of the sea anchor. The vessel was maneuvered to the parachute buoy, which was recovered and the sea anchor picked up by the partial trip line over the starboard bow. It came aboard so well-arranged it was immediately re-bagged for re-deployment if necessary.

In spite of the Hydrovane Self-Steering rudder being lashed amidships the vessel had at sometime backed down with sufficient force to free the rudder and stock hard over within the head clamp. No other damage or chafe occurred. Whereas the procedures for deployment and recovery were completely successful, the method of utilization was not considered successful and will have to be modified.

The following points are considered significant in the failure to achieve a satisfactory set: 1) Lying to a sea anchor off the bow head-to-wind is not considered practical due to the violent rolling induced. 2) Attaching the nylon rode to the sea anchor and dropping it over the bow, although improving the catenary and avoiding chafe, does not allow a Pardey Bridle to be used effectively on this vessel. 3) A sea anchor cannot be considered an effective asset unless practice runs have been carried out in suitable conditions to determine the exact method of utilization.

My next attempt (a practice run) will be to deploy the sea anchor as described in Storm Tactics as shown in diagrams E & F (pages 38 & 39) and photos 3 & 4 (pages 79 & 80). I feel that the rode and bridle should be in the approximate plane of the vessel's gunwale to be effective. They should not lead steeply downward as occurs when chain is used off the bow. Should chain need to be incorporated into the rode it would probably be best at the sea anchor end. In conclusion we feel that the Para-Tech sea anchor is well constructed and its drag characteristic will enable it to achieve the desired performance, once we have developed the method of utilization appropriate to our own vessel.


S/M-25 Valiant 40 Cutter


Valiant 40 Cutter

40' x 14 Tons, Low Aspect Fin/Skeg

28-Ft. Dia. Parachute Sea Anchor

Force 10-11 Conditions

File S/M-25, obtained from Jim & Lyn Foley, San Lorenzo, CA. - Vessel name Sanctuary, hailing port Alameda, Valiant cutter, designed by Robert Perry, LOA 40' x LWL 34' x Beam 12' x Draft 6' x 14 Tons - Low aspect fin keel & skeg rudder- Sea anchor: 28-ft. Diameter C-9 military class parachute on 300' x 5/8" nylon three strand rode with 1/2" stainless steel swivel - No trip line - Deployed in a storm in deep water about 300 miles north of Bermuda with winds of 55-70 knots and seas of 24 feet - Vessel's bow yawed 20° - Due to the Gulf Stream drift was 15 miles to windward in 4 hours.

Sanctuary, a sea-kindly Perry-designed Valiant 40 was en route to the Azores from Florida when she ran into a northeasterly storm in the Gulf Stream. The stream was flowing exactly contrary to the wind at a current speed of five knots! One can only imagine the hell that Sanctuary must have gone through on the night of 28 May 1995. Transcript:

While crossing the Atlantic in May 1995 we encountered a Force 10 storm, an occurrence we will never forget nor care to repeat. Sailing east at approx. 38° 45' N, 63° 58' W, we enjoyed the fast moving east setting current and warm waters of the Gulf Stream. Dolphins played in our bow wake, tunas were jumping and the birds were fishing. With hardly a breath of wind, we attributed most of Sanctuary's forward progress of 6.5 knots to the Gulf Stream.

The morning weather report from NMN (Norfolk, VA) included gale warnings for 40° north, 60° west, with forecast winds of 35-40 knots, seas 14-16 feet. The gale was indicated moving ENE at approx. 15 knots, and had a 200 miles semi-circle of influence to its southeast. In other words, we were some 75 nm behind the gale, and proceeding towards it at about 6 knots [while it was moving away at 15 knots]. We plotted the parameters of the Gulf Stream as reported by NMN. The stream's main body was moving northeast above 40° N, and then curving back down to 39° N, creating a bend or bight in its eastward flow. While we realized that we were sailing into the lower semi-circle of the gale, we hated to give up the favorable current and thought we could ride the tail feathers of the forecasted gale as it moved forward of us. It did not occur to us that the gale would stall in the bight of the stream and build to storm force before the day was out.

