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!

3 thoughts on “S/M-20 Hinckley 49 Ketch”

    1. Indeed. However, the two take-away points seem to be that:
      a) the para-anchor seemed to be working well but,
      b) the forces are large, and you need to make sure that all the gear is very securely attached (and also chafe free) so as to not then lose the rig when it is working so well.

      Another point is to maybe have an alternative, such as a Jordan Series Drogue, that one could fall back on.

  1. I was on the Coast Guard helicopter 6034 that rescued these three men from the S/V Pilgrim on that fateful night in 1994. We all nearly died in that hurricane… but by the grace of God we were spared and made it home! It’s been 29 years and I still kiss the ground to this day. Never Forget!

    Matt Moyer.
    USCG Retired

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