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.

S/T-14 Trimaran, Cross


Trimaran, Cross

46' x 25' x 10 Tons

24-Ft. Dia. Sea Anchor

Force 6 Conditions


File S/T-14, obtained from Ron Clisby, Grants Pass, OR. - Vessel name Nonchalant, hailing port Portland, trimaran ketch, designed by Norman Cross, LOA 46' 6" x Beam 25 ' x Draft 52" x 10 Tons - Sea anchor: 24-ft. Diameter Para-Tech on 100' x 3/4" nylon braid tether and bridle arms of 100' each, with 1" stainless steel swivel - Partial trip-line - Deployed in a low system in deep water about 450 miles NE of Tahiti with winds 25-35 knots and seas of 10-15 ft. - Vessel's bow yawed less than 10° - Drift was 12.7 n.m. in 38 hours at sea anchor.

The family of Ron and Sue Clisby sailed Nonchalant, a big, comfortable Cross trimaran, around the world in 1994. En route to Tahiti they ran into a blow. The weather fax was down and rather than take any chances they anchored her to the surface of the Pacific from 1330 hrs on 4/23/94 to 0330 hrs on 4/25/95. Here is a transcript of Ron's feedback, handwritten sometime during those two days:

Yesterday we deployed our 24' Para-Tech sea anchor for the first time, and are very impressed with the results. We were en route from the Marquesas to the Tuamotus when we encountered nasty weather, thunderstorms, lightning, etc., two nights ago. Our SSB and therefore weather fax are inoperative so we have been depending on a buddy boat for wx info. Yesterday they said we had been in a tropical depression during the night. We had winds around 20-25 k with gusts to 35 k and seas confused and around 10-15 feet.

It was still daylight and the kids were napping so we decided to deploy the chute. It worked beautifully and after some small adjustments we were inside baking bread. Today, our friends (hove-to 10 miles away) said the weather service is calling it a gale with winds to 43 k. They had wind gusts to 50 last night, but we had less (max 35 k) only 10 miles to the north.

This morning 0945 the seas are calm (gentle roll) and we have only 4 k wind at present. There are still lots of rain clouds in the area but I can see little holes of blue sky popping up to the west. After further clearing, we'll retrieve the chute and continue to Takaroa or Ahe.

P.S. With more complete weather fax info we likely would have continued on. But this has been a great learning experienced and we won't hesitate to use the chute when needed in the future.

S/M-32 Hunter 31 Sloop


Hunter 31 Sloop

31' x 5 Tons, Fin Keel

15-Ft. Dia. Sea Anchor

Force 8 Conditions


File S/M-32, obtained from Chris Brann, Sausalito, CA. - Vessel name Snow Dragon, hailing port Juneau, Hunter sloop, designed by Cortland Steck, LOA 31' x LWL 28' x Beam 11' x Draft 5' 10" x 5 Tons - Fin keel - Sea anchor: 15-ft. Diameter Para-Tech on 150' x 5/8" nylon double braid with 1/2" stainless steel swivel - Partial trip line - Deployed in a low system in deep water about 150 miles west of Noumea, with winds of 45 knots and seas of 15-20 feet - Vessel's bow yawed 30° - Drift was 8 n.m. (confirmed by GPS) during 5 hours at sea anchor.

Chris Brann was a participant in Compuserve's mammoth drag device and storm tactics debate. The debate has since been "packaged" and placed in the library of the SAILING FORUM. When in Compuserve click on the traffic icon, type GO SAILING and look for a file called Thread on Drogues, Sea Anchors and Storms in the "Seamanship and Safety" library.

Brann cruised Alaskan waters with Snow Dragon, a fin-keeled Hunter 31, before sailing her all the way to Brisbane, Australia. Aside from two incidents of rudder failure, the boat held up fairly well. The failures were caused by the rudder manufacturer's use of smaller shaft dimensions, a defect since corrected by Hunter Marine (owners of older Hunters should make certain that their boats are not affected). The second incident of rudder failure occurred on the Noumea leg of the journey, where Brann had to deploy a sea anchor for damage control and attitude stabilization purposes. Transcript:

0300 November 26, front passed, wind backed to southwest, over 30 knots. 0410 We suddenly lost steering. After mounting the emergency tiller, checking cables and movement of the rudder post we realized we'd lost our rudder again. The seas were over 12 feet and continuing to build. The wind was 40-50 knots. With no rudder we fell into the trough, lying parallel to the waves. 0510 We deployed a 15 foot diameter parachute sea anchor from the bow... to prevent capsizing, and to try and stabilize the vessel while we built an emergency rudder. This held the bow into the waves. By now the wave crests were breaking regularly. The anchor was attached to the bow, via 300 feet of 5/8 inch double braid nylon. This made things a bit more comfortable, and it was easier to drill holes and so forth. Unfortunately, the outer covering [of the double braid] chafed, so I pulled enough rode in to put sound line on the cleats. This resulted in about 150 feet between the sea anchor and the bow. This was not enough line to absorb the energy....

