S/R-2 Carbon / Kevlar Morrison


Carbon / Kevlar Morrison 24ft classic ocean row boat

24' x 1 Tonne

12-Ft. Dia. Sea Anchor

Force 9 Conditions

File S/R-2, obtained from Chris Martin - Vessel name Bojangles, Carbon / Kevlar 24ft classic ocean row boat designed by Phil Morrison, LWL 24' x Beam 6' x Draft 18" x 1 tonne - Sea anchor: 12-ft. diameter Para-Tech on 80m (260')  x 1/2" polypropylene three strand rode with 3" stainless steel swivel - Full trip line - Deployed during ocean passage in deep water from Choshi, Japan to San Francisco, USA in early September 2009 with winds of 40 knots+ and cycloidal steep breaking waves of 30' - 50' - Drift  during 36 hours at sea anchor is not known.

Chris Martin and Mick Dawson were the first pair of rowers to successfully cross the Pacific Ocean, doing so in 189 Days, 10 Hours and 55 Minutes after an adventure that included storm force winds, running out of food, an onboard fire and, of course, the shear grind of rowing day and night for over 6 months.

Bojangles  is Carbon Kevlar foam sandwich classic hull row boat. Built by Woodvale. Originally intended as a solo the bulkheads were cut into three and the central section angled more vertically to provide the deck space required for two rowers. Because rowing boats are often double ended, with a pointed stern, there is no concern about anchoring from the stern instead of the bow.


Parachute anchor was deployed off the stern (not off the bow). There is a specific mounting position above the rudder for the attachment of the deployment line. This means that all the waves hitting the boat strike the aft cabin but do mean that it is possible to exit the aft cabin without risking a wave breaking over the boat and slamming into the main hatch. It also reduces the wiggle on the boat during the time the boat is deployed as the boat naturally windvanes to point with the wind and waves minimizing lateral motion of the boat.

The deployment line we used was stored on deck between two large cleats about 18" apart allowing easy deployment and storage on recovery.  The deployment line was 1/2" three strand and the recovery line was 1/4". In hindsight a buoyant recovery line with a float fitted would have been better.

S/T-21 Trimaran, Farriar


Trimaran, Farriar

27' x 19' x 1.3 Tons

12-Ft. Dia. Sea Anchor

Force 8 Conditions

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!

S/C-11 Catamaran, Stiletto


Catamaran, Stiletto

29' x 16' x 1.4 Tons

12-Ft. Dia. Sea Anchor

Force 8 Conditions


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.

S/M-36 Arpège 29 Sloop


Arpège 29 Sloop

29' x 3.6 Tons, Low Aspect Fin/Skeg

12-Ft. Dia. Sea Anchor

Force 8-9 Conditions


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

S/M-27 Contessa 26 Cutter


Contessa 26 Cutter

26' x 2.7 Tons, Full Keel

12-Ft. Dia. Sea Anchor

Force 9-10 Conditions

File S/M-28, obtained from Brian Caldwell, Jr., Honolulu, HI - Vessel name Mai Miti Vavau, hailing port Honolulu, Contessa cutter, designed and built by J.J. Taylor and Sons of Toronto, LOA 26' x LWL 21' x Beam 7' 6" x Draft 4' x 2.7 Tons - Full keel - Sea anchor: 12-ft. Diameter Para-Tech on 300' x 3/8" nylon braid rode with 1/2" stainless steel swivel - No trip line - Deployed in a gale about 12 miles east of Pt. St. Johns, South Africa, in shallow water (50 fathoms) with winds of 50 knots and seas of 12 feet - Vessel's bow yawed 30° - Drift was about 3 n.m. during 24 hours at sea anchor.

On 1 June 1995, amidst much fanfare, Brian - "BJ" - Caldwell cast off from the Hawaii Yacht Club aboard his Contessa 26 on the first of 13 planned legs, in an attempt to make it into the Guinness Book of World Records as the youngest person to circumnavigate the globe before his 21st birthday. On 28 September 1995 a flotilla of sailboats and other vessels welcomed BJ back to Honolulu with double the fanfare, as he accomplished his goal.

