File S/P-5, obtained from Captain Dennis Crosby, Youngstown, FL. - Vessel name Ashly G, hailing port Panama City, FL, Thompson trawler, LOA 55' x LWL 50' x Beam 18' x Draft 10' x 60 Tons - Sea anchor: 24-ft. Diameter Para-Tech on 400' x 3/4" nylon three strand rode, with 3/4" galvanized swivel - Partial trip line - Deployed in low system in deep water about 150 miles south of Mobile, Alabama, with winds of 35-45 knots and seas of 15 ft. - Vessel's bow yawed 10° - Drift was estimated to be 4-5 n.m. during 24 hours at sea anchor.
Ashly G's partially torn sea anchor came back for repairs a number of years ago. Upon inspection the first thing Victor Shane noticed was that the canopy was inside out! The skipper of the boat could not recall how this came about. Most sea anchors and parachutes have a heavier, skeletal, web framework that cradles and reinforce the lighter canopy material. If the parachute is used inside out high loads may tear the canopy away from the radial basket, which is probably what had happened here.
Upon further inspection Shane also noticed heavy damage in the vent-hole area.
The vent-hole is the discharge orifice incorporated into the top of the canopy to afford stability and shock absorption. This is a very critical area where there is tremendous water pressure trying to squeeze through a small hole. The nylon cloth of the parachute is not strong enough to withstand the pressure, so the vent-hole has to be heavily reinforced with webbing - it is the strong webbing that takes up the strain, and not the lighter canopy material. And indeed, in this case it had been redundantly reinforced.
So what could have happened?
Further investigation revealed the culprit: CHAFE! The trip line has to be tied off to something. Usually that something is the webbing that reinforces the vent-hole. In daily use the trip line rubs and pulls against the webbing. Chafe does the rest. Once the reinforcing webbing has chafed through the high loads have to be born by the lighter canopy itself, usually resulting in failure of major proportions.
Shane was quick to bring the matter to the attention of Para-Tech's Don Whilldin. A master parachute rigger and veteran skydiver (more than 1000 jumps), Whilldin went to work and redesigned the critical vent-hole area.
All Para-Tech sea anchors now have a separate recovery bridle, to which the trip line may be attached independently of the critical webbing that reinforces the vent-hole.
File S/T-19, obtained from Mel Pearlston, Petrolia, CA. - Vessel name Surrender, hailing port Petrolia, trimaran ketch, designed by Arthur Piver, LOA 55' x Beam 25' x Draft 4' 7" x 15 Tons - Sea anchor: 24-ft. Diameter Para-Tech on 600' x 3/4" nylon three strand tether and bridle arms of 75' each, with 5/8" stainless steel swivel - No trip-line - Deployed in a North Pacific storm in deep water about 500 miles west of Humboldt Bay (California) with winds of 70-80 knots and seas of 50 ft. - Vessel's bow yawed 10°.
Mel Pearlston was sailing Surrender back to California from Hawaii in 1992 when she ran into a September storm. A 24-ft. diameter Para-Tech sea anchor was then deployed, which kept her three bows snubbed into the seas for about three hours. The anchored trimaran was then struck by a rogue wave coming in at an angle of 30-40°. As to what happened next, the best that Pearlston and Shane could determine after long telephone conversations is as follows. Either the trimaran was picked up and carried sideways, inducing considerable slack in the system, which allowed the yacht to lie a-hull temporarily. Or the sea anchor itself was picked up and thrown - possibly fouled - by the same rogue wave, causing the line to go slack and the yacht to lie a-hull. Or a combination of both (Fig. 40).
