File S/T-20, obtained from Gary Habersetzer, Raymond, WA - Vessel name Amenity, hailing port San Diego, Tri-Star ketch designed by Ed Horstman, LOA 40' x Beam 24' x Draft 38" x 6 Tons - Sea anchor: 24-ft. Diameter military parachute on 400' x 5/8" nylon three strand tether and bridle arms of 60' each, with 1/2" galvanized swivel - No trip-line - Deployed in a gale in Mexican coastal waters about ten miles from Magdalena Bay with winds of 35-50 knots and seas of 8 ft. - Vessel's bow yawed 10° - Drift was minimal during 12 hours at sea anchor.
Gary Habersetzer is one of the original group of multihull builders/sailors who learned how to use parachute sea anchors directly from John Casanova (File S/T-1). The group included Carol Donovan, owner of the 35-ft. Horstman Tri-Star Lion's Paw, Jim Staggs, owner of the 41-ft. Nottingham trimaran Whither, Jack Beadle, owner of a 32-ft. Simpson Wild "Shifter" trimaran, and Bob and Marilyn Braggins, owners of the very first flush deck Horstman Tri-Star ever built, Puffin.
Gary bought his first surplus military parachute from John Casanova in 1975, using it in a whole gale aboard his first multihull, a 31-ft. Piver AA trimaran off Cape Mendocino, California. When Gary, along with Bob Braggins, was invited to fly over and help sail a newly-built Horstman Tri-Star from Seattle to San Diego, he brought along two parachutes.
The story about him boarding the plane with two 28-ft. C-9 parachutes rolled up under each arm - causing not too little anxiety among the passengers - is well known in multihull circles. Bringing those parachutes turned out to be a wise decision, however, because the Tri-Star ended up having to use one in a gale off the mouth of the Columbia River.
In the July/August 1979 issue of Multihulls Magazine Joan Casanova wrote about the dangerous behavior of the boat prior to deployment (reproduced by permission):
The small Tri-Star rose above the monstrous waves, sliding swiftly down each face. Every few waves which passed under the boat were just a little larger than the last ones. It sent the tri skidding off at a 45° angle, nearly coming to complete broaching position in the trough. the action gave the helmsman anxious moments before the boat would respond to the helm. All aboard knew the dangers of that position. They were aware that the tri exceeded a safe speed. Below decks all gear was rolling in the aisle. It was only a matter of time before the growing seas would roll the lightweight trimaran over. Bob Braggins, skipper of Puffin, reflects in his tone of voice those anxious hours, as if reliving them.
"I'm sure we would've gone over if we hadn't put out the chute. We had difficulty putting it over the side at first. The wind got hold and wanted to open it on deck. As soon as it took hold in the water, the boat began to ride easily and we began to relax. It was my first time using a chute, and believe me, I am sold!!"
Gary has used the parachute sea anchor too many times to list all of them. On the occasion of this particular file he and his wife Karen were sailing Amenity from San Diego to Cabo San Lucas when the wind and seas suddenly came up near Magdalena Bay. Amenity was hove-to for twelve hours, after which she resumed her cruise south. There is a photograph of Gary and Karen folding the parachute on Amenity's deck in the July/August '79 issue of Multihulls. The photo was taken by Joan Casanova.
In 1976 Gary Habersetzer went into business for himself as head of Marine Repair Service in San Diego. After two decades of multihull building experience he founded Pedigree Cats in Seattle in 1995. The company now builds large multihulls. At this writing there are several large Horstman Tri-Stars in the works, including one that is 105 feet long. A 52-ft. Shuttleworth design with a high-tech Aero-Rig is nearing completion. Pedigree Cats has also received an offer to build catamarans for an Austrian concern.
The short note that Gary sent in along with the filled out DDDB form reads thus:
I think you now know why we list the chute as standard equipment on all the cats we build. We have used them and know that you should not leave the dock without one.
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-15, obtained from Andrew Cserny, Eldorado, IL. - Vessel name Gold Eagle, hailing port Raleigh, IL, trimaran ketch, designed by Norman Cross, LOA 42' x Beam 23' x Draft 4' x 7 Tons - Sea anchor: 18-ft. Diameter Para-Tech on 400' x 5/8" nylon braid tether and bridle arms of 80' each, with 5/8" stainless steel swivel - No trip-line - Deployed in an unnamed hurricane in deep water in the Gulf of Mexico, about 200 miles WSW of Tampa, with winds of 100 knots and seas of 30-50 ft. - Vessel's bow yawed 10° - Drift was estimated to be 30 n.m. during two days at sea anchor.
