D/C-10 Copelli/Reed Custom Catamaran



Catamaran, custom design

46' x 25' with 8' daggerboards x 9 tonnes

Jorrdan Series Drogue

Force 9 Severe Gale

File D/C-10 obtained from Mike Reed of Santa Barbara, California. Vessel name Rum Doxy, hailing port Santa Barbara. fast crusing Catamaran, custom designed by Copelli and Mike Reed himself. LOA 46' x Beam 25' x Draft 8' with dagerboards down. Drogue: home made 300' Jordan Series Drogue (150 cones) on double braided nylon with 30lb length of chain at the end, and 50'  x 3/4 3-strand bridle arms deployed in deep ocean on passage from Japan to Alaska during a fast-moving remnant of a Tropical Storm. Winds of 45kt gusting to 50+ and breaking waves of 7m. Drifted 30 miles over 12 hours.

Attachment points: custom stainless steel chainplates  1/4" x 2.5" x 18" with 6, 3/8" bolts each set on aft cross beam about 16ft apart. 5/8" galvanised shackles on galvanised thimbles. Zero chafe.

Mike Reed has over 40,000 miles under his belt, so it is no surprise that he was well prepared, having both a para-anchor and a series drogue ready-rigged in case he needed them. In this case, deployment of the drogue was a simple matter of dropping the weighted end over the stern and allowing the drogue to rush out (keeping feet and hands clear). Once set, it allowed him to rest overnight with no drama, and then resume his way in the morning when the gale had passed.

We deployed our JSD in force 9 conditions off the coast of Japan. We were eastbound 5 days out of Yokohama when we were overtaken by the remnants of TS Leepi, which had become a fast-moving extra-tropical cyclone. The wind was in the high 40's, gusting into the mid 50's with seas of approximately 7 meters. The boat was under autopilot, our speed was 9-11 knots under bare poles and, although an occasional breaker would push the stern around a bit, the boat was handling the conditions comfortably, taking the seas in a dignified manner off the starboard quarter.

However, as the wind continued to build, the boat began to plane on the gusts, reaching speeds of 15 knots. The autopilot continued to handle it well but the sun had set, the wind was building and it was time to slow the boat.

We had pre-rigged both the JSD and parachute anchor prior to leaving Japan. I chose to deploy the JSD rather than the parachute anchor as we were traveling in the same direction as the weather with 4,000 miles of sea room and I expected the gale to pass by us quickly.

Deploying the drogue off the stern was simply a matter of dropping the chain weight at the end overboard. The drogue ran out smoothly and behaved brilliantly, slowing the boat to 3.5 – 4.5 knots as the stern lifted gently over the seas. We have a hard dinghy in davits and I was concerned that the breaking waves would swamp it, but the sterns would lift as the waves passed and the dinghy never got wet.

We turned off the autopilot and settled in. The gale continued for another 3 hours then began to abate. By sunrise the wind had dropped to 15 knots with seas approximately 2 meters and we retrieved the drogue and carried on.

A few points are worth commenting on.

First, the forces exerted on the boat by the drogue were truly impressive. The pull from the JSD, while gradual, would cause us to stagger if we were not holding on.

Second, one often hears that a disadvantage of the JSD is that they are difficult to retrieve, but in this particular case we found it fairly easy. Before deployment I had rigged a long pendant to one of the bridle arms. When it came time to retrieve the drogue we simply led this line forward to the bow roller, released the bridle arms and motored slowly forward, pulling the drogue in by hand. The whole operation took about 15 minutes.

Third, and most surprising, was that when we retrieved the drogue in the morning we found that most of the cones had frayed badly, particularly those closest to the boat that, presumably, were subjected to the most stress and turbulence,. The leading edges were most affected, but the trailing edges were frayed as well. This was after only 2-3 hours of gale force conditions. The cones were 2.2 oz ripstop nylon from a kit supplied by a marine canvas supplier. They no longer sell these. We made new cones out of 4 oz polyester with a hem on the leading edge. I n retrospect I wish that I had used even heavier cloth with hems on both edges.

Fourth, I was a bit surprised at our speed while lying to the drogue. After reading many accounts of monohulls lying to a JSD I expected our speed to be around 2-3 knots. We averaged 4 knots, which may have contributed to the rapid degradation of the cones. When we replaced the old cones with the new ones we found that the supplier had sent us 10 fewer cones than required for our size boat, which may have accounted for the higher speeds.

Many people comment that the JSD is hard to retrieve. However Mike, with forethought, rigged up an extra length of line to the bridle so that he could take that around to the front, and then haul it in as he motored forwards towards the drogue. This obviously requires turning the boat 180 deg and then having someone at the helm to make sure they don't drive over the drogue while it is being retrieved, But 15 minutes has to be a record for JSD retrieval!

The alternative method is to winch it in over the stern, timing the winching with the slack produced as each wave passes (see Tim Good's report D/M-21).

The fraying of the cones after just a few hours of gale is certainly of concern. Steven Brown also noted the same problem and wondered if a longer length of rode before the first cone might help. Plus, of course, using good strong cloth. In this case Mike tells us the closest cones were also lifting out of the water, so maybe indeed this is a cause of cones fraying.

S/T-14 Trimaran, Cross


Trimaran, Cross

46' x 25' x 10 Tons

24-Ft. Dia. Sea Anchor

Force 6 Conditions


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

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

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

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

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

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

S/C-20 Catamaran, Crowther


Catamaran, Crowther

49' x 24' x 8 Tons

15-Ft. Dia. Sea Anchor

Force 8-9 Conditions

SW gale vs Agulhas Current

File S/C-20, obtained from Jean Claude Barey, Montreal, Canada - Vessel name Chasse Galerie II, hailing port Montreal, Spindrift catamaran, designed by Lock Crowther, LOA 49' x Beam 23' 6" x Draft 3' x 8 Tons - Sea anchor: 15-ft. Diameter Shewmon on 300' x 3/4" nylon three strand tether and bridle arms of 40' each, with 5/8" galvanized swivel - No trip line - Deployed in a whole gale in 500' of water about five miles SE of Port Elizabeth (South Africa) with winds of 40-45 knots and seas of 17-20 ft. - Vessel's bow yawed less than 10° - Drift was estimated to be 8 n.m. during 42 hours at sea anchor.

Jean Claude Barey took Chasse Galerie II on a circumnavigation in 1991. After transiting the Suez Canal he sailed her down to Durban, East London, Port Elizabeth, and was en route to Cape Town when he ran into a blow on the continental shelf, in close proximity to the Agulhas current. Transcript:

The conditions were not bad, but we could not take long tacks against the wind, because we were too close to the Agulhas current. We then used the sea anchor. Other boats without sea anchors decided to run back [to Port Elizabeth] after a few hours because they were not making progress to windward. Our Shewmon sea anchor worked well in those conditions. The boat was very steady (less than 5° yaw I will say).

The Gulf Stream and the Kuroshio (Japan) notwithstanding, the Agulhas is likely the strongest and most articulated current on earth - with a reputation for breaking ships in two. Because of it, the southeast coast of Africa represents a gauntlet that mariners need to run with great care and prudence. Charts of the region warn: "Abnormal waves of up to 20 meters in height, preceded by a deep trough, may be encountered in the area between the edge of the continental shelf and twenty miles to seaward thereof. These can occur when a strong southwesterly wind is blowing."

The Agulhas runs mainly from northeast to southwest, following the two hundred meter contour of the continental shelf and dissipating over the Agulhas Bank south of Mossel Bay.

SW gale vs Agulhas Current
SW gale vs Agulhas Current

If the Agulhas could be likened to a great river - moving 80 million tons of water per second at speeds of up to six knots - the high-crested waves that form on it during southwesterly storms would be akin to the tidal bores that travel up the Amazon and the Bay of Fundy.

Since the current extends to depths of more than 1000 meters, and since it generally does not intrude onto the shelf regions, but tends to lie just offshore of the shelf edge, evasive procedure for cruisers has always been to stay clear of the area seaward of the edge of the continental shelf. What many sailors do after leaving Durban is to sail offshore just far enough to "kiss and ride" the current south, but not so far that they can't make a hasty retreat out of its axis and duck inshore at the slightest indication that there is a southwesterly gale brewing.