Mai Miti Vavau of Honolulu. Posing before, BJ Caldwell, was entered in the Guinness Book of Records as the youngest solo circumnavigator at that time. The yacht is a Contessa 26, designed and built by J.J. Taylor & Sons of Toronto. (BJ Caldwell photo).
Mai Miti Vavau of Honolulu. Posing before, BJ Caldwell, was entered in the Guinness Book of Records as the youngest solo circumnavigator at that time. The yacht is a Contessa 26, designed and built by J.J. Taylor & Sons of Toronto. (BJ Caldwell photo).


Don Whilldin, president of Para-Tech Engineering, had sponsored the young man's effort with a sea anchor and a drogue. BJ Caldwell ended up using both drag devices on numerous occasions, declaring them to be the most important pieces of equipment on his boat. Here are some excerpts from the interview conducted by Sailing (December 1966, courtesy of Sailing):

I don't know how our family cruised for six years without this. There's no excuse for leaving on a long cruise without a sea anchor and a drogue.... The sea anchor I used for the first time in the Indian Ocean. Eight days out of Cocos winds were blowing 50 knots. The seas were mountains coming in from all directions. I also used it in hurricane-force winds while rounding the Cape. The blow lasted for an hour and then subsided to about 50 knots.

The smaller drogue kept the mast above the water for about 10,000 punishing miles. I trailed it about 100 feet behind the boat whenever there was a risk of broaching. In the Indian Ocean I often had about 15 percent mainsail and 6 percent jib with the drogue out. I ended up using it for about a week during my 21-day passage from Cocos Island to Mauritius.

Mai Miti Vavau in the Indian Ocean with Para-Tech Delta Drogue in tow (visible left of center). (BJ Caldwell photo).

Here are transcripts of two reports Victor Shane obtained from BJ Caldwell, one dealing with his use of the sea anchor and the other with his use of the drogue. The two categories have been combined into a single file for ease of comparison:

Para-Tech Sea Anchor (12-ft. diameter)

Unique situation - big seas in the Agulhas current [off lower east coast of Africa], but much smaller inside the 100-fathom line. The axis of the current acted as a type of breakwater. Conditions in the current were utterly unpredictable. The seas very confused and powerful. It was much better inside the current line [meaning the area bounded by the current and the coastline]. Initially drogue was used outside of the continental shelf in Agulhas current and in 100 fathoms of water. As the wind increased I moved out of current and into shallow water for deployment of sea anchor. Both the drogue and sea anchor greatly enhanced safety.

The hardest part in deploying the sea anchor was in handling the 300 feet of rode. Rope gets stiff from saltwater and use. I wouldn't say the ride [at sea anchor] was comfortable. It was like a rodeo or a roadstead anchorage with no barrier to the fetch.

The waves broke down the length of the boat and exploded over the cabin top. Main concern: Chafe was definitely a problem. Before I leave on my next trip, I'm going to put a couple of feet of chain into every hundred feet [of tether] so chafe will be a non-issue. I was also concerned that the wind might switch from Nor'east to Sou'west, which would have created the 20-meter freak waves known for breaking ships in the Agulhas current. Fortunately this did not happen. I was able to sleep between switching chafe guards - let's say every couple of hours. The rudder was lashed to one side.


Para-Tech Delta Drogue (36-inch diameter)

My average speed with drogue in tow was approximately four knots. Without the drogue I would have been hitting seven, while averaging 5½ knots. I used the device on and off for the whole trip. Instead of yawing and broaching, the drogue would keep the stern aligned with the seas and allow me to still make four knots - and boil water for coffee. I never had to steer manually. The drogue helped the windvane steer in large following seas.

I've said from day one that conditions in the south Indian Ocean are unique. Because there's no stationary high pressure cell in the Southern Ocean, the systems are continually racing eastward. So at any given time you've got swells coming together from a variety of directions - a washing machine, if you like.

It was blowing a sustained 40 knots the night I got rolled 180°. Because the reinforced trades weren't that strong I abstained from switching to sea anchor. With the wind just a few degrees above a dead run with the drogue out, nothing but the staysail up and the boat sealed up, I heard a deafening roar approaching around midnight. Then everything hit the ceiling, including me. When I finally made it back to the cockpit and looked at my mast I couldn't believe it was still standing. I know it hit me broadside, so I think this is what happened: just before the freak wave broke over the boat the windvane lost the apparent wind in the trough and corrected for the loss of wind. As the boat veered upwind the monster erupted across the hull, rolling the boat through 180°.