Dr. Andrew Cserny purchased Gold Eagle (File S/T-8) from Daniel York in 1992. In March 1993 he and his wife set off from Mobile Bay, Alabama, for Cape Sable at the southern tip of Florida - six hundred miles as the crow flies across the Gulf of Mexico. En route they were hit by an unforecast, unnamed hurricane that did considerable damage to the Florida peninsula, sinking one freighter (30 people rescued, a number missing), driving another freighter aground, and sinking a number of small craft, among them a 39-ft. monohull, whose owner and wife were lost at sea. Here is a transcript of Dr. Cserny's harrowing experience - a sobering reminder of what the unpredictable sea is capable of:
We departed Mobile Bay the afternoon of March 10, 1993, on a rhumb line from the sea buoy off the entrance to Mobile Bay heading toward Cape Sable at the southern tip of Florida. The weather was fine, the forecast on the VHF called for possible thunder showers that night along the southeast coast of Alabama and the Florida panhandle, with winds gusting to 17 knots, choppy inland waterways and seas rising to 6-8 feet from the coast to 50 miles offshore...
We sailed under a club footed jib, main sail and mizzen, this being a rather conservative sail plan for our boat, with the winds being anywhere from 8 to 18 knots during the night. Sea and wind conditions continued the same on the 11th and at daybreak we doused the club footed jib and raised the genoa instead, and continued on the rhumb line. Toward the latter part of the afternoon the wind started to head us and we kept going farther west of our rhumb line, so that by around five in the afternoon we were approximately fifteen nautical miles west of our rhumb line.
At this point rather than tacking back toward land, which would have put us in a northeasterly direction and amounted to almost going backwards rather than toward Cape Sable, we decided to deploy the sea anchor and so to speak "park" the boat for the night, rather than trying the motor or trying to sail and really pinch the boat close-hauled. I was not expecting deteriorating conditions, I just wanted to rest for the night and to see if the wind would perhaps change and come from a more favorable direction so we could continue on the rhumb line. I was not aware that the storm was coming, therefore I did not lash down the sails as I would have. Matter of fact, I probably would have taken the sails off if I had known the storm was coming.
After deploying the sea anchor successfully, and watching the boat ride with an easy motion up and down the waves while tethered to the sea anchor, in roughly 6-8 foot waves, we decided to go to bed for the evening. All sails were furled and tied down with bungee straps. I awoke sometime after dark to a rhythmic crunching noise in the aft portion of the boat, which did not sound normal. When I went to investigate, I found that the sea state and the wind had built up considerably and occasional waves were slamming into the open cockpit area. When I lifted the hatch covering the steering compartment, I saw that the Morse cables attached to the steering quadrant had ripped loose from the wooden supports that were used to anchor them, and the steering quadrant was swinging wildly about. We secured the steering quadrant with lines 5/8 inch and 3/4 inch diameter, two of these lines on each side of the quadrant. Within half an hour these had chafed completely through.
The winds and seas continued to build in the dark, and by two in the morning I thought we were probably in a Force 10 gale. Sometime during the night we were hit by an immensely strong burst of wind which I presumed must have been a twister, because the pressure inside the pilot house fluctuated rapidly, the windows rattled, the doors to the pilot house rattled, and the sliding hatches tried to come off the top of the boat [lift off their rails]. The front windshields flapped wildly up and down, the wind shrieked horribly with pitch and intensity I have never heard before although I have been in an automobile traveling at 135 miles per hour. It lasted maybe a minute to a minute and a half and it was during this time that the sails tore loose and began flapping wildly from the front to the back of the boat. The main sail was torn loose from its track in places. It was torn from the bolt rope, flopped wildly over the starboard side of the boat and self-destructed. In the same extremely high wind or twister that hit us, the mizzen sail was torn loose. The speaker for the loud hailer was torn loose from its mounting and carried away. The club-footed jib tore loose. It was shredded, and the boom flailed wildly about, causing holes and damages....
The seas continued to build, the wind shrieked, the sails continued to flog wildly, the spray was driven it seemed horizontally across the surface of the water and was leaking in around the top of the windshield and the left pilot house door fairly profusely. Waves were probably 25 to 30 feet in height, maybe higher, with breaking crests which regularly broke over the bow. One had to literally hold on all the time just to exist. Even sitting down, one had to hold on.