As always, the cardinal rule is never leave according to clock or calender, nor have a deadline at the other end. According to literature forwarded to Victor Shane by Chris Bonnet, Principal of the Ocean Sailing Academy in Durban, the best time of the year to travel south is January to March.

The gauntlet from Durban to East London is 250 miles with absolutely no safe place to duck into in between. Bonnet advises sailors to wait for a favorable window. Leave Durban at the tail-end of a southwesterly blow when the barometer has topped out, preferably at about 1020 milibars. Clear customs and immigration at the advent of a southwesterly, which will normally blow from 36 to 48 hours, then sail on to the two hundred meter line as soon as possible as this is where you can obtain a several-knot boost from the current.

It also means that in the event of not reaching East London before another southwester, you can quickly duck inshore and avoid being caught in the middle of the current - where sixty foot walls of water have been known to break ships in two. You will find that on average the two hundred meter line will give you a distance offshore - between Durban and East London - of approximately ten miles.

The gauntlet from East London to Port Elizabeth is shorter - 120 nautical miles. Kiss and ride the current, move inshore if caught. The Port Elizabeth to Cape Town leg is a little safer as there are decent places to anchor or put into - Knyasna, Cape St. Francis or Krombaai. But watch the charts and proceed with caution as there are rocks and reefs all about.

S/M-38 Tayana Surprise


Tayana Surprise

46' x 13 Tons, Fin Keel

18-Ft. Dia. Para-Anchor

Force 12 Conditions

File S/M-39, obtained from Stephen Edwards & Deborah Schutz, Henley Beach, South Australia - Vessel name Prisana II, hailing port Adelaide, Tayana Surprise ketch, designed by Pieter Beeldsnidser, LOA 46' x LWL 40' x Beam 13' 4" x Draft 6' 10" x 13 Tons - Fin keel - Sea anchor: 18-ft. Diameter para-anchor (Para-Anchors Australia) on 410' x 3/4" nylon three strand rode with 3/4" stainless steel swivel - Partial trip-line - Deployed in a storm in deep water about 75 miles west of Cape Bouvard (Western Australia), with winds of 65-80 knots and seas of 40-60 feet, with microbursts evident - Vessel's bow yawed 20-30° during 59 hours at sea anchor. Drift was affected by a southerly current.

This important file was initially forwarded by Alby McCracken of Para-Anchors Australia, to whom we are indebted. The sea anchor used was 18 feet in diameter, manufactured by Para-Anchors Australia. Stephen Edwards and Deborah Schutz are quite certain that it saved the boat. The winter storm that they ran into may have been reinforced by microbursts, judging by the thunderstorm activity, and by the tornado that left a 2-mile long swath of destruction through South Perth.

Deborah Schutz was kind enough to send a clipping from the July 17, 1996 edition of The West Australian. The headline reads "South Perth Hit by Rare Tornado." Accompanying photographs show the twister's fury as it rampaged through South Perth, taking roofs off of houses and uprooting trees. The Australian Weather Bureau's severe weather meteorologist, Tony Bannister, said the tornado probably originated west of Rottnest Island, traveling at about 80 km/h at sea, increasing in intensity and sporting 200 km/h winds when touching down at Perth.

Prisana II is heavy, with a lot of windage - two equal height masts, both with in-mast furling. She was en route to Dampier, Western Australia, from her home port of Adelaide, South Australia, when she ran into this freak storm.

Perhaps we have a recurrence of the same sort of freak events that Gold Eagle ran into in File S/T-15, where we find Dr. Andrew Cserny writing, "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.... The wind shrieked horribly with pitch and intensity I have never heard before." Gold Eagle was later struck by a rogue wave. So was Prisana II, leading your authors to believe that these may have been microburst-generated ESWs - extreme storm waves. Transcript:

Sunday July 14th, 1996: By nightfall we were almost abeam Cape Naturaliste. Our weather fax showed a complex low was fast approaching. Due to our position, the unfamiliar coastline and the wind direction (40 knots NNE) there were no safe anchorage along the coast here in these conditions. Our motor was playing up and the option of using our sea anchor already considered, but due to the number of ships in the vicinity, we decided to keep going. We reduced sails, expecting the winds to swing SW with the approaching front, which we'd use to get us to Fremantle. We were wrong! Throughout the night Mother Nature unleashed a storm of unrelenting fury, NNE to 50 knots with large seas - our only choice to head out to sea [starboard tack].

Monday July 15th: At first light we came about [port tack]. Perth Radio issued another gale force warning. The barometer read 996 and was rapidly falling. By evening strong west winds were in force, the barometer now at 990, though seas had moderated. As the night progressed, squalls reached 60 knots and lightning could be seen behind us as we traveled in a northerly direction [parallel to the coast of Western Australia]. The ferocity of the storm was intensifying. The needle on our wind indicator went beyond the last notch (65 knots) and the seas were dramatically increasing in height. At approximately 0500 hrs a huge wall of water knocked us down. The helmsman stood chest-high in water (thankfully harnessed) and our masts leaned to starboard, touching the surface of the ocean. We deployed the sea anchor, then all crew below and hatches battened. At this point we were 30 nautical miles off Rottnest Island.

Tuesday July 16th: During the morning I ventured above to the cockpit and was immediately awestruck. The seas were incredibly huge. I soon retreated below. I later found out the seas were reported to be 11 meters on top of a 9 meter swell - the faces of the waves around 60 feet. We currently had plenty of sea room and were drifting in a southerly direction at 1 knot. The parachute anchor held us steady, as the winds, sounding cyclonic, whirled over 70 knots. Waves drenched the deck as we rolled from side to side. For 24 hours we drifted in this direction, towards Naturaliste Reef.

"Tuesday July 16th: During the morning I ventured above to the cockpit and was immediately awestruck. The seas were incredibly huge. I soon retreated below.... The parachute anchor held us steady, as the winds, sounding cyclonic, whirled over 70 knots." (Photo credit: Deborah Schutz).
"Tuesday July 16th: During the morning I ventured above to the cockpit and was immediately awestruck. The seas were incredibly huge. I soon retreated below.... The parachute anchor held us steady, as the winds, sounding cyclonic, whirled over 70 knots." (Photo credit: Deborah Schutz).

Wednesday July 17th: We were drifting east and we now know that we were in the Leeuwin Current. The Leeuwin Current runs southward down the continental shelf from Indonesia, bringing masses of warm water. It begins flowing around April each year, through October, seldom moving faster than 1 knot in a band approximately 50 kilometers wide. The weather remained unchanged. All day long the winds continued to blow over 70 knots and we were now down almost as far as Bunbury, having crossed over, above the Naturaliste Reef. A large cargo ship had just lost 30 containers off Cape Leeuwin. The Adelaide media reported that a cyclone had hit Perth.

Thursday July 18th: Conditions were moderating, winds now down to 50 knots and the barometer slowly began to rise - seas still large but easing. Late in the afternoon we retrieved the para-anchor (which wasn't easy), and she came up with a hole in her. Our 130 meters of rope had stretched an extra 20 meters. The wind now blowing 30-40 knots - felt like a mere breeze as we set course for Rottnest Island. Friday July 19th, around 1030 hrs we motored into the Fremantle Sailing Club, grateful that we had decided to purchase a parachute anchor. With it we were able to ride out and survive the conditions - our bow held into the seas. The Weather Bureau in Perth described the freak weather as a rare winter tornado. It struck the coast with 200 km/h winds.

In the face of this important file, Victor Shane contacted Deborah Schutz & Stephen Edwards regarding a few more questions, and received additional answers as follows:

Was the deployment fairly easy? We preformed a "Flying Set" and deployment was relatively easy. The anchor rode was fixed to a strong point at our bow, led aft and held in position by plastic cable ties at 6-inch intervals along the port side toe rail to a deployment bag containing 125 meters of 18mm 3-strand nylon anchor rode. This was set up prior to our departure from Adelaide to cross the Great Australian Bight. Deployment simply involved reaching from the safety of the cockpit to the rode deployment bag, unlacing the top - removing the end of the rode and shackling it to the parachute anchor. Trip line floats were then fed overboard, followed by para-anchor in deployment bag. Within approximately 30 seconds, we had taken up all the rode and the vessel was gently pulled into the wind, allowing us to lower the sails.

