40' x 26' x 2.75 Tons
16-Ft. Dia. Sea Anchor
Force 9 Conditions
File S/C-16, obtained from Dr. Gavin LeSueur, Mallacoota, Australia - Vessel name Windswept, hailing port Mallacoota, catamaran, designed by Lock Crowther, LOA 40' x Beam 26' x Draft 2' 6" x 2.75 Tons - Sea anchor: 16-ft. Diameter Para-Anchors Australia on 300' x 3/4" nylon braid tether and bridle arms of 28' each, with 5/8" galvanized swivel - No trip line - Deployed in a storm in shallow water (40 fathoms) in the Bass Strait with winds of 45-58 knots and seas of 30 ft. - Vessel's bow yawed 20° - Drift was estimated to be 12 n.m. during 6 hours at sea anchor.
Dr. Gavin LeSueur is an Australian country doctor who lives in Mallacoota, Victoria. He is also among the world's leading multihull safety experts, having weathered storms, used a wide variety of drag devices on different multihulls, and pioneered an adjustable drogue that is now being manufactured by Para-Anchors Australia. The intrepid doctor windsurfed 750 miles from Melbourne to Sydney in 1982. He has written three books - Windswept, The Line, and Multihull Seamanship Illustrated (distributed in the United States by Multihulls Magazine). Transcript:
In January 1988 I raced two-handed from Sydney to Auckland (1000 nm) on my catamaran, D Flawless. This was a 37' x 24' x 4600 lbs. open bridgedeck offshore racing catamaran. My crew was 21 year old Catherine Reed [wife to be]. After rounding the northern tip of New Zealand, the fleet was hammered by cyclone Bola. This tropical cyclone followed an unusual route and was unforeseen by me due to lack of high seas forecasts at the time, because of an industrial dispute at the Australian Meteorological Bureau! By the time we realized what was on the way (we first heard about it on New Zealand commercial radio stations!) we were in 60 knots plus and 25-35 ft. seas - with a lee shore 30 miles away!
I carried a 12-ft. parachute made by Para-Anchors Australia on board without a float or trip line, and with 300 ft. of nylon anchor line. I was unable to set the parachute. The conditions were such that it was not possible to crawl forward on deck due to the sea state and wind. It was like trying to move with your hands full on the roof of a car going along a bumpy road at 80 mph. We had removed all sail (and boom) except a small storm jib, lashed the helm over to drive the boat into the wind, and raised both daggerboards. [Emphasis added.] Thus D Flawless tracked at 70 degrees off the wind for the next 36 hours. We moved at about 2 knots, passing the edge of the eye and were ejected out of the "bad" quadrant. Wind strengths on land reached 96 knots. It was not pleasant huddled in the hull in our survival suits, awaiting the capsize that did not happen. The boat remained remarkably intact and we sailed into Auckland to finish the race.
En route back to Australia two months later we struck a 43 ft. humpback whale at 3:00 am in 25 knots of wind. We were surfing with our centerboards not fully raised. The whale awoke as we embedded our port centerboard in its back. It took off with the centerboard, the case and a good portion of the side of our port hull. The mast came down and speared itself through the remaining "good" hull! Over the next 45 minutes the catamaran wrenched itself to pieces. There were four of us on board at the time and we were 60 miles off the Australian coast. So close, and yet so far.
With no option but to get into our life raft we left the tangled wreckage and joined many of the foam sandwich hull pieces drifting downwind. The life raft was an Australian Yachting Federation approved offshore raft. Sea conditions deteriorated to 45 knots and 20 ft. waves. We were on the edge of the continental shelf and occasional seas were higher and breaking. We were capsized out of the raft four times! The parachute drogue on the water ballasted raft was useless. The only way we could stop capsizing on most waves was to dive to the windward side of the raft on each wave. It worked some of the time. We were rescued nine hours after hitting the whale. Rescue was quick and by helicopter (thus accurate wind and sea condition measurements). We had drifted over 20 miles in that time and rescue was effected due to our initial Mayday, missed radio schedule, EPIRB (which later failed - waterlogged), hand-held VHF radio (helicopter got a directional fix on this) and rocket flares. We were in good condition in survival suits, with extra water and flares over and above what was already in the raft.
Catherine and I now sail three handed with our three year old daughter (and dog - but she doesn't count). We have continued to experiment with drogues and parachutes and have used both many times since. I have no major problems with our parachute system. We use a 16-ft. diameter one made by Para-Anchors Australia, and carry 400 ft. of braided nylon rope. We do not use a swivel, or a trip line. The parachute has a float on 30 ft. of line on it's vent hole. Only once have we added a catenary weight down the line with a snatch block. We used a 25 kg CQR. In the 40-knot conditions it made little difference and it was a trial. We winch the line in while motoring up to the float. The bridle is a separate line and is tied to the tether with a rolling hitch. When the load is taken back on the tether in the cockpit, the rolling hitch is easily undone.
NOTE: Dr. LeSueur was a participant in the rough and tragic 1988 Round Australia Race in which he used and destroyed several drogues (see also File D/C-8).