Aside from the torn staysail, bent solar panels and a soaked single-sideband radio, the rollover caused no serious damage to the boat.

Mai Miti Vavau sailing out of Honolulu, with Diamond Head Crater in the background.
Mai Miti Vavau sailing out of Honolulu, with Diamond Head Crater in the background.

S/M-26 Bristol Sloop


Bristol Sloop

27' x 3.5 Tons, Full Keel

9-Ft. Dia. Sea Anchor

Force 8-9 Conditions

File S/M-26, obtained from Bud Clay, Pensacola, FL. - Vessel name Miracle, hailing port Pensacola, Bristol sloop designed by Carl Alberg, LOA 27' x LWL 22' x Beam 8' x Draft 4' x 3.5 Tons - Full keel - Sea anchor: 9-ft. Diameter Para-Tech on 80' x 1/2" nylon three strand rode with 1/2" stainless steel swivel - No trip line - Deployed in a low system in deep water in the Gulf of Mexico about 150 miles NW of Tampa with winds of 35-45 knots and seas of 9 feet - Vessel's bow yawed 30-45° during 14 hours at sea anchor.

Miracle, a full-keeled Bristol 27, was en route to Pensacola from Tarpon Springs (300 miles as the crow flies across the Gulf of Mexico) when she ran into a cold front in the month of June! Bud Clay told Victor Shane that a friend had loaned him the para-anchor, "just in case." At any rate, when the wind switched and started building right on the nose Clay beat into it for a couple of nights and a day.

Being shorthanded, tired and sleep-starved he deployed the para-anchor at three in the afternoon of the next day. He spent the night at sea anchor, managing to get some sleep in between trips forward to check for chafe. He felt somewhat rested up by next morning, at which time the wind and seas subsided and he was able to get underway again. Clay, who is now building a 31-ft. Farriar trimaran, told Shane that he would never go offshore without a sea anchor.

S/M-22 Bristol Channel Cutter


Bristol Channel Cutter

26' x 7 Tons, Full Keel

12-Ft. Dia. BUORD Parachute

Force 11 Conditions


File S/M-22, obtained from Roger Olson, Costa Mesa, CA - Vessel name Xiphias, hailing port Los Angeles, Bristol Channel Cutter, designed by Lyle Hess, LOA 37' (with bowsprit) x LWL 26' x Beam 10' x Draft 5' x 7 Tons - Full keel - Sea anchor: 12-ft. Diameter BUORD on 300' x 5/8" nylon three strand rode and 20' of chain with 5/8" galvanized swivel - No trip line - Deployed in hurricane Tia in deep water approx. 25 miles off the Queensland coast near Bundaberg with winds sustained at 60 knots and seas of 30-40 ft. - Vessel's bow yawed 45° - Drift was estimated to be about 5 n.m. during three days at sea anchor.


Roger Olson is an experienced offshore sailor and a partner in the firm of Sam L. Morse Co., builders of the Bristol Channel Cutter. Here are the transcripts of two files obtained from Roger:

Hurricane "Claudia" Near American Samoa (1980)

I was lucky to only catch the edge. There were two hurricanes at the same time. On WWV I heard that a hurricane was approaching our location but there was too much interference to hear the exact coordinates. I used the ham radio to call New Zealand. A ham operator informed me that it was north of us and heading away. I wasn't aware that this was a different storm and that we were heading into the original one.

As the weather deteriorated I ran off with storm jib and storm trysail. I considered dropping the trysail but wanted it up in just case I decided to heave-to. Deployed two "MINI" tires [makeshift drogue] off the stern for better control. Wind and seas not too bad (40 to 50 knots) and it was going in my direction. A huge wave broke next to us, depositing ample amounts of water on me and filling the cockpit. It doesn't take a genius to realize that if the wave had been over the stern I would have been rammed against the flat aft side of the cabin. Also, I could easily imagine this wave carrying me to the end of my harness tether. If the tether didn't break it would surely break my ribs. So I decided to come about and heave-to. I had to cut the drogue loose to come about. The boat set well for several hours but as the wind and seas increased it was apparent there was too much sail area up. So I dropped the storm jib onto the staysail stay and remained hove-to on storm trysail.