How did the boat behave at sea anchor? Generally it appeared to be falling off 20 to 30 degrees, though it's difficult to be precise as we were below deck for nearly the whole duration of the storm. Occasionally we fell back on the rode and fell away to somewhere near 45°, approx. once every half hour, maybe due to rogue waves coming in on a different angle - hard to tell from down below.

What about the disposition of the rudder? The rudder was lashed to center at the quadrant, which broke twice - 6mm pre-stretched cord broke first, then 16mm nylon braid also didn't hold. We managed to make it hold on 18mm nylon anchor rode. Small twist, 10-15° in 2-inch 316 stainless steel rudder shaft at the point where quadrant is fixed.

What about chafe? Due to the set up of 1 meter of chain at the bow we had no chafing.

Any green water come on deck? Yes, Steve said there was a small amount, compared to the 2-3 foot of white water that washed over the deck.

General impressions of strains involved? We've realized the attachment point on bow needs to be extremely strong. Parachute anchor was shackled to 1/2 inch chain link welded to ship's anchor. Our ship's anchor was stored below deck level via custom bow fitting [as with large ships, the forward part of the anchor left protruding out of the bow, and the para-anchor rode shackled directly to the ship's anchor by a 1 meter length of chain], then secured aft by 3/8 inch Ronstan rigging screws, secured to a 10mm stainless steel plate, bolted under the anchor winch. Winch and plate fastened by 6 x 3/8 inch stainless steel studs. Both the fixing point to the ship's anchor and to the plate were backed up by secondary systems. Ronstan rigging screw had 10mm chain back-up. Fixing to anchor was backed up by 5/8 inch stainless steel bolt, through anchor cheeks. Both systems failed! Ronstan rigging screw had 8 turns of thread removed. Back-up held, but ship's anchor smashed around, causing damage to our stainless steel bow fitting. Chain-link welded to ship's anchor was torn off and secondary chain from nylon rode took up the weight on 5/8 inch stainless steel bolt through anchor cheeks.

Did you use a full trip line? No, partial trip line - 2 floats and 2 x 15 meter lines with swivels.

Was retrieval easy? Not really. Wind was still strong (40-45 knots) and seas were still huge and getting steeper due to the shallowing depths as we got close to the coast - running out of sea room. Due to the noise from the wind and seas it was difficult to hear skipper's instructions from the bow to the helm and we fouled the rode on the propeller.

How big was the tear in the para-anchor? Two large, well frayed holes in two separate panels, between the venthole and the skirt.

Did the para-anchor save the boat? Absolutely!!! In the conditions we were caught in, we believe having our para-anchor set up, ready for deployment prior to leaving port, was crucial in the safe and easy deployment. Seas were huge - by far the biggest we had ever seen. Parachute rode was spanning one swell, being ripped out of the troughs and pulled taut. There was much white water being swept from the swell tops - large rolling loads of white water. Prisana II took many loads of white water across the deck, (maybe 2-3 feet of white water coming over the bow). The conditions were so bad that it was impossible to be anywhere on deck. We used a harness just to visit the cockpit - almost all of our time was spent below deck. The noise of the wind whirling outside was incredible.

We had a close encounter with a container ship slowly jogging into the storm, headed our way on the dawn of day two. Our radio contact was first answered by another ship, Australian, six miles away, and they informed us that this container ship was a foreign vessel, also mentioning that they didn't envy us one bit. After ten long minutes the container ship finally answered our call and his broken English caused us a minor panic - he didn't seem eager to alter his course! He told us he had no ballast and that he couldn't even see us! After persuading him to alter course by 10-15 degrees he passed us by only 0.4 nautical miles away - confirmed by our radar. The seas were so big that we were totally losing sight of this container ship (approx 400 foot long with an extensive bridge structure) behind the swells.


S/M-30 Venus 46 Ketch


Venus 46 Ketch

46' x 19 Tons, Low Aspect Fin/Skeg

24-Ft. Dia. Sea Anchor

Force 9 Conditions


File S/M-30, obtained from F. Bradford Smith, Newton PA. - Vessel name Kindred Spirit III, hailing port Baltimore, Venus Ketch, designed by Bob Salthouse, LOA 46' 6" x LWL 36' 6" x Beam 13' 6" x Draft 5' x 19 Tons - Low aspect fin keel & skeg rudder - Sea anchor: 24-ft. Diameter Para-Tech on 500' x 3/4" nylon double-braid rode with 3/4" stainless steel swivel - No trip line - Deployed in a gale in deep water about 600 miles east of Miami, with winds of 40-50 knots and seas of 20-25 feet - Vessel's bow yawed 10° with the mizzen up - Drift was minimal during 18 hours at sea anchor.

Kindred Spirit III was designed by Kiwi naval architect Bob Salthouse for New Zealand waters. She is a 46-ft. double headsail ketch displacing about 38,000 lbs. In late October 1985 she was being sailed from St. Croix USVI to Baltimore MD when she ran into foul weather. On board were the owner and skipper, age fifty four, himself an experienced sailor with moderate offshore experience, his wife, and a male crew member, age fifty six, an experienced coastal sailor. A 24-ft. diameter Para-Tech sea anchor was deployed on 500' of 3/4" nylon rode. This is the largest sea anchor Para-Tech makes for small craft and requires at least two crew members to deploy and retrieve. F. Bradforth Smith provides a compelling - step by step - account of the logistics that are involved in the deployment and retrieval of a large sea anchor on a large yacht:

Kindred Spirit III was newly purchased by her owners, who had spent the previous two months planning the delivery and preparing themselves and the boat for the trip. The preparations included the purchase of a parachute-type sea anchor system consisting of a 24' diameter Para-Tech model; 600' of 3/4" braided nylon rode made up in two 300' shots so that the rode was of manageable weight, each shot having heavy duty thimbles (one with thimbles at both ends, and one with a thimble at only one end); a 3/4" stainless swivel for connecting the rode to the anchor shackle; and a 7/8" galvanized shackle for connecting the two shots of rode to each another. Additionally, the owners installed heavy duty hawse holes in the forward bulwarks approximately three feet aft of the stem. These were specifically intended as the lead for the sea anchor rode, and were deemed necessary because Kindred Spirit III's bow chocks were open top chocks and were located atop a 6-inch bulwark, resulting in an unfair lead to the bow cleats seated on deck. The presence of twin steel anchor roller and a large deck-mounted winch made a chafe-free lead directly over the bow problematic.

Six days out of St. Croix Kindred Spirit encountered a line squall which destroyed the leach of her 135% roller furling Kevlar tape drive genoa, rendering it useless and unrepairable with the materials and equipment on board. Proceeding under staysail, reefed main and mizzen, Kindred Spirit was faced with backing wind, and in late afternoon of 2 November was motorsailing into building wind and seas under staysail and mizzen only. Although the boat was moving comfortably and under full control, at 2000 the skipper decided to heave-to because the wind continued to be unfavorable, the seas were continuing to build, and he was concerned that the crew not become fatigued.

Hove-to with staysail and unreefed mizzen, Kindred Spirit rode out the night in comfort, and the skipper enjoyed a full night's sleep. At 0600 on 3 November the skipper decided to deploy the sea anchor because both wind and seas had continued to build during the night and, while the vessel continued to ride comfortably hove-to, the failure of the genoa caused the skipper to have concerns that the other heretofore undetected gear weakness could result in damage to the staysail, the mizzen, or the running rigging, any one of which could produce a dangerous situation.

Additionally, the barometer was reading 1020 and above, indicating that what was being experienced was not a passing low pressure front or cell, and thus no reasonable estimation could be made of the current situation's expected duration. (It was later determined that what was experienced was probably a strong local enhancement of the NE trades, occasioned by a deep low pressure trough which had fallen off the US southeast coast the previous day, creating tightly-spaced isobars between it and the high pressure ridge around whose backside Kindred Spirit's route was planned).

