S/M-16 Cape George 31 Cutter


Cape George 31 Cutter

31' x 9 Tons, Full Keel

12-Ft. Dia. Sea Anchor

Force 8 Conditions


File S/M-16, obtained from Steve Lockwood, Portland, OR. - Vessel name Halo, hailing port Portland, Cape George cutter designed by Nolan Atkins, LOA 31' x LWL 27' 6" x Beam 9' 6" x Draft 5' x 9 Tons - Full keel - Sea anchor: 12-ft. diameter Para-Tech on 300' x 1/2" nylon 3-strand and 50' of 5/16" chain, with 1/2" stainless steel swivel - Deployed in deep water about 100 miles northwest of San Francisco in a gale with winds of 35-40 knots and seas of 14 feet - Vessel's bow yawed up to 90° at times - Drift was about 6 miles during 20 hours at sea anchor.

In May 1993 Halo was en route to the Bay Area from Portland, normally a downwind run. When she ran into a southerly gale her owner tried beating into it for a while, and then decided to deploy a 12-ft. diameter Para-Tech sea anchor. Halo was sea anchored for 20 hours, drifting only 6 miles. Transcript:

Boat was held off the wind an increasing amount as wind strength increased. Very uncomfortable roll and some waves broke on deck. Our boat is exceptionally strong so we were not very concerned. We forgot to add a swivel, but noticed no difference in boat motion over time. There was some twisting [of the nylon rode], but not severe at all. Rode was 300' x 1/2" nylon with 50' of 5/16" chain at sea anchor. Certainly no survival storm, but we thought it would be interesting to try it out and that a break from beating into the gale would be nice if we didn't lose too much ground.

S/M-14 Carol Sloop


Carol Sloop

24' 6" x 2.7 Tons, Full Keel

9-Ft. Dia. BUORD Sea Anchor

Force 6-7 Conditions


File S/M-14, obtained from Walter Keintzel, Monterey, CA. - Vessel name Deanna, hailing port Monterey, "Carol" double-ender designed by Chuck Paine, LOA 24' 6" x LWL 20' x Beam 9' x Draft 3' 6" x 2.7 Tons - Full keel - Sea anchor: 9-ft. diameter BUORD on 300' x 1/2" nylon three strand with 1/2" galvanized swivel - Deployed in deep water off the central coast of California in low system with winds of 30 knots and seas of 10 feet - Vessel's bow yawed up to 80° - Drift was about 7 miles during 11 hours at sea anchor.

Victor Shane had the opportunity to take a close look at Deanna when she was moored in Santa Barbara harbor. This little pocket cruiser has a flush deck, with very low freeboard and a large full keel beneath. When Deanna is lying a-hull she is more or less anchored to the surface of the ocean by virtue of her big keel alone. Her rate of drift is further reduced because of her low freeboard. In general a yacht has to drift, to tug at a sea anchor, to cause it to fully inflate and function properly. In 60-knots of wind the same BUORD would have done a better job on this boat. A much larger parachute, say a 24-ft. diameter military chest reserve, would likely have pulled Deanna's bow up much higher into the wind as well, even in the given 30 knots. Here is a transcript of the feedback obtained from Walter Keintzel:

Location was 55 miles true west of Pt. Sal, measured by the Loran. I don't recall the barometer reading, but it was "normal." Don't recall the wave length & period, because when I deployed the sea anchor at 20:00 hrs. I was very, very exhausted & numb.

We lay at 80° to the nylon rode - almost parallel to the seas. I think this is because my flush-decked boat got lost in the troughs - not enough windage! With a riding sail on the back stay, I think it would work. As it was, it wasn't too bad.

Mainly the anchor kept me in place for a stormy night, and kept my physical condition from deteriorating to the point where I needed to call the Coast Guard. Next day I ran into Morro Bay for rest & repairs.

I'm very grateful for the parachute anchor. It was easy to deploy, but next time I'll certainly use a 300' trip line. Retrieval was like pulling a VW for fifty minutes!

S/M-13 Bristol Channel Cutter


Bristol Channel Cutter

26' x 7 Tons, Full Keel

9-Ft. Dia. BUORD Sea Anchor

Force 8 Conditions


File S/M-13, obtained from Gary Kaye, Sidney B.C. - Vessel name Mintaka II, hailing port Vancouver B.C., designed by Lyle Hess, LOA 37' (with long bowsprit) x LWL 26' x Beam 10' x Draft 5' x 7 Tons - Full keel - Sea anchor: 9-ft. diameter BUORD on 300' x 5/8" nylon three strand rode with 1/2" galvanized swivel - No trip line - Deployed in a whole gale in deep water approx. 140 miles west of Coos Bay (Oregon coast) with wind sustained at 40 knots and seas of 20 ft. - Use of the "Pardey Bridle" arrangement held the bow 50° off the wind. Drift was estimated to be about 50 n.m. during 52 hours at sea anchor.