Never expected it to get this bad or I would have used the parachute anchor. It was in the lazarette and my rope was still shackled to the anchor chain and anchor, all lashed forward. There wasn't a snowball's chance in hell that I was going forward in those winds and seas to unlash it, undo the shackle, etc. I went below to get out of it. My hand-held wind indicator could only register 60 knots and it was at the maximum. During the night I knew my storm trysail was too much because the boat would heel severely on the crest of the wave. As the boat entered the trough she would change her set so when she got the full force of the wind on the crest the sail would flog and it seemed like it would rip the boat apart. Then it would fill and we would heel to the extreme.

There was only one knockdown, which was when everything came out of the lockers and drawers, burying me under cans and boxes. So much for the "slick!!" During the night it began to improve until I was able to sail by late the next afternoon.

Hurricane "Tia" Off Queensland, Australia (1981)

Australian radio stated that the Tropical Storm was strengthening to cyclone strength in the South Coral Sea and was heading south. This time I was better prepared. I had disconnected my anchor from my 5/8" nylon rope and pulled it all on deck. I tied the bitter end to the sampson post, leaving about 10 feet for freshening the nip. I had already run the rope through a fairlead on the bottom of the Cranse Iron (this is how I anchor anyway) and led the rest aft to the cockpit. Where the rope led through the fairlead I had sewn on a meter of leather for chafe. This was set so the leather just passed through the fairlead so I could let rope out to "freshen the nip" if necessary. (Later I never checked for chafe because I was too frightened to go forward).

I led the rope along the top of the life line and lashed it in place with fine nylon thread (dental floss would work) and to the cockpit where I coiled it and used stops to hold the coil in place. The parachute anchor was kept in the lazarette. I already had added about 25 feet of 5/16" chain to the end of the swivel attached to the parachute. I removed the parachute anchor, chain and swivel as a unit in a bag. Using a bowline with a double wrap, I attached the rope in the cockpit to the swivel. I deployed the parachute early while I was hove-to. From the cockpit I deployed the float (enough buoyancy to float the chain and anchor on 20 feet of rope attached to the center of the crown of the parachute) over the windward side. This was followed by the parachute anchor, chain and rope. The boat was making slow leeway so I was able to maintain complete control of the rope until all (300' + 20' chain) was out. As I let go of the rope it broke the thread along the life line until the boat was riding bow to the wind and seas. I dropped all sails and went below.

I remained below for the better part of three days. I still don't know the strength of the winds as my hand-held indicator wasn't working properly - it was stuck at 60 knots. The boat did tack in this position. In the trough there was little pull on the parachute anchor and the boat would set up to 50° from center. As she neared the crest more tension would be put on the rode, pulling the vessel straight. I had substantial water overboard because I was making little or no sternway. This was proven by feeling the pressure on the tiller, which I had lashed amidships. I was concerned about damage to the rudder if I made too much sternway. I don't know the amount of drift in those three days, nor do I know the current.

After the worst was over I finally got permission to put into an illegal port of entry (Mooloolaba, Qld). I set my course based on my last known position and allowed about five miles for drift. I was sailing entirely on celestial navigation and didn't have GPS or SatNav. I used my RDF to take a rough bearing and set a course for Mooloolaba. As I approached land I found my DR wasn't far off.

Comments: With the parachute anchor I never really felt in danger. Deploying it from cockpit worked great. I can't believe anyone would go forward in storm conditions to work anything on the foredeck. There was some chafe on the leather but it never wore through to the rope. I never adjusted it in the three days, but it was apparent that there was about one foot of stretch on the leather. I spent all my time inside during this and other storms. Only when conditions were not life-threatening would I go forward to inspect for chafe or damage. I had everything strongly lashed down, including my dinghy on the foredeck. The only things I lost were two 5-gallon fuel containers which were lashed with old 1/4" rope. Roller furling jib remained on the headstay - not recommended as it creates considerable windage. I had rolled it up tightly and pulled the sheets as tight as I could so the headstay wouldn't flog. It still shook the boat more than I thought it would. I don't know what I would have done had it unrolled.

I should never have been sailing in those waters during the hurricane season. However, in both cases I was rushing to meet my girlfriend... wasn't worth it!