The sea anchor, rode and related hardware, all stowed in the V-berth forward, were brought to the center cockpit and assembled. Both the movement of the equipment and its assembly were difficult due both to weight (even at 300', the rodes weighed in with thimbles at almost 70 lbs. each) and to the motion of the boat as it rode 20+ foot waves. This process, which required managing 600' of 3/4" line in the center cockpit in a manner which permitted access to both ends of each of the 300' shots without creating any tangles, was slow, tedious work which took almost two hours to complete. In the skipper's opinion, attempting to accomplish this task hurriedly in an emergency situation is a recipe for disaster, and attempting it on an open foredeck in any kind of severe weather is unwise.

Once fully assembled and checked, including double mousing of the shackles, the bitter end of the rode was led forward outside all rigging and lifelines and was inserted through the hawse hole from the outside in and about 150' of rode was pulled through the hawse hole and made neat and fast on the foredeck. This rather awkward process was required because the heavy duty thimbles on the 3/4" line would not fit through the hawse holes, even though the hawse pipes installed were the largest available from boating catalogues. A six foot length of fire hose was slipped over the rode's bitter end using a boat hook as a needle, and was then run down the rode to the hawse hole, where it was made fast to the bow cleat. This was accomplished by cutting a "V" shaped notch in one edge of the flat fire hose, and then running a short piece of 3/8" line with a stopper knot through the hole and tying the fire hose to a cleat [so it could not migrate]. This was the only trip to the foredeck required during the entire deployment operation. A 20" round fender buoy to serve both as a locator and as a trip line float was attached to the short nylon web tether provided with the sea anchor. No other trip line was used.

The sea anchor was then deployed from the relatively protected amidships weather deck adjacent to the center cockpit with the boat still hove-to. During deployment, the rode was snubbed about every 50' both to encourage the anchor to emerge from the storage/deployment bag and to help assure that the rode was running free. The boat did not respond to the sea anchor until almost all the rode was deployed and some substantial load was on the rode, at which point she came smartly round to windward and lay about 20° off the wind. The staysail was then doused and secured before it could drive the bow further off the wind and broadside to the waves.

The unreefed mizzen, of approx. 195 sq. ft., was left up as a riding sail the entire time at sea anchor, the intent being to get the boat to lie 40+ degrees off the wind in an attitude similar to that achieved when hove-to. While this did stabilize her motion somewhat, the sheeting angle needed to bring the bow down the desired amount was, in the skipper's opinion, such that too great risk of sail damage existed, so closer sheeting resulted in a stable wind angle of about 30 degrees.

Laying relatively quietly to the sea anchor, Kindred Spirit received only spray on her deck for the 18 hours she lay-to, except for one boarding wave which was the second of two very steep and large waves so closely spaced that her bow was unable to rise from the back of the first to ride the face of the second. The sea anchor consistently "pulled" her bow through the face and crests of waves. Although the anchor rode was bar tight, no jerkiness was experienced, and the rode seemed, between stretch and catenary action, to exert a constant pressure on the deck cleat to which it was secured.

The sight of the 20" round red float bobbing happily on the crest of the next wave in the train was a sight reassuring beyond description. On the other hand, the 3/4" rode, so massive in the cockpit, looked every bit like a string, from which it seemed Kindred Spirit was hanging for dear life. On several occasions the skipper was grateful that he had gone up a size from the rode size recommended.

Every two hours or so a foot or two of rode saved on deck for the purpose was released to even out any chafe. No chafe or even black marks from the inside surface of the fire hose was ever noted. Because the load on the rode was very high, the paying out of rode was a testy business. To avoid even the possibility of a runaway rode and possible loss of the sea anchor, an amidships cleat was used as a second securing point, and the rode was secured to this cleat with enough slack to permit both the paying out of the desired foot or two and the reattachment of the rode to the primary bow cleat. While this arrangement was never tested to its fullest, there were small mishaps which proved the value of the double attachment. Serious injury to hands and fingers is a real danger here, and must be taken seriously.

The skipper had intended to utilize a "Pardey bridle" to bring the bow 40-50° off the wind, primarily for comfort. The riding snatch block normally used in this setup was not attached to the rode before the rode was under load due to the risk of mishap during deployment. After deployment, it was discovered that the 6 foot chafing gear extended so far down the rode that it was impossible safely to reach beyond it to attach the snatch block. The load on the rode was so great that the skipper decided to not risk mishap by attempting to bring the rode alongside to permit attachment of the snatch block, and the bridle idea was scrapped. While the boat's motion was not extreme, it was uncomfortable and enervating. The relative comfort of lying hove-to was significantly higher than the motion experienced lying to the sea anchor without the benefit of a twin attachment point scheme. During future deployments a shorter chafing gear rig will be used and the snatch block will be deployed as a high priority.

During the morning of 4 November the wind and sea began to abate, and by noon the sea anchor retrieval process began. The initial retrieval of the rode was relatively straightforward, as Kindred Spirit was slowly motored toward the sea anchor guided by the orange float, which proved invaluable for this purpose. Due to the remaining wind and sea, constant attention was required to assure progress in the direction of the anchor, and prearranged hand signals from the foredeck to the helm were an absolute necessity. As the rode came aboard, the problem of a now wet 600 feet of 3/4" line on the foredeck became serious. As a practical matter, there was nothing to be done during the retrieval process except to assure that the rode was securely on board and not underfoot. As the float came to be retrieved a significant unexpected problem presented itself.

Upon securing the float aboard, attention was given to the retrieval of the sea anchor itself. Buoyed (no pun intended) by the successful sea anchor experience, the foredeck crew failed to anticipate the extreme load still on the nylon web [float line] tether due to the weight of the now deflated but wet 24 foot nylon parachute and to the strong motion of the boat as she bobbed in the sloppy leftover seas. The male crew member got his upper arm tangled in the webbing, and caught between the webbing and the upper lifeline. Before he was able to extract himself the loads badly bruised his upper arm. Had the tether been smaller in diameter, or had the crew member caught a wrist or finger, broken bones would have been distinct possibilities. It is strongly recommended that much greater consumer education emphasis be placed on the loads and resultant potential dangers associated with anchor retrieval. In the skipper's opinion, retrieval is at least as dangerous as deployment and is especially tricky due to the random load cycling resulting from the uneven motion of the boat as the anchor rode and tether become shorter at the late retrieval stage. Visions of plucking a deflated sea anchor from the water while hanging over the bow with a boat hook are not only fantasies for all but the very smallest equipment, but are also downright dangerous because they so grossly misrepresent the actual loads and associated dangers of sea anchor retrieval.

Upon final retrieval, the anchor, rode and miscellaneous hardware was stowed on the large afterdeck. While this exposed the rode to sunlight, no practical alternative was found which did not involve dragging 600 feet of salt water soaked rode through the salon to the forward head. Minimum sea anchor equipage should include a tarp or other device with which the retrieved rode and sea anchor can be securely protected from the sun and still remain on deck. Future enhancements to Kindred Spirit's storm preparations will include two life raft canisters permanently attached to the aft cabin roof, customized with adequate drain holes and thus intended to permit both dry and wet storage of the sea anchor, rode, and miscellaneous hardware. An anticipated benefit of this arrangement is the ability to substantially make up the sea anchor assembly before departure, thus significantly reducing the time required to deploy.

In summary, the parachute type sea anchor performed in a flawless manner during deployment in moderate gale wind and sea conditions. The ride while at sea anchor was uncomfortable but is expected to be substantially enhanced by use of a bridle off the side of the vessel, thus permitting the adjustment of the vessel's attitude to wind and seas. The 24' diameter sea anchor and its 3/4" rode are large, heavy pieces of equipment whose assembly, deployment and retrieval require very detailed planning and a realistic understanding of the conditions on a vessel in circumstances which make such deployment desirable. Finally, the notion that a 24' diameter sea anchor is a practical means of stopping for lunch is just not a realistic expectation. Heave-to for lunch, leave the sea anchor for when conditions make lunch an effort.

This skipper is grateful that his first deployment was in conditions which were relatively forgiving, and I encourage anyone purchasing a sea anchor to fully deploy, lie-to and retrieve it in moderate conditions. The education thus obtained cannot be described. And, don't leave home without one.

