File S/T-21, obtained from Steven C. Wann, Williamsburg, VA. - Vessel name Dancer, hailing port Williamsburg, trailerable trimaran designed by Ian Farriar, LOA 27' x Beam 19' x Draft 5' (14" board up) x 1.3 Tons - Sea anchor: 12-ft. Diameter Para-Tech on 300' x 9/16" nylon three strand rode and 1/2" galvanized swivel - No bridle - Partial trip-line - Deployed in a gale in deep water about 200 miles SSW of Block Island, RI, with winds of 40 knots and seas of 8-10 ft. - Vessel's bow yawed 30° - Drift was estimated to be about 2 n.m. during 10 hours at sea anchor.
The F-27 trimaran is trailerable, fast and seaworthy. Steven Wann used a para-anchor on his in a gale seventy miles off the New Jersey coast. Transcript:
I feel that I should mention that I have made one Pacific and four Atlantic crossings. While all of my ocean crossing have been in monohulls, I have made a few ocean passages in multihulls and expect that I will be doing more multihull ocean sailing in the future. I am aware of the differences between monos and multis, especially in regards to what I call "offshore tactics." For example, I have found that lightweight trimarans like the Corsair series do not go well to windward with waves coming from windward. As Sheldon Bacon mentions in his chapter entitled "Wind Waves" in the latest edition of Coles's Heavy Weather Sailing, seas take some time to build, and the "sea state" often lags behind the "wind state." Thus skippers of multis sailing offshore have to be aware that even though the wind might remain constant in strength and direction over a period of time, the ability of some mutihulls to continue to windward can diminish if the seas build.
In the case of my DDDB form for 19 July '97, it should be noted that the waves were not commensurate in size with the wind force: they were smaller. However, I deployed the sea anchor because
1) the wind and waves were from my destination,
2) I was single-handed and tired,
3) I was in no hurry, and
4) there was sufficient traffic in the area to make me feel that maintaining way and a good lookout would be impossible.
I would like to point out that I was not in any danger, I did not need assistance. In other words, I used the sea anchor not as an emergency device, but as part of my "normal" offshore tactics. I feel this is an important point.
In the case of my DDDB form for 16 August '97, I felt I was in an unsustainable situation: I had considerable gear failure (instrumentation, bowsprit and autopilot mounting, to mention a few), the wind and seas were from my destination and building, the weather forecast was for more of the same for the next two days, and I was exhausted. Thus I felt that I was unable to continue under those situations.
I would add that there are at least three situations in which I would use a sea anchor:
1) "I don't want to continue under the current weather conditions."
2) "I can't continue, but I don't need assistance."
3) "I can't continue and will need assistance when the present weather conditions moderate."
For the second deployment I had removed the trip line and float. I saw no advantage in their use during the first deployment and was concerned that the trip line could foul the chute in some way. Regarding bridles, I felt that Corsair's eyes near the bows of the outer amas were inadequate for the load that might be placed on them, were I to use a bridle. As I see it, the only advantage of a bridle on a multihull is to stop the boat from yawing, and in my case I did not see the yawing to be a problem. The yawing, which I felt was considerable, was in no way apparent belowdecks, and in any case is something that most multihull sailors have probably become accustomed to at ground anchor.
On deployment the first time, I was surprised how easy the movement of Dancer became instantly, and how things quieted down. It was a "time out." This was repeated on the second deployment.
I was also surprised at how much stretch there was in the rode, and how difficult it was to retrieve the rode and the sea anchor. The effort was much greater than just hauling in on a ground anchor rode, for at the time there was still considerable wind and sea. Even though the F-27 only displaces 2600 pounds, considerable effort was required to winch in the rode and sea anchor, and in the time it took to do so I worked up a good sweat. I had run the rode from the port fairlead to starboard of the bow cleat and back along the deck to the port winch, just forward of the cockpit. I would recommend this lead to other F-27 owners. There was so much strain on the rode that it would stretch six inches just from the bow to the winch!
Another surprise was that the sea anchor [without float] took a position not near the surface of the water, but down maybe 30° from parallel to the surface of the water. While I didn't have any chain on the rode, the weight of the sea anchor, fitting, swivel and line were enough to sink the setup considerably, possibly because of relatively light wind conditions [at retrieval time]. On retrieval, I learned to watch the bow drop into a trough and then winch like mad!
File S/T-18, obtained from Steve and Cheryl Bow, Auckland NZ. - Vessel name Labyrinth, hailing port Auckland, Searunner trimaran designed by Jim Brown, LOA 40' 10" x Beam 23' 6" x Draft 6' 11" (3' 6" board up) x 7.5 Tons - Sea anchor: 28-ft. Diameter Australian army cargo parachute on 400' x 3/4" nylon three strand tether and bridle arms of 90' each, with 5/8" galvanized swivel - Partial trip-line - Deployed in a storm in deep water about 270 miles south of Kermadec Islands with winds of 50-60 knots and seas of 30-35 ft. - Vessel's bow yawed 10° - Drift was 6.2 n.m. during 41 hours at sea anchor.
Steve and Cheryl Bow cruised the world aboard their 40-ft. Searunner Labyrinth. On 15 June 1995 (a year after the Queen's Birthday storm) they left Auckland and headed north for Tonga. Two days later they ran into a Force-10 storm about 270 miles south of the Kermadecs. Transcript:
We are a two-handed husband and wife crew. It was our plan to leave NZ on the back of a low that was at that time centered near Mt. Taranaki. Following it was a huge high over Australia and the winds between the two promised fair sailing. No fronts or depressions were forecast or expected from the coming weather. Our first days run was a rolly 155 miles broad reach in a 30 knot SW breeze and we were feeling very happy about things until we discovered water in the bilge at 2200 hrs on the 16th June. A porthole under the wingdeck had blown in and was leaking considerably. We effected a temporary repair and that took us through to daybreak.
At 0800 hrs we changed course and ran off before the wind for 6 hours while I epoxied the portholes closed with underwater epoxy. While we were running off, the latest weatherfax showed that a rapidly deepening low had formed north of Sydney and was heading our way - fast. If we hadn't had to run off to make the repairs we would have been OK, but as it was we were right in its path. Knowing that we were in for a rough night I went to bed, leaving Cheryl to do a long watch so that I would be fresh for the evening. When I awoke at 1800 hrs the winds were gusting over 30 knots from the NE and Cheryl had hove-to. We had two reefs in the main and the stays'l set; at this point the boat was comfortable despite the worsening seas and we settled down to sit it out. The 2000 hrs fax showed a second rapidly deepening low had formed behind the first.
Between 1400 and 1930 hrs the barometer dropped from 1005 bar to 998 bar. When the winds reached 50 knots and the barometer was still dropping we had to make the decision - run off, or set the parachute. It was 1930 hrs and very dark, we could see the approaching seas only by the foam as they broke, and the spray was being driven horizontally by the wind. The seas were still building and had reached the unstable stage, with steep faces and rolling crests. We carry a SEABRAKE on board which was set up ready to go, however we opted to set the parachute for two reasons: 1) We were both very tired and probably not up to spending a considerable time helming a running yacht in steep seas; and 2) The NE wind would have been driving us back towards the North Island of NZ. With further depressions developing and no early respite expected, the parachute was selected as the better option.