Xiphias of Los Angeles.  This Bristol Channel Cutter rode out two hurricanes in the South Pacific, one to a sea anchor,  "I remained below for the better part of three days... with the parachute anchor I never really felt in danger." (Roger Olson photo)
Xiphias of Los Angeles. This Bristol Channel Cutter rode out two hurricanes in the South Pacific, one to a sea anchor, "I remained below for the better part of three days... with the parachute anchor I never really felt in danger." (Roger Olson photo)

S/R-1 Aluminum Dory


Aluminum Dory

28' x 2.5 Tons, Dagger Boards

12-Ft. Dia. Sea Anchor

Force 5 Conditions

File S/R-1, obtained from Ned Gillette and Mark Eichenberger - Vessel name Sea Tomato, aluminum rowing dory designed & built by Ned Gillette, LOA 28' x LWL 24' x Beam 7' x Draft 18" x 2.5 Tons - Dagger boards - Sea anchor: 12-ft. diameter Para-Tech on 300' x 1/2" nylon three strand rode with 1/2" stainless steel swivel - Full trip line - Deployed during passage of frontal troughs in deep water in the Drake Passage and off the coast of Antarctica with blizzard & winds of 25 knots - Drift was estimated to be 10 n.m. during 21 hours at sea anchor.

Victor Shane's company sponsored the team of Ned Gillette and Mark Eichenberger in their successful attempt to row a specially designed dory, Sea Tomato, from Cape Horn to the Antarctic, a distance of 1000 miles across the treacherous Drake Passage. They supplied the expedition with a small speed-limiting drogue, a Jordan series drogue (88 cones on 300 ft. of line), a 12-ft. diameter Para-Tech (main sea anchor) and a 9-ft. diameter BUORD (backup sea anchor).

Taken in the waters off Punta Arenas, Chile. Mark Eichenberger test-deploying the Jordan series drogue supplied by Victor Shane of Ned Gillete's Antarctic row - see File S/R-1 (Ned Gillete photo)
Taken in the waters off Punta Arenas, Chile. Mark Eichenberger test-deploying the Jordan series drogue supplied by Victor Shane of Ned Gillete's Antarctic row - see File S/R-1 (Ned Gillete photo)

Shane saw in this expedition an opportunity to put several drag devices to the test. As it turned out, however, the crew never did get into a storm, other than the one that blasted them off in the beginning, which was driving them exactly where they wanted to go.

They did derive benefit from the 12-ft. diameter Para-Tech sea anchor in terms of drift control, however. When Mark Eichenberger afterwards visited Shane in Santa Barbara he said that no sooner had they sighted the coast of Antarctica than the weather turned sour and a Force-5 blizzard started pushing them back out to sea. They then deployed the sea anchor, which kept them more or less in place for 21 hours. He said icebergs, driven along by the wind, were drifting by the boat during that period.

Ned Gillette is both mountaineer and sailor, having conquered Everest and now Cape Horn. Author of the book Everest Grand Circle, he is also a free-lancer for the National Geographic Society. His article, Rowing Antarctica's Most Mad Seas, appeared in the January 1989 issue of National Geographic Magazine. Mark Eichenberger was a long time sailor and adventurer. The following is a transcript of the feedback obtained from Mark:

The sea anchors were key to our strategy on our expedition to row from Cape Horn to Antarctica, and the 12' diameter `FORCE 10' worked remarkably well. It was easy to deploy and retrieve, and it was effective in practically eliminating our wind drift. The only reason we did not use them more than we did is that we were blessed with very fortunate weather, the winds being mostly favorable and moderate.

During the third day out, 24 Feb. 1988, the winds from the gale which had blasted us off from the coast diminished gradually until in the evening they were W to WNW about Force 5. We had begun rowing at 0900 that morning and continued throughout the day until midnight whereupon it became too dark to row effectively. So we put out the sea anchor and lay to it until 0940 the following morning, about 10 hours during which our average drift was 0.9 knots. We most likely would have had a current of .5 knot or more in this part of the Drake Passage. On the seventh day, around midnight, a frontal system passed over us and the wind shifted from WNW eventually to settle on SW with overcast and rain. The conditions were not rough; however, the wind was contrary to our purpose and, in order to hold the southing and westing that we had gained, we once again deployed the sea anchor. From 0230 until mid-afternoon we lay to the sea anchor, nearly 13 hours. Our average drift had been 0.6 knots. Interestingly, in the morning we had a pair of Southern Bottlenose Whales, about 30 feet long, come by to investigate this enormous orange jelly fish - the sea anchor. They swam between us and the sea anchor, but fortunately decided it was inedible and left.

