Practical Boat Owner

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Which drogue should you buy? 7 drogues on test

  • Ben Meakins
  • December 15, 2015

When your boat’s being battered by a storm and you want to ride things out, a drogue will make things more comfortable. But which one should you buy? We tested 7 to find out...

sailboat drogue steering

Of all the safety kit we’re told is essential to ensure our safety at sea, a drogue is fairly low on most people’s lists, especially if they only sail in sight of land or in coastal hops. But drogues have many uses aboard, and could help you ride out a storm, enter a harbour safely, steer after the loss of a rudder or keep you safe under tow. They could, then, save your boat and your life. With many models available, we put seven to the test.

Drogue vs sea anchor?

Drogues and sea anchors are often lumped together as one and the same – in some cases by their manufacturers – but there is a difference in function. In appearance, they are similar, but they perform very different roles.

Sea anchors are designed to stop and ‘moor’ a boat bow-to the waves. They are used to ride out a storm, or to heave-to and take a rest. Drogues, or speed-limiting drogues as they are sometimes called, are used to keep a boat stern-to the waves. Unlike sea anchors they are not designed to stop the boat in the water, but instead to slow her down while keeping her from broaching beam-on to the waves. Sea anchors tend to be much bigger and must be deployed on a much longer and stretchier line.

There are also design factors at play. A sea anchor is relatively static in the water, whereas a drogue is designed to be towed at speed. That makes the design of a drogue important as it must produce less drag than a sea anchor, and yet be stable and resist any attempt to spin, slew or ‘porpoise’. An acknowledged authority on the subject is Victor Shane’s Drag Device Data Dase: using parachutes, sea anchors and drogues to cope with heavy weather. It lists the attributes that make a good drogue: ‘It must pursue a straight course, must track straight, must be faithful in retaining its shape. The standard for sizing is that a yacht should average 3-6 knots with a speed-limiting drogue in tow.’

Manufacturers address this in a number of ways, either by adding vents to the side or incorporating swivels to allow it to rotate safely.

7 of the best drogues available right now

Plastimo sea anchor (drogue) review.

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Plastimo sea anchor / drogue review

  • RRP: £59.95 
  • Diameter: 60cm • Length: 120cm

Plastimo’s offering is called a Sea Anchor, but its small size makes it much more suitable as a drogue. It’s made of vinyl in a cone shape, with a wire ‘hoop’ sewn into the open mouth to give it shape.

It deployed to its correct shape instantly at 3.5 knots, reducing the boat speed to 1.8 knots and putting a strain of 30kg on the line. At 7 knots, it reduced the boat speed to 4.3 knots, with the line strain increasing to 90kg.

plastimo

Plastimo sea anchor/drogue review – view from the stern of the boat with product in action

It stayed well submerged, and didn’t break the surface. It tracked straight but had a tendency to rise and fall in the water. The addition of a length of chain helped to keep it lower in the water and improved this problem.

Recovery was relatively simple, although it took some time for the water to drain from the narrow exit. A tripline rigged from the point of the cone would make it easier to recover.

Buy it now from Amazon

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Lalizas professional drogue review.

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  • RRP: £65.99 
  • Diameter: 1.4m • Length: 1.65m

The Lalizas drogue is available in a number of sizes: we chose the smallest. However, with a 2m-wide mouth and measuring 1.65m long, it was enormous compared to the other drogues on test.

It gave us the highest readings of any we tested: When deployed at 3.5 knots it took 15 seconds to assume its shape, due to its size and the lack of wire to keep the mouth open.

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The Lalizas Professional drogue was enormous compared to the others on test

But once it assumed the correct shape it stopped us completely, taking our 3.5 knots to nothing in seconds, which exerted 120kg on the line.

At higher revs, it took us from 7 knots to 1.7 knots, putting a strain of 150kg on the line. At these high loads it sat very near the surface, but didn’t porpoise or snake around.

lalizas

At high loads it sat near the surface, but didn’t snake around

This would be better suited as a sea anchor, the purpose of which is to stop the vessel, rather than a speed-limiting drogue, which should keep the vessel under controlled lower speed.