S/M-20 Hinckley 49 Ketch


Hinckley 49 Ketch

49' x 19 Tons, Wide Keel & Centerboard

18-Ft. Dia. Sea Anchor

Force 10+ Conditions


File S/M-20, obtained from delivery skipper Michael Auth, Worton, MD. - Vessel name Pilgrim, hailing port Oxford, Hinckley ketch designed by McCurdy & Rhodes, LOA 49' x LWL 43' x Beam 12' x Draft 5' 6" (9' with CB down) x 19 Tons - Wide keel & auxiliary centerboard - Sea anchor: 18-ft. diameter Para-Tech on 300' x 3/4" nylon three strand with 5/8" stainless steel swivel - Deployed in deep water about 95 miles east of Cape Hatteras (in Gulf Stream) in hurricane Gordon with winds of 50-60 knots and seas of 35 feet - Vessel's bow yawed 10°.


Pilgrim was caught in the web of hurricane Gordon in November 1994. With options exhausted, an 18-ft. diameter Para-Tech sea anchor was deployed - on the fly! It pulled the bow of the yacht right up into the seas (only 10° of yaw) and kept it there for fifteen minutes. However the sea anchor rig was lost shortly thereafter. With conditions worsening Pilgrim had to be abandoned, the crew being taken off by the Coast Guard. Transcript:

Possibly you have read or seen national news coverage including video footage of a dramatic Coast Guard helicopter sea rescue off the Virginia coast this past fall. Actually there were two sailing vessels that got caught in hurricane Gordon and fortunately all the crew from both vessels were successfully rescued by the Coast Guard. I was skipper on the vessel Pilgrim, a 1974, 49' Hinckley ketch sailing from St. Georges, Bermuda to Chesapeake Bay. The boat was in above average condition and had recently undergone extensive upgrading. I have accumulated approximately 70,000 sea miles delivering both power and sail vessels and as customary went through my usual pre-delivery checklist which included inspecting emergency gear.

Pilgrim was equipped with a new 18' PARA-TECH sea anchor and all crew familiarized themselves with proper deployment procedures although we never really though we would have to use this gear. Typical! I thought I had a good "weather window" to make the 600 mile crossing. I not only had the Bermuda weather service's latest information, but had also retained the services of a private meteorologist - Bob Rice's Weather Window, Inc. All weather forecasts indicated Tropical Storm Gordon would track into the Gulf of Mexico and most probably weaken and pose no threat to us.

We departed Bermuda on Nov.14 and made good progress towards the Chesapeake. On Thursday Nov. 17, only 110 nm from the Bay but still in the Gulf Stream, we got hit by what was once a Tropical Storm, now declared Hurricane Gordon! Pilgrim experienced serious problems and equipment failures in Force-10 conditions, which ultimately resulted in our decision to place a Mayday call and activate our EPIRB. Just prior to this we had deployed our PARA-TECH sea anchor. This was not an easy task as we were running downwind in 30-40' heavy breaking confused seas with sustained winds of 50 kts and greater. We managed to secure the tether of the sea anchor to our bow anchor, connected to chain and nylon rode. Once the sea anchor was thrown overboard, rode went out of the chain locker in a wild, uncontrolled, extremely fast and dangerous manner.

The 18' diameter sea anchor worked excellent holding the bow of Pilgrim into the wind and seas and allowing the crew to attempt emergency repairs under much more controlled conditions. We felt fortunate to have the PARA-TECH sea anchor and believed this would give us the opportunity to control the boat which we didn't have previously. However, about fifteen minutes after we deployed the sea anchor we noticed that the rode connecting it to Pilgrim was gone! Somehow, we'll never know exactly, the entire rode was gone from the chain locker! Conditions were so bad below we couldn't examine the chain locker to determine the cause of the problem but might speculate that: 1) The force acting on the rode, including the shock loads, (which were great) might have been too great and pulled the bitter end free. 2) Possibly the bitter end, however it was secured, had parted in some manner. 3) Possibly as some owners will do, tie a large knot in the bitter end so it won't pass through the deck opening, this could have pulled through the deck opening. 4) Also, some owners will secure a piece of wood at the bitter end to prevent the rode from running free. If this was the case, it could have broken and allowed the rode to run out. 5) Another theory, if the rode had been secured to an eye bolt or other securing device, it could have broken or pulled out too. Bottom line is that we did in fact loose our sea anchor which was doing it's job of helping to control the vessel. Consequently when we lost this gear we lost control and eventually had to abandon Pilgrim!

Some suggestions I might offer to possibly avoid this type of situation would be: 1) Place a WARNING notice in an obvious location telling the user to check that the bitter end of the anchor rode is securely attached to a permanent strong piece of equipment that can take a strong shock load or force.... 2) Possibly design a better or easier way of connecting the sea anchor tether to the anchor and/or anchor chain.... The crew on Pilgrim had a most difficult time trying to secure the sea anchor tether under extreme conditions (the usual conditions when you need to deploy this gear). Maybe a heavy duty snap shackle would work? When you're on the bow and it is rising and falling 30 feet or more, it is a most dangerous and difficult task to say the least!

D/C-4 Catamaran, Lagoon


Catamaran, Lagoon

46' x 25' x 11 Tons

48" Dia. Galerider

Force 9 Conditions

File D/C-4, obtained from Dr. Tim King, Elkhart, IN. - Vessel name Ariel, hailing port Juneau, Alaska, Lagoon catamaran designed by Jeanneau, LOA 46' 3" x Beam 24' 11" x Draft 3' 11" x 11 Tons - Drogue: 48" Diameter Galerider on 350' x 5/8" nylon braid tether, with bridle arms of 70' each and stainless steel 5/8" swivel - Deployed in a gale in deep water about 300 miles SW of Cape Finisterre, Spain, with winds of 40-45 knots and seas of 20 ft. - Vessel's stern yawed 10° - Speed was reduced to about 3 knots during 24 hours of deployment.


Dr. Tim King had a Valiant 41 monohull named Foggy Mountain. In June 1989 Foggy Mountain won a fifteen-round bare knuckle fight with a life-threatening storm in the Gulf of Alaska. No drag devices were used. It was a survival saga, with fatigue and hypothermia playing significant roles. At the height of the storm King and crew witnessed enormous "holes and pyramids" on the surface of the sea. In an article appearing in the Jan/Feb 1990 issue Ocean Navigator Tim King wrote that some of these "holes" were 30 feet deep. They were barreling along at 30 knots and it was only by blind luck that the boat didn't fall into one. Dr. King has since sold the Valiant and purchased a Jeanneau Lagoon 47 catamaran. In March 1992 he and crew took delivery of Ariel in France and set sail for the U.S. The boat was equipped with an 18-ft. diameter Para-Tech sea anchor and a 48" Galerider drogue. En route to the Canary Islands they ran into a gale and used the Galerider to slow the boat down. There was a copy of the Drag Device Data Base on board and crew members took turns reading it during the gale! Transcript:

Like all catamarans, Ariel tends to be very fast on all points off the wind. Specifically her fine entry and rapid flaring of the hulls allows her to surf without difficulty. The majority of the steering, even during surfing, was handled by the Autohelm autopilot. After 48 hours of building wind conditions, we found ourselves sailing under a broad reach with maturing seas. Our speeds were consistently 15-20 kts. under jib and/or triple-reefed main. The ride was relatively smooth except for the slamming of occasional waves under the bridge deck. The boat handled exceptionally well during prolonged surfs under autopilot control.

At 0600 (on the beginning of the 3rd day of the gale), before sunrise, the boat was lifted by the stern on the crest of a very large wave. There was a slight hesitation as the boat approached the crest, whereupon a second wave apparently augmented the first one and lifted us even higher up the new crest. (This second wave must have come from about 30-60° off the prevailing wave direction). Three things then occurred. First, the now confused breaking wave crest broke over the dinghy davits (the dinghy was stored upside down on top of the davits) and crashed chaotically into the cockpit (which rapidly drained off due to a well-designed drain system). Secondly, the boat was turned sideways and heeled some (10-25° ?) to starboard. The boat apparently then slid sideways for a short distance, being carried on the breaking crest of the wave, until the leeward hull and keel finally dug in. Thirdly, poised as she was at the crest of a larger than normal wave, she took off at an angle down the face of the wave and reached a speed clearly in excess of 20 kts. (We did not see the knot meter, but judged the speed from the vibration of the hull/rudder system.)