Then we were struck by what I would consider to be a rogue wave. I was holding on to the steering wheel in the pilot house at the time. I was thrown across the pilot house and crashed through the door on the right side and landed outside the cockpit on the right side of the boat. At the same time everything that was loose flew from the left side of the boat to the middle of the boat or over to the right side. For example, the toaster sitting on the left side of the boat on top of the kitchen cabinet flew across the boat and landed on the right side on top of the nav station, approximately two feet higher than where it was sitting on the kitchen counter. Everything in the boat literally got scrambled. Rest was possible only on the floor of the main salon, wedged between the icebox on the right and the dinette and the galley cabinets on the left.
I am not sure exactly when, but I suspect probably when the rogue wave hit, the sea anchor also tore loose a bridle leg, carrying with it the hardware for mounting the trampoline, because, sometime after daybreak we noted that the bridle for the right side of the sea anchor was totally gone. There was a hole in the bow on the right side [starboard ama], and the boat was riding to the sea anchor from one line, which was cleated off to the left side of the main bow. And sometime during the course of the day, this line chafed in two. But before it chafed in two, it periodically caught the [steel] anchor and flipped it out of its mounting on the bow, breaking part of the anchor bracket and bending another part - actually lifting the stainless steel plate that the anchor bracket and the pulpit were welded to. Eventually, the line to the sea anchor, now no longer being protected from chafe by the snatchblock on the float bow, chafed itself to destruction on the anchor bracket. I am not sure at what point the last attachment of the sea anchor parted, but after this, we were mostly broadside to the waves, and in a most vulnerable position for being flipped over.
The storm continued to rage. The boat laid most of the time broadside to the waves which were breaking over the port float. The wind continued to shred the sails and I considered it almost suicidal to go outside and try to stow the sails which were basically destroyed by this time anyway.
On the morning of the 14th the wind had subsided sufficiently to enable us to get outside of the pilot house and at this point I rigged the mizzen sail, using the reef points in the mizzen to lash the upper part of the sail, which had shredded away from the lower part. I repaired the clew of the genoa. We used sails to steer the boat and were able to set a course heading toward Ft. Meyers, which was the nearest approach to land. We still had no steering. Once we got underway with the sails and were able to steer with the adjustments in the sails, the seas no longer broke over the transom and we were able to bail out the rear compartment, which gave us access to the steering quadrant. Fortunately I had numerous tools on board, as well as a good assortment of fasteners, and by cutting up some of the floor boards, and after hours and hours of jury rigging, we were able to effect a workable repair of the steering quadrant.... While I was effecting the above mentioned repairs, my wife June was able to make contact with a passing tanker, which was rather surprised to see us still out there afloat and under sail, and told us that they had been beaten up fairly badly, and we had just lived through a Force 12 storm with 30-50 ft. seas and 100 knot winds.
For the next three days we beat into seas ranging anywhere from 8-12 feet. The waves were coming directly at us, and at a normal cruising RPM of 1500 to 1700 RPMs we were making anywhere from two to four knots over ground as measured by the GPS. While beating into the wind and waves we took water in over the main bow where the trampoline attachment had torn loose, as well as where the cap for the anchor chain was torn loose, and everything in the front part of the boat got soaked. The starboard part of our float took on a considerable amount of water through the hole ripped out by the bridle. However, I used rags and fiberglass impregnated cloth to repair this defect, and was able to bail out the water from the right float. We dropped anchor in a bight just north of Matanzas Pass on the 17th. It was the first time we had been able to sleep in our bunks since the 10th.
Comments: The sea anchor was eighteen (18) foot diameter, manufactured by Para-Tech Engineering, with a 5/8" nylon rode 400 feet long and bridle arms of the same material, 80 feet long, with stainless steel swivels. There was a trip line at the apex of the parachute. Actually, the initial part of the trip line consisted of a nylon strap, maybe 10-12 feet long, possibly slightly longer than that, to which was attached a plastic float, possibly 8-10 inches long, maybe 4-5 inches in diameter. Then attached to this was a length of nylon line maybe about 30 feet long.
I made my first mistake here by taking the float off from the nylon strap, tying the nylon strap to the 30 foot nylon line, then attaching the float to the end of the nylon line. In retrospect, this was the wrong thing to do, and I suspect that the trip line kept fouling the parachute, causing the parachute to periodically collapse, then the parachute would unwind itself and it would hold again for a while and then it would collapse again, allowing the boat to surge backward to a much greater extent than it would have if the parachute had been fully opened out all the time. While riding to the sea anchor, at times we would head into the wind and waves and take the waves just fine, then all of a sudden we would start slipping and turning sideways with respect to the wind and waves. I'm sure at these times, the parachute anchor was collapsing. I went out on the bow and tried to pull the sea anchor in but this was impossible, even with the chute collapsed and taking the waves on the port beam, there was enough tension on the line that it made it impossible to pull it in. At times, the sea anchor would undoubtedly unwind and fully deploy itself and we would be riding quite securely on the bridle, heading into the waves again.