At about 1000 a large wave broke over most of the vessel, filling the cockpit, even though it came from forward. The bow cleats are welded to a 1/4" stainless plate that is in turn bolted through the sides of the vessel. The strain [of the breaking wave] curled this plate through more than 90 degrees, crushed the pipe forming the legs of the cleats, and then broke the 5/8" line (breaking strength 14,400 lbs.) I determined that the line had broken rather than chafed through by observing that the ends of the strands were all about the same length and were slightly fused. The strain also curled the main plate holding the forestay. Loss of this plate would have meant loss of the mast. The structure of the boat was also damaged, opening the joint between the hull and deck on the port side, and we started to take water in through the gap.

1040 I rigged a trysail to try and stabilize the boat a bit, though it didn't really head it into the seas, and we were pretty much parallel to the waves for the rest of the day. We had crests break on the hull several times each hour, fortunately none of them were big enough to capsize us. I hung over the stern and dismounted the paddle from the wind vane (self-steering device) for use in building an emergency rudder, which occupied us for the rest of the day.

About 1600 the wind and seas had moderated, and we hoisted a storm staysail, streaming a 36" Galerider drogue from the stern. This got us moving towards Australia, though our course was still determined by the direction of the wave troughs. At 1900 wind was SSE 20-25 knots.... The next day we rigged the emergency rudder. It broke after a few hours, but we redesigned it and put it back on. We spent the next week improving the rudder and sailing to Australia.... Directional control was eventually established by a combination of jury rudder and a light drag towed behind the boat.... We tied to the customs wharf in Brisbane at 0720 local time on December 4.

Comments: This was a normal low pressure system, with wind and seas that would present no danger to a well-found boat equipped with a rudder. Two other vessels were nearby and in radio contact with us. One was 32' long, and the other 43'. Neither of them suffered any damage from the weather, and in fact both were able to rendezvous with us to provide additional lumber for use in making another emergency rudder in case our first one failed. Our problems were solely a result of the rudder failure.

What we'd do next time: Shackle all 300 feet of nylon line to the [steel] anchor and let out the [steel] anchor and 100-150 feet of chain. This approach was used by some friends on a 42 ft. Lord Nelson with success in the Tasman sea. In our case, while it lasted the sea anchor stabilized the boat quite a bit, especially compared to our gyrations without a rudder. 

S/M-19 Aloha 30 Sloop


Aloha 30 Sloop

30' x 3.5 Tons, Fin Keel

9-Ft. Dia. Sea Anchor

Force 8-9 Conditions


File S/M-19, obtained from Richard Brooker, Winnipeg, Canada - Vessel name Crocodile Rock, hailing port Winnipeg, Aloha 30 sloop designed by Ron Holland, LOA 30' x LWL 26' x Beam 10' x Draft 6' x 3.5 Tons - Fin keel - Sea anchor: 9-ft. diameter Para-Tech on 400' x 1/2" nylon three strand with 3/8" swivel - Deployed in shallow water (50 fathoms) about 30 miles off the Oregon coast, NW of the mouth of the Columbia River, in a low system with winds of 40-45 knots and seas of 10 feet - Vessel's bow yawed 20° - Drift was 4 n.m. during 18 hours at sea anchor.

No written feedback accompanied the completed DDDB form. In answering the question, "How many degrees did this vessel yaw from side to side?" the owner has checked the "20°" box and written the words "very stable" next to it.