Recovery was hard work, but was made simpler if the drogue was capsized while pulling it onboard. A tripline, rigged to the loop at the narrow end of the cone, would make recovery much easier.

Oceanbrake Series Drogue review

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Oceanbrake series drogue review

  • Diameter: 15cm • Length: 60m

This series drogue had 75 small cones on 60m of line, and a heavy loop of chain at the aft end. Oceanbrake say this is suitable for vessels of light displacement – 100 cones would normally be recommended. Nonetheless, it was very effective.

Deployment was simply a case of paying out the line, and it was much easier than the single drogues as the strain increased gradually, with none of the violent snatching experienced with the single-cone drogues.

Streamed astern in our engine tests, it reduced our speed from 3.5 knots to 2.1 knots, with the line experiencing 24kg strain. At higher revs, our speed was reduced from 7 knots to 4.9 knots at 104kg strain.

Recovery was easier than with a single-element drogue

Recovery of the Oceanbrake series drogue was easier than with a single-element drogue

In the waves, we found the Series Drogue to be easy to deploy and to recover, and to be very controlled. There was no porpoising or snaking around, and the load increased in a gradual, controlled fashion. As a wave rolled under the boat, it kept a steady pressure on the line, keeping the stern to the waves, and the heavy chain and series of cones kept the pressure constant.

Recovery was easier than with single-element drogues: there was no need to collapse the multiple drogues and hauling in got easier as the line in the water got shorter. Its bulk and weight would be a lot to stow on a small boat, however.

Buy it now on oceanbrake.com

Para-Tech Delta Drogue review

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Para-tech delta drogue review – deployed underwater

  • RRP: $199 (£118)
  • Diameter: 65cm • Length 47cm

Designed so that it cannot turn inside out, the Delta drogue is made from vinyl-coated nylon, and has a design akin to a tricorne hat. It is supplied with a meaty stainless swivel. Ours was a 36in model.

delta

View from the stern of the boat – the Para-tech delta drogue occasionally broke the surface in use

It reduced our speed from 3.5 knots to 2.2 knots at low revs, exerting 20kg on the line. At higher revs, it reduced our speed from 7 knots to 4.9 knots, exerting 80kg.

It broke the surface occasionally at higher speeds, but the addition of a short length of chain between the line and swivel kept it below the surface and made it much more controllable. We found it ideal as a steering aid. Recovery was simple thanks to the small size of the drogue.

Buy it now from seaanchor.com

Seabrake review

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Seabrake review – deployed underwater

  • Diameter: 62cm • Length 80cm

The Seabrake, made in Australia and sold in the UK by Emsworth-based Sea Teach (now Ocean Chandlery ), comprises two parts – a cone and a body, with a vent between them.

It reduced the boat speed from 3.5 knots to 1.9 knots, with a strain of 32kg on the line. At higher speeds, it reduced the boat speed from 7 knots to 3.9 knots, exerting a 110kg force on the line.

sea-brake

The supplied length of chain kept the Seabrake well below the surface

Sea Teach supplied it with a 2m length of heavy galvanised chain, which kept it well below the surface and out of sight. Without the chain, the speeds and loads were unchanged, but it was visible, although it never broke the surface and was controlled and tracked straight. Recovery was simple, but a tripline would help collapse the cone to aid hauling on board.

Sea Teach also supplied a line and chain, ready-flaked into a mesh bag that was ready for deployment: a foam hoop kept the mouth open, which made both deployment and recovery easy with a crew member flaking the line into the bag.

Buy it now from eBay

Ocean Safety Para Drogue review – BEST ON TEST

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Para Drogue review – PBO best on test – drogue deployed beneath the surface

  • Diameter: 65cm • Length 60cm

The Para Drogue, made in Southampton by Ocean Safety, comprises two linked parts; an open-ended cone and an adjustable ‘mouth’. It deployed to its correct shape immediately, slowing the boat from 3.5 knots to 1.7 knots and experiencing a line load of 34kg.