We set the parachute. We had never set it before, however I had read all the information I could acquire and had watched the video prepared by Para-Tech. It had been assembled as per their instructions, complete with one of their deployable storage bags. It was deployed over the weather bow while still hove-to, and worked like a charm. It was gusting 60 knots and more by the time we had it set, and it was difficult to see or work on deck because of the driven spray. As the tension went onto the tether we were swung gently around bow to and then sat there. The hard part was getting the stays'l and main down and under control in the high winds. The centerboard had already been pulled up.
At 2400 hrs the barometer had dropped to 993 bar and the wind speed was rarely below 60 knots. The motion of the boat was good, just a steady rise and fall to the waves with an occasional loud BANG! as a cross swell broke against the hulls. Despite my previous fears of excessive strain on the yacht the bows were NEVER pulled through any of the breaking crests, instead rising up and over them. There was tremendous strain on the bridle and tether, which "hummed" at times. Despite the noise the motion was easy enough for us to get sleep and cook between watches.
Waves continued to break on either side of the yacht, but we appeared to sit in a "slick" behind the parachute where there was only foam. We rigged nylon chafe protection on the bridle near exposed metalwork on the yacht and I checked for chafe every hour, both there and at the snatchblocks on the bows. At the end of 41 hours we still did not have any chafe. A mistake I made was in relying on the hydraulic steering ram to hold the rudder amidships. The force on the rudder from cross swells and rogue waves was substantial enough to drive the hydraulic ram to the end of its travel, and the rudder hard over. This was cured by shackling sheets [ropes] direct to the rudder and winching/cleating it off amidships.
We sat to the parachute for 41 hours; the wind went up and down averaging 45 knots and sometimes dropping below 30 knots. At 1230 hrs on the 19th June the wind was still 30 knots but had backed to NW. We opted to pull up the parachute and make a run for it north to try and get above the depressions. All went well retrieving the chute except that just as I was about to pull it in over the side of the boat the retrieval line ripped off the apex of the parachute and the chute filled again! We were drifting broadsides at the time and making quite a bit of way. I nearly got pulled over the side and lost most of the skin off my hands while trying to re-cleat the tether. This could not have happened with a purpose-built sea anchor! A 28 ft diameter parachute is almost impossible to retrieve in those conditions with no retrieval line and only two crew. We tried for over two hours and in the end I had to cut it free.
If we had known what we would face for the next 48 hours we would have stayed on the chute. We started off hard-on into the wind which was averaging 25-30 knots. This became a tight reach as it was more comfortable. Seas were rough and confused and repeatedly broke against the hulls.... Each time we hit one we would stop dead in our tracks. The noise was incredible and with the front of the boat continually getting swept by the seas I was worried that something would get broken if we didn't slow down (it turned out that we did break a stringer in the forward section of the stbd float).
On 21st of June we finally ran out of the weather. Incredibly a fourth low had formed and taken the same path as the other three, but by this time we had climbed out above it. We would never put to sea for an ocean passage again without a parachute.
File S/T-16, obtained from Gary Cagné, Vancouver, BC. - Vessel name Spirit Of Tsitika, hailing port Victoria BC, trimaran, designed by Jay Kantola, LOA 35' 6" x Beam 24' x Draft 5' 6" (2' 6" board up) x 3 Tons - Sea anchor: 24-ft. Diameter military chest reserve on 300' x 9/16" nylon three strand tether and bridle arms of 50' each, with 5/8" stainless steel swivel - No trip-line - Deployed in a gale in deep water about 50 miles off the coast of Baja California with winds of 35-45 knots and seas of 12-15 ft. - Vessel's bow yawed 10° - Drift was estimated to be 9 n.m. during 17 hours at sea anchor.
There is a certain grace and elegance associated with Jay Kantola's designs that one has to see to appreciate. His boats tend to remind one of certain benign and beautiful birds that roam across vast oceans on great wings. Not the feisty, competitive, acrobatic Frigate bird, whose flying skills and prize-winning antics one might associate with one of Richard Newick's masterpieces, but perhaps the magnificent, gentle, white-winged, black-browed Albatross of the Southern Ocean.
At least this was Shane Victor's impression when he first saw Spirit Of Tsitika tied up in Santa Barbara harbor. Two months after visiting with him, Gary Cagné and his companion Claire ran into a gale off the coast of Baja California. Transcript:
On the way to Cabo San Lucas we discovered an incredible lagoon on the east side of Mag Bay, in which we spent several days lounging and hiking and bird watching. It's finally beginning to warm up a bit. Just left this morning with a nice offshore light westerly filling the new spinnaker we found at a thrift store in Santa Barbara for $25!
As you can see we finally had a good opportunity to use the parachute sea anchor, and we're ever happy we did. We had the wind on the nose for 24 hours or more with torrential rain the whole time, and with a long offshore tack we ended up 65 miles NW of Cape Lazaro (near Bahia Santa Maria) when the wind got up to 35 kts at 1500 hrs. So we opted to set the chute, rather than continue beating to windward in those conditions. As soon as we were deployed (the deployment bag worked fantastic) the wind increased to 45 kts and gusting higher, with a steep short chop (8-10 ft.) on top of a large westerly swell of about 12-15 ft.
The seas lengthened later on as the gale continued, enabling the bows to ride a bit higher. Initially they were picking up the tops of the [short, steep] waves and spraying the whole boat, pouring rain all the while and the barometer continuing to drop. Pretty easy ride once the waves began lengthening, and about 0300 next morning the wind eased off a bit and switched to SW 25-30. By first dawn we had a light westerly and very confused seas coming from various directions. We got underway after winching in the chute (very easy) and arrived safely, with no damage, later that night in Bahia Santa Maria. The next day we heard about Whistlin, a 37-ft. Searunner and several other boats that ended up having to power [jog] through the storm, suffering miscellaneous damage - mostly losing gear over the side and diesel problems. One monohull suffered a knockdown, and the group closer in to shore reported gusts to 60 kts! Whistlin has a surplus parachute on board but still needs to re-sew the shroud lines to it.
Note: When we retrieved the parachute, we found that the float line had twisted itself many times, and even part of it was caught in two of the parachute shroud lines. So we learned that it is necessary to have a swivel for the float line as well. Claire and I are feeling more confident now that we've had our first parachute sea anchor experience and know how well it works.
File S/C-19, obtained from a number of reliable sources. - Vessel name Bayete, hailing port London, UK, designed by Lock Crowther & C. Barreau, LOA 44' x Beam 23' x Draft 5' 11" (2' 2" boards up) x 6.2 Tons - Sea anchor: 18-ft. Diameter Para-Tech on 400' x 5/8" nylon braid tether and bridle arms of 60' each, with 5/8" stainless steel swivel - No trip line - Deployed in a severe Mediterranean Mistral in deep water about 150 miles South of Marseille, with winds of 80 knots and seas of 25-30 ft. - Vessel was capsized for undetermined reasons with loss of four lives.