In August 1987 Mintaka, a Lyle Hess designed Bristol Channel Cutter, was headed for San Francisco from Victoria B.C., when she ran into a whole gale at about latitude 44° N, longitude 127° W, (some 140 nautical miles west of the Oregon Coast). Gary and Sandi Kaye deployed a 9-ft. diameter BUORD parachute, using the Pardey bridling method (see files S/M-3, 4). All told, this traditionally designed, heavily built cruising yacht was hove-to for 52 hours, the wind sustained at 40 knots and seas of 20 feet.

Since there were no written notes, opinions or observations accompanying the DDDB form that Victor Shane received from these intrepid sailors, it was likely a matter of routine seamanship. Victoria, has a rich seafaring history. It is the hailing port of Taleisin, as well as a number of other boats in this database. It is inspiring to find boats like Mintaka following in the Voss/Pardey tradition of safe voyaging under mast and canvas. When one of these boats get into heavy weather the crew members are not wanting for a tactic. They heave-to, ride out the storm, and quietly resume their cruising.

S/M-10 Hinckley Bermuda 40 Yawl


Hinckley Bermuda 40 Yawl

40' x 10 Tons, Full Keel & Centerboard

12-Ft. Dia. Sea Anchor

Force 8 Conditions


File S/M-10, obtained from the owner of the boat - Vessel name Windswept, hailing port Gloucester MA., Hinckley Bermuda yawl, designed by Bill Tripp, LOA 40' x LWL 28' 10" x Beam 11' 9" x 10 Tons - Full keel with centerboard drawing 8' when down and 5' with the board raised at sea anchor - Sea anchor: 12-ft. Diameter Para-Tech on 400' x 1/2" nylon three strand rode with 5/8" galvanized swivel - No trip line - Deployed during passage of frontal trough in shallow water (30 fathoms) off the coast of Maine, with winds of 35-40 knots and seas of 8-10 feet - Vessel's bow yawed less than 10° - Drift was estimated to be 2 n.m. during four hours at sea anchor.

The 12-ft. diameter Para-Tech sea anchor was deployed in a low system, about thirty miles offshore, near Portland, Maine. Transcript:

This was not a whole gale or survival storm. I was alone, wanted to rest, wanted to minimize drift, and wanted to experiment with my sea anchor. After deployment my yawl lay absolutely bow to the wind and waves with very little yawing. My boat does not have a cutaway forefoot, the board was up and the waves were not high enough to blanket the wind when the boat was down in the troughs.

With 400 ft. of rode there was absolutely no shock loading at all. No feeling of either being pulled through the waves or falling backwards on the rudder. My boat rode like a duck up and over each wave always nose to the wind. Altogether a very pleasant, safe and secure feeling.

The only two things I worried about were (a) commercial fishing interests in the area not seeing me and running over my anchor line, (b) cross waves approaching from the side of the boat and rolling her. With no sail set there is nothing to steady the boat side to side.

The Hinckley Bermuda 40 has a symmetrical full keel with considerable overhang at both ends (the waterline length of the boat being only 28' 11"). This particular Hinckley also has an auxiliary centerboard, which was in this case raised at sea anchor. Even so, she behaved well and pointed very high into the seas, doubtless because of the aft windage of her rig. Look for the relative positions of the CLR and CE and you will see a recurring pattern in all the monohull files.

S/M-5 Steel Schooner


Steel Schooner

75' x 36 Tons, Full Keel

28-Ft. Dia. Parachute Sea Anchor

Force 10-11 Conditions


File S/M-5, obtained from Jeremiah Nixon, St. Louis MO. - Vessel name Goodjump II, hailing port St. Louis, steel Schooner, designed by George Sutton, LOA 75' x LWL 62' x Beam 15' x Draft 6' 2" x 36 Tons - Full keel - Sea anchor: 28-ft. diameter C-9 military class parachute on 600' x 1-inch nylon three strand rode, with 5/8" galvanized swivel - No trip line - Deployed in deep water during a storm near 39° 50' N, 49° 30' W (mid-Atlantic) with winds of 60 knots and seas of 18' - Vessel's bow yawed 10° - Drift was about 18 n.m. during 18 hours at sea anchor

Goodjump II was sailing to Portugal from the U.S. east coast. The skipper, Jeremiah Nixon, had purchased a para-anchor from the author's company. It was a 28-ft. diameter C-9 military parachute, converted into a sea anchor. This parachute has been a staple of the Armed Forces for decades, and is still in use by the Air Force. You can tell a C-9 by the colors of the canopy, either red and white, or a combination of red, white, gold and olive drab. C-9s have 28 suspension lines.