It was at this point that it was decided to deploy the Galerider in order to slow the boat down and prevent uncontrolled surfing. The Galerider was deployed via a bridle and 2 x 100' lengths of rode. Extreme care was taken in its deployment, but there were no injuries or hardware problems (remember, it was still dark). The result was that the vessel immediately slowed to 2-4 kts. and no surfing occurred at speeds greater than 5 kts. This slower speed allowed cross wave patterns to more easily catch up to us and pass by, thus creating more bridgedeck slamming and leeward hull pounding, but NOT with the intensity that had occurred while surfing. The boat would not self-steer in these conditions and continued to require an active autopilot. She was, however, well-balanced under bare poles and the autopilot did not have to work very hard.

Daylight showed us a sea with multiple well-developed wave trains coming at angles off the beam and stern. During the next 12 hours we saw several wave interactions that could have accounted for our early morning incident. However, it was never repeated while under drogue. Speed and steering were well under control. The yellow drogue could be seen (fully submerged at all times) under the surface about two full wave trains behind. After 24 hrs. it was winched in without incident and we proceeded under jib and triple-reefed main in 28-30 kts. of wind.

I think in retrospect a slightly longer rode would have prevented some of the bridle's vertical "slapping" of the waves as the rode stretched and contracted. There were, however, no chafe or hardware problems. We were well-prepared with the proper equipment, shackles and rodes. Therein lies the key to success.

D/M-13 Monohull, Mason


Monohull, Mason

46' x 12.5 Tons, Full Keel

30" Dia. Conical Drogue

Force 11+ Conditions


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

D/M-12 Monohull, Norseman 447


Monohull, Norseman 447

45' x 14 Tons, Low Aspect Fin Keel

Sea Squid Drogue

Force 12+ Conditions

File D/M-12, obtained from Paula & Dana Dinius, Long Beach, CA. - Vessel name Destiny, hailing port Long Beach, monohull, Norseman 447 designed by Robert Perry, LOA 45' x LWL 37.6' x Beam 13' x Draft 6.5' x 14 Tons - Low aspect fin keel - Drogue: Australian Sea Squid on 200' x 1/2" nylon braid rode + 12' of 3/8" chain, with bridle arms of 20' each - Deployed in the Queen's Birthday Storm in deep water near 25° 55.7' S, 175° 28.4' E (about 400 miles SSW of Fiji) with winds of 80-100 knots and seas of 60 ft. and greater - Vessel's stern yawed 45° and more with the owner steering - Speed averaged about 6 knots during 15 hours of deployment - Destiny was damaged after somersaulting off a huge stacking wave and had to be abandoned.


In June 1994 a regatta of pleasure yachts left New Zealand, headed for Tonga. En route they were devastated by an unseasonable cyclone.

The event coincided with the celebration of Queen Elizabeth's birthday, and has been referred to as the Queen's Birthday Storm ever since. About half a dozen boats were abandoned. Two dozen sailors had to be rescued. The yacht Quartermaster sank with loss of three lives.

Destiny, the subject of this file, did a spectacular dive off the top of an eighty foot wave. Dana Dinius told Victor Shane that it was like going over the falls on a surfboard - the yacht fell straight down. He distinctly remembers being weightless while hanging on to the wheel. Destiny went end over end when she finally hit bottom, doing a cartwheel and snap roll that bent her mast all the way around the hull. Dana's leg was badly broken at the hip, incapacitating him. Paula somehow managed to drag him inside, where the two spent a night to remember, rescue aircraft circling overhead.

The life and death rescue drama that transpired the next day is described in great detail in other texts and videos, among them Tony Farrington's book Rescue In The Pacific (International Marine Publications), and Ninox Films's epic video, Pacific Rescue (Ninox Films, Ltd., PO Box 9839, Wellington, NZ).

At this point we would like to digress and say something else about the Queen's Birthday Storm: the cyclonic conditions were exacerbated by microburst-generated ESWs. The term ESW - extreme storm wave - was coined by Jerome W. Nickerson when he was head of NOAA's National Weather Service Marine Observation Program. "The ESW appears to be about 2.5 times the significant wave," wrote Nickerson in the NOAA publication, Mariner's Weather Log (Vol 29, No. 1 - see also Vol 37, No. 4, the Great Wave issue). ESWs arrive as colossal walls of water with a deep trench in front. When aligned with the seaway they may be technically classified as episodic (wave events that stand apart from all others during the analysis interval). When misaligned, they may be classified as freaks, mavericks or rogues, because they intrude into the dominant seaway at angles of up to 50°, causing "stacking" and "wave doubling" where they intersect with the regular significant waves. Sometimes ESWs come in pairs, the largest following on the heels of the first. On rare occasions they may even come in sets of three, a fearsome phenomenon dubbed the three sisters by ancient mariners.



Microburst producing a 'gust front' or 'shear line'
Microburst producing a 'gust front' or 'shear line'

Cold, dense air from the upper part of thunderstorm cell plummets downward. When it reaches the surface it spreads out on all sides, but most strongly in the direction of the movement of the storm. The outer edge is called a gust front or shear line. Bold arcs in lower right corner indicate dangerous area in which the gust front is sufficiently synchronized with the prevailing waves to reinforce/amplify a few significant ones into Extreme Storm Waves (ESWs). There were dozens of massive thunderstorm cells embedded within the Queen's Birthday Storm.

Putting all things together, several components can be applied to the Queen's Birthday Storm, setting the stage for the genesis of ESWs: Inordinately steep pressure gradients, resulting from the confrontation of differing air masses; a rapidly developing, warm-core cyclonic system, rotating clockwise in the southern hemisphere; wind field rapidly increasing to above Force 10 (50 knots sustained), producing significant waves of about 20 feet. The picture so far is fairly representative of the average storm. However, we now have to look for an additional reinforcing agent or catalyst by means of which significant waves can be built up to the 80-ft. monster that threw Destiny end over end in the Queen's Birthday Storm.

According to Jerome W. Nickerson, one such catalyst or reinforcing agent can be found in extreme downbursts. Such downbursts are associated with the rapid venting of energy bottled up in discrete thunderstorm cells embedded within the larger storm system. Thunderheads have been known to reach heights of 65,000 feet. The cold, dense downdraft from such a concentrated energy cell will sometimes produce wind gusts of 100-knots and higher - as with tornadoes. When such a downburst reaches the surface of the sea it could statistically synchronize with, organize, reinforce and amplify the existing significant waves into ESWs.

We already have a 979 mb cyclone in the Queen's Birthday Storm. Add sudden, catalytic release of energy bottled up in massive thunderstorm cells, pulsing down against the surface of the sea and thereafter spreading out on all sides (but most strongly in the direction in which the storm is moving) in the form of a gust front or squall line.

Speculation locates the genesis of an ESW at a place where the speed and direction of the moving gust front coincides with the speed and direction of the highest existing waves (lower right corner, bold arcs in Fig. 55). The developing ESW - the dominant wave in the train - will now collect more energy from the wind than the other waves. Moving faster, it will also merge with and collect energy from the smaller waves it is overtaking, in effect "stacking" and "snowballing" into the stature of a genuine extreme storm wave.

Was this the case in the Queen's Birthday Storm? Well, it could have been a contributing factor because we have many first hand accounts of violent thunderstorm activity. In fact there was so much electrical activity that many claimed to have seen strange lights - some even thought they had seen flying saucers. Commander Larry Robbins of the HMNZS Monowai (one of the rescue ships) reported seeing such lights, as did other personnel aboard the ship. "Suddenly the decks lit up... the sky just lit up and we could see for miles," said Lieutenant Andrew Saunderson. Jim Helden, captain of the cargo ship Tui Cakau III - whose Fijian crew took Paula and Dana off Destiny - saw the electric show, as did Paula and Dana Dinius themselves. Said Paula in the interview that she and Dana did for Ninox Films, "The lightning was approaching... I believe we went right through the center because of this lightning show... it was just amazing... you could just see it coming directly, and then it was on us, and it was just all over us... you could feel it as it cracked... it would just go through your body."