S/M-12 Carter 33 Sloop


Carter 33 Sloop

32' 7" x 4.5 Tons, Fin Keel

12-Ft. Dia. Sea Anchor

Force 8-9 Conditions


File S/M-12, obtained from Steven Callahan, Ellsworth, Maine - Vessel name Karpouzi, hailing port Lamoine, sloop, designed by Dick Carter, LOA 32' 7" x LWL 25' x Beam 11' x Draft 5' 6" x 4.5 Tons - Fin keel - Sea anchor: 12-ft. diameter Para-Tech on 250' x 5/8" nylon three strand with 1/2" galvanized swivel - No trip line - Deployed during a gale in deep water north of Bermuda, with winds of 35-45 knots and seas of 8-12 ft. - Vessel's bow yawed 30° off to each side with two opposing sets of waves approaching from dead ahead and dead astern - Drift was estimated to be 3.25 miles during 4 hours at sea anchor.

Steven Callahan is well-known for his best seller, Adrift. The book is a journal of the seventy-six days that he spent drifting in a life raft after his 21-ft. sloop Napoleon Solo hit an unidentified object and sank in the middle of the Atlantic on 4 February 1981. He journeyed to the limits of human despair in those seventy-six days, yet in the end cheated death and emerged a survivor. Adrift (1986, Houghton Mifflin Co.) won the Salon du Libre Maritime award and has been translated into twelve languages.

Callahan has been involved in many areas of the marine industry since 1968. He has logged tens of thousands of blue water miles, including one single-handed and three double-handed Atlantic crossings. A former contributing editor to SAIL and to SAILOR, he wa at the time of this writing associate editor of Cruising World.

Victor Shane delivered a 12-ft. diameter Para-Tech sea anchor to Callahan in 1989, for use and evaluation on board his boat Karpouzi, a fin-keeled Carter 33 sloop. The para-anchor was used a year later, in a Force 8 gale north of Bermuda. Here is a transcript of Callahan's feedback

On 28 May, 1990, Karpouzi and her three merry crew were completing a delightful week of sailing from St. Martin, and approaching Bermuda. We planned to bypass the island and continue directly to Maine. Our weather, however, was deteriorating, and the forecast was for a day or so of rain and winds of 20 knots.

By midnight the barometer began to fall more rapidly - about .05 inches per hour, and we were broad reaching fast under double-reefed main and working jib. We could hear Bermuda Harbor Radio, about 30 miles east of us. Harbor radio was busy with incoming traffic problems and reports of a developing low that no one had paid much attention to. Through the night they logged winds to 42 knots and predicted seas to 25 feet.

As we proceeded north, the wind strengthened and backed slightly so that we ran dead before waves that I estimate to have been 10-15 feet. All was under control. The barometer began to rise by 06:00 on 29 May and the wind lightened slightly for about a half hour, but then the wind came up hard again and continued to back. In a very short time we were hit with heavy head winds and significantly rising seas from dead ahead, while we continued to surf down 10 foot waves from dead astern.

In 50,000 miles of offshore sailing I have often dealt with heavy seas from a variety of directions, but that was the first time that significant waves approached each other from precisely opposite direction. This, of course, set up a dreadful sea state. When crests coincided, the peaks jumped skyward and the wave slopes were very steep. (Note, in the attached DDDB form, wave height, period, and length are very approximate values because they were all extremely variable due to 180° wave collisions - a bit like being in a blender). I estimated wave height by standing on the cabin top - my eye level about 10 feet above water.

Karpouzi's beam is 11 feet, or the average size of the breaking waves, so I declined Neptune's invitation to get rolled by laying broadside to the waves. We could not carry much sail in the wind, and in any case, heaving-to or beating would put the boat too far off of the approaching waves, increasing the danger of being stalled, pushed back, and rolled. The only feasible solution was to put out the sea anchor. We decided to set the sea anchor just as we would a regular anchor.... We keep the anchor in its own locker in the head of the V-berth, with the rode flaked under it. This allows us to run the rode straight aft, out of the cabin, and forward over the anchor roller.... As I dunked the anchor over, we threw the engine in neutral and drifted back. The parachute opened perfectly and within thirty feet it began pulling, allowing us to pay out line and adjust things just right. A few waves towered above me and one slammed over the foredeck just irritatingly above boot level.

We payed out about 250 feet of the rode and adjusted the length every 30 minutes to avoid chafe. This length proved enough; the sea anchor sometimes neared the surface so we could see it and it rode about a wave trough away from us. I chose not to use a tripping line to avoid any possible foul up, but we tied a huge Norfloat ball to the float line, which we could easily see from far away.