Shane Victor has handled hundreds of C-9's to date, each and every time with awe and amazement. Little wonder World War II pilots used to refer to their parachutes as "silken angels." Light in weight, resilient and strong, a military parachute (not to be confused with lighter sport parachutes) embodies eighty years of development and refinement. Government contracts require that C-9 parachutes be able to negotiate dynamic loads of 5,000 lbs. without failure - they have to be test-dropped from aircraft flying at high speeds with dummies attached.

When Goodjump II ran into a storm in the middle of the Atlantic, the crew decided to put out the chute. They had some initial difficulty in getting the big canopy in the water. The wind took hold of it on deck and it was almost airborne . The crew persevered, however, and finally had the chute properly deployed on 600 feet of nylon rode. Goodjump II rounded up into the seas, her bow nicely snubbed to her parachute sea anchor in 18-ft. seas. Transcript:

The para-anchor worked perfectly, we rode nicely. Learned the hard way to deploy it from the windward side of the boat by pushing it right into the water while holding it against the side of the boat. It got loose on our first effort on the lee side and went into the air.

You asked the question of the angle and movement of our bow during the storm. I cleated the rode to the forward port cleat and as a result the bow held about 10° to the right of the wind and there was no swing from side to side that I noticed. In fact the deck was dry and there was no spray or pounding. The 600 feet of rode stretched and raised out of the water at the point of wave crest and then came back down with an easy controlled feeling.

We drank beer and ate chili during the worst and I got a solid 6 hours of sleep at a time when we had to wear a safety harness because of wind when we went forward to check on chafe.

No trip line is necessary. Just motor up to it and bring it up. These are some of the reasons why I consider this equipment the most important safety item on my boat.... I will never make an ocean passage without one on board. People must realize that ocean cruising can be safe if you go with the idea that you will go into a defensive position before the seas build too high. The flat-out philosophy of professional racers must be disregarded by the small crew cruising yachts

(Note: The problem of the wind inflating parachutes prematurely on deck can be minimized by wetting down the parachute beforehand. Nylon cloth is much more manageable and less likely to fly open in the wind when wet and heavy. The other alternative is to use a deployment bag.)


S/M-4 Cutter, “Taleisin”


Cutter, "Taleisin"

29' 6" x 9 Tons, Full Keel Cutter

12-Ft. Dia. BUORD Parachute

Force 11-12 Conditions


File S/M-4, obtained from Lin & Larry Pardey - Vessel name Taleisin, hailing port Victoria, B.C., cutter designed by Lyle Hess, LOA 29' 6" x LWL 27' 9" x Beam 10' 9" x Draft 5' 3" x 9 Tons - Full keel - Sea anchor: 12-ft. diameter BUORD on 250' x 5/8" dia. nylon three strand rode with Pardeys' own bridle arrangement and 1/2" galvanized swivel - No trip line - Deployed in 100 fathoms during a tropical cyclone about 100 miles off the Queensland coast, with sustained winds of 60-70 knots blowing contrary to the Australian Current, creating confused seas of 25' and greater - Drift was estimated to be about 15 n.m. during 56 hours at sea anchor.

The Pardeys are now cruising on board their new and larger boat, Taleisin. The sea anchor for Taleisin was a larger - 12-ft. diameter - BUORD parachute. On 1 November 1988, en route to Mooloolaba from Roslynne Bay (Queensland), Taleisin safely rode out a cyclonic depression off the Australian coast, hove-to the para-anchor and storm trysail, in the manner described in the previous file (S/M-3). In their latest book, Storm Tactics, Lin and Larry describe the storm as "an unseasonable typhoon rammed up against a ridge of high pressure." The wind was blowing contrary to the Australian current, near the Great Barrier Reef. Conditions were atrocious. From Storm Tactics:

We were forced to lie-to parachute anchor for over 56 hours in winds exceeding 70 knots. (Weather forecasters spoke of winds of 85 in our area). Wind blew against current in only 100 fathoms of water, creating breaking seas, which forced 400-foot freighters to heave-to. We have never before seen waves dangerous enough to stop ships. We could see two of them nearby, maneuvering to keep their bows into the seas for over 12 hours. Yet even in seas like this we were able to bring Taleisin through with the only damage limited to chafed lines, chafed nerves, and bruised bodies. Other sailors within 50 miles of us fared far worse; two lost their lives while using other tactics.