The following information concerning the tragic capsize of Bayete came to Victor Shane by way of a number of sources, among them Jean Pierre Prade of Catana, to whom we are grateful, and George Brandes, who was kind enough to forward numerous French newspaper articles concerning the tragedy, to whom we are also indebted. Brandes is the owner of a sister ship almost identical to Bayete.
From a number of French newspapers, among them Le Var (nice-matin), Victor Shane - with the assistance of a translator - has been able to obtain the following outline. On 3 November 1995 a severe Mediterranean Mistral packing 80-knot winds and 25-30 ft. seas struck two yachting "flotillas" without much warning. Numerous sailboats participating in the Transat des Alizés ("Transatlantic Trade Winds Rally" - from San Remo to Point-à-Pître) and the Transat des Passionnés ("Transatlantic Rally for Sailing Enthusiasts" - from Hyères to Santa Cruz de Tenerife in the Canaries) were devastated by the storm offshore about 150 miles south of Marseille. While French meteorological services were at first blamed for the disaster, they did broadcast the morning of Friday, November 3, two storm warnings calling for Force 10 winds. Others found reason to criticize the race organizers and participants for their "lack of judgment" for going ahead with the race instead of seeking safe haven somewhere.
As EPIRBs were activated and maydays started coming in, rescue planes and helicopters of the French government, as well as French Naval forces, went all out to do what they could under trying circumstances. A hundred vessels set out on the Transat des Alizés; four were lost. According to press reports filed at the time the Italian yacht Parsifal sank with one dead, five missing (afterwards lost). Three members of the crew of Cristalin 3 were also helicopter-lifted to hospitals on Minorca. From the dismasted Maiaco 2 off Marseilles came distress calls and the efforts to save it and Parsifal went forward feverishly. Three persons of French nationality were rescued from Maiaco 2. The yacht Ango 2 was also dismasted. A vessel setting out from Cagliari rescued that crew and put them aboard a Greek freighter making for Marseilles.
As for the Transat des Passionnés, it was Bayete - the subject of this DDDB file - which signaled two dead, two missing and one survivor. Richard Charington survived twelve hours in frigid waters until a French Navy helicopter could make the 200 kms through the storm to save him. Charington was exhausted and suffering form hypothermia when the helicopter reached him. He said "I saw one of them drown!" before fainting.
From Chantier Catana's initial Communiqué concernant l'accident de BAYETE ("Communiqué concerning the BAYETE accident") Victor Shane - with the assistance of a translator - has been able to infer the following hypothetical scenario. We would like to emphasize that it is hypothetical - we are not dealing with known and verifiable facts. The capsize occurred in pitch black night. According to reliable sources, among them Catana's Jean Pierre Prade, the sole survivor - Richard Charington - was not a sailor, took no part in the setting of the para-anchor, was in his bunk at the time and, apart from possibly hearing a loud noise prior to the capsize, is to this day unclear about what might have happened:
Bayete chose not to leave at the beginning of the Transat des Passionnés on Tuesday, November 1, 1995 because of winds announced for that very evening. Friday morning Bayete got weather information from an unknown "German source" which called for increasing calm. To wit, Bayete's first few hours at sea were in fact under a light spinnaker, and later under power, a confirmation to the crew of the forecast they had received.
A large swell with no wind made the crew seasick. At mid-day a wind arose from the northwest and quickly gained in force. Bayete's crew, already worn out with seasickness, reduced sail. By nightfall the conditions were already serious - crew exhausted, no one with the strength to take the wheel - and it was decided to set out Bayete's safety gear, a "para-anchor" or heavily reinforced parachute to be submerged as a sea anchor and to be fixed to the vessel by a nylon line 150 meters long. Around eight in the evening (20h) the para-anchor was made fast by a bridle attached to the port stem and to the center of the forward beam - (French: Sur Bayete le para-anchor est ammarré par une patte d'oie sur l'étrave bâbord et le centre de la poutre avant vers 20h). The entire crew had taken shelter inside, two remaining dressed for rough weather while the rest undressed for bed. Around ten (22h) the vessel heeled sharply to port, the starboard hull lifted up and Bayete capsized.
The five crew made it to the survival deck - (French panneau de survie - the flat underwing area between the two main hulls). They found the anchor line lying across the vessel between the hulls, a fact which led them to think the vessel had pitchpoled to stern.
One of the crew set off with a rescue buoy [EPIRB] which he activated outside the vessel, but unfortunately a wave tore the device out of his hands. The helicopter which came to the rescue found the buoy right away but took a number of hours to find Bayete because the moon was no longer to be seen. When the vessel was at last found only one survivor was winched aboard the helicopter and taken to Toulon in a state of severe hypothermia.
The most reliable report of conditions is that of the C.R.O.S.S. MED rescue team, which noted 70 knot winds at 340°, which whipped up to 80 knots at the time of the rescue, and that in seas eight meters high. A number of vessels were in distress at the same time. Parsifal sank with six souls lost and three other vessels were abandoned following helicopter winching off of the crew after sustaining serious damage.
In subsequent fax communications Jean Pierre Prade informed Shane that the capsized Bayete had been towed to Corsica. She was not too badly damaged. None of the mooring cleats had been broken. Naval personnel had indicated that the para-anchor was still made fast. The forward aluminum beam, housing the seagull striker and the anchor roller, to which one leg of the bridle seems to have been led, was broken in the middle, "but the break was in the direction of the pull of the stay, probably on account of the strains on the rig when the vessel was capsized."
Like Jean Pierre Prade, we can only agonize and speculate as to what happened. Perhaps the catamaran was struck by a rogue wave. Perhaps the "half-bridle" that seems to have been used, in spite of instructions to the contrary, did not afford sufficient leverage to keep her fully facing into the seas. Or perhaps the lines and/or parachute were not correctly deployed in the dark and partially fouled, or perhaps it was any combination of the above. At this stage, instead of engaging in idle speculation, one should rather focus on what is known, and what could have been done to preserve the lives of those men. For example, since it is known that the forward aluminum cross-member was broken in the middle, and since one leg of the bridle does seem to have been led over the anchor roller situated there, Victor Shane feels compelled to take this opportunity - once and for all - to close this window of vulnerability on ocean going catamarans. Never attach one arm of the bridle, or even a single anchor rode, to the crossbeam - it just is not strong enough. See the Catamaran Bridle Advisory for the correct attachment of a bridle.
This was a terrible tragedy. Terrible because, with just a little more planning and foresight four lives might have easily been spared. It was reported that the sole survivor was the only one wearing a life vest, for example. The use of safety harnesses may have kept them from being swept off the slippery underwing. All might easily have come through in survival suits, or wet suits, and/or a life raft. Bayete was equipped with everything from microwave oven to radar to desalinization unit to the latest electronics and numerous safety devices, including a certified life raft. Tragically, four lives were still lost when she capsized.
