Consider the following letter from circumnavigator Ed Arnold, who wrote me while heading for South Africa after rounding Cape Horn on a singlehanded voyage in his 35-foot aluminum-hulled boat Nomad.

February 3, 2002


I have used the Jordan Series drogue many times both for safety in breaking seas and to hold position. Don Jordan estimated the forces on a boat in a breaking crest and designed the drogue to quickly establish the necessary restraining force to drag the boat through the crest. This resulted in a relatively short and stiff main line compared to many recommendations for parachute sea anchors. More or larger cones might be better if one were trying to hold position. My 20,000-pound boat required 117 cones.

I attach the bridle with shackles to tangs welded to the corners of my transom. Forces are large, and a chafe-free attachment is necessary. The drogue works well from the stern; I tried it from the bow and found it would not hold the bow closer than 70 degrees to the wind.

I have deployed it 3-4 times due to breaking seas. The first time in the N. Atlantic south of Iceland I had about F10 winds and seas of 25 feet or more. The boat was held within ±30 degrees from the wind. Most of the sluing was in the troughs where the wave backflow reduced tension on the drogue and where the wind was momentarily less. Mary and I stayed below with periodic checks on the VHF for shipping. The cockpit would have been very wet and at times almost dangerous. Boarding seas filled the cockpit several times, but none broke directly on us. Drift was about 2.5 knots. Surface current is 1/40th of the wind speed, so a knot of the drift was surface current.

I had similar results in the Gulf of Alaska and near Cape Horn during the present voyage: F9 or F10 winds with very high seas near Cape Horn. At all times I felt safe, although a full breaking sea on board might do real damage. The other 4-5 uses have been to hold position when I could no longer go upwind and I did not want to run downwind. A larger drogue would have helped. I have not had any tangles during deployment or use. I did have the bridle get under the windvane rudder, and now use a floating line for the bridle.

Retrieving is hard work, and I would appreciate knowing an easier way. I have a retrieval line to the head of the bridle, which I winch in. Then, with some danger to fingers, I can get the main line around a winch during a surge of the boat. This is winched to the first cone. I take one turn on the winch and manually snub during stress and take in during a back surge. The cones survive the snubbing around the winch. With patience and effort it all comes in.

The stern and companionway of my long-keeled aluminum boat were designed to take a breaking sea. Some boats would not be strong enough.

The problem that Ed Arnold had recovering his Jordan Series drogue is not unique. Nevertheless, after the storm the drogue must be retrieved. The problem is quite understandable and attests to the astonishing and immediate drag of the multiple fabric cones. We saw in Chapter 11 the problem that Beth Leonard had recovering a Galerider drogue. Donald Jordan tends to scoff at these difficulties, but he has never had to recover one of his drogues at sea. When I asked Ed Arnold, who wrote the letter above and who has used a series drogue a dozen times or more, he replied as follows:

. . . I could often get one turn of the bridle leg over a sheet winch during a stern-down pitch, taking considerable risks with my fingers. Then I managed to crank in the bridle leg and get past the shackles onto the main line. More often, I used a rolling hitch to my secondary winches until the shackles got aboard. Then I continued with rolling hitches until I got to the cones. At this point I managed to get a turn around the main winch and used pulls during down-pitching and snubbing to hold the line uptake. A few times I lost most of my headway when the tension was too great to snub.

It helps to have the self-steering operating so that the boat maintains a direct downwind direction. Even with no sails downwind, my vane held a good course. I had boat speeds less than 5 knots, usually 2-3 knots, during retrieval.

It always took a few hours to retrieve and stow, sometimes half the day. Be sure to have some treat handy, either liquid or otherwise, to celebrate (hooray!) getting the drogue aboard with all your fingers intact.

I learned to tie a retrieval line to the shackle at the throat of the bridle. I winched this in to get the shackle aboard and then used rolling hitches as needed to get a turn on the primary winch with the main line. This retrieval line helped save the fingers. I used a rope I had aboard, maybe about 1/2-inch diameter. I never had it break as conditions during retrieval were usually not too severe. It was one more line to sort out once everything was back on the boat.54

Lin Pardey reports that when the crew of the 50-foot steel Arctic island exploration vessel Tiama tested their series drogue in winds of 20 knots, the device slowed the vessel to 2 knots and held her almost directly before the wind. But retrieval was extremely difficult. "Six strong crew took almost 3 hours to retrieve it and . . . were totally exhausted even though there was only 20 knots of wind."55

Dutch sailors Willem and Corri Stein, aboard their 39-foot Joshua ketch Terra Nova, thought the 5,100-mile passage from South Africa to Australia in early 2004 would be straightforward. On February 11, however, the northwest wind increased to storm force and the seas began to build up. Terra Nova ran on with only a single sail, the ship's smallest yankee. That night the wind increased and the bright red ketch was knocked down. There was some minor damage, and Willem and Corri found the experience scary. The vane gear couldn't handle the steering, so the two-person crew took turns at the wheel. They averaged 5 knots under bare poles.

At the end of the day, the Steins, tired from steering and the violent motion, deployed their Jordan Series drogue, which had 150 small cones sewn along a 1-inch polyester line 400 feet long with a 22-pound block of lead at the end. As soon as the drogue was out, Terra Nova's speed dropped to 2 knots, and she kept her stern nicely into the seas. Life became tolerable and allowed the crew to sleep.

"The next day the wind abated a bit, but the strain on the drogue was still too much to even think about getting it back on board," said Willem.

There was a new problem. Due to the heavy pitching of the boat in the seaway, the bridle lines tangled around the water blade of the Aries windvane gear. The Steins hoisted a storm jib, which put more force on the drogue lines and kept them free of the water blade.

When the wind eased, the Steins tried to haul the drogue on board, but the task seemed impossible. "Even getting it around one of the sheet winches was such a dangerous exercise that I gave up after I nearly got one of my hands amputated," said Willem.

The Steins might have been able to use their engine to back down a little on the drogue while they pulled it in, but the engine was out of order because water had run into the fuel tank during the knockdown a few days earlier. Willem and Corri waited two more days for the sea to calm down.

Finally, in desperation, they cut the lines to the drogue. I've sailed with Willem and Corri in Newfoundland and know they are tough, dedicated, experienced small-boat sailors. It must have been a hard decision to cut away the drogue, which they had made with so much effort.56

After thinking about this problem, I wonder if the following might be a solution: Run a 1/2-inch-diameter recovery line from the anchor windlass at the bow outside the lifelines and back to the stern. Loosen one of the bridle lines (hitch on a short line and take it to a winch to pull some slack in the bridle line so you can disconnect the shackle from the chainplate) and attach the recovery line. Then let go the other bridle line. Now, with the stern no longer fastened to the drogue, the boat should swing around 180 degrees and drift downwind from the drogue, bridle, and recovery line. You will have to pay attention to the lead of these lines at the bow, but it should be possible to pull them straight in with the powerful windlass, whether it's operated by hand, an electric motor, or hydraulic power. I've never attempted this with a series drogue, but I think it or some variation is worth a trial.

Anything to save fingers! Note that this scheme moves the recovery effort away from complications of a line around a spade rudder or the water components of a windvane steering device. Additionally, the recovery effort at the bow eliminates wind and swell series drogue bridle disconnects recovery line

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