Early in the afternoon a northeast swell began to rise and fall with no wind to show for it. suddenly the blue sunny skies disappeared, winds picked up to 25, then 30 knots, increasing steadily. Seas had risen by that time to 10-12 feet. Accordingly, we kept busy reefing down our full flying sails, until we carried our smallest storm sail plan - a triple-reefed main and a storm staysail.

As conditions worsened we hove-to using the two sails, thinking the "gale" would move eastward. We planned to sit tight until it passed - but the Gulf Stream current held us in the trough more than our sails could hold us into the steep, confused, falling and breaking seas. Then the northeast wind increased to a dramatic 55 or more knots. At the crest of waves Sanctuary would round up, get knocked back and over. We had one very dangerous Chinese jibe - a wave broke on us, knocked our stern around and the cockpit filled with green water.

We decided to lower the sails and set the parachute sea anchor. With 55 knots and more of wind, it was a challenge to get the sails down. As Jim struggled on the wheel, Lyn managed to douse the main and staysail, staying on the deck thanks to harness and tether. We then deployed the 28-ft. diameter C-9 military parachute - with 1/2" stainless steel swivel and 300' of 5/8" three strand nylon rode. The rode was led from the port side bulwarks hawsepipe, aft to the primary winch and cleat.

We deployed the parachute to windward, with no problem, but the line went taut so fast and so tight that we couldn't get the double-lined fire hose chafe gear in place. We tried motoring up on the anchor to relieve pressure - but with 55 knots of wind on the nose, and the parachute in 5 knots of opposing current pulling us INTO the wind and waves, we couldn't get the rode to slacken. We were unable to uncleat and unwind the rode from the winch, slip the chafe gear on, rewinch and recleat it. The rode was so taut instantly that we could see the 3-strand 5/8" nylon reducing in diameter. It was stretching down to 1/2" or less. We felt the rode wouldn't last long, and carefully stood clear of the line.

This line was brand new, never used before, dedicated to the para-anchor. We held 30 feet of the bitter end in the cockpit in reserve, and let out about a foot every 20-30 minutes to combat chafe. Meanwhile, as we worried about chafe, the para-anchor was working beautifully. The boat rode up the face of the waves, punching through their tops as the huge seas rolled under us. No more green water came on board, no more near knock-downs. For four hours we rested below, taking turns watching and letting out the rode to combat chafe. But in spite of our efforts the line parted after an especially strong gust, and the sea anchor was gone.

We fearfully lay a-hull until first light, then turned and ran before the waves, towing warps in an attempt to break up the curlers before they broke on us. We trailed 300 foot lines, with fenders and heavy gear in their bights. Lyn stood and looked aft, watching the waves and warning Jim as he steered down their faces. We were pooped several times in the next few hours. The seas were too strong for Lyn to steer, and we were both exhausted. Luckily, a few hours later we broke free of the Gulf Stream and the storm moved on.

We heard officially on that morning weather broadcast from NMN that the "gale" had been upgraded to a Force 10 storm, carrying winds up to 70 knots. We don't believe we experienced winds that high, however, using our stern-mounted radar arch as a measure, we know we had seas of 20 feet.

What we learned: When we heard the gale forecast, we should have changed course to leave the Gulf Stream and its five-knot current. We believe the rode parted because: 1) The parachute was too big for our boat - that the current actually pulled us forward at more than 3 knots, instead of actually stopping the boat or truly "heaving-to." 2) No chafe protection on the rode. 3) Unusual circumstances of extreme current and opposing seas and winds.

We will purchase a smaller diameter parachute. We will use 600 feet of 7/8" nylon line for the rode. Since the incident we have read Lin and Larry Pardey's Storm Tactics Handbook and discussed what happened. Due to what we learned from them and our experience, we plan to add a bridle as they describe, with a snatch block over the rode and a turning block at the bow - and have heavy duty chafe gear in place before deployment.

It is Victor Shane's considered opinion that if Sanctuary had deployed the given parachute on a much longer rode, with adequate chafe gear, this might have been one of the most remarkable files in the S/M section of the Drag Device Data Base. In some respects it still is.