Although mercifully rare, large breaking rogues are capable of dealing swift and unexpected death blows to small craft. One needs to try to come up with additional tricks that might improve one's odds of survival in the event of such an encounter. Perhaps one such trick would be to deploy an auxiliary - smaller - sea anchor on a much shorter line off the approach ama, if one knew which side the rogue was going to come from. Or possibly the main hull, if one did not. This sort of strategy was once used on some of Richard Newick's earlier Vals, the idea being that if a capsize couldn't start it couldn't finish. Several OSTAR Vals, among them Three Cheers, rode out storms on double sea anchors. Perhaps this auxiliary sea anchor could be a weighted, 3-5 ft. diameter cone with a wire hoop sewn into the skirt to keep the mouth permanently open, deployed on 30-50 feet of line.
Conditions being life-threatening Pearlston made a quick decision to cut away the rig and run downwind. Transcript:
Surrender left Kauai, Hawaii in early September, 1992, when hurricane Iniki was just leaving the coast of Baja and turning west across the Pacific. There were three of us aboard Surrender, a modified Piver Enchantress, stretched to 55'. Surrender had been lovingly and heavily built over a twenty year period by a master craftsman, and I had been sailing her for five years in the Eastern Pacific. After sailing north on a port tack for a week, we turned right and headed across the top of the North Pacific High for our home port of Humboldt Bay. Just about this time hurricane Iniki was devastating Kauai, destroying every boat on the island. The distress channels were full of incoming calls, spread over a thousand mile radius. We were counting our blessings for having left when we did, thinking that we were home free.
I awoke three mornings later about five hundred miles west of Cape Mendocino to the blackest and most ominous horizon I had ever seen. The forecast was for a low pressure system to produce 40 knots of wind and seas of from 15 to 20 feet, but I didn't believe a word of it. The wind built quickly from the NNE to 45 knots, at which point I made the decision to deploy our 24' Para-Tech sea anchor. The anchor was attached to 600' of new 3/4" three strand, 75' bridle arms, a 5/8" SS swivel, and was secured to the boat by massive, custom-made stainless steel bails on the bow of each ama. No trip line was used, but two 24" diameter mooring balls were used for floats, together with a man overboard pole to make visual observations and recovery easier.
By the time the sea anchor was deployed and the boat buttoned up (which included lashing the helm amidships), the wind had built to fifty knots and the seas were building quickly. Over the next three hours we rode extremely comfortably to the sea anchor while conditions continued to deteriorate. The wind increased to a sustained 70 knots, gusting over 80. The larger waves were in the fifty foot range, and the swells were 600 feet apart. While riding to the sea anchor Surrender did not yaw perceptibly. As we rose to each wave the boat would rise and begin to be carried back until the anchor rode came up tight. Then, like a huge rubber band, it would gently pull us through the top of the swell. It was truly a testament to the use of the sea anchor. To this day I remember thinking how eerie it was that we could be so comfortable in such conditions.
At the height of the storm I felt the boat rising to a particularly large swell. At some point I realized that this wave had come from a point some 30 to 40 degrees off our starboard bow. At the top of the wave, after the anchor rode had stretched out and we were being pulled through the crest, something happened and the tension on the rode was suddenly released. Surrender free fell backwards down the face of the wave, and upon landing was completely submerged. Sometime during this fall one of the forward salon windows was broken. After assuring myself that the boat was still upright, I took stock of our situation. The main cabin had three feet of water in it. All of the items stowed on the starboard side of the boat were now on the port side. Upon going topside, I found that our decks had been swept clean of all stowed gear, including items that had been secured with heavy webbed strapping. I nailed a piece of plywood, with a closed cell foam gasket secured to one side, over the broken window. Next I went forward and cut loose the sea anchor bridles because the boat was broadside to the swell and there was no appreciable tension on the rode, and I assumed that the sea anchor was gone. I did this so that the rode would not foul our prop or rudder as my intention was to run down swell and deploy drogues. In retrospect, this was a poor decision. I did not consider the possibility that the anchor was tumbled and/or fouled. All I could think of was not spending one more moment than necessary with Surrender broadside to those huge seas.
