Voyaging By Hal Roth

A Drogue Above the Rest

Sailboat Drogue

Offshore sailors have benefited from an engineer's response to a disaster at sea

By far the best way to manage storms at sea is to avoid them, which you can do by carefully picking the waters you sail in and by choosing to pay your visit in the more benign seasons. There are times, though, when you have to prepare for heavy weather, and you should always have equipment on board for dealing with extreme conditions.

During the 1970-71 Antarctic circumnavigation by the 53-foot cutter Awahnee, Bob Griffith and his crew lay to a sea anchor or stern drogue time after time. Awahnee's strong crew of six, however, used a sea anchor that few yachts would be able to produce or manage. "We hove to with the stern into the wind and swell, held by a sea anchor consisting of about 300 feet of line with half a dozen car tires and a small anchor on the end," wrote crewmember Pat Treston in the New Zealand magazine Sea Spray.

During several giant Antarctic storms, the crew of Awahnee set as many as three drogues—one consisting of 80 feet of 7/16-inch chain, a second of two or three car tires on 200 feet of line, and a third of 600 feet of line with an anchor and a tire on the end. "However, we had to steer all the time to try to keep the quarter to the wind and waves," wrote Treston. Broken water flew everywhere, and there was some damage, but the boat and crew came through unharmed. I marvel at the success of the voyage and the cheerful, heroic crew, but I shudder at the work involved. The use of a more modern drogue would certainly have been easier.

My wife, Margaret, and I have run north along the Oregon coast before a Force 10 wind from the southeast in our 35-foot Whisper. To slow the boat and keep her under control, we put out two 175-foot lines with tires and lead weights chained to the ends of the warps. This arrangement worked, but dealing with the tires, weights, and chains was awkward while the boat was rolling heavily. Sometimes waves picked up the drags and carried them forward, which made their value doubtful.

To tame a boat in moderate storms, a better scheme than towing tires is to use a Galerid-er drogue (see "Time to Put On the Brakes," page 68). The Galerider is much easier to set, recover, and store than tires,

This Jordan Series Drogue (right), manufactured by Ace Sailmakers, is intended for a sailboat displacing about 20,000 pounds. Flaked and bundled for stowage (below), it's surprisingly compact.

The Jordan Series Drogue, made up of scores of fabric cones sewn along a warp, was inspired by the carnage of the 1979 Fastnet Race.

weights, and lengths of chain. But even the Galerider has its limitations, especially if breaking waves are a possibility. That's when I'd turn to a next-generation device.

In the 12 years since the capsize of my Santa Cruz 50 in

Jordan Series Drogue

In use, the Jordan Series Drogue is towed from a bridle to ensure that it keeps the boat's stern to the waves.

the Southern Ocean, I've had plenty of time to reflect on the mishap. I believe that protection from monstrous seas translates directly into keeping the bow or the stern headed into the waves. Getting broadside on, or even close to broadside on, is no good because the vessel may be rolled over or picked up and dropped on the unyielding sea. But how do you do this? Streaming a large parachute sea anchor from the bow in upset seas and winds of 40 knots and over is a hazardous business. Even when the device is successfully launched, the result is that our modern yachts lie close to being broadside to the waves.

In 2001, I learned about the work done by Donald Jordan, a retired aeronautical engineer and former senior instructor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1979, Jordan was appalled when he learned about the disastrous Fastnet race during which a Force 10 summer storm struck the fleet as it crossed the Irish Sea between England and Ireland. Many of the 2,700 men and women in the 303 yachts in the race suffered serious injuries. Boats were rolled over, destroyed, and sunk in waves that were said to be as high as 50 feet. Fifteen people died.

Jordan decided to apply his

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