S/C-9 Catamaran, Crowther


Catamaran, Crowther

36' x 17' x 6 Tons

24-Ft. Dia. Parachute Sea Anchor

Force 8-9 Conditions


File S/C-9, obtained from Gary Jones, Rockville, MD. - Vessel name Corinthian XIII, hailing port Chester River, MD, "Witness" catamaran, designed by Lock Crowther, LOA 36' x Beam 17' x Draft 2' x 6 Tons - Sea anchor: 24-ft. Diameter military chest reserve parachute on 450' x 3/4" nylon three strand rode and bridle arms of 25' each, with 5/8" galvanized swivel - Full trip line - Deployed in low system in shallow water (12-15 fathoms) about 50 miles SE of Cape Fear, NC, with winds of 35-45 knots and seas of 8-12 ft. - Vessel's bow yawed 10° - Drift was estimated to be 5 n.m. during 10 hours at sea anchor.

Parachute sea anchors are worth their weight in gold in difficult coastal situations with the wind on the rise and the crew sick and exhausted. Their low rate of drift means that they require practically no sea room, making them the only viable means of stopping the boat and calling "time out" in close quarters. Transcript:

Wind and sea started building about 1800 hrs as we came up on Frying Pan Shoals. With the wind on the nose and the sea becoming choppy we weren't making any progress toward Charleston, South Carolina. At midnight the wind had turned the sea white and many waves were coming over the bow. We were heavy with provisions for a long cruise and five people were aboard. One crew member got sick and the rest were exhausted from fighting the weather.

The prospect for weather during the next 8 hours sounded bad and we knew the chances of being set into the shoals were great, so we decided to set the chute. Holding onto the heaving deck with one hand and setting the chute was tough due to water coming over the bow. It took 1.5 hours to deploy the rig, but it worked great and gave us time to go below and get much-needed rest.

S/M-20 Hinckley 49 Ketch


Hinckley 49 Ketch

49' x 19 Tons, Wide Keel & Centerboard

18-Ft. Dia. Sea Anchor

Force 10+ Conditions


File S/M-20, obtained from delivery skipper Michael Auth, Worton, MD. - Vessel name Pilgrim, hailing port Oxford, Hinckley ketch designed by McCurdy & Rhodes, LOA 49' x LWL 43' x Beam 12' x Draft 5' 6" (9' with CB down) x 19 Tons - Wide keel & auxiliary centerboard - Sea anchor: 18-ft. diameter Para-Tech on 300' x 3/4" nylon three strand with 5/8" stainless steel swivel - Deployed in deep water about 95 miles east of Cape Hatteras (in Gulf Stream) in hurricane Gordon with winds of 50-60 knots and seas of 35 feet - Vessel's bow yawed 10°.


Pilgrim was caught in the web of hurricane Gordon in November 1994. With options exhausted, an 18-ft. diameter Para-Tech sea anchor was deployed - on the fly! It pulled the bow of the yacht right up into the seas (only 10° of yaw) and kept it there for fifteen minutes. However the sea anchor rig was lost shortly thereafter. With conditions worsening Pilgrim had to be abandoned, the crew being taken off by the Coast Guard. Transcript:

Possibly you have read or seen national news coverage including video footage of a dramatic Coast Guard helicopter sea rescue off the Virginia coast this past fall. Actually there were two sailing vessels that got caught in hurricane Gordon and fortunately all the crew from both vessels were successfully rescued by the Coast Guard. I was skipper on the vessel Pilgrim, a 1974, 49' Hinckley ketch sailing from St. Georges, Bermuda to Chesapeake Bay. The boat was in above average condition and had recently undergone extensive upgrading. I have accumulated approximately 70,000 sea miles delivering both power and sail vessels and as customary went through my usual pre-delivery checklist which included inspecting emergency gear.

Pilgrim was equipped with a new 18' PARA-TECH sea anchor and all crew familiarized themselves with proper deployment procedures although we never really though we would have to use this gear. Typical! I thought I had a good "weather window" to make the 600 mile crossing. I not only had the Bermuda weather service's latest information, but had also retained the services of a private meteorologist - Bob Rice's Weather Window, Inc. All weather forecasts indicated Tropical Storm Gordon would track into the Gulf of Mexico and most probably weaken and pose no threat to us.