Apart from re-emphasizing the need for full-width bridles there is another - much more important - lesson to be learned here as well, namely that one should always have a plan to put into effect in case of capsize. As evidenced by the 118-day survival of Rose-Noëlle's crew after she went over (File S/T-7), capsize need not be the end of the world. To quote the words of renowned multihull designer Jim Brown:
A multihull capsize is not by itself an ultimate disaster. There is a wide gap between capsize and actual loss of life. Given the proper preparations and equipment, and a suitable capsize survival technique, turning over is not nearly as threatening - as final - as the familiar once-and-for-all finish of a boat that's sunk.
Sea anchors and drogues, properly rigged and deployed, will go a long way to prevent capsize on multihulls. Clearly however, beyond a certain point, say Force 12, a great deal will remain uncertain regardless of the tactic being used. Beyond such a point there is a crying need for a standardized capsize protocol.
The fundamental safety asset that multihulls have is that 99% of them are unsinkable. Bayete may have capsized, but unlike the monohull Parsifal she did not sink. Parsifal went down to the bottom. Bayete has been re-fitted and is now sailing the Mediterranean again. Although she turned turtle, there was nevertheless that sufficiency of food, water and flotation in her upturned hulls to sustain human life, at least until rescue. What was lacking here was the means - carefully laid out plan - for utilizing them.
Multihull sailors - in particular those sailing modern catamarans - MUST have a capsize survival strategy before they go offshore. All crew members must be informed as to what that strategy is, where the equipment - survival suits, EPIRB, life raft, emergency lighting, portable VHF, calamity pack, etc. - are located, and how they can be reached and activated in the initial period of panic and disorientation that usually follows capsize - those are the critical moments. The crew must be made to understand that capsize is not the end of the world. They must be handed a concrete guideline - standard procedure - to this effect. We have placed the skeletal framework of such a guideline in Appendix VII of this publication.
Four members of the sailing fraternity were lost in this tragedy. Jean-Claude Batault, Bayete's owner, his brother Philippe, associates Henri Cailau and Pascal Metois are no longer with us. We are all diminished by their passing. We bid defiance to the sea in honor of their memory, resolved to double our efforts against an ancient adversary. This means heightened awareness, education, preparation, organization and readiness. It means never taking anything for granted about the sea, and always remembering the last paragraph of the official inquiry on the Fastnet tragedy of 1979:
In the 1979 race the sea showed that it can be a deadly enemy, and that those who go to sea for pleasure must do so in the full knowledge that they may encounter dangers of the highest order.
File S/C-15, obtained from Rob Mansell-Ward, UK - Vessel name Orinoco Flo, hailing port in the UK, catamaran, designed by Nick Bailey, LOA 40' x Beam 24' x Draft 8' (18" boards up) x 5 Tons - Sea anchor: 18-ft. Diameter Para-Tech on 400' x 5/8" nylon braid tether and bridle arms of 50'(?) each, with 5/8" stainless steel swivel - No trip line - Deployed in a storm in the Agulhas current 98 miles from Richards Bay (South Africa) with winds of 70 knots and seas of 45 ft. - Angle of yaw and rate of drift unspecified.
Christmas 1995 Victor Shane received this feedback from Commander Rob Mansell-Ward from Durban, South Africa. Transcript:
Dear Para-Anchors, you asked for accounts of your product in use. Herewith my experience, together with the mistakes I made and the outcome. I hope it is instructive to future users and yourself, and that an element of Schadenfreude will make it as enjoyable for those who read it as it was miserable for us. The boat, Orinoco Flo. I built her myself. She is a fairly "hi-tech" catamaran of 40', vacuum-bagged Airex/glass sandwich in epoxy. Carbon wingmast. Daggerboards, lifting rudders, transom hung. Spartan but tough - not a race-boat.
We are entering the final stages of a pretty long circumnavigation which took us from the UK across Biscay (January '94) to the Canaries. Across the Atlantic to the Caribbean, thence through the Canal to Costa Rica, on via Isla Coco down to the Galapagos and on to Easter Island - September '94. Thence conventionally across the Pacific via the Tuamotus, French Polynesia, Tonga and Fiji to Brisbane, Australia. We went southabout Australia via the Bass Strait and hung in the Southwest of Australia, surfing before continuing to Indonesia via Darwin (from Northwest Cape 1,500 miles to windward - what a joy!) We set sail on October 21st from Sumatra for Mauritius, and left La Reunion Island for Africa just ahead of intense tropical cyclone Agnelle. We were 24 hours out of Durban in 28° South and 34° East, prematurely congratulating ourselves on being clever sailors not to get cycloned, when we got Southern-Oceaned instead.
This is not the place for a discussion of the peculiarities of the weather in this part of the world. Suffice to say, for one reason or another - it's a bit of a bastard. Weather reporting in this area is hampered by a paucity of satellites and shore stations. In addition, the South African weather center is in Pretoria [inland]. It appears they give a priority to the farmers, according to Chris Bonnet of the Ocean Sailing Academy here in Durban. I enclose a weatherfax from the day before we got hit. You see there are four secondaries and I doubt that this is the whole story. The most severe weather I had experienced before (I was in the British Royal Navy in the middle sixties and joining HMS Jaguar in Mauritius steamed directly into a tropical cyclone on my first night on board!) was an English Channel storm - also the product of secondary depressions forming along the cold front of a tired larger depression. A further point is this: the High coming in behind the front intensified quite dramatically, reaching something over 1040.
The crew consisted of myself and two young, non-sailing surfers - one English, one Kiwi. At 0600, 30 November 1995, I remarked in the log that we had "8 oktas of stratiform cloud" and a sunrise "definitely by Turner." Also, I saw my first Wandering Albatross since the Great Australian Bight. I wrote, unfortunately in the circumstance, quoting the Ancient Mariner:
And all averred I'd killed the bird
That made the wind to blow
I should add that we'd been at sea a fair while, and these were by no means odder-than-usual remarks. The wind had backed North. I expected a bit of a fuss along the lines you get when two Southern Highs change places. The wind goes round the clock with a puff before giving something like a steady tradewind again. I thought we were too far North to get storm winds. I see from the log we averaged 9 to 10 knots for the following 10 hours. At 1500 the wind backed further to NW and dropped to zero at 1600. At 1900 we had a partially clearing sky followed by a lot of lightning. Then, by starlight, we noted the approach of some distinctly sinister low-level black clouds - like smoke almost. I rebuked Jon who was watchkeeper for dropping all sail, and insisted that he haul it all up again! (Oh the folly of experience!) Suddenly we had very strong wind from the SW. We belayed hoisting the jib which we had been in the process of reefing (no roller-furler... Orinoco Flo is fractional-rigged and has a relatively small, 20 sq. meter jib) and hove-to on the port tack.