One can also infer microbursts from the baffling testimony of Dana Dinius himself. Dana was bewildered by the chaotic nature and direction of the wind as he struggled with Destiny's helm: "We had 85 knots of wind, and it really wasn't a wind... it was a mist, it was really intriguing... there was a real presence there, an evil that we felt... the wind would come in from the right or the left and swirl up in front of us in a big mist, and then it would exit... and it might exit forward, it might exit over my shoulder... it wasn't a consistent type of a wind, and with the lightning cracking all around us, it was... we can only describe it as a real evil." (Courtesy Ninox Films).

Only a severe microburst - or macroburst - could have exhibited such chaotic characteristics (meteorologists call downbursts with outflow diameters of no greater than 2.2 nm microbursts, and those with outflow diameters greater than 2.2 nm macrobursts). Depending on her position beneath the downburst, Destiny might have been blasted with 80-100 knot gusts from any number of directions. Transcript:

On June 4, 1994, five days out of Auckland, New Zealand, approximately 400 nm SSW of Fiji, my wife Paula and I were hit by an out of season 979mb cyclone. It was to come without warning and deliver constant 80-85 knot winds (gusts over 100 knots) and 15 meter breaking seas. At the storm's conclusion 21 people were rescued, 7 cruising boats abandoned and, sadly, three lives lost. Our boat and home for seven years, a Norseman 447 named Destiny, was a 45 foot fiberglass performance cruiser designed by Robert Perry. Unfortunately, she was not to survive the storm, pitch-poling off a 100 foot stacking wave resulting in severe damage to both the boat and her crew.

The cyclone dropped on us without warning. Our land-based weather service had forecasted for us 35-40 knots of wind during the evening, coming from a 1005mb LOW located to the north around Fiji. Since our weather fax printouts from both New Zealand and Australia confirmed that report, we had no reason to suspect anything else. At 1800 hours, after our evening check-in and with 3 meter breaking seas behind us, we elected to go to bare poles and deploy our drogue. At the time we felt it to be a bit of an overkill, but thought it would provide us with a relatively quiet night. Our drogue was an Australian SEA SQUID, an orange plastic cone designed to channel water into its sides and out the rear, creating a braking effect. Not expecting any real weather, we deployed it off the port side on 200 feet of 1/2 inch yacht braid, and 12 feet of 3/8" chain to hold it down under the surface. The line was run through the aft port chock and up to the primary winch in the cockpit. A bridle of sorts was jury rigged by tying a shorter piece of 1/2 inch line to the rode and running it back to the primary winch on the starboard side. By adjusting the length of the both leads we could get the drogue to trail directly behind the boat, or to either side.

SEA SQUID (no longer available).
SEA SQUID (no longer available).

During the night the seas increased to giant mountains towering well above the mast. It had the look of traveling through snow-capped mountains during a lightning storm. The P-3 Orion crew that held station over us during the rescue, said their ground search radar was giving them 80 to 100 foot variances, indicating trough to peak heights. We found our drogue set-up to be optimal in conditions that far exceeded what we expected that night. Destiny was held to 3-4 knots in the troughs and 7-8 knots running down the giant wave faces. There seemed to be little or no yawing, and steering control, while being a little sluggish from the trailing drogue, was responsive enough to handle the storm. The ride in general, although very wet, was relatively smooth.

Although the speed was well under control we still felt it necessary to hand steer the boat. The blast of wind hitting the transom as we raised up out of the trough (generally 35 knots in the trough and 80+ on the crest) was strong enough to drive the stern of the boat hard to port or starboard. Reaction had to be quick and complete enough to bring the stern back around before the breaking seas engulfed it. Failure to complete this maneuver left us exposed at an angle to the breaking seas, which would in turn push the boat further around, greatly increasing the danger of a broach/roll. There were times we were hit so hard that Destiny, even with the helm hard over, barely corrected stern to the seas before the next wave crest. It is our feeling that the autopilot (an Auto Helm 6000-Mark II) would not, at the peak of the storm, have been able to correct fast enough to complete the maneuver.

We feel our chances of surviving the storm were greatly increased by choosing an active role at the helm. This decision took into account exhaustion and exposure. Warm, tropical weather diminishes exposure problems, and as for exhaustion, we've learned in extreme conditions the pure adrenaline pump will keep you going many more hours than you think is humanly possible now. Had we been in a colder climate we may have decided differently. We also realize that an active technique is not for everyone. For those who do not wish an active part, a much larger drogue that would hold the boat at a snail pace, "perhaps" would give the resistance needed to stay stern-to with the aid of an autopilot. We are sure, however, the boat would take a terrible beating given the size and power of the seas we experienced. As it was, we lost most of our cockpit canvas and saw extensive damage to the supporting stainless steel long before the pitch-pole.

What was learned:

1) 200' of rode is not enough. Twice during the night our drogue broke loose and pulled out of the wave behind us. Destiny shot from 7 knots to 14 knots in the bat of an eyelid. Had there been any way to extend the rode at that point we would have, but by then the weather was critical. The cockpit was constantly awash. Hanging on and steering was all we could manage. We learned that given a shorthanded crew, the rig you go into extreme weather with is most likely what you will be forced to stay with for the duration. Hindsight tells us that even if we didn't think we would use it, we should have rigged more line. Our suggestion is to have the stern anchor rode rigged so you can attach the drogue at a moment's notice.

2) We found that directly downwind was the most stable and survivable course. In our case, at 7 knots, burying the bow was not a concern. Our biggest concern was being caught sideways and rolled. We attempted to cheat to the SSW whenever possible to work out of the dangerous SE quadrant of the storm, but found it almost impossible to make much ground without putting the boat at risk of a broach.

3) The most critical point of the storm, with respect to survival, came when the winds had subsided a little, during the eye of the storm. The wind was never the real problem. As it fell from the 80's to the 50's the seas, which up to this time had their crests blown flat, began to break more top to bottom. The wave faces became steep enough to force corrections port or starboard to keep from broaching in the troughs, even traveling at 7 knots. Three times during the morning hours, Destiny's keel broke loose and we slid down the wave face like dropping in an elevator. It was at this point we felt control had been lost and we issued our PAN PAN call. As the wind began to clock south and increase again, there developed a secondary wave direction which created a "stacking effect." Ultimately, we feel that's what killed Destiny. Two or three breaking waves stacking on top of one another produced a bottomless situation. Under those conditions we don't think any drogue could have held the boat from that fall. There comes a time in extreme conditions when your survival boils down to the luck of the draw. We feel this was one of those times.

4) We have been asked if our chances would have been better with a sea anchor. Not having tried one we will never know. We do know that after the boat pitch-poled and had been dismasted, we were lying a-hull for many hours. During that period we suffered countless 120° knock-downs, but were never rolled again. Perhaps the broken mast, which was wrapped around the boat, gave it additional stability? Who knows. The boat did take the pounding and seemed to hold up pretty well. But it should be noted here that conditions were such that things could have gone pretty much any way at that point. Had the boat broken up, a hatch tear off or a window break (we had the storm shutters on), we would not be here today. To attempt to man a life raft in those conditions would have been a sentence of death.

Being inside, without control, was the first time we felt helpless to protect ourselves. Because the boat withstood the pounding [while lying a-hull] one could make a case for the para-anchor. However, given the size of the seas we were in, we would worry about how the anchor is attached to the hull. The issue of chafe goes without saying, but even more worrisome is the question of attachment points. What stresses are at work when you are hit by a breaking wave taller than a telephone pole moving along like a freight train? And this continues for 12 to 16 hours? We question the ability of many cruising boats to hold up under those conditions. Still, all things being equal, with adequate warning of extreme conditions, we feel we would chose to go with a large para-anchor, 500 feet of heavy line, attached with a wire bridle distributing the load to points throughout the hull. In our opinion, there is a good case for both a drogue and a para-anchor aboard a seaworthy cruising yacht. In the final analysis it's up to each of us to decide on the solution we can live with. When that moment comes, it's nice to have options at hand.