I suspect that when the rogue wave hit, the chute was collapsed, because the rogue wave hit us pretty much broadside on the port side of the boat. I suspect that at this time we came close to being capsized, and quite possibly the parachute anchor, even though it was collapsed and allowing us to lie broadside to the waves, probably kept us from going over. I do not know for a fact, but I suspect that the attachment points of the bridles were torn loose from the bows at this time, thereafter, the bridle was then attached to the bow of the main hull and really no longer acted as a bridle, chafing at times against the anchor and the anchor bracket. As a result of this, the lines eventually chafed through and we lost the sea anchor altogether. From then on we were lying a-hull, but always presented the port side and sometimes the port front quarter of the boat throughout the rest of the 1½ days that the storm lasted after this.
If we had been running downwind in these waves, I suspect that we might have been pitchpoled, and I'm certain that had we been running when the rogue wave hit we would have been pitchpoled. I also suspect that had the sea anchor been properly deployed and properly attached, that we would have survived the storm with only our sails blown out.
Lessons Learned: 1) I believe the weather forecast on the VHF is unreliable. Next time I venture offshore I will be listening to the weather forecast on the single side band. 2) When deploying the parachute anchor, next time the float will be attached at the end of the trip float line or the strap that comes directly off the apex of the parachute, then the longer trip line will be attached to the float. This float line will be fairly short and made of polypropylene line with float attached to it, making sure that it will not sink down and foul the parachute anchor. 3) I have replaced the sea anchor with another 18 foot parachute by Para-Tech. This one is now in a pack which can be deployed without taking the chute out of the bag. You can just throw the whole thing into the water, which I think is an improvement. The tether is 5/8" nylon, 500 feet long. There is an oversized stainless steel swivel. The bridle arms are longer now, made of 3/4" Dacron, which is less stretchy than nylon and hopefully better resistant to abrasion. The geometry of the attachment of the bridle to the boat is now different. I believe that it is significantly better. The two legs of the bridle now come through the points on the bows of the amas where the stainless steel plate holding the snatchblock is much more substantial than what was there before. The snatchblocks are considerably more substantial than the ones they are replacing. The bridle is led straight back onto the deck of the ama and tied off to a cleat which is through bolted to the main deck, and underneath is attached and through bolted to an L-shaped steel backing plate, in turn through bolted to the main crossbeam. With this geometry, all the strain will be taken by this oversized cleat and the snatchblock on the point of the ama will only act as a fairlead to be subjected to very little strain, and nothing like the forces that this same point was subjected to before, that being the reason why things pulled out. 4) The jacklines I had rigged before were of 1 inch nylon strap with 4800 breaking strength. I religiously used the harness and the tether whenever I ventured outside the pilot house. At the end of the storm the port jackline had chafed completely in two where it had been riding against the babyshroud on the port side. There were no cotter pins or rough or jagged edges on the babyshroud or on the turnbuckle. I'm sure that any round line would have also chafed in two. The new jacklines will be made out of stainless steel wire covered with plastic coating that will not chafe in two. 5) The Morse pushpull cables have been replaced with hydraulic steering. The attachment points are much more substantial than before. Previously, the anchor points for the cables were secured to a sheet of 3/4" plywood by four 1/4" stainless machine screws. The whole attachment point just literally ripped a 2 x 4" rectangle of the 3/4" plywood completely out and rendered the steering useless. The new steering parts are much more massive.
During the entire storm we moved approximately 30 nautical miles according to our GPS. However, during at least half of the storm, the anchor was totally gone and during the first half the storm the sea anchor worked off and on, so you can't really say that we drifted 30 miles at sea anchor. Having observed how the boat reacted to the sea conditions when she was being held by the sea anchor, and comparing the actions of the boat without the sea anchor, there is no doubt in my mind that the sea anchor is the ultimate survival tool in heavy weather offshore. I am also certain that had our sea anchor been deployed and attached properly we would have had a much easier time, and felt much more secure. The motion of the boat and therefore our comfort level inside the boat would have been much better. It is quite possible that the steering quadrant would not have torn up because we would not have surged backwards so much with each wave. I believe that with the sea anchor properly deployed, we would have had a frightening but manageable experience, instead of the almost three days of sheer terror that we lived through, not knowing from one wave to the next if we were going to be capsized.