Heaving-to under wingmast is a relatively new item in the seamanship manual. I had read about it twice, once when the delivery crew of a Tektron 35 cat described it in Multihull International Magazine (they were delivering it to Europe from Canada) and again when Randy Smyth and a French crew, having a go at the Jules Verne Trophy on a French cat,- "parked her," in their words, in 80-knot winds off Cape Horn. You lower your windward daggerboard halfway, raise your leeward one totally; you rotate the mast to windward and tie your tillers off to lee, and the result (for us) was a fairly controlled fore-reach at 3.5 knots 100 degrees off the wind. In other words, we made WNW. Overnight we made 35 miles in that direction. I seem to remember thinking that Mozambique was about 36 hours away!
The disadvantage of heaving-to in this manner is that you are beam on to the seas. My log is neither enlightening nor coherent from this point on. I did seem to write down that the Ampair (wind generator) was "going moderately ape" (not Cruising Club medal stuff this). There is then a bit of a gap overnight whilst Mark and I sat up in foul weather gear anxiously watching the sea through the doors of the saloon. Nothing too spectacular at first. But we were impressed when some whitewater pitched over the boom whilst filling the cockpit. That is a clear pitch of at least nine feet, and if that was the top 20% of the wave perhaps.... Shortly thereafter the wind built to something well in excess of storm force and certainly achieved 70 knots. (American friends on the yacht Mora were in Richards Bay 98 miles from us at the time of the storm and the wind was recorded at 69 knots in the harbor there). Quoting from an article by Dr. Eckart Schumann, "Giant Wave - Anomalous Seas of the Agulhas Current:"
"Many waves, in fact, break because of their extreme steepness. The mechanism involved is not only a `squeezing up' of the wave profile but also an actual transfer of energy between the current and the waves. The extent of the transfer depends upon the current's strength and the wave's period.... a shorter-period wave will increase in height more than a longer period wave."
So the earlier "smaller" big waves were steeper because of
A) shorter wave length,
B) stronger current.
Remembering your remarks about the sailor who was hauled up-wind by his para-anchor off Pt. Conception, when we finally got out the para-anchor we discovered from the GPS that the current temporarily reversed under the weight of the sustained storm force wind and we made 1/2 knots northwards for a while. So, the fully-developed sea produced a longer wave-length and the current reversal reduced the energy transfer to the wave. Hence the more orderly later, larger, fully-developed sea.
On with the tale. By eight in the morning my nerves were fairly stretched (I'm not terribly tolerant of sustained fear). I looked out at what the dawn revealed and felt distinctly depressed with the situation. There was a very big sea running and some quite impressive chunks of whitewater breaking off the top. I've been surfing for thirty years and my two crew members were good surfers. We had surfed very big waves at Ombak Tujuh in Java. Surfers tend to call wave size down on what an oceanographer might call it. We reckoned 45 ft. I guess it was the doublers and triplers that kept us a bit shaky. Still, we probably wouldn't have set the para-anchor if the following had not occurred. (What? Go up on that scary trampoline netting and get strained through it like a pilchard? Not on your life.) A wave struck us hard on the port quarter at 0800. The port tiller - jerked by the movement of the rudder through the water as the boat slid sideways under the weight of the wave - snapped like a twig. (The tiller was constructed of laminated mahogany and carbon fiber). The thought of breaking the second tiller overcame our inertia and we decided the para-anchor had to be deployed.
Having managed without the para-anchor for two years and 30,000 miles, and having bought it on the principle that if you have an umbrella it certainly won't rain, I'm sure you will understand that the instructions had long since gone adrift, dissolved no doubt, in the solution of seawater and other more or less toxic effluent that swills about in most well-ordered cruising boats from time to time. In addition, the carefully spliced bridle lines and clean, break-free rode that had been set aside for use with the para-anchor two years previously had long since been co-opted into more worthwhile employment as anchor lines, mooring lines and baggy-wrinkle for crossing-the-line ceremonies. Some was lost, some chafed-through and some broken. In the event, the para-anchor went out without a float, without a recovery line, without a bridle and with four knots in the rode. In addition I made the mistake of placing the anchor chain next to the parachute and that made recovery a particularly tedious procedure. However I did remember the critical point - TO GET LOADSA LINE OUT. And it took quite a while to get it all out, one meter at a time as the bows pumped it up. Actually, we were lucky to get it out at all as I did set up a bridle which fouled - we released it prematurely and started to run over it as we continued for-reaching relentlessly. And you have to know: the load is phenomenal once the 18' diameter parachute pops open.
We came up head on to the seas. Bliss - Hamlet cigar, TV-ad music (Pachelbel's Canon). We still stressed a bit on the perfectly reasonable assumption that our cocktail of lines & chain, and our cat's cradle of knots (double sheetbends) would certainly part. But no... the worst that happened from then on was a sharp jerk as the bows were yanked down as we came up over a big steep one. Neither shall I describe the view from the netting down into the hellish pit of a steep one, nor the view up onto the deep blue walls with the crests hanging up there - awful and sublime, and slightly higher than the sky - nor the absurdity of clinging to the netting with your toes and fingers like a Galapagos Marine Iguana while deploying the para-anchor, because all that is an accepted part of the fun of going sailing. Thanks... the thing works! We actually slept that night as the storm blew itself out! We will get it more right the next time, though, as they say in Morocco, "only Allah is perfect."
File S/C-11, obtained from Thomas E. Cooke, Euclid, OH. - Vessel name Battle Cat, hailing port Sandusky, OH, catamaran, designed by Stiletto Catamarans, LOA 29' 4" x Beam 16' x Draft 48" (12" boards up) x 1.4 Tons - Sea anchor: 12-ft. Diameter Para-Tech on 300' x 1/2" nylon braid tether and bridle arms of 50' each, with 1/2" stainless steel swivel - Partial trip line - Deployed in a low system in shallow water (45 feet) on Lake Erie, about 30 miles NW of Cleveland with winds of 40 knots and choppy seas of 8-10 ft. - Vessel's bow yawed 10° - Drift was estimated to be about 300' per hour during 10 hours at sea anchor.
Another difficult situation involving a lightweight multihull, shallow water, low visibility (night), uncertain position, crew fatigue, impaired judgment, vicious squalls and nasty seas, all brought under control by the use of a parachute sea anchor. Transcript:
I have sailed Lake Erie now for four years with the sea anchor on my boat. This is the first time I had a real life-threatening situation where options were limited, and thank God the sea anchor was one of them. To make a long story short, we tried to beat a low pressure system moving in from the southwest, and couldn't. In our haste to outrun this system I made some bad navigation calls, and we ended up following a freighter for about an hour and a half out into Lake Erie's open water, mistaking its lights for the lights of Cedar Point Amusement Park at Sandusky Bay. By the time we figured out we were following a freighter, weather conditions began to deteriorate.