The boat did sway from side to side, creating huge side loads on the anchor roller cheeks, so be advised to use either very sturdy chocks or heavy roller. Ours was a heavy duty universal roller that is advertised for boats to 54 feet, but I believe the side loads on a 54 foot boat would have bent the roller in half. As it was, I was a bit worried. To control sway and remove these side loads, next time I will likely set the sea anchor from a regular chock and possibly haul it off to the side with a rolling hitch and secondary rode to lay 20 to 30 degrees from nose onto the waves. Note that the rode jumps up as the bow plunges downward, so whatever chock you use should have a positive lock across the top.

The only real problem we encountered was a very heavy loading on the steering gear. Karpouzi is tiller steered and at first we just tied it off, but as large waves broke on her, she surged aft, stretching the anchor rode until stopped and pulled forward again. The rudder was yanked mightily by the backward motion and the tiller wiggled about like a snake. Our solution was to give the tiller a shock absorber, just as the nylon anchor rode acted as a shock absorber for Karpouzi. We tied half inch shock chord to the tiller, which allowed it to move 20 or 30 degrees without much problem but prevented the rudder from going hard over, where it could shear off its fittings.

After only four hours on the sea anchor, the wind continued to back and lightened, so that finally we were laying broadside to the now calming waves. It was quite uncomfortable and more dangerous than setting sail. With full throttle we were able to easily retrieve the rode as we steamed up to the pickup float, which we noted had enough windage to float to leeward of the anchor most of the time, so we had no worry about tangling the sea anchor lines. It was a simple matter to pick up the float, trip line, and anchor. Within 20 minutes all was stowed away and we were off.

We drifted 3.25 miles in those four hours, which is a bit more than I expected, but currents around Bermuda are very uncertain. Further tests will compare Karpouzi's normal drift rate with her drift with the sea anchor set. I will certainly be more eager to set the sea anchor in marginal conditions in the future.

It is disappointing to note that Karpouzi's bow was yawing 30° off to each side (i.e., through a total arc of 60°). By all tokens the sea anchor was big enough to have done a better job.

Victor Shane suspects that the conflicting waves - approaching from ahead and astern - might have had something to do with this. Certainly the angle of yaw will have a great deal to do with the amount of slack that finds its way into the system as well. Much of this slack can be a result of orbital rotation causing convergence between boat and sea anchor. Essentially the wind pushes the boat away from the sea anchor, keeping the system taut. Orbital convergence, however, can move the boat and sea anchor toward one another, introducing slack into the rode, sometimes by an amount equal to twice the wave height (twenty feet of slack rode in ten foot seas, for example). Callahan reports significant waves approaching each other "from ahead and astern." Here, not only do we have the rotation associated with the waves approaching from ahead, but also, possibly, the rotation associated with waves approaching from astern, as evidenced by the heavy loads on the rudder, mentioned. This combination could have the effect quadrupling the amount of slack - and attendant yaw - when the crests of the secondary waves coincide with the troughs of the approaching waves.


S/M-9 Hunter 40 Sloop


Hunter 40 Sloop

40' x 9 Tons, Fin Keel

9-Ft. Dia. BUORD Sea Anchor

Force 9 Conditions


File S/M-9, obtained from Captain Jerry Sidock, Fort Myers Beach, FL. - Vessel name Bounty Hunter, hailing port Fort Myers Beach, Hunter sloop, designed by Warren Luhrs, LOA 40' x LWL 32' 6" x Beam 13' 6" x Draft 5' x 9 Tons - Fin keel - Sea anchor: 9-ft. Diameter BUORD on 300' x 5/8" nylon three strand rode with 1/2" stainless steel swivel - Full trip line - Deployed in a gale in shallow water about 100 miles off the coast of Venezuela, with winds of 40-50 knots and seas of 15 feet - Vessel's bow yawed 20°-30° off to each side - Drift was 11 n.m. (confirmed by Loran & Satnav) during 14 hours at sea anchor.

Bounty Hunter, a fin-keeled Hunter 40, was on her way to Rio from Florida when she ran into a gale some 100 miles off the coast of Venezuela. The owner of the boat, Captain Jerry Sidock, being single-handed and tired at the time, deployed a 9-ft. BUORD off the bow. In one of several telephone conversations with Victor Shane, Captain Sidock reported that the bow held into the seas in a satisfactory way, yawing as she would at ground anchor, 20-30° off to each side, but certainly no more than 30°.