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-17, obtained from H.L. Andersen, Copenhagen, Denmark, - Vessel name Silver Heels, hailing port Copenhagen, catamaran, designed by MacGregor, LOA 36' x Beam 18' x Draft 18" x 2.5 Tons - Sea anchor: 12-ft. Diameter Para-Tech on 400' x 5/8" nylon braid tether and bridle arms of 40' each, with 1/2" stainless steel swivel - Partial trip line - Deployed in a whole gale in deep water 120 miles NW of Cape Finisterre, Spain, with winds of 45-55 knots and seas of 20-30 ft. - Vessel's bow yawed 30° - Drift was estimated to be 12 n.m. during 23 hours at sea anchor.
Silver Heels is a MacGregor 36 catamaran, modified with hard deck and small cockpit. Her Danish owner H.L.Andersen has put close to 110,000 blue water miles on her, having crossed the Atlantic a number of times. In September 1995, en route to Ibiza, Spain, he ran into what BBC radio first announced as "severe gale, Force 9" shortly to be followed by those dread words, crackling as they do over the shortwave bands: "FORCE 10 IMMINENT." Transcript:
For my modified MacGregor 36 catamaran (see articles in Multihulls Magazine, Nov/Dec 1992 & July/August 1994) I use the 12' para-anchor. First time I deployed the sea anchor was in a Force 10 storm (BBC Radio 4) 120 miles NW of Cape Finisterre (Spain). This severe gale was the first major low pressure of the 1995 fall season to sweep across the North Atlantic, reaching from Portugal to the Irish Sea, a huge area, and I had nowhere to run to, ergo I put all my faith in the para-anchor.
I am convinced it saved the catamaran and me. The backing wind (to storm) made the seas real nasty. The temperature dropped to 7° C in the cabin. I'll never forget how peaceful it became as soon as the para-anchor took command. It was a blessing - rain and wind whipped the seas but we lay still.
My mistake was to attach the bridle to the 400' tether using a bowline instead of a proper splice & thimble, and that's where the line eventually chafed through. But it held for 23 hours. I did not use a full trip line - only a partial one & two floats, regrettably, but I was worried about the lines tangling since I had to deploy everything in the middle of the night. After I lost the para-anchor several freak waves went right over the hulls, so I used the spinnaker [as a jury-rigged sea anchor]. But it got ripped to pieces after 1½ hours and I had to hoist a storm jib and sail the cat through the worst of the seas for 6 hours, after which it moderated and I headed for La Covina, Spain [sea anchor replaced there].
I used the new para-anchor 50 miles off Beaufort Inlet, North Carolina, and twice in the Mediterranean, both Force 8 - sudden gales with little sea room. After 110,000 nautical miles I still have a lot to learn about the para-anchor. I now attach a length of chain between the bridle and tether, and use a full trip line. Deployed correctly, I am sure the para-anchor will protect my vessel and my hide in the future.
File S/C-16, obtained from Dr. Gavin LeSueur, Mallacoota, Australia - Vessel name Windswept, hailing port Mallacoota, catamaran, designed by Lock Crowther, LOA 40' x Beam 26' x Draft 2' 6" x 2.75 Tons - Sea anchor: 16-ft. Diameter Para-Anchors Australia on 300' x 3/4" nylon braid tether and bridle arms of 28' each, with 5/8" galvanized swivel - No trip line - Deployed in a storm in shallow water (40 fathoms) in the Bass Strait with winds of 45-58 knots and seas of 30 ft. - Vessel's bow yawed 20° - Drift was estimated to be 12 n.m. during 6 hours at sea anchor.
Dr. Gavin LeSueur is an Australian country doctor who lives in Mallacoota, Victoria. He is also among the world's leading multihull safety experts, having weathered storms, used a wide variety of drag devices on different multihulls, and pioneered an adjustable drogue that is now being manufactured by Para-Anchors Australia. The intrepid doctor windsurfed 750 miles from Melbourne to Sydney in 1982. He has written three books - Windswept, The Line, and Multihull Seamanship Illustrated (distributed in the United States by Multihulls Magazine). Transcript:
In January 1988 I raced two-handed from Sydney to Auckland (1000 nm) on my catamaran, D Flawless. This was a 37' x 24' x 4600 lbs. open bridgedeck offshore racing catamaran. My crew was 21 year old Catherine Reed [wife to be]. After rounding the northern tip of New Zealand, the fleet was hammered by cyclone Bola. This tropical cyclone followed an unusual route and was unforeseen by me due to lack of high seas forecasts at the time, because of an industrial dispute at the Australian Meteorological Bureau! By the time we realized what was on the way (we first heard about it on New Zealand commercial radio stations!) we were in 60 knots plus and 25-35 ft. seas - with a lee shore 30 miles away!