While I unlashed the helm, I made my next mistake. I attempted to start the engine for maneuverability without checking the engine room. Apparently the starter had gotten wet and it immediately shorted out causing billowing clouds of smoke to emerge from the engine room. At the same time I realized that the helm was not responding and when I inspected the rudder post my worst fears were confirmed. The two inch bronze post had snapped below the steering quadrant. It appeared to have twisted like a piece of plastic almost 90 degrees before breaking. There was less than half an inch of mangled post left to work with - far less than that needed for my emergency tiller to attach to. The next eighteen hours passed in a blur. We bailed the boat out with buckets, as the books and food on the cabin sole of the salon turned the water into a thick gruel that foreclosed the use of either our electric or hand pumps. The wind had subsided to fifty knots, and the seas to the 30 foot range by this time, and a small amount of headsail allowed Surrender to ride hove-to quite comfortably. By the end of this period I was able to jury rig a steering quadrant to the rudder post utilizing a modified clamp-on quadrant from an Alpha auto pilot, and we got back underway. The next five days were spent limping into Humboldt Bay fighting the cold (we had no dry cloths or blankets) and our dwindling supply of amps.
Better decisions would have left us with an answer as to whether some part of the sea anchor system had failed, or if the sea anchor had merely been tumbled and/or fouled, and if so, whether it might have eventually recovered and restored its pull. In any event, I have never traveled offshore since without two complete sea anchor rigs aboard, and would never hesitate to recommend their use for rest, repairs, or as a defensive storm tactic. I consider it the single most important tool we carry.
File S/M-34, obtained from Robin and Maggi Ansell, Campbell River, B.C. - Vessel name ORCA, hailing port George Town (Cayman Islands) - Tahitian Ketch, designed by R. Hartley, LOA 55' x LWL 47' x Beam 13' 6" x Draft 7' x 40 Tons - Full keel - Sea anchor: 24-ft. Diameter Para-Tech on 500' x 1" nylon braid rode with 5/8" stainless steel swivel - No trip line - Deployed in cyclone Justin in deep water about 200 miles off the coast of Queensland, with winds of 65-85 knots and seas of 33-40 feet - Vessel's bow yawed 25°- Drift was 80 n.m. during 53 hours at sea anchor.
ORCA was on the Pacific leg of her planned circumnavigation when she was caught in the web of cyclone Justin 200 miles off the Queensland coast. The largest cyclone in 20 years, Justin caused millions of dollars in damage, capsized barges, left two people dead, twenty three missing and many homeless. Scores of RAAF and US fighter aircraft and fifty warships had to be evacuated from Townsville as Justin tore into a massive joint military exercise - Operation Tandem Thrust.
ORCA might have emerged intact had the cyclone moved on, instead of stalling overhead. Finding themselves boxed in against the Great Barrier Reef, ORCA's skipper and first mate decided to put down the sea anchor.
"Without the sea anchor, they would have found us on the reef," said owner Robin Ansell in a telephone conversation with Victor Shane.
Deployment of the large sea anchor and 500' of 1-inch line was difficult and further exacerbated by some sort of toxic, chemical mist emanating from the wet rope itself. All told ORCA remained tethered to the sea anchor for 53 hours, lying about 50° to the wind (no bridle).
One can only imagine what the conditions must have been like. In an interview with the Townsville Bulletin, Robin and Maggi said "It was like the water was boiling... it didn't have a pattern to the swell. It just hit us from all sides."
The yacht was eventually holed by a rogue wave. "We were hit by a wave which put a hole in the galley and a similar rogue wave tore two ventilator boxes off the deck. We tried to stuff them to stop the water coming in but we realized we couldn't keep up with it."