Note the same parachute sea anchor being used by different boats with varying results. Compare Bounty Hunter's underwater profile with those of the Pilot Cutter and the Vancouver 27 in the preceding files. Bounty Hunter has a more symmetrical underwater profile, her center of lateral resistance being a little closer to the center of effort of her rig. Additionally she was in stronger winds as well. Note however that her bow did yaw up to 30° off to each side, indicating that the yacht could do with a larger sea anchor

Captain Sidock knows the Caribbean Islands well. In his voyages to the Caymans, Jamaica, Roatan, Belize, Honduras, Guatemala and South America he often uses the BUORD off the stern for rest periods. There is then hardly any side-to-side yaw at all.

Note that there is nothing wrong with using a sea anchor off the stern for rest and recuperation, drift control and damage control in moderate conditions. Moreover, for non heavy weather use the rode need not be very long either. Deploy the parachute, pay out a hundred feet of line and cleat it off. Now you can rig the awning over the boom, prepare a meal in peace and relax for a while, the whole ocean your own private anchorage. From Captain Sidock's handwritten feedback:

I would like to say that I don't think that common sense would permit me to leave shore without my sea anchor. It is just too difficult at times to continue on when short-handed, or rather single-handed, as I am most of the time. It is at that time that I look for assistance from other sources, such as a sea anchor.

S/M-6 J-30 Sloop


J-30 Sloop

30' x 3.75 Tons, Fin Keel Sloop

9-Ft. Dia. BUORD Parachute

Force 11 Conditions

File S/M-6, obtained from Paul C. Brindley, Houston TX. - Vessel name Heaven & Hell, hailing port Houston, J-30 sloop, designed by Rod Johnstone, LOA 30' x LWL 25' x Beam 11' 6" x Draft 6' 6" x 3.75 Tons - Fin keel - Sea anchor: 9-ft. diameter BUORD on 300' x 3/4" nylon three strand rode with no swivel used - No trip line - Deployed during a storm in deep water in the Gulf of Mexico, about 120 miles Southeast of Galveston, with winds of 60 knots and combined seas of about 30' - Vessel's bow yawed about 10° - Drift was .5 -.7 knots during 4 hours at sea anchor.

This is the first file that Victor Shane documented after starting Para-Anchors International in 1981.He comments that it tends to stick in the mind, like that first high school date. It is an important file in other respects as well. The boat, a fin-keeled J-30, rode very well to the 9-ft. BUORD parachute. Up to that time conventional wisdom had it that sea anchors were useless on board so-called "modern fin-keeled sailboats." This was a turning point of sorts.

In a letter to Victor, dated 2 November 1986, Donald J. Jordan, author of widely publicized articles on capsize prevention and inventor of the series drogue wrote the following (reproduced by permission): "Dr. Brindley called and gave me a comprehensive description of his experience.... As you say, the J-30 rode very well in that type of wind and sea. This is the first well-documented instance of a modern sloop riding properly with a sea anchor from the bow."

The 9-ft. diameter BUORD pulled the bow of this yacht into 60-knot winds and 30-ft. seas in a satisfactory way. It kept it there for four hours. However, the crew had inadvertently omitted to use a swivel on the parachute terminal, and the canopy's rotation resulted in a fouled-up useless mess of parachute and kinked-up rode.

After retrieving the mess and stowing it the best they could the crew then used the boat's inboard engine to jog into the seas. Apart from a few near knock-downs, Heaven & Hell emerged from the ordeal intact. From Dr. Brindley's handwritten feedback:

The drogue [meaning sea anchor] worked well. We could have eaten soup below until it twisted shut as we had inadvertently left off the swivel. We made about .5-.7 knots sternway, checked by the Loran. It went to 4-5 knots when the chute twisted shut. I much preferred the bow into the waves.


S/C-4 Catamaran



40' x 20' x 3.5 Tons

12-Ft. Dia. Parachute

Force 7 Conditions


File S/C-4, obtained from Sackville J. Currie, Blaney, Ireland - Vessel name and design unspecified, hailing port Tokyo, catamaran, LOA 40' x Beam 27' x Draft 6' x 3.5 Tons - Sea anchor: 12-ft. Diameter Para-Tech on 60' x 1/2" nylon braid with 1/2" galvanized swivel - Emergency deployment when the windward ama broke off in shallow water (100 fathoms) five miles off Cape Nojima, Japan, with winds of 30 knots and confused seas of 12-15 ft. - Occupants were taken off by a Japanese Coast Guard helicopter.