I carried a 12-ft. parachute made by Para-Anchors Australia on board without a float or trip line, and with 300 ft. of nylon anchor line. I was unable to set the parachute. The conditions were such that it was not possible to crawl forward on deck due to the sea state and wind. It was like trying to move with your hands full on the roof of a car going along a bumpy road at 80 mph. We had removed all sail (and boom) except a small storm jib, lashed the helm over to drive the boat into the wind, and raised both daggerboards.[Emphasis added.] Thus D Flawless tracked at 70 degrees off the wind for the next 36 hours. We moved at about 2 knots, passing the edge of the eye and were ejected out of the "bad" quadrant. Wind strengths on land reached 96 knots. It was not pleasant huddled in the hull in our survival suits, awaiting the capsize that did not happen. The boat remained remarkably intact and we sailed into Auckland to finish the race.
En route back to Australia two months later we struck a 43 ft. humpback whale at 3:00 am in 25 knots of wind. We were surfing with our centerboards not fully raised. The whale awoke as we embedded our port centerboard in its back. It took off with the centerboard, the case and a good portion of the side of our port hull. The mast came down and speared itself through the remaining "good" hull! Over the next 45 minutes the catamaran wrenched itself to pieces. There were four of us on board at the time and we were 60 miles off the Australian coast. So close, and yet so far.
With no option but to get into our life raft we left the tangled wreckage and joined many of the foam sandwich hull pieces drifting downwind. The life raft was an Australian Yachting Federation approved offshore raft. Sea conditions deteriorated to 45 knots and 20 ft. waves. We were on the edge of the continental shelf and occasional seas were higher and breaking. We were capsized out of the raft four times! The parachute drogue on the water ballasted raft was useless. The only way we could stop capsizing on most waves was to dive to the windward side of the raft on each wave. It worked some of the time. We were rescued nine hours after hitting the whale. Rescue was quick and by helicopter (thus accurate wind and sea condition measurements). We had drifted over 20 miles in that time and rescue was effected due to our initial Mayday, missed radio schedule, EPIRB (which later failed - waterlogged), hand-held VHF radio (helicopter got a directional fix on this) and rocket flares. We were in good condition in survival suits, with extra water and flares over and above what was already in the raft.
Catherine and I now sail three handed with our three year old daughter (and dog - but she doesn't count). We have continued to experiment with drogues and parachutes and have used both many times since. I have no major problems with our parachute system. We use a 16-ft. diameter one made by Para-Anchors Australia, and carry 400 ft. of braided nylon rope. We do not use a swivel, or a trip line. The parachute has a float on 30 ft. of line on it's vent hole. Only once have we added a catenary weight down the line with a snatch block. We used a 25 kg CQR. In the 40-knot conditions it made little difference and it was a trial. We winch the line in while motoring up to the float. The bridle is a separate line and is tied to the tether with a rolling hitch. When the load is taken back on the tether in the cockpit, the rolling hitch is easily undone.
NOTE: Dr. LeSueur was a participant in the rough and tragic 1988 Round Australia Race in which he used and destroyed several drogues (see also File D/C-8).
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/M-37, obtained from William T. Dwyer, Jr., Chicago, IL. - Vessel name Overdraft, hailing port Chicago, Pearson 424C cutter, designed by William Shaw, LOA 42.4' x LWL 33' 8" x Beam 13' x Draft 5' 6" x 11 Tons - Low aspect fin & skeg rudder - Sea anchor: 18-ft. Diameter Para-Tech on 300' x 5/8" nylon braid rode with 5/8" stainless steel swivel - Partial trip line - Deployed in a gale in deep water about 350 miles NW of Bermuda, with winds of 35-45 knots and seas of 12-20 feet - Vessel's bow yawed 20° - Drift was undetermined due to the proximity of the Gulf Stream.
The Gulf Stream is a 60-mile wide, swift (up to 5-knot) eastward flowing current. Past Cape Hatteras the stream is known to meander from side to side like a river. These meanders may change periodically, peeling off from the main body of the stream to form intense eddies. The eddies are sometimes called "rings." As the Stream moves eastward, warm rings are formed to its north and cold rings to its south. These discrete rings often migrate and meet back up with the main body of the Stream after months, or sometimes years.
Since the Gulf Stream transports warm water from southern latitudes one can usually tell whether one is entering or exiting it by the abrupt change in water temperature. At its edges, and deeper down, the Stream consists of a distinct, temperature gradient. This thermal gradient may extend deeper than 6000 ft. beneath the Stream.
