People hold opinions on storm tactics almost as vehemently as they do when the talk turns to anchors. The other night, I was part of the Ocean Cruising Club’s Zoom meeting to discuss the Jordan Series Drogue. There were almost 200 participants and nobody suggested this was anything other than the ultimate “must-have” device for serious offshore cruisers.
It’s the same on the Jester Facebook group – all the small-boat sailors gearing up for this year’s Azores Challenge have been preoccupied with their transom-mounted chainplates and whether you can have too many cones.
I kept quiet. I have a SeaBrake.
Although the OCC’s moderator mentioned this Australian-made gadget in passing, there was no doubt that the tone of the meeting was that in a survival storm, you cannot do better than throw out (sorry “deploy”) your JSD, disappear below, slam the hatch behind you and go to bed with a hot toddy.
It was difficult to argue – after all the screen was filled with the weather-beaten faces of sailors who had all used a JSD in anger (Jeanne Socrates, four times!)
As someone who has never used one at all – even to practise – I didn’t feel qualified to press the little button to raise my electronic hand.
But I’ve been thinking about it ever since.
To begin with, if you have a Jordan Series Drogue, you must – absolutely must – attach it to two stout stainless steel plates each with a minimum of five bolts arranged in a non-linear pattern and bolted through to an equally strong backing plate, preferably after beefing up that section of the hull with extra layers of chopped strand mat. This modification must be capable of supporting the full weight of the boat plus an added margin to cover possible shock loads.
Then, you must be prepared when you meet your survival storm, for your cockpit to be filled with a ton of water as waves the size of houses break over the stern. Anything but the strongest washboards may well be breached, flooding the cabin and leaving the boat waterlogged, sluggish and at the mercy of the next massive breaker.
The more I heard about this, the more I thought about my SeaBrake up in the fo’c’le, tucked away behind the bike stowage, taking up hardly any room … and its line in the cockpit locker ready to double up for anything else I might want to do with 30metres of 14mm low-stretch braid-on-braid and two-and-a-half metres of 10mm chain.
So I started making a list of pro’s and con’s for both devices – and I’m going to post it here in the hope that people will add their own comments. Because the one thing I do know is that the only time I have been in a survival storm, I had just a rope with a couple of motor scooter tyres out the back and turned the boat over. Being a catamaran, she stayed that way. They came and got me in a helicopter.
So, here goes. Tell me if I’m wrong.
Jordan Series Drogue:
- Tried and tested with many positive accounts.
- A true “set and forget” system – works without a crew, steering or even a mast.
- The slower you’re moving, the faster the storm will pass over you.
- Slows the boat to 2-3knots – with the resultant danger of being pooped.
- Requires significant preparatory work installing chainplates.
- Somewhat bulky to stow and with no other use.
- Danger of the bridle fouling the windvane – servo-pendelum gears should be lifted out of the water, bungies installed to keep the line away from a Hydrovane rudder.
- Designed to allow the boat to speed up to 6-7knots and out-run a breaking crest – and yet will still maintain drag in the trough to keep the boat straight at 3knots. This means that the strain is considerably reduced. There is no need for chainplates – make fast to the aft cleat or cockpit winch. The recommended line is only three boat-lengths, so is quicker to retrieve.
- Although the SeaBrake is not nearly as well-known as the JSD, Jon Sanders, the Australian yachtsman with eleven solo circumnavigations to his name, was very complimentary about his (although, eventually he lost it, replacing it with a car tyre).
- When I asked on Facebook for personal experiences, Babs Tucker, another Australian, wrote: “In all our years of sailing, we’ve only used ours once and it worked brilliantly. We felt we were going to pitch pole and it held us at about 6kts. One yacht used a Series drogue and it slowed down a bit much. Another yacht was using a SeaBrake too.”
- Easy to stow and has other uses – including as an emergency steering device when used with a bridle. This suggests that it would hold the boat dead downwind in the same way as the JSD but with less risk of being pooped.