It was 3:00 a.m. when we saw lightning in the west. Diminishing visibility along with increased wind and waves quickly followed. Within 15 minutes we went from 10 knots of wind, 1-2' waves, a starry sky and some lights visible on shore, to 20-25 knots of wind, 5-6' waves, a black sky, literally no horizon and thunder on the increase. The only means of navigation on board were two Horizon compasses. We had no auto-pilot and had been up for 20 hours. We were extremely fatigued and totally disoriented. With no horizon and our brains not functioning too well, (extreme fatigue does funny things to the mind) we decided to deploy the sea anchor and wait until daylight before doing anything else. We deployed the sea anchor in text book fashion. We have the DSB (deployable storage bag). Nothing fouled up, it was almost too easy. The boat slowly drifted downwind and when the rode ran out she swung straight into the wind. At that point we just rode the waves. We lashed sails down and made sure everything was secured and that was all there was to it. On board with me was my sailing buddy, Tom, and my two sons Michael & Bruce. Mike is 9 yrs. old, Bruce is 12 yrs. old and Tom is 37 yrs. old. We contacted the Coast Guard to let them know approx. where we were & what we were doing. At this time the wind was blowing a steady 28 knots & seas were building. It was hard to see how big the waves were with just a flashlight, but the white caps were all over & easy to see.
Tom & I went down below to get some sleep while my son Bruce sat in the cockpit and kept an eye out for freighter lights. By daybreak the wind was blowing steadily in the upper 30's and low 40's, occasionally hitting 48 & 50 knots. The waves were averaging 8' with 3 sets of 10'+ waves every 13th wave. The high wind & waves lasted about six hours & eventually died down to 20-25 knots and 5-6' waves. While we were on sea anchor, listening to channel 16, the Cleveland, Detroit and Fairport Coast Guards were looking for two fishing boats reported overdue the previous night. Both were power boats, one with two adults the other an 18' Bayliner with two adults and three children on board. I can't tell you the compassion we had for them knowing what they had to be dealing with, and at the same time the security we felt while at sea anchor. By the way, both boats and all aboard were found safe the following day, having been blown across the lake to Canada.
Eventually when the wind & waves died down we just powered up to the chute trip line, pulled it, the chute collapsed, we pulled it on board and the rest is history.
A few observations:
1) I never ever thought I would be caught out on Lake Erie in those conditions and survive to tell about it.
2) The sea anchor worked better than I had ever imagined. The boat rode the waves beautifully, up and down, never burying a bow. Came close, but never happened.
3) We would get sea sick only if we went down below and kept our eyes open. If we went down to sleep we were OK. We spent most of our time in the cockpit looking at the waves and how well the sea anchor worked.
4) The boat yawed very little, almost unnoticeably. We tracked drift by movement past commercial fishing nets.
5) The security we felt while being at anchor under those conditions was unbelievable. I would never have thought it possible.
6) After this experience, it is my opinion that no boat should venture offshore without the safety and security of a good sea anchor, tailored for specific boats. At the time, the sea anchor was more important to us than any other piece of safety equipment we had, including the VHF and EPIRB.
File S/M-35, obtained from Robert J. Bragan, Bethesda MD. - Vessel name Javelin, hailing port West River - Fast 40 sloop, designed by Alan Adler, LOA 40' x LWL 36' x Beam 8' x Draft 7.5' (with keel down) x 3 Tons - Lifting keel (fiberglass-encapsulated 2000 lb. lead bulb on end) - Sea anchor: 12-ft. Diameter Para-Tech on 300' x 5/8" nylon braid rode with 1/2" stainless steel swivel - No trip line - Deployed in a gale in deep water about 300 miles west of Bermuda, with winds of 30-40 knots and seas of 12-15 feet - Vessel's bow yawed 30° with riding sail on backstay - Drift was about 5 n.m. during 12 hours at sea anchor.
An ultralight ocean racer designed by Alan Adler, this yacht was one of fifteen Fast 40's built in the 1980's by North End Shipyards of Rockland, Maine. Given her narrow beam, slender profile, low displacement, and high-tech construction, she was aptly named Javelin by her owner.
En route to Bermuda in May 1996, Javelin ran into bad weather and hove to a sea anchor. After the weather moderated she got underway again. And that's when her 2000 lb. lifting keel fell off. The yacht rolled over and subsequently had to be abandoned. Rob Bragan's brief hand-written note on the back of the DDDB form reads, "the 12 ft. sea anchor performed beautifully once anchor riding sail set on backstay."
The following is a transcript of Rob Bragan's article about the incident, appearing in the September/October 1996 issue of Ocean Navigator (reproduced by permission of Ocean Navigator Magazine):
We sailed Javelin extensively on the [Chesapeake] bay in all sorts of weather, including winter gales. Experience caused us to add stand-up blocks on the cabin top for double-sheeting the trysail, as well as a 12-foot Para-Tech sea anchor, a wind vane self steering system, anchor riding sail, detachable furling system for the Yankee jib, and many other improvements. In two years I hauled the boat twice, initially for a survey that found no problems and later to fair and paint the keel and hull. The keel assembly [2000 lb. fiberglass encapsulated lead bulb] was inspected each time, but only after losing Javelin did I learn that the previous owner had found broken bolts among those that secure the Delrin blocks and had replaced all four bolts twice. (A good maintenance log might have saved the boat by recording such details for subsequent owners).
On Friday, May 24, 1996, after picking up a rented Viking life raft and an ACR Type B 121.5/243 MHz EPIRB (406 MHz units cannot be rented) from Outfitters/USA services in Annapolis, we left our mooring in Galesville, MD....
Transitioning from Chesapeake Bay sailing to ocean sailing as night fell, we left the coast behind. Our course of 150° magnetic led to a waypoint NE of Cape Hatteras where the [Gulf] stream was only 80 nautical miles wide.... A pod of 30 to 50 spotted dolphins greeted us as we entered the stream, and they stayed until a tail slapped to starboard calling them off to the south. Were they moving away from impending bad weather?
The wind strengthened from the NNE on May 30, reaching a sustained 28 to 32 knots (Force 7) at the masthead anemometer by afternoon. The sea state increased from a few feet in the morning to 10 to 15 feet with occasionally larger, breaking waves, by evening. The 65° water temperature, knotmeter, and GPS readings all suggested we were in the wrong quadrant of a cold eddy which was aggravating the sea state. We put the second drop boards in place, secured the sliding hatch and hand-steered a beam reach, turning up and over bigger waves. The back sides of some waves were as steep as the fronts, requiring another turn at the wave top to set a good angle down the back and avoid slamming the boat....
After battling the waves for hours, the prospects of further exhausting ourselves with hand steering or deploying a drogue and losing miles by running off to the SSW were unacceptable. Lying ahull or heaving to were out of the question since Javelin had been too lively in past attempts and since the steep, breaking waves could roll the boat if she were caught broadside. Our position was approximately 400 miles from Bermuda, 10 to 20 nm south of the rhumb line. It was the right time to deploy the sea anchor. I had made up a dual-purpose sea anchor/drogue bridle of 3/4 inch three strand nylon line a few weeks before that would be strong and resist chafe. The bridle, shackled to stainless steel lifting plates on the aft end of the keel case, ran forward and through the rubber bow anchor rollers, terminating in a heavy thimble clamped in place. Three hundred feet of 5/8-inch braided nylon anchor rode was now shackled between the bridle thimble and the sea anchor. Strong attachment points on the boat, chafe protection, and a long, braided elastic rode are necessary components of a sea anchor system.