Sometime in those fifty-six hours there was a formidable jerk as "an extra strong gust and an extra steep sea combined to head the boat up and tack." This caused Lin, who was sleeping down below, without the lee cloth in place, to be thrown out of her bunk against the stove, banging up her teeth and ribs, fortunately not too badly, however. All in all, Taleisin, tough little ship, came through with flying colors. But Larry has since opted for a smaller 9-ft. diameter BUORD, which he considers more yielding and better suited to the use of the bridle and riding sail arrangement.

Again, the main idea behind the Pardey strategy is to create a turbulent field upwind, a "slick" that smooths the seas and robs the waves of a great deal of their power. The bridle is adjusted so that the boat lies about 50° off the wind, and the use of a riding sail (storm trysail, triple-reefed main, or combinations of other sails, depending on the particular hull and rig) increases the pressure of the wind on the boat.

The result is that boat, rode and sea anchor are, as a train, drift downwind at about 5/8 of a knot, churning up the sea and setting up the turbulent field ahead of the boat. Note that this is a little different from the traditional method of heaving to - the boat occasionally fore- reaching.

Again: The Pardey strategy requires square drift. The yacht should not zig-zag or fore-reach out of her protective slick. She must drift squarely downwind, her keel "scraping" the sea. Refer to Storm Tactics for more insights into the Pardey's method of heaving-to.

S/M-2 Little Harbor 40 Yawl


Little Harbor 40 Yawl

39'11" x 11 Tons, Full Keel & Centerboard

24-Ft. Dia. Parachute Sea Anchor

Force 9-10 Conditions


File S/M-2, obtained from Charles W. Turner, Marblehead MA. - Vessel name Mambo, hailing port Marblehead, Little Harbor 40 yawl, designed by Ted Hood, LOA 39' 11" x LWL 29' 7" x Beam 11' x 11 Tons - Full keel with bronze centerboard drawing 10' 6" when down, (draft 4' 3" with board raised at sea anchor) - Sea anchor: 24-ft. diameter cargo type parachute on 120' x 1" dia. three strand rode & 1/2" swivel - Full trip line - Deployed in 1964 in deep water, approx. midway between Bermuda and Nantucket Light, within the Gulf Stream, with the wind estimated at between 40-60 knots with seas 25' and greater - Vessel's bow yawed 10° - Drift was estimated to be 40 n.m. during 12 hours at sea anchor - mainly due to the motion of the Gulf Stream.


Chapter eighteen of Coles's Heavy Weather Sailing is entitled Twice Rolled Over. It is about the trials and tribulations of the 39-ft. centerboard yawl Doubloon, whose 3/4-inch-thick bronze centerboard was "bent about 30 degrees, probably when it hit the water as the yacht came back to even keel after the roll over." Doubloon was forced to run before 60-knot winds off the Carolina coast in the spring of 1964. The skipper, Joe Byars, tried a variety of traditional tactics in an effort to "keep the sea."

First, he tried running before the wind under bare poles. It worked for a while, but after taking five full smashes from astern (resulting in one crewmember being temporarily swept overboard) he changed course and put Doubloon on a broad reach, trying to work the boat out of the storm and the Gulf Stream.

This new tactic seemed to work for a while. Three hours later, however, the yacht was unexpectedly struck by a breaking wave and knocked down on her beam end.

Byars tried lying a-hull next. With her centerboard down Doubloon lay quietly with her bow some 70° off the wind for four hours. Then, suddenly, a wave broke and rolled her completely - 360-degrees in about five seconds. Six hours later she was smash-rolled for the second time. All the crew sustained injuries - Byars broke a rib - and there was havoc down below.

The next day the crew managed to improvise "sea anchors," one of which consisted of a working jib, with the head attached to the tack to create more drag. Two mattresses were also lashed onto the remains of the stern pulpit in order to create windage aft. Doubloon took no more knockdowns.

A few months later, in June 1964, another sailboat called Mambo, practically identical to Doubloon, encountered similar conditions in the same area of the Gulf Stream, but used a parachute sea anchor. Mambo was on the homeward leg of the Bermuda Race when, at daybreak, the wind freshened from the NE and quickly built up to Force-9. This was followed by a build-up of the seas, and it wasn't long before the waves were big enough to completely blanket the wind when Mambo was in a trough.

Mambo's skipper, Charles W. Turner of Marblehead, Massachusetts, a moderately experienced sailor, had the boat running before the seas initially. A short time later, as conditions continued to deteriorate, a trusted and more experienced crewmember suggested that it seemed high time to turn the boat around and face into it.