The third and final use of the sea anchor came on our approach to the Antarctic coast on the 13th day out. A light westerly wind gave way to a fresh breeze (Force 5) out of the southeast, so at 1930 hrs. we deployed the sea anchor to hold what ground we had gained, and lay to it from late on the 4th of March, throughout the night and following day until 1630, a total of 21 hours. We kept an "anchor watch" throughout the period as there were icebergs scattered around and occasionally growlers and bergy bits would drift down past us.

EPILOGUE: In December 1991 Mark Eichenberger was working on the ice breaker Erebus in the Strait of Magellan when a devastating storm blew into Punta Arenas. Two great waves washed over Erebus' decks in rapid succession. Mark was swept overboard and lost at sea. He was a good friend of Shane's and an accomplished seaman. We are all diminished by the passing of a comrade. We bid defiance to the sea, in honor of his memory.

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-8 Vancouver 27 Cutter


Vancouver 27 Cutter

27' x 5 Tons, Full Keel & Cutaway Forefoot

9-Ft. Dia. BUORD Parachute

Force 7 Conditions


File S/M-8, obtained from Anthony Gibb, Victoria, B.C. - Vessel name Hejira, hailing port Victoria, Vancouver cutter, designed by Robert Harris, LOA 27' x LWL 22' x Beam 8' 6" x Draft 4' x 5 Tons - Full keel & cutaway forefoot - Sea anchor: 9-ft. diameter BUORD on 275' x 1/2" nylon three strand rode with 1/2" galvanized swivel - No trip line - Deployed during passage of frontal trough In deep water in the Tasman Sea with winds of 35 knots and confused seas of 12 feet - Vessel's bow yawed as much as 90° off to each side.

Hejira, a Harris-designed Vancouver 27 on a world cruise, crossed from Nelson, New Zealand, to Sydney, Australia in 15 days, a distance of 1,265 miles.

As with most other crossings of the Tasman this one was not a pleasant one. The crew was harassed by a confusion of waves and swells from both southwest and northeast, which harassment did not end until the last two days of the crossing.

During a period of 30-35 knot south-westerly winds and 12-foot seas the crew deployed a 9-ft. diameter BUORD. As in the previous file, the parachute did not do a satisfactory job. Transcript:

The BUORD never set straight forward off the bow. It remained directly off the beam. It gave one the feeling of lying a-hull. It was only when a particularly large wave approached and took up the slack in the rope that the BUORD brought the bow through the wave....

The only other time that the BUORD brought the bow into the waves was when, after 4 hours, I decided to pull it in. When the line was pulled in so that there was only 50 feet out, then it seemed that the bow wanted to stay pointed upwind. I did not leave it there long enough to test it, so I don't know what the BUORD would do in the long run....

Again it might be asked why the same parachute that pulled the bow of a fin-keeled J-30 into the seas (File S/M-6) would not do the same thing for a Vancouver 27. And again, the answer has to do with the amount of wind, the keel configuration, the rig, and the relative positions of the CLR and CE on the different boats. The J-30 has a small, centrally located fin keel. The Vancouver 27 has a full keel with a cutaway forefoot. The J-30 had sustained winds of 60 knots. The Vancouver had winds of 35 knots.

A larger parachute sea anchor might have made a difference as well. We would like to emphasize that the canopies of these BUORDs are made of coarsely woven mesh material, "the sort of thing you would use to strain plankton out of the sea with" as one sailor described it. Although they have a nominal diameter of about 9 feet, they do not have the holding power of a 9-ft. diameter, zero-porosity sea anchor. Remember, they are designed for dropping torpedoes into the sea and need to have a great deal of "give" built into their canopies.

By coincidence, the Pardeys ran into Anthony Gibb in Australia, and had this to say to Victor Shane in another letter: "Later discussions make us wonder if he had enough wind, or possibly her laying so far off the wind might have been caused by her high bow, the tanks stowed on her foredeck and a very high deck house, combined with a cutaway forefoot."