The Para Drogue stayed submerged, with no porpoising and very little yawing

The Para Drogue stayed submerged, with no porpoising and very little yawing

At 7 knots, it reduced the boat’s speed to 3.5 knots with a line strain of 120kg. It stayed submerged, with no porpoising and very little yawing.

It’s well constructed, and its shape meant that it was easy to recover as the water drained out very quickly. It stows in a small, neat pouch. No tripline is required as recovery is simple.

Buy it now from oceansafety.com

Jimmy Green Yacht Drogue review – BEST BUDGET BUY

  • Diameter: 54cm • Length 80cm

Jimmy Green, based in Beer in Devon, make a number of sizes of drogue – this one was a size 10, suitable for the 29ft Mohraina .

It comprises a PVC cone and at low revs reduced our speed from 3.5 knots to 2 knots, exerting 28kg on the line.

Flat out, it reduced the boat speed from 7 knots to 4.5 knots, exerting 100kg on the line.

A short length of chain helped to keep the Jimmy Green drogue submerged

A short length of chain helped to keep the Jimmy Green drogue submerged

It set immediately on immersion despite the lack of any stiffening to hold the mouth of the cone open, and behaved well underwater, with no spinning, slewing or porpoising.

A short length of chain helped keep it well submerged. It was simple to recover, and a tripline will help to collapse the drogue on recovery.

Buy it now from jimmygreen.co.uk

PBO Drogue test results

We were unable to test these drogues in extremis, but gathered some useful data from our test. It was reassuring that none of the drogues experienced problems at high speed: while some slewed around underwater, none of them broke the surface.

The Series Drogue was by far the easiest to handle, and would be extremely useful if heading off on a long trip in open water, where its ease of use and reputation in large waves would earn it a place in the lazarette despite its bulk relative to the others on test.

For the average coastal sailor, a single-element drogue is likely to be more use. Of these, the Para Drogue was well made, gave the most drag and came in a usefully-sized package. The Seabrake GP24 performed almost as well, for much less money. At the budget end, the Jimmy Green Marine Yacht Drogue 10 was a worthy performer at low cost.

Screen Shot 2015-12-15 at 16.26.36

7 drogues compared: percentage speed reduction at high speed and at low speed

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7 drogues compared: Drag in KG at low speed and at high speed

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7 drogues compared: all specifications in one view

Types of drogue and uses for a drogue

There are two main types of drogue – standard single-element cone-shaped drogues and their variations, and series drogues.

Single-element drogue

These come in many shapes and sizes, as we found out. Some solid plastic and metal drogues are available, but we were unable to obtain one in time for our trials.

Far more common are the fabric-types, which come in a range of sizes. Some are simply scaled-down sea anchors, but other drogues have a vent system or secondary body to keep them under control as they are dragged through the water.

Series drogue

Developed by the late Don Jordan, the series drogue comprises a long warp with upwards of 100 mini cones attached and a weight on the end. The warp is long enough to span two wave-lengths and the series of cones provides not only a backup and failsafe, but is also far less likely to pull out of the front of a wave, while the weight will keep the whole structure from snatching.

Using a drogue as emergency steering device

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J-109 J-Fever arriving safely into Cherbourg without a rudder thanks to deploying and steering with a drogue

Many drogues are kept aboard as an emergency steering device. We looked at how to do this in an earlier feature . This photo shows how a J/109 made it into Cherbourg under sail after her rudder broke in 2010.