The decision was then made to try to heave-to in the traditional way - by using sails. However severe cross-waves made it impractical to do this.

Another crewmember then pointed to the 24-ft. diameter para-anchor on the cabin sole which the owner had purchased. He stated, "Since you had us practicing with that thing off Marblehead, why not try it now?" The skipper decided that this was a good time to try it, since the man who had ridiculed it in Marblehead now appeared to favor its use.

It took three tries to accomplish proper deployment. On the first attempt the parachute blew under the bow until the keel was on top of it. It was then pulled back, straightened out and again tried. This time it flew up in the air, reaching a position where a mizzen staysail would normally be flown. It was again recovered.

On the third attempt it stayed in the water and, as the boat drifted back, it was payed out to the full length of its line, with the trip line float right above it. The line was secured to a bow cleat, although they were not sure it would hold. Mambo then faced nicely into seas of about 25-30 ft. In this posture she rode out the rest of the storm safely, albeit cork-screwing annoyingly because of the cross-seas which were running up the troughs. Mambo, tethered to the 24-ft. diameter para-anchor, sustained no knockdowns or "barrel rolls" as did her sistership, Doubloon.

S/M-1 Canoe, “Tilikum” (Voss)


Canoe, "Tilikum" (Voss)

32' x 1.5 Tons

22" Dia. Cone Type Sea Anchor


File S/M-1, derived from the writings of John Claus Voss and Norman Kenny Luxton - Vessel name Tilikum, converted Siwash Indian war canoe, hailing port Victoria B.C., LOA 32' x Beam 5' x Draft 36" x 1.5 Tons - Sea anchor, four-foot long, 22-inch diameter canvas cone used in conjunction with a mizzen sail - Deployed in numerous storms during voyage from Victoria B.C. (May 19, 1901) to Tahiti, Australia, South Africa, and finally England (September 2, 1904).

This is one of the earliest recorded cases of a small sailing vessel using a sea anchor to negotiate heavy weather offshore. Mention of the use of the device is made in The Venturesome Voyages Of Captain Voss and Luxton's Pacific Crossing (Gray's Publishing, 1968 and 1971). Both books have been out of print but Grafton Books has recently issued a reprint of the former, now entitled Venturesome Voyages, in its "Mariner's Library" series.

Little is known of the life of John Voss, the father of drag devices. He was born in about 1854, some say in Newfoundland, others Nova Scotia, and yet others Sweden. His seafaring life seems to have begun in 1877 when as a young man he went to sea in large sailing vessels. By 1901 he was a hardened seaman, having served as master on many sailing ships plying the fur trade from Victoria to Yokohama. Much controversy surrounds him in his later years. Some maintain that he was eventually lost at sea. It is more likely, however, that he died in San Francisco in 1922, while earning a living driving a bus there.

The vessel making the remarkable 1901-1904 circumnavigation was a converted 32-ft. Siwash Indian dugout which, according to her owner, had been in many Indian battles on the West Coast of British Columbia. She was given the name Tilikum, a Chinook word meaning "friend." During the voyage to the South Pacific the crew of the Tilikum consisted of John Claus Voss, captain, and Norman Kenny Luxton, mate. The two later fell out with each other. Voss's attitude toward the sea was a very conservative one. He was not one to take anything for granted out there and dealt with the unpredictable forces of nature in a cautious, methodical way.

Wrote Norman Luxton, "Voss's ideas were very much more scientific in weathering a storm... he knew his business, and he learned it by going easy. I only once ever saw Voss take a chance. He never gave a storm any benefit of any doubt, and he never sailed until he even lost a sheet, always anticipating trouble. Many's the hell he has given me for not taking in sail when perhaps I should have." (Luxton's Pacific Crossing.)

"Captain Voss Patent Sea And Surf Anchor." From a hand sketch believed to be Voss's own. (Courtesy of the Maritime Museum of British Columbia).
"Captain Voss Patent Sea And Surf Anchor." From a hand sketch believed to be Voss's own. (Courtesy of the Maritime Museum of British Columbia).

 Voss told Luxton about how he would heave-to in a storm on what he called, a "sea anchor." He had gotten the idea from an old sailor in the North Sea. Tilikum's sea anchor consisted of an iron barrel hoop about twenty two inches in diameter, with a four-foot canvas cone sewn on (see image).

It was used in a total of sixteen heavy gales during the three year circumnavigation. To quote Luxton, "Once, for seventeen days the Tilikum rode to such an appliance and a drag, and never shipped a cup of water. The weather was composed of samples of everything that the misnamed Pacific could put up."