We departed Bermuda on Nov.14 and made good progress towards the Chesapeake. On Thursday Nov. 17, only 110 nm from the Bay but still in the Gulf Stream, we got hit by what was once a Tropical Storm, now declared Hurricane Gordon! Pilgrim experienced serious problems and equipment failures in Force-10 conditions, which ultimately resulted in our decision to place a Mayday call and activate our EPIRB. Just prior to this we had deployed our PARA-TECH sea anchor. This was not an easy task as we were running downwind in 30-40' heavy breaking confused seas with sustained winds of 50 kts and greater. We managed to secure the tether of the sea anchor to our bow anchor, connected to chain and nylon rode. Once the sea anchor was thrown overboard, rode went out of the chain locker in a wild, uncontrolled, extremely fast and dangerous manner.

The 18' diameter sea anchor worked excellent holding the bow of Pilgrim into the wind and seas and allowing the crew to attempt emergency repairs under much more controlled conditions. We felt fortunate to have the PARA-TECH sea anchor and believed this would give us the opportunity to control the boat which we didn't have previously. However, about fifteen minutes after we deployed the sea anchor we noticed that the rode connecting it to Pilgrim was gone! Somehow, we'll never know exactly, the entire rode was gone from the chain locker! Conditions were so bad below we couldn't examine the chain locker to determine the cause of the problem but might speculate that: 1) The force acting on the rode, including the shock loads, (which were great) might have been too great and pulled the bitter end free. 2) Possibly the bitter end, however it was secured, had parted in some manner. 3) Possibly as some owners will do, tie a large knot in the bitter end so it won't pass through the deck opening, this could have pulled through the deck opening. 4) Also, some owners will secure a piece of wood at the bitter end to prevent the rode from running free. If this was the case, it could have broken and allowed the rode to run out. 5) Another theory, if the rode had been secured to an eye bolt or other securing device, it could have broken or pulled out too. Bottom line is that we did in fact loose our sea anchor which was doing it's job of helping to control the vessel. Consequently when we lost this gear we lost control and eventually had to abandon Pilgrim!

Some suggestions I might offer to possibly avoid this type of situation would be: 1) Place a WARNING notice in an obvious location telling the user to check that the bitter end of the anchor rode is securely attached to a permanent strong piece of equipment that can take a strong shock load or force.... 2) Possibly design a better or easier way of connecting the sea anchor tether to the anchor and/or anchor chain.... The crew on Pilgrim had a most difficult time trying to secure the sea anchor tether under extreme conditions (the usual conditions when you need to deploy this gear). Maybe a heavy duty snap shackle would work? When you're on the bow and it is rising and falling 30 feet or more, it is a most dangerous and difficult task to say the least!

S/M-18 Crealock 34 Cutter


Crealock 34 Cutter

34' x 6.75 Tons, Low Aspect Fin/Skeg

15-Ft. Dia. Sea Anchor

Force 8-9 Conditions


File S/M-18, obtained from John R.S.Charlton, Oceanside, CA. - Vessel name Fancy Free II, hailing port Oceanside, Pacific Seacraft cutter designed by Bill Crealock, LOA 34' 1" x LWL 26' 2" x Beam 10' x Draft 4' 11" x 6.75 Tons - Low aspect fin keel and skeg rudder - Sea anchor: 15-ft. diameter Para-Tech on 300' x 1" nylon three strand with 1/2" stainless steel swivel - Deployed in deep water about 550 n.miles NE of Hawaii in a whole gale with winds of 40-50 knots and seas of 30 feet - Vessel's bow yawed 10° - Drift was reported to be "minimal" during 12 hours at sea anchor.

Fancy Free II was en route to Kaneohe, Hawaii from Oceanside, California in the month of January. She ran into a south-westerly gale and had to use her 15-ft. diameter Para-Tech sea anchor. Owner's handwritten remark reads thus:

Great product. Unfortunately, my helm was not lashed down securely - steering cable broke at quadrant. (Large wave lifted stern and rudder slammed over to "stops").

Fancy Free II is a sister ship to N'ISKU (see illustration in previous file). Both of these Crealocks behaved very well at sea anchor, yawing less than 10°. Note that N'ISKU used 400' x 1/2" nylon plus 50' of chain, while Fancy Free II used 300' of 1-inch nylon, and yet both boats behaved equally well. In looking for causality one has to put on a Sherlock Holmes hat and try to find some basic virtue in Bill Crealock's design, something that makes these boats yaw so little - probably the closeness of the CLR to the CE - while not losing sight of other variables such as the rode length that determines the relative positions of the boat and sea anchor.