File S/C-4 illustrates the value of a sea anchor in one of many likely damage control situations. En route to Sendai this 40-ft. catamaran sailed out of Tokyo Bay and, rounding Cape Nojima to head north, ran into 30-knot winds blowing contrary to a local current.

After considerable heavy labor against 12-15' steep, confused and choppy seas the windward pontoon suddenly broke off, leaving the catamaran lame and disabled seven miles offshore, now rapidly drifting out into the open sea.

The owner's main concern was that the boat might tack and, with the one ama broken off, capsize. He immediately deployed a 12-ft. diameter Para-Tech sea anchor off the bow of the remaining hull. The sea anchor held the lame boat more or less head-to-sea, preventing capsize and at the same time keeping the crippled vessel from drifting out of the shipping lanes and into the great Pacific. With the situation temporarily stabilized and the motion of the yacht eased, distress flares were then launched which were spotted by a passing freighter. The captain of the freighter radioed the Japanese Coast Guard, which sent a helicopter to the scene and plucked the survivors off the multihull. The boat was then abandoned to the raging seas, still tethered to its 12-ft. diameter, orange-colored parachute sea anchor.

D/M-19 Monohull, Sparkman & Stephens


Monohull, Sparkman & Stephens

39' x 8 Tons, Fin Keel

Seabrake MK I

Force 10+ Conditions


File D/M-19, obtained from W.R. Allen, Milson's Point, NSW, Australia - Vessel name Adele, hailing port Sydney, monohull, Superstar sloop designed by Sparkman & Stephens, LOA 39' x LWL 35' x Beam 12' x Draft 6' x 8 Tons - Fin keel - Drogue: Seabrake MK I on 200' x 5/8" nylon braid rode - Deployed in cyclone Bola in deep water about 50 miles NW of the North Cape of New Zealand with winds of 60 knots and seas of 40 ft. - Vessel could be steered through a wide arc in the proximity of land - Speed was reduced to about 3-5 knots during 36 hours of deployment.

Seabrake Mk I
Seabrake Mk I

The Seabrake used in this file was the same model used by Peter Blake in D/T-1, the more expensive MK I, with the spring-loaded gate mechanisms. The mechanism is adjustable and can be set to open the gates at a certain speed, instantly increasing drag by about 70%. Refer to inventor John Abernethy's explanation of the workings of the spring-loaded mechanism in File D/M-10. The earlier versions (likely this one) had ballasted nacelles to help keep them submerged, while later versions relied on a length of chain in the rode. Transcript:

Since purchasing the Seabrake I have made four Tasman crossings - Sydney to Auckland and return. The first two crossings were reasonably monotonous. The third included my involvement as a competitor in the Trans Tasman Transfield Challenge Race [Feb/March 1988]. In this race competitors were savaged by cyclone Bola in the vicinity of Three Kings Island and the North Cape of New Zealand. We ran into Bola on the approaches to the northern tip of New Zealand. There was no race warning and the first advisory we had was a weather forecast from a shore-based NZ radio station! Needless to say this warning was passed rapidly through the fleet! We passed through Bola whilst it was centered in the area of Three Kings Islands, Cape Reinga and North Cape. Retrospectively the weather maps indicated that Bola had three centers concentrated in the area at the time.

We had to make an important decision regarding our course across the top of NZ, a particularly treacherous piece of water in bad weather. Even in settled weather the NZ pilot advises that small vessels should approach no closer than fives miles to land. In rough weather fishing boats and even large vessels have been lost, in some cases without trace. This is largely due to strong currents flowing up and down the West and East coasts, and shallow waters (120-130 meters). In bad weather the safer course is to keep northward of the Three Kings and proceed via the Three Kings Trough in deep water (more than 1000 meters). This is the course we adopted.

At 2200 hrs on the 7th March at 33° 36' S, 169° 17' E, we were under bare poles and had set the Seabrake. Shortly thereafter we suffered a 90 degree knockdown, but apart from a few bruises there was no damage. However through this incident we were made very much aware of the confused nature of the seas and that we were catching the odd rogue cross sea. On the 8th, 9th and 10th March we proceeded in a SE direction following the Three Kings Trough, towing the Seabrake. During this period of heavy breaking seas with winds in excess of 60 knots the Seabrake was in continuous use, doing a marvelous job steadying our progress and giving us a strong feeling of security regardless of the conditions. At no stage did Adele show any tendency to broach and it was always possible to maintain a measure of control, despite the extreme conditions.