Voss maintained that a stationary hull was better able to retain its buoyancy - rise to the seas. The same hull moving at speed through the water, he argued, was "held down by suction" and susceptible to great damage by boarding seas. In Venturesome Voyages he appendixed some twenty paragraphs of advice, where we find the following:

I will go a little further, claiming - and I have absolute confidence in doing so - that on no occasion while in charge of a vessel which was hove-to under storm sail in a violent gale, have I shipped a sea that caused any damage to ship or outfit, even though the storm sails had been carried away by the force of the wind. And the same applies to the small boats I have sailed on long cruises when they were hove-to under sea anchor and riding sail. (Venturesome Voyages, Grafton Books, 1989.)

Voss's philosophy was to go into a defensive posture - heave-to - long before the seas built too high or began breaking. Head sails were first dropped and the vessel made to head up into the seas. The sea anchor was then lowered and its cable let out. The heavy mizzen was then set as a riding sail. Thus, if the bow fell off to one side it could only yaw so far before the sea anchor and the mizzen brought it back to face into the teeth of the gale. Using this tactic, Voss and crew were able to survive a 1912 typhoon off the coast of Japan in Sea Queen, a little yawl, 19 feet on the waterline! The outer fringes of the typhoon lifted the roof off Yokohama Station and drove a large steamer ashore.

This idea of "a cone and a riding sail" has entered into the folklore of heavy weather tactics. To this day your authors receive inquiries about the so-called Voss method. Both the Coast Guard report (CG-D-20-87, Investigation of the Use of Drogues to Improve the Safety of Sailing Yachts) and the Wolfson RORC report have concluded that small, cone-type sea anchors are generally ineffective and unstable on their own. Both indicate the need for larger devices for use off the bow.

Earl Hinz renders a similar verdict in Understanding Sea Anchors And Drogues (Cornell Maritime Press, 1987). It has to be pointed out, also, that small conical sea anchors tend to put inordinate strains on rudders and their fittings as well.

Lin and Larry Pardey have modified and modernized Voss's method of heaving-to with great success on their own boats. They have replaced Voss's small conical sea anchor with a larger parachute-type device, and his canvas mizzen with a modern storm trysail. Using these they have ridden out various storms with success - see Files S/M-3 & 4.

In 1965 Tilikum was restored and moved into the Maritime Museum of British Columbia in Victoria's Bastion Square. She - and her crude drag devices - can be seen there today, along with some other famous sailboats, among them John "Hurricane" Guzzwell's Trekka. A fact-finding mission to the Maritime Museum of British Columbia is highly recommend (read good excuse for a wonderful little vacation).

From Seattle take the high speed ferry to the delightful port of Victoria, then relax and immerse yourself in the sights, sounds and smells of a seafaring past. Stand on the wharf, close your eyes, and you may imagine that you hear the clanging of ship's bells and the noise and commotion that surrounds the arrival of a big, three-masted bark, after a difficult passage from Yokohama. The gaunt, tired Captain Voss leans silently over the rail. The first mate shouts orders as men with salt-crusted beards furl and tidy sails from their lofty perches up in the sky. Waiting on the wharf are the wives and children of the seamen, dressed in the attire of the late 1800s. A seagull cries out. The last yardarm is secured. The ship coasts to a perfect docking. Lines are heaved ashore. If you press your imagination a little more you may even see the horse-drawn carts lined up on the wharf, the horses flicking their tails impatiently.

D/M-14 Monohull, Twister


Monohull, Twister

28' x 5 Tons, Full Keel

Series Drogue - 90 x 5" Dia. Cones

Force 10 Conditions

File D/M-14, obtained from Professor Noël Dilly, London, England - Vessel name Bits, hailing port Medway, Kent, monohull, Twister sloop designed by Holman and Pye, LOA 28' x LWL 25' x Beam 8' x Draft 5' x 5 Tons - Full keel - Drogue: Jordan series, 90 x 5" diameter cones on 320' x 3/4" Multiplat nylon braid rode, with bridle arms of 20' each and 35 lbs. of chain spliced into the end of the array - Deployed in a storm in deep water about 25 miles west of Cape Carvoeiro, Portugal, with winds of 50 knots and seas of 15 ft. - Vessel's stern yawed 10° - Drift was about 50 miles during 50 hours of deployment.