In subsequent telephone conversations Victor Shane pressed Dana Dinius about the perennial question as to whether one should run directly downwind or try quartering the seas. After thinking about it Dana replied that on Destiny, in that storm, it had to be directly downwind. However he added that in other situations he might decide to quarter the seas, especially if the bow was beginning to bury itself in the base of the next wave now and then.

On another matter, Dana confirmed that he and Paula felt most vulnerable when the wind dropped in the eye of the storm. He said, "as the wind dropped, the waves became hollow." This is something that Shane had heard before, something that one should be prepared for. Compare with John Glennie's statement in File S/T-7: "Without the wind regulating the seas, I was afraid that two or three waves might ring hands and turn into rogues."

D/M-1 Monohull, Bermuda Ketch


Monohull, Bermuda Ketch

46' x 12 Tons, Full Keel

Warp, 60 Fathoms 3" Hawser

Force 10 Conditions


File D/M-1, derived from the writings of Miles Smeeton - Vessel name Tzu Hang, hailing port Victoria, B.C., monohull, Bermuda Ketch, built in Hong Kong in 1938, LOA 46' x LWL 36' x Beam 11' 6" x Draft 7' x 12 Tons - Full keel - Drogue: Warp consisting of 360' x 3-inch manila hawser - Deployed while running before a storm in the high latitudes of the Southern Ocean with winds of 50 knots and seas of 30-40 ft. - The warp had little effect in preventing the pitchpole of Tzu Hang about 1000 miles from Cape Horn on 14 February 1957 - The yacht was sailed under jury rig to Chile, reaching Arauco Bay 36 days later.


This is probably the classic pitchpole in all of yachting history. All the major works on the subject of heavy weather tactics make mention of it. Adlard Coles refers to the 1957 pitchpole of Tzu Hang six times in Heavy Weather Sailing. In her two celebrated attempts to round Cape Horn, Tzu Hang was pitchpoled the first time and rolled the second. On the first attempt she was manned by a crew of three, owner Miles Smeeton, his wife Beryl, and the renowned singlehander John Guzzwell of Trekka fame, (Trekka Around The World, John Guzzwell, 1963).

Tzu Hang had been running before mature seas in the high latitudes (50° South) of the Southern Ocean, trailing 60 fathoms of 3-inch manila hawser. Unlike nylon, manila has the sponge-like quality of soaking up water and was at one time considered to be ideal for use as warps. In this case it was not very effective, for Miles Smeeton writes, "I watched the sixty fathoms of 3-inch hawser streaming behind. It didn't seem to be making a damn of difference, although I suppose that it was helping to keep her stern on to the seas. Sometimes I could see the end being carried forward in a big bight on the top of a wave." (Once Is Enough, Granada Publishing, London, 1984, by permission).

As the boat continued to run before the storm, one breaking wave did come aboard, but Tzu Hang showed little tendency to broach. She seemed to be doing quite well in fact. "It was a dangerous sea I knew, but I had no doubt that she would carry us safely through, and as one great wave after another rushed past us, I grew more and more confident." (Ibid.) At the time of the incident Beryl had just relieved Miles at the helm, and was steering the boat when a great wall of water approached from the stern, so wide that she couldn't see its flanks, so high and so steep that she knew Tzu Hang could not ride over it. Water was cascading down its face, like a waterfall. Miles was down below, reading a book: "As I read, there was a sudden, sickening sense of disaster. I felt a great lurch and heel, and a thunder of sound filled my ears. I was conscious, in a terrified moment, of being driven into the front and side of my bunk with tremendous force. At the same time there was a tearing cracking sound, as if Tzu Hang was being ripped apart, and water burst solidly, raging into the cabin. There was darkness, black darkness, and pressure, and a feeling of being buried in a debris of boards, and I fought wildly to get out, thinking Tzu Hang had already gone down. Then suddenly I was standing again, waist deep in water, and floorboards and cushions, mattresses and books, were sloshing in wild confusion around me." (Ibid.)

Beryl had been catapulted out of the cockpit and into the sea, landing some 30 yards to leeward. Miraculously she was able to swim toward the trailing wreckage of the mizzen mast. Her shoulder was badly injured and it took the combined strength of the two dazed men to pull her back on board. But the situation was now critical. Tzu Hang had received a near death blow. Both masts were gone and there was a gaping - six foot square - hole where the doghouse had been. The weather was not getting any better and she was taking on great amounts of water. She would no doubt have gone down, had it not been for the tenacity and sheer will power of her crew.

From the onset Beryl, although in great pain, did her best to provoke, spur and cheer the two men on into life-saving action. She was the driving force that kept resignation and despair at bay. And John "Hurricane" Guzzwell would soon put his resolve, his backbone and his skills as a carpenter to keep Tzu Hang afloat. He patched the hole in the deck. He sawed and hammered, laminated and improvised, putting back together the pieces that would - thirty six days later - bring Tzu Hang safely into Arauco Bay, Chile. What transpired in those thirty six days on the wastes of the Southern Ocean should serve as an important lesson to all sailors regarding the mindset that is so often crucial to survival itself, the lesson being this: Never give up.

What exactly happened? There is much speculation about the exact movement of the boat during the mishap. Miles Smeeton is certain that it was a somersault: "When she pitchpoled a very high and exceptionally steep wave hit her, considerably higher than she was long. It must have broken as she assumed an almost vertical position on its face. The movement was extremely violent and quick. There was no sensation of being in a dangerous position with disaster threatening. Disaster was suddenly there. Whether she had been 20° to it or her stern directly presented to it, or whether she had been running at 2 or 7 knots could, in this case, have made no difference. Her stern came up and just went on going with no hesitation at all right over the bow." (Because The Horn Is There, Granada Publishing, London 1986, by permission).

The reader may wish to compare Smeeton's observations with the statement of Joan Casanova (File S/T-1), who survived a similar wave in the Southern Ocean: "It was the type of a wave which pitchpoles yachts in these oceans, the type which every voyager sailing in the high latitudes of the Southern Ocean fears.... We want to stress here that no vessel, multihull, monohull or freighter, could have survived such a sea unless tethered with a long line from a sea anchor...."

Formula for Disaster
Formula for Disaster


Whereas a rising tide will lift a boat vertically by a force equal to her displacement (usually many tons), a steep wave will "lift" the same boat horizontally with equal displacement force (DF) at wave speed. Speed of molecular rotation is already about 7 knots on the crest of a 40-ft. wave (A). The decaying crest hurls tons of water at a wave speed of 20 knots at her transom (B). Force of gravity (C) drives the bow down into the adjacent trough where it is briefly met with 7 knots of reciprocal rotation coming from the opposite direction (D). Result: The stern goes flying right over the bow without any hesitation at all.

Miles Smeeton later wrote a short Postscript which may be the key to our understanding of the dynamics of pitchpole. This Postscript can be found on the last pages of Once Is Enough and includes the following remarks:

Since I wrote this book I have had a number of letters - mostly from well informed sources - on the reasons for Tzu Hang's two mishaps... the major cause was probably due to the orbital velocity of a big wave. I had never heard of this theory which is that, although the mass of water in a seaway, seen as a whole, is static, each particle of water moves in an orbit around the place which it would occupy at rest. If we were to throw some rubbish overboard so that it represents a particle of water on the surface, we would see it drawn back towards the approaching swell, lifted up, carried forward, and dumped in approximately its original position again; seen from the side it would trace an orbit against the background of sea and sky.

The important thing is the speed at which the water moves in this orbit, and for a forty-foot wave with a ten second period the speed is approximately seven knots. With seven knots on the top of the wave with the wind, and seven knots against the wind at the bottom, a forty-foot ship on the point of a forty-foot wave is subjected roughly to a seven knot push one way at her stern and a seven knot push the other way at her bow, a formidable overturning couple. A longer ship is already overcoming the push at her bow by the time her stern is subjected to the maximum thrust. The answer seems to be to keep forty-foot ships out of forty-foot seas, but if forced to run before them to tow long enough lines so that there is an effective drag in spite of the forward movement of the water on the crest.... (Ibid.)