With the wind generally NW we streamed the Seabrake from the starboard primary winch, which meant the brake was mainly on the quarter, though when the occasion demanded with a particularly big sea we would run straight before. I am not aware of any period when the brake was not on the back of the next wave. On the crest of a wave we would occasionally pull the brake clear [out of a wave face] but it always dug in to hold us for the next one. We made no adjustments to the spring-loaded mechanism which was set to operate [kick in and generate 70% more drag] at 5 knots, and generally we were able to maintain that speed.

We had no problems with chafe and we did not use chain or any other means to weigh the brake down. Wind speed was variable between 40 and 60 knots and for shorter periods 60 plus. Difficult to estimate the height of waves. With a fifty odd foot mast we would on occasions be buried in the trough. On the 8th we had periods of heavy rain followed by gusty winds up to 50 kts. On the 9th with storm jib set the log says "from midnight to daybreak ran before heavy breaking seas - Seabrake probably saved us from being rolled in the early hours of the morning. During the day and evening conditions too rough to get sailing so jilled along at 2-5 kts under Seabrake in a SE direction away from North Cape." On 10th March conditions had moderated and we were able to proceed under full sail.

On the return journey, Auckland to Sydney, we experienced peak conditions. A high extended right across the Tasman with a broad front covering most of the North Island of New Zealand with a narrow front bordering the New South Wales coast [of Australia]. We left New Zealand in extremely light conditions having to motor up the East Coast until we cleared the Three Kings. Thereafter we moved in an easterly air flow right across the Tasman.

As we approached Australia the wind steadily increased. This was further exacerbated by low pressure areas developing north and south of the high. During the last five days we experienced winds in excess of 40 knots for most of the time, including a squall which lasted about an hour which was an absolute white out of wind-driven seas, which we estimated in excess of 100 knots.

Throughout the period of five days we towed the Seabrake off the weather quarter. Initially we sailed under trysail and boomed out storm jib. As conditions increased in severity we progressively lowered the trysail then the storm jib. Later the cockpit spray hood and life buoys, to reduce windage.  As you can imagine, with an easterly air stream extending right across the Tasman the seas built up and were breaking dangerously, particularly at times when the winds reached about 50 knots. Adele handled the conditions extremely well with the Seabrake out. It was quite remarkable how in the midst of a breaking wave it would hold the boat momentarily and allow the wave to sweep forward and away from under us.

As you will have gathered from this I have the highest regard for the Seabrake. Even under the worst conditions the brake always gives a measure of control and at the same time enables you to make progress. Not the least virtue is a sense of security and a great boost to your confidence at time when your morale could be at low ebb. The downside is that they are comparatively heavy and they take up room in the cockpit, though this can be overcome to some extent by mounting them on special brackets [on the stern pulpit]. Still, for safety at sea, anything is worthwhile.

I have also had some experience with parachute anchors which are also great, particularly with prolonged periods of heavy weather when you want to get some sleep and rest up for a period. You can really sit back and enjoy a good storm! The main problem is with chafe and this needs constant attention.


D/M-18 Monohull, Cal T-2


Monohull, Cal T-2

27' x 3 Tons, Fin Keel

36" Dia. x 72" Conical Drogue

Force 9-10 Conditions

File D/M-18, obtained from Wes Thom, Brownsville, TX - Vessel name Paper Dragon, hailing port Annapolis, monohull, Cal T-2 designed by Bill Lapworth, LOA 27' x LWL 24' x Beam 10' x Draft 5' x 3 Tons - Fin keel - Drogue: 36" x 72" heavy duty, Coast Guard approved cone made by Cal June, on 125' x 1/2" nylon three strand tether and bridle arms of 10' each, with 1/2" galvanized swivel - Deployed in a whole gale in deep water about 125 miles west of Bermuda with winds of 45-50 knots and seas of 20-25 ft. - Vessel's stern yawed 20-30° - Speed was reduced to about 2 knots during 48 hours of deployment.