Deployment involved Tim's steering us through a 150° turn to point up into the wind, at which time I fed out the sea anchor float, trip line, deployment bag, and rode from the bow. The boat immediately fell off onto port tack before Tim could drag the trysail down. I fed rode and Tim wrestled sail until finally the rode came taught and we were pulled around.... A few minutes after the messy set, we were riding to the sea anchor and Javelin began her anchor dance. She was sailing through a 90° arc, so that breaking waves threatened to throw her sideways.... Setting the 15- to 20 square-foot anchor riding sail on the backstay with double sheets led forward to the toerails reduced the boat's arc to less than 60°.... With the cockpit secured, we closed ourselves up inside the boat to rest. Both the boat and we had taken a pounding during the last 12 hours. We needed food and sleep....
The next day and a half brought NE winds at 18 to 25 knots and six-to 10-foot seas, so we recovered the sea anchor and set sail that day, continuing on through the night making good speed and staying on course. We lay to the sea anchor on the night of June 1 as the wind clocked to east and strengthened. On June 2 we again set sail, but 20 to 30 knots of wind out of the ESE nearly halted our progress, and we made only 40 nm to the south. Early that evening we again set the sea anchor to hold our position while awaiting a better wind direction. Sounds from the keel that were louder than usual caused Tim to raise it into its case for support....
We awoke on the morning of June 3 to the first beautiful day of the trip. The wind had rounded to the SW at last and moderated to 10 knots. The sky was clear for the first time, the waves were running three to five feet and we only had a couple of hundred miles to go.... We lowered the keel and put the aluminum brace back in place.... Upon recovering the sea anchor, we raised the mainsail. As it filled, the boat heeled a little... a lot... and continued to lay over until flat on her side. It happened so gently.... After pausing for a few seconds, Javelin finished turning turtle, leaving us alongside trying to comprehend what had happened in less than a minute. We climbed onto the hull and peered into the empty keel case. The four bolts that had secured the keel to the Delrin blocks on either side were sheared off, leaving the heads on one side, tails on the other, and nothing but air in between....
After getting over the initial shock, Rob Bragan and son Tim inflated the life raft and quickly resigned themselves to the serious business of survival, diving and retrieving 20 gallons of water, food, blankets etc. from Javelin's upturned hull. The EPIRB was then turned on and the raft allowed to drift free of the mothership.
A short while later they spotted a passing ship and fired off parachute flares, but it did not see them. Just before sunset however, a Coast Guard C-130 roared overhead. Crew members on the aircraft reportedly saw Javelin's upturned hull first, and Bragan reckons that they should have remained tethered to the hull for as long as possible to be easier to see. Later the Italian bulk carrier Ursa Major was diverted to the scene and plucked the waterlogged sailors out of the Atlantic.
File S/C-10, obtained from Rudolph L. Kirse, III, Palm Desert, CA. - Vessel name Banana Split, hailing port Palm Desert, Iroquois Mk II catamaran, designed by McAlphine Downie, LOA 30' 6" x Beam 14' x Draft 5' 6" (18" board up) x 3.5 Tons - Sea anchor: 12-ft. Diameter Para-Tech on 500' x 1/2" nylon three strand tether and bridle arms of 40' each, with 1/2" galvanized swivel - Full trip line - Deployed in a gale in deep water about 200 miles east of New York with winds of 40-50 knots and seas of 18-20 ft. - Vessel's bow yawed 10° - Drift was about 5-6 n.m. during 15 hours at sea anchor.
Rudolph Kirse III, singlehander, mariner and author, was sailing Banana Split to Bermuda from Montauk, Long Island, when the barometer began to fall. The first paragraph of the following is an excerpt from an article entitled Gunkholing, by Rudolph Kirse III, appearing in the March/April 92 issue of Multihulls Magazine (reproduced by permission). The second paragraph is a transcript of the feedback Shane Victor received from Rudolph Kirse III:
By 4 p.m. a storm had sprung up off the south New Jersey coast. It was traveling north, winds gusting to 45 knots and creating 20-25 ft. seas. By 5 p.m. all sails were down, and I was running before the wind... back to Long Island. With a lee shore fast approaching and night setting in, I decided to come about and set a para-anchor on 500' of 1/2" line, with an accompanying float and trip line. It did all, and more, of what it was supposed to do. According to both the GPS and the Loran, I drifted no more than a third of a mile per hour, with the bows held into the waves and only spray coming on board. By noon of next day, the storm had passed (later I learned that three boats had sunk, and one person was lost).
Neither I nor the boat would be here without the sea anchor. This storm came up with no warning (VHF, NOAA, Fax, etc.). Everything worked well on deployment. Boat rode easily with some pounding on hulls (lee boards half down as per your suggestion) rudders up & lashed, virtually no pounding on cabin underside. Chafing was solved on bridle by putting "poly-tubing" on line, 3' sections before eye-splicing, then held in place by whippings. Float was 3' inflated ball type anchor float. At approx. 1:30 p.m. a commercial fishing boat ran over and cut the [full] trip line. Later on had many problems trying to get anchor in - dislocated my wrist while trying to winch in the parachute. Anchor was finally brought in by removing bridle from bow and floating it off, tied to four life jackets [then powering up to the recovery float].
File S/C-8, obtained from Rick Kazprzak, Kodiak, Alaska - Vessel name Catherine Estelle, hailing port Kodiak, "Tonga Tora" catamaran, designed by Derek Kelsall, LOA 36' x Beam 20' x Draft 18" x 4 Tons - Sea anchor: 18-ft. Diameter Para-Tech on 450' x 5/8" nylon three strand tether and bridle arms of 50' each, with 5/8" galvanized swivel - Partial trip line - De-ployed in a storm in the Gulf of Alaska about 350 miles west of Queen Charlotte Island, with winds of 70-80 knots and seas of 30-40 ft. - Vessel's bow yawed 10° - Drift was estimated to be about 5 n.m. during 48 hours at sea anchor.
Linda Kasprzak read the second edition of the DDDB and urged Rick to equip Catherine Estelle with a Para-Tech sea anchor. She also saw to it that tether, bridle, hardware and all fitting were ready to take on the Gulf of Alaska.
Rick and Linda Kasprzak left Kodiak on 13 July 1991, headed for Vancouver Island, 1200 miles as the crow flies straight across the Gulf of Alaska. At the half way point they ran into one major storm, one gale, and one minor gale, spending a total of five days tethered to the sea anchor. There were some anxious moments.
The transcript of an official Coast Guard document (CG Juneau, Archive Number 2285) reads as follows: Urgent Marine Information Broadcast - Communications have been lost with the S/V Catherine Estelle endangered by weather in position 53-05 N, 142-65 W. The vessel is a 37 ft. catamaran with 2 persons on board. Vessels in the vicinity are requested to keep a sharp lookout, assist if possible, and advise the nearest CG station.