The Jordan Series Drogue consists of dozens of tiny cones spliced into the long rode
The Jordan Series Drogue consists of dozens of tiny cones spliced into the long rode

Noël Dilly has been sailing for 40 years and is Yachting Monthly's correspondent for Medway and North Kent, having written numerous articles, including Making And Using A Series Drogue (May 1994 issue of Yachting Monthly). A professor at St. George's Hospital Medical School (University of London), Dilly is one of the planet's experts on drag devices. An associate of the late Geoff Pack (Yachting Monthly), and also Peter Bruce (editor of Heavy Weather Sailing), the professor has been wrestling with the subject of heavy weather tactics for decades. Apart from making several series drogues, he has numerous other drag devices in his possession, including a 9-ft. BUORD sent by Victor Shane, a Para-Tech sea anchor and Delta Drogue, an Australian Seabrake, etc.

On the occasion of this file Dilly and clan were sailing Bits to the Mediterranean when they ran into a storm near tiny Berlenga Islands (about 60 miles up the coast from Lisbon). Transcript:

Bits, a Twister, long keel, 28 ft. LOA, 8 ft. beam, Holman and Pye design. Weight when hanging from a crane, 5 tons. We built her over 3 years in the hospital car park, hence the students nicknamed me "Noah." Main influence on our fitting out was my experiences in a Contessa 32 in Fastnet '79. We use our series drogue whenever going to windward is a bore, that is, usually winds in excess of 30 kts. It is just not worth the bashing. Summer gales do not last above 30 kts much more than 15 hours and we do not seem to lose much more than 10-20 miles downwind of our starting position on the drogue.

The longest we have hung to the drogue is 50 hours off Portugal, on a passage to Gibraltar from Portsmouth. It was January, wind NW Force 7-11 for 3 days, sustained Force 9 for 18 hours. Our wind gauge does not go above 50 kts, but BBC said we had a Force 11. Position, off the Berlenga Islands, near Cape Carvoeiro. We saw the Berlenga Islands from wave crests when we deployed the drogue, and could still see them 3 days later when we recovered it. I suppose we had moved about 10-15 miles, but I was not in the mood for measurement. However we were fit enough to ignore the temptation to sneak into Lisbon for R & R and carry on towards Gibraltar.

Deployment: There are two ways of storing the drogue. We used to wind it onto a spool, weighted end first, with the bridle last. The idea was to attach the bridle, and feed out the drogue from the spool. But spools are awkward to store. Now what we do is store the drogue in a sports bag (zipper whole length of bag). We flake it in so that the bridle is at the top. This arrangement gives a great option of storage sites. We mark the two bridles with a piece of thick tape so that we know the correct lengths of the lines without having to adjust the deployed drogue, and, if necessary, we can deploy at night. Before we deploy the drogue, we remove the vane from the self steering and release the paddle. For deploying the drogue, we drop the trysail, but continue at about 15° from dead downwind under storm jib. Once the drogue is deployed we secure the tiller amidships with 1/4" bungee.

Riding sail: Our storm jib is much smaller than the average storm jib and we rig it on a removable inner forestay (another invention I have fiddled with). This jib is 5ft x 4ft x 3½ft. The forestay extends from the cross tree [mast spreader] to the samson post. The jib flies about 4 feet off the deck. It is tiny, I would hate to think of the conditions in which I would be forced to take it down. I think it stabilizes the boat directly downwind. I picked up the idea when fleeing before the Fastnet winds. I like this idea of using a riding sail with the series drogue, but I would also treat Don Jordan's comments with great respect. I suppose that he is worried that the wind and waves may be coming from different directions [Jordan designed the series drogue for use without riding sails]. Once the drogue is deployed, we harden up both jib sheets so that the sail is amidships, and leave it.

Motion of the yacht: I think the series drogue ride is a stable affair. Once deployed, description of the new motion of the boat as "bungee jumping" is a good one. Be prepared to hang on, or better still retire to your berth [Jordan recommends that everyone be strapped in by aircraft-types seat belts inside the boat]. In the troughs, she feels loose. As you rise up the wave and the wind hits with full force she hardens up. Surprisingly this is the best time to do things below deck. Usually that's all there is to it, but if you get accelerated by a crest, you can feel it and hang on for the quite dramatic deceleration. Once the crest has passed these things stop, and you are back to the up and down thing. It is all very slow and undramatic, until there is the violent motion associated with the odd crest strike.

Cones surfacing: A very rare event. I have seen them revealed when a particularly steep wave was approaching. I suppose there were about 10 cones visible, but I was trying to fix a second safety harness clip at the time, and found that pretty urgent. In Force 7,8,9 I have never seen the cones surface. In wind strengths above that it is so difficult to look to windward, the spray hurts too much. Indeed our storm gear includes a pair of industrial safety goggles so that we can try to inspect the drogue/sea interface during the storm.