Since cold water tends to dive beneath warm water, theoretically it may take a large sea anchor down with it - if it is deployed at an exact boundary zone. This is something that one has to be cautious of if one has to use a sea anchor in the Gulf Stream, especially in the fringes of a cold eddy. If this is the case one should rig a full trip line, one that allows the canopy to be readily tripped and retrieved without having to power up to the secondary float of a partial trip line. Otherwise the anchor may have to be cut away. There may be a possibility that this is what may have happened in the case of the S/V Overdraft. Transcript:
We departed Newport, RI on the afternoon of June 1, 1997 bound for the Mediterranean via the Azores. NOAA and a private weather forecaster called for NE winds 20-30 kts and recurring low pressure systems along a frontal boundary lying east to west along the 40th parallel, dropping to the southeast. Our plan was to sail SSE to approximately 38° N where we would cross the Gulf Stream and then sail SE until we encountered the westerlies. The going was rough, with winds from the NE higher than predicted.
Some time in the early morning of June 3, we entered the Gulf Stream heading south. Winds over the prior 24 hours had been NE at Force 6 to 7. Throughout the morning, winds increased to Force 8 to 9 with one observed gust of 55 kts apparent. We were sailing downwind in a following sea doing 8+ kts by the speedo. The waves became tall (10-12' with frequently higher waves of approximately 20'), and steep, as the seas ran counter to the Gulf Stream. Graybeards covered the sea as the tops of the waves broke against the current. We were sailing almost due south with the wind against the current, and although our knotmeter was registering hull speed, we were making approximately 4 kts over the bottom according to the GPS. I determined that we could not exit the Stream before nightfall on our current course, and decided to attempt to head ESE to escape these dangerous conditions before dark.
We proceeded ESE under staysail, deeply reefed main and engine to maintain as much directional control as possible. We took the non-breaking waves just aft of the beam and fell off to take the large breakers on our port quarter, or headed quickly up to take them at a 60° angle off the port bow. On three occasions when attempting to run off we were caught by a breaker and broached to starboard with the spreaders in the water and the wave breaking over the port side, filling the cockpit with 2½ feet of green water. By dusk we had reached the edge of the Gulf Stream, which we determined by a significant drop in water temperature. The waves became more trochoidal [rounded] in shape with fewer breakers. I decided at this point to set the sea anchor for the night as the crew had experienced miserable weather for three days and had no food or sleep for almost 24 hours.
An 18 foot Para-Tech sea anchor was deployed off the bow on 300' of 5/8" nylon braid line with 5/8" stainless swivel and no chain. The para-anchor had the standard float line with a 12" diameter plastic float buoy securely attached. After deployment the boat lay bow to the wind and did not yaw significantly from side to side, although Overdraft continued to pitch sharply, as the seas, while improved, were still quite steep. The boat lay to the sea anchor all night in winds of Force 7 decreasing to Force 6. Seas remained at about 8 feet.
At first light, we found that the rode was pointed downward at an angle of 35-45° off the port bow. Overnight the rode had chafed through the teak cap rail below the chock in an arc, cutting downward 3/4" to 1" into the wood. It was apparent that the boat was being pulled by the para-anchor in a northeasterly direction against the wind and sea. A comparison to the position check at the time the anchor was set showed we had move NE more than 3 nm overnight. The strain on the anchor rode was significant.
We attempted to retrieve the sea anchor by motoring in the direction of the anchor and pulling on the line - without success. The anchor seemed to dive deeper as we motored towards it, and we were only able to recover line as the boat rode down into a trough. As Overdraft rode back up the next crest, the rode was cleated and came under extreme tension with the anchor pulling downward on the bow. The wind was beginning to increase again and I feared that the crew attempting to retrieve the anchor by uncleating and cleating the line between waves could suffer serious hand injury, given the tension on the rode and the sea states. At this point I cut the anchor away. We had only recovered about 10 feet of line.
My supposition is that we had not sailed completely out of the Gulf Stream, and that the sea anchor was pulled downward by the northeasterly flowing current which may have been stronger at depth because of the counter-acting surface conditions caused by wind and waves. I do not believe the float became detached as it was securely tied and floating free upon deployment. Clearly, we were still in the influence of the Stream or we could not have moved northeast overnight against the wind and sea. An attempt to plot our position on a May 30th Gulf Stream analysis weather fax is enclosed, and it shows us at approximately the edge of the Stream on 0700 June 4. I find our overnight drift the more compelling evidence that we were still in the Stream because the potential plotting error of both the boat's position and the Gulf Stream location on this large scale fax is very large. For what it is worth, I don't believe setting the para-anchor in full current of the Gulf Stream in the conditions we experienced would have been a successful strategy. Because of the steepness of the seas and their frequent breaking, the boat would have taken a terrible pounding. The current would have pulled us NE into the seas, and because the anchor "dove," the bow would have been held down, further impeding the boat's ability to ride over the breaking seas. This experience has convinced me that (not even considering the loss of the gear) a sea anchor should not be set in a strong current running counter to the wind and seas except in a case of absolute last resort.