At the time of this urgent broadcast Catherine Estelle was being held to survival by the long rode leading the Para-Tech sea anchor. Transcript:
The storm we encountered was a major one with a very quickly dropping barometer (1 millibar every 1/2 hour). At the height of the storm we encountered 35-40 ft. seas. I believe I am under-estimating this as the seas were so big that our GPS could not get a fix at times, because it was being blocked out by the huge waves.
Wind speed increased at the start from 40 to easily over 70 knots. The seas were nothing but white spray, breaking crests and huge waves. We have lived in Kodiak for 15 years and so have experienced many a storm, but have never seen anything like we experienced during those 48 hours. The situation was so bad that we were dressed in survival suits and had the catamaran ready so that if we flipped, we could have access to our EPIRB, survival food and water.
The boat handled very well, but it was unnerving to be held to survival by a thin 5/8" line. Sleep was impossible. The sea anchor definitely saved the boat and I'm sure our lives. It operated flawlessly on those 2 days and the other 3 days during the other 2 gales.
We had 50' bridle arms that went through a specially made SS bow plate, but we had also built a U-bolt to this plate. The bridle was encased in 1/4" thick rubber tubing where it hit metal on the plate. We had a little trouble deploying the sea anchor, mainly because we have a seagull striker in front, plus 2 head stays. But once around all that, we were able to set the anchor just fine. Our catamaran rode these huge seas like a duck rides a wave on the sea anchor. But because the seas were so big, we did have a lot of noise due to waves slapping on the under-body.
The bottom line is that the 18-ft. para-anchor operated as you said it would, and with your help, my wife Lin's forethought, and a well-designed boat, we all did what should have been done and came through a very violent storm and survived with NO damage. Mr. Kelsall must be commended on his fine design of this boat.
Rick & Linda Kasprzak have since logged thousands of miles and used the same sea anchor in other marginal situations. In a letter to your author dated 16 September 1991, Rick wrote about one other episode. At the time Catherine Estelle was beating against 30 knot winds and 10-15' seas when a big wave slammed into her. There was a loud bang. A frantic search revealed that a weld had broken on one of her rudders.
The sea anchor was immediately deployed to bring the situation under control and wait for calmer seas. A radio call to the Canadian Coast Guard brought a response from a nearby fishing boat, with an offer to tow the catamaran to Bella Bella (the nearest port).
In the radio conversation that followed, the skipper of the fishing boat expressed concern about the initial pick-up and transfer of tow line in rough seas. He said he had seen more damage occur in this transfer than in any other situation in all the towing experiences he knew of. Rick Kazperzak:
I said to the captain of the fishing boat, "No problem! Just pick up the trip line connected to the red buoy, pull the chute in, bag it temporarily on deck, then cleat the tether and start your tow."
The fisherman had no problem doing this. He towed Catherine Estelle to a small bay in Bella Bella, and then released the tow - dropped the parachute back in the water and went on his way. Rick Kasprzak:
The point is this: here is another safety use of the sea anchor - towing. Easy pick up of tow line and easy release.
NOTE: When it come to tow lines the Coast Guard will not go along with the above proposition. It has always been the policy of the US and Canadian Coast Guards to use nothing but their own tow lines in all operations. They will not tow a vessel with anything else because they don't want to be liable for failure of the rope - and damage or injury resulting from that failure. See also Captain Bob Proulx's Coast Guard experience in File S/M-23. However, the above proposition is eminently logical when receiving a tow from a friendly fishing boat or pleasure vessel.
File S/M-21, obtained from Captain Eric F. Roos, Mt. Desert, ME. - Vessel name Windcrest, hailing port Bar Harbor, Hinckley Sou'wester yawl, designed by McCurdy and Rhodes, LOA 51' x LWL 37' 6" x Beam 14' x Draft 6' (11' with CB down) x 24 Tons - Full keel & auxiliary centerboard - Sea anchor: 24-ft. diameter Para-Tech on 400' x 3/4" nylon braid and 100' of 5/16" chain with 3/4" stainless steel swivel - Deployed in deep water about 120 miles south of Nantucket Island in a whole gale with winds of 40-50 knots and seas of 20 feet - Vessel's bow yawed 15° - Drift was 14 n.m. during 23 hours at sea anchor.
Windcrest was en route to Bermuda from Bar Harbor when she ran into bad weather. Transcript of feedback obtained from Captain Eric F. Roos:
Para-Anchor was deployed due to deteriorating weather conditions close to the North wall of the Gulf Stream. Our weather forecast indicated that if we continued on our present course a large frontal system would pass over us just as we entered the Gulf Stream. We chose to sail away from the building seas near the stream and set our para-anchor while conditions were still tolerable and we still had daylight.
There was no sudden wind change, but rather a consistent increase in wind speed and building seas (max 50 knots with max 25-30' seas.) Since we deployed our para-anchor before conditions were too bad, the deployment was fairly straightforward. We chose to attach the shackle of the rode directly to our 60# plow anchor's welded cross-bar (v). After seizing the shackles we let out the 400' rode, anchor and 100' of 5/16" chain over the stainless steel bow roller. The weight of the anchor and chain provided an excellent catenary to absorb the shocks we experienced during the worst conditions. Our biggest concern the whole time we sat on the para-anchor was the strength of the cross-bar on the plow anchor. Though it held just fine, I wonder if I should have used a different attachment point.
Windcrest performed very well while on the sea anchor. She yawed from side to side a total of 30° [total arc]. At one point the anchor chain jumped out of the stainless steel roller (we forgot to put pin through top of roller) and found its way down the starboard side and into the stainless steel chock causing only cosmetic damage. Due to the rugged nature of our chocks, we would intentionally place the chain in the chock in the future.
After 23 hours the seas subsided to 15-20' and the winds moderated to less than 25 knots and began coming from a different direction than the seas. At this point Windcrest insisted on pointing into the wind rather than the seas. This caused considerable rolling and was the ultimate reason we retrieved the para-anchor when we did. The smashing/crashing sounds below were enough to make a man go mad. The retrieval was straightforward but more difficult than the deployment. We felt it was next to impossible to retrieve the tackle in an orderly fashion. We ended up with a heaping mess of rode and para-anchor lines. However, when we repacked the gear at a later date it was not as bad as we had anticipated. In summary, I have nothing but good things to say about the para-anchor equipment and would not go offshore without one.
(CAUTION: The steel anchor should be taken off in storms lest a breaking wave smash it against the boat.)
CAUTION: A big, heavy steel anchor may provide added catenary shock absorption hanging on the rode, but in a Fastnet type storm it may also get turned into a lethal object if it gets smashed against the boat by a breaking wave. It should be taken off, and the rode attached the chain itself.
Using Parachutes, Sea Anchors and Drogues to Cope with Heavy Weather – Over 130 Documented Case Histories