Chafe: Chafe is the great enemy of all drag devices. To counter chafe at the weight end we enclose the chain-to-rope splice in a spiral whipping so it cannot move [Dilly uses a length of chain instead of the usual 35 lb. weight]. At the bridle end we enclose the lines in thick-walled polyethylene tube where they pass over the transom.

Hatches & life raft: We have massively strong washboards. We seal the cockpit hatch joints with 2" duct tape, also the cockpit locker lids (we have discovered how leaky allegedly waterproof locker lids can be). Finally we move the life raft into its gale storage position, which is on the cockpit sole. It is secured in place by two straps that are jointed by a long pin, such that if you pull the pin the straps are released. This storage has two advantages. First it reduces the weight of water in the cockpit when you get pooped. And second, it is a much more secure place for the life raft than exposed on deck where a breaking storm sea might easily take it, just when it might be needed.

Cockpit drain holes: Four 2-inch diameter cockpit drain holes are not adequate as it takes several minutes for the cockpit to drain. Next time I would try 4-inch diameter drains, but the hazard is then of sheets and lines being washed down them.

Recovery: We have a bridle long enough to use the genoa winch to wind in the drogue. I takes ages, but we have plenty of time. My daughter Sarah has suggested that next time we take a line to the bow, outside everything, release the drogue, and lie bow to it, then use a combination of the anchor winch and motoring to recover it, just like recovering an anchor.

In subsequent communications Victor Shane also asked Professor Dilly why he and other safety experts recommend that the angle subtended by the bridle arms be about 30° or less.

The principle applies to any storm bridling system, including those utilized by multihulls using sea anchors off the bow. As the bridle arms are shortened the angle increases and the toggle force on each attachment point can grow precipitously - farmers still use the principle to dislodge tree stumps. The professor's answer was brief and to the point:

Why 30°? There are good mechanical equations that show that as the angle between the two lines increases the load on them increases severely. 30° Is well within the safe angle. It is just about the same as the Hawaiian chappies idea of twice the transom width for the length of the bridle arms.

Bridle arms set at an angel of 30°
Most experts agree that the bridle arms should subtend an angle of about 30°. As the angle increases the toggle force can multiply severely.


D/M-13 Monohull, Mason


Monohull, Mason

46' x 12.5 Tons, Full Keel

30" Dia. Conical Drogue

Force 11+ Conditions


File D/M-13, obtained from Evo Zembal, Nanaimo, BC. - Vessel name Sine Timore, hailing port Nanaimo, monohull, Mason 39, designed by Al Mason, LOA 46' x LWL 39' x Beam 12' x Draft 6.5' x 12.5 Tons - Full keel - Drogue: 30" Diameter Jim Buoy cone (Cal June, Inc.) on 600' x 1/2" nylon braid rode, with 1/2" galvanized swivel - Deployed in a storm in deep water about 1200 miles northeast of Hawaii with winds of 60-70 knots and seas of 25-30 ft. - Vessel's stern yawed 45° and more with the owner steering - Speed was reduced to about 4 knots during 16 hours of deployment.


Sine Timore ran into a Force 10-11 storm on the way back from Hawaii. She was doing 8 knots on bare poles when the 30-inch conical drogue was deployed.

Jim-Buoy 30" cone "Not For Storm Use"

When this yacht was in Santa Barbara Victor Shane was invited on board and it didn't take very long to realize that she and her crew had been through a terrifying storm. Shane was then amazed to find that the drogue that had reputedly saved this boat was a 30-inch diameter Jim-Buoy cone, the sort that grandpa uses when he is trolling for fish in his 15-ft. aluminum skiff!

Cal June (North Hollywood, California) does not manufacture these particular cones for use in heavy weather. They are classified as "trolling sea anchors" and the words "Not For Storm Use" are printed on their containers. Notwithstanding, this one did see combat duty as a storm drogue on 12-ton Sine Timore!

When Shane examined the cone he saw that most of the seams had indeed ruptured. The device was in fact on the brink of catastrophic failure, leading him to suspect that the crew of this yacht had somehow dodged a bullet. Perhaps the cone lasted so long because Evo Zembal used 600' of 1/2" nylon rode. Transcript:

Barometer steadily dropped from 1029 to 999 in ten hours. We deployed the drogue when the wind speed had built to 55 knots sustained. A few minutes later the boat had slowed down and the ride was actually very comfortable compared to what was going on outside the boat. We stopped sliding down on the wave faces. This was the first time in my life that I had ever used a drogue. I didn't know that I had to use a swivel. Another thing I didn't use was a bridle from each side of the transom, this way the swing was sometimes up to 30°. I really believe that the drogue saved my life and the boat.