CAUTION: Do not deploy a large sea anchor in the axis of a major current unless it is absolutely necessary. Use a full trip line if you do, else stand ready to cut away the rode if you are absolutely certain that a cold eddy is taking the parachute down into the depths. You will be able to tell that this is so when the main float begins submerging and then finally disappears, by the significant increase in the angle at which the rode is leading downward, and by an unmistakable downward pull on the bow of the vessel.
If you are in the vicinity of a major current and there is a gale on the way, the best strategy is to try to traverse the current at right angles and get well clear before deploying the sea anchor. By and large ocean currents are a mixed blessing. The free ride that they may provide can be very costly at times. Some experienced sailors prefer to stay out of them altogether. The Pardeys have this to say about major currents in Storm Tactics: "Another thing we've learned the hard way is to avoid the axis of major currents. Even though it is tempting to grab the free lift offered by the Gulf Stream, you increase your chances of meeting unusual weather patterns and rougher seas."
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/M-31, obtained from R. Walton, North Gosforth, UK. - Vessel name Lady Emma Hamilton, hailing port Amble - Gauntlet, Bermudan Sloop, LOA 42' x LWL 33' x Beam 9' 6" x Draft 6' x 14 Tons - Full keel - Sea anchor: 18-ft. Diameter Para-Tech on 400' x 3/4" nylon braid rode with 5/8" stainless steel swivel - Partial trip line - Deployed in a gale in shallow water (45 fathoms) in the North Sea, about 125 miles east of Aberdeen, Scotland, with winds of 40-45 knots and seas of 28 feet - Vessel's bow yawed 20° at the peak of the gale in Force 8, increasing to 45° when the wind moderated to Force 6 - Drift was 7 n.m. upwind during 23 hours at sea anchor.
This file was forwarded to Victor Shane by Mike Seal, proprietor of Cruising Home Ltd. in the United Kingdom, to whom we are indebted.
Lady Emma Hamilton is a double-ended Bermudan Sloop, similar to Bernard Moitessier's Joshua, hailing from the Northumberland harbor of Amble (about 40 miles south of the Scottish border).
In June of '97 her owner, R. Walton, was sailing her back to Amble from Bergen, Norway, when she ran into a gale in the infamous North Sea, about 125 miles offshore, east of Aberdeen, Scotland. Walton describes the sea states as "cycloidal, steep, breaking/unstable" on the form he filled out, which is believable, given that the yacht was in only 45 fathoms of water, and that the northerly wind was blowing contrary to a northwesterly current. The average waves were about 28 feet high at the time, as measured by the crew on a nearby oil rig. Transcript:
Rode led over bow roller and tied to it. Rags were used to wrap around rode at bow fitting to stop chafe. In future I will use a leather "tube." Checked for chafe every two hours - rags wore through, but rode only very slightly scuffed. No bridle used. Once wind moderated the yaw increased, but at the peak of wind boat held almost dead into wind. We hove-to just next to an oil platform, "SANTAFE 135," which relayed a message to our destination advising our delay, etc.
Hove-to at 0600 hrs. Wind moderated by 2300 hrs, but waited till first light to haul in the anchor as this was the first time I had ever used it. Made way at 0500 hrs 28 June in Force 6 still from North. Initially our drift was imperceptible (no noticeable slide or turbulence at all! Just stayed put). But by dawn it was obvious we had drifted upwind past the oil rig, so current was overcoming drift downwind.
Throughout, the tension on the rode seemed very great. Considerable windage from 60 foot mast and [roller] furled genoa. No sail or other windage hoisted at stern. Boat motion was quite extreme, with gunnel to gunnel roll being set up, then dying down again every few minutes.
The Para-Tech sea anchor and Delta Rode were supplied by Cruising Home Ltd. UK as a complete package, with deployment bags for both (rode in Rode Bag) - they worked perfectly. I just undid the straps and the Rode Bag toggles and tossed it overboard - it all sorted itself out and within five minutes we were riding head to wind. I am totally sold on the concept! We had been pooped twice before we hove-to and the seas increased in ferocity somewhat later.
Using Parachutes, Sea Anchors and Drogues to Cope with Heavy Weather – Over 130 Documented Case Histories