Wes Thom has delivered yachts on the east coast and across the Atlantic. En route to Bermuda on his own boat, a 27-ft. Cal T-2 designed by Bill Lapworth, he had occasion to use one of the heavier 36-inch diameter Coast Guard approved cones manufactured by Cal June of Los Angeles. This is quite a large cone, about six feet long, not to be confused with the smaller "fish trolling" ones made by Cal June. It was deployed on 125' of rode and Wes Thom and his wife saw it being repeatedly tumbled by the crests. Thom did not consider the tumbling a drawback at the time because the cone would always recover and re-exert its pull at the needed time. Transcript:

We had been sailing from Cape May to Bermuda. Two days out, on a Wednesday, we talked to a Russian tanker by radio and were warned by an individual, who seemed to be out of breath, to head back for the mainland immediately. Basically he told us that a bad storm was on the way and a small boat like ours had no business being out there. He said they were increasing their own speed to full speed to avoid the storm. We thanked them, but told them we could not get to land that fast. They said "God bless you, we will pray for you."

At 7000 hrs Friday we had a full main and 150 jib up. As the wind increased we rolled in the 150 and hanked on a working jib. At 1100 hrs first reef in main. At 1200 hrs 2nd reef. At 1400 hrs storm jib. At 1500 hours no main. At 1600 hrs bare poles. At this point we were still going in the general direction of Bermuda about 1.5 knots, and a little concerned about the reefs around Bermuda if the storm blew us all the way there. We were 100-125 miles west of Bermuda, our course NE, the wind out of the south. As our speed increased to about 6 knots, occasionally surfing at 10-11 knots, we put out two warps. No knots, no weights, just 150' of 5/8" line [nylon three strand] off the port winch, and 300' of 1/2" [nylon three strand] off the starboard winch. With the warps out our speed came back down to 1.5 to 2 knots, still heading NE. We thought if we needed to we could always use the port winch to pull the warps in and add weights etc. In reality we could never have done that. The strain on each warp, even after the worst part of the storm, was amazing. The 5/8" warp was pulled so tight it would make noises like a cello string, and the 1/2" warp had an even higher pitch, like a guitar string. After putting out the warps we later rigged a 125' piece of 1/2" line, the end securely bridled through corner stanchion bases, with a 2-size larger CAL JUNE conical drogue [36" x 72" Coast Guard Approved "Storm Sea Anchor"]. When our speed got back up to 6 knots [with warps in tow] we deployed the cone, which brought our speed back down to 1.5 knots [the two warps coming off port and starboard winches and widely spaced to right and left, the Cal June cone and its tether in the center].

Most of the waves seemed to be breaking before they got to the boat, but a few would drop 10" of water in the cockpit. At night we also steered by listening for the oddball waves crossing the others. They sounded a bit like a train when they hit, rocking us sideways if we had not turned down wave for them. The main waves were out of the SW. The odd ones from the S or SSE.

In the daylight we could see that the waves were not less than the height of our spreaders (about 25') and about 150-175' from crest to crest. We were in deep water east of the Gulf Stream, WNW of Bermuda, still headed NE. We could look behind and watch the drogue start up a wave as we came over a crest. We could see it tumble on its own crest as we slid down the back side of ours. About the time we were in the trough it would grab again, and up and over the next crest we would go. We could clearly see the yellow cone tumbling repeatedly. It would get rolled, get tossed around, go end over end and everything in between. But it wasn't getting turned inside out, and it seemed to be doing its job when needed.

Most of the time we could let the autopilot steer. We could get 2-3 hours of very good sleep, even with the freight trains coming every once in a while. Once, when I was inside and looking through a port hole I saw the bow get buried by green water, which then turned white, and rolled off, and I could see the bow again. Sunday morning (48 hours later) it starting moderating. By 1600 hrs we had hauled in our CAL JUNE. It had to be winched in, a few feet at a time, when it was tumbling on the crest behind us. The sea was still sloppy when we set sail and the last warp [which was still left out] served to ease our motion.

We believed we had been blown 50-75 miles WNW of Bermuda and set a course for south. Monday morning we got our first celestial sight, and a few hours later a running fix, but something was very wrong. Our intercepts were very long and our sights had never been this far off before. Theory says you don't have to know an exact DR. Just guess. So I picked 500 miles NE. The intercept said no, not there. I tried 500 miles NW - no not there. I tried 500 miles SE - not there either. But they all said "here," so I moved my DR there, and sure enough, I knew where we were. From the last known DR position we had been blown 125-150 miles. We had overshot Bermuda! By Monday about noon I knew we had sailed south past the East Coast of Bermuda and now had to double back to the NW to get to our destination. Monday night we were in St. Georges Harbor, tied up, in good condition, undamaged, safe. Our only loss was the 150' x 5/8" three strand warp. It had unlayed and hockled in the middle, in random 10' sections, and had to be scrapped. Not much to pay for a safe trip.