The couple had to put out a Mayday. Senior Queensland Emergency Services helicopter pilot Peter Hope said it was the worst weather he had ever flown in. He said, "The majority of the swells were 10m but the mast of the yacht was 18m and there were times when you couldn't see it over the top of the waves." Here is a transcript of the DDDB file Shane obtained from Robin and Maggi Ansell:
We were already in very rough sea conditions when we deployed the para-anchor, because for as long as was viable, we motored across the seas to give us as much distance from the Great Barrier Reef as possible. We deployed it through our starboard side bow roller, and once the parachute had opened up, gradually let out the line by having it wound round the mooring bits. The scariest part of the whole thing was being temporarily blinded, which appeared to be caused by the acrid-tasting spray emanating from the rope, which was wet from the rain and salt spray, and squeezed out as a fine mist when it was pulled extremely tight as it was being run out round the mooring bits when we were struggling to let out the line with some control.... In any case, it is a potentially lethal situation, when one can only see vague shapes, and it is impossible to read instruments, etc. for 24-36 hours. (I couldn't even read the bright green of the radar screen). The absolute agony of the burning feeling under the eyelids, and the constant running of the eyes trying to rid themselves of the foreign matter was unbelievable, similar to a severe case of "arc eye." Fortunately we just stayed on the para-anchor, and vision started improving after 24 hours. There was absolutely no possibility in our weather conditions of being able to go forward each hour to check for chafe, also the load on the anchor line made the line like a steel rod, and one could never have got any slack to be able to replace a chafe guard. Realizing this from the start, Robin attached a ten foot length of half-inch section anchor chain to the eye of the line, which ran through the starboard bow roller. This took care of the chafe, as it was impossible to go forward again as far as the bow during the rest of the 53 hours at anchor before our rescue. The next day, only by peering through the window by the internal steering station, when the vessel was at the bottom or top of a trough, could we sometimes catch sight of the white line leading away from the boat. Then as vision improved we could watch the drift on the GPS, which seemed to average out at about 1.5 knots.
We had deployed the whole 500 feet of line, which probably was not enough in those conditions, but once deployed, it was too dangerous to consider adding further line (of which we actually had another 800 feet). Also we did not employ chain for catenary, on this our first use of the anchor. We would guess that the wave length was probably about 150 feet. The rescue pilot said that the yacht was coming off the waves at 12 knots, since he had to reverse at 12 knots to maintain distance from the top of the mast as we rolled up the waves. He was probably hovering at about 100 feet from the water, and the top of our mast was 70 feet from the water.
There were occasional maverick waves, which were double-crested. The result of which was that we rolled over the first crest straight into the advancing front of the second crest, instantly halting the vessel's roll. Roll rate was up to something like 60 degrees per second, so not only were tons of green water dumped over the vessel but the impact on the hull and superstructure was phenomenal. This is what lifted sealed and battened-down hatches pouring in gallons of water and later broke the galley portlight, and subsequently ripped off the starboard dorades and smashed the safety line stanchions. We probably had about 6 [rogue waves] during the 53 hours before being rescued, each sounding and feeling as if one had been hit by an express train. Each increased in severity until the last two were responsible for the physical damage to the vessel.
Once we had issued the Mayday, we spoke via Townsville Radio and subsequently Sydney Radio to the rescue operations center at Canberra, and were informed that a rescue operation was being put in hand. Within an hour we heard that there was a US Hercules in the area to locate us, that a Rescue Helicopter had departed Townsville with an ETA at our position in 50 minutes, and that a Flying Doctor Service Beechcraft King Air with life rafts would be on station if the helicopter had to abort. We activated our Class 1, Type 406 Satellite EPIRB when instructed. Later we were told by our rescuers that without the EPIRB there was no way they could have located us in such atrocious conditions. We then followed their instructions to the letter, to enable the rescue to take place.
We were rescued on 9th March. We have subsequently heard that Townsville took a double hit from Cyclone Justin on 22nd March and suffered significant damage. For a couple of days following our rescue, Townsville Radio issued the position of ORCA as a hazard to shipping. Then the bulletins stopped, and she is assumed sunk.
Using Parachutes, Sea Anchors and Drogues to Cope with Heavy Weather – Over 130 Documented Case Histories