- There have been many reports of drogues being deployed from the bow to stop boats fore-reaching and help them stay in their slick when hove-to. The SeaBrake is said to be ideal for this.
- While the JSD uses a bridle which can foul the windvane, the SeaBrake when used at an angle to the waves, is attached by a single line to the weather quarter.
- The SeaBrake is designed as a steering aid rather than a “set and forget” survival tool. That said, in the first Golden Globe Race, the vastly-experienced Jean-Luc Van den Heede chose not to use a drogue aboard Matmut, but to steer at an angle to the waves. In this, he was following Bernard Moitessier who, in his first Cape Horn passage, cut away his makeshift drogues and felt Joshua rode easier and more safely without.
- It is not clear whether Jon Sanders did the same. He has (notoriously) failed to write about his voyages. However he did praise the SeaBrake. Did he use it to help his Aries lift-up gear steer a course at an angle to the waves like VDH and Moitessier?
- Unlike the JSD, which acts on the water throughout its length, the SeaBrake could, theoretically, break out and skip across the surface, losing all its drag. However, no one has ever reported this happening (although, admittedly, they might not have returned to do so…)
- Going faster means it takes longer for the storm to pass.
Have I missed anything?
After all the comments, I started thinking about this some more – and then tried to leave my own comment. However, maybe I’m not allowed to do that – at least not at length. So, I’ll add it here
As expected, this discussion has concentrated the mind somewhat. I ended up looking again at the Fiorentino para-anchor – and find that this now appears to have fewer lines between the attachment point and the canopy (which had tangled so easily in the one I bought off eBay seven years ago). Also, they are tied to a “patented stainless steel para-ring” rather than pulled together into one big knot as I remember.
With that still on the screen, I then flipped through my Kindle to find Lin and Larry Pardey’s Storm Tactics Handbook. They had many good experiences of heaving to as the weather worsened and then, when it got really bad, and there was a danger of the boat sailing out of her protective slick, they would deploy the parachute on a bridle to hold the bow at 20degrees off the wind. This meant the boat did not yaw about and they had a much quieter ride.
Also, if something should go wrong and they were to lose the parachute, leaving the boat at the mercy of the sea, she would still be hove-to.
It all seemed to make very good sense.
So, I started making a new list:
• The boat rides with her bow to the waves as she is designed to do. There is no danger of being pooped
• Drift is negligible – a safety factor off a lee shore but also it means that the storm will pass over a lot more quickly than if you are running with it at 3.5kts knots on the Jordan Series Drogue or worse, 7kts with a SeaBrake.
• Like the JSD, a para-anchor it is a true “set and forget” system: Go below. Make tea. Go to sleep – although, of course, the prudent sailor will check regularly for chafe and so on.
• A para-anchor would appear to be more complicated to set and recover than either the JSD or SeaBrake. Maybe that is just down to practice and it would be a good idea to establish a routine of using it once a year just to make sure it still works and you know what to do with it…
• A para-anchor is more expensive than a SeaBrake and is bulkier to stow – but comparable to a JSD.
• There’s 100m of 14mm line to stow (I’ve already got 80m. Maybe I could just splice another 20 onto that). At least there will be other uses for it.
I conclusion, I think that before shelling out more money, I should start by finding a way to get the boat to heave-to properly – that is to say, to drift at right angles to the wind, creating a protective slick.
I have tried to do this with all sorts of configurations of sail and rudder but every time, she moves slowly forwards as well as sideways. Of course, the solution to this would be the SeaBrake set off the bow. Maybe that would be enough for most storms. But Lin writes that ultimately, when the waves become so steep that there is no wind in the troughs, you will definitely need a parachute.
At the moment, I’m thinking that if it were to get that bad, I would tie a 10mm line onto the 14mm SeaBrake tether with a rolling hitch, release the latter from the bow, haul it round to the stern quarter and race off downwind. At least I would be under control, and outrunning those breaking crests.
Also, it will save all that practising with yards of billowing nylon…