Using a drogue to stop surfing

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A drogue to help navigate bars and narrow entrances

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A drogue to help control a boat under tow

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7 drogues tested: how we did it

We borrowed a Contest 29, Mohraina , moored at Poole’s East Dorset Sailing Club and owned by Dick Hanraads. We headed out of Poole Harbour with our seven drogues aboard. A test in extreme conditions was not possible, but a comparative test of each drogue’s holding and slowing power is a useful exercise. For our controlled tests, we deployed each drogue on a 40m length of line, and recorded the boat’s speed at two sets of engine revolutions that had given us 3.5 knots and 7 knots of boat speed respectively. This meant that, initially, the boat was travelling at around 3.5 knots as the drogue was deployed, to simulate the likely speed that you’d deploy the drogue in reality. We looked at the time it took to reach its correct shape and deploy. We also measured the drag force of each drogue using a 100kg spring balance in one side of a 2:1 purchase. The figure, doubled, would then give us the strain on the line.

IMG_7324

From a RIB, we monitored the behaviour of the drogue, checking that it pursued a straight course and that it remained below the surface – no problem in our flat water conditions, but a big problem in waves. We then examined how easy it was to retrieve each drogue.

TSKJ7393

Finally we headed round Old Harry Rocks to sit in the overfalls off Handfast Point. There was a brisk south-westerly, blowing around 15 knots, which gave use some wave conditions to play with, and we tried steering with the drogues as well as handling them in rougher water and seeing how the boat responded.

Streaming warps vs drogue – which is best?

Read classic Hiscock, Chichester, Knox-Johnston or the Smeetons and you’ll not have long to wait before reaching tales of warp streaming. Streaming warps we tried to use the same test methods as for the drogues, but registered low readings of 4kg strain with 0.1 knot difference for a 40m warp streamed astern, and 8kg and 0.3 knots respectively for the same warp streamed in a bight. If you don’t have a drogue this is worth trying, and might keep your stern to the waves enough to make things more comfortable, but it will have nowhere near the same level of drag as a dedicated drogue.

sailboat drogue steering

A Guide to Steering without a Rudder: Methods and Equipment Tested

Published on April 14th, 2014 by Editor -->

by Michael Keyworth I have been concerned for several years with the frequency of rudder loss and/or failure and the consequences of boats being lost or crew injured or lives lost. The purpose of the tests was to determine the best method and equipment to effectively steer the vessel to a safe port in the event of catastrophic rudder failure.

The goal was to utilize the equipment normally taken on the vessel on offshore passages or races. This guide is the result of multiple tests conducted in the fall of 2013 off of Newport, RI. The test vessel was a modified MK I Swan 44, Chasseur.

The overriding premise was; utilization of an efficient and controllable object to create drag and transmit to directional stability which results in the desired directional stability. It was my view that a drogue might be used to exert the appropriate drag. I further felt that a small drogue might provide the needed drag but not significantly impede the speed of the vessel.

Chasseur has been modified in the following relevant ways; the rudder skeg was removed and replaced with a modern spade rudder which is carbon fiber with a Carbon fiber shaft, the keel has been modified to a modern shape fin with a shoe, the mast is carbon fiber and 6 feet taller than original. For the purposes of the tests, the rudder was removed and the rudder port was blocked off.

sailboat drogue steering

I was familiar with and had onboard Chasseur a “Galerider” made by Hathaway, Reiser & Raymond of Stamford, Connecticut. I contacted Wes Oliver at Hathaway and he arranged to make several prototype drogues for the tests. We were equipped with: a 12inch diameter drogue with a 3 part bridle, a 12inch diameter drogue with a 4 part bridle, a 18 inch diameter drogue with a 4 part bridle, a 30 inch drogue with a 4 part bridle and a 36 inch drogue with a 4 part bridle.

The purpose of the test was to establish whether direction could be controlled under the following “underway” conditions using any of the drogues supplied: – With sail trim alone – Motoring using a drogue – Sailing upwind using a drogue – Sailing downwind using a drogue – Motorsailing using a drogue – Being towed using a drogue Size of drogue proved to be very important. The findings were definitive: – The two 12- inch drogues provided no directional stability. – The 18- inch drogue provided marginal control in winds under 10 knots – The 30- inch drogue was very effective in all conditions that were tested and resulted in approximately 1 knot reduction in boat speed. In wind conditions over 20 knots of windspeed a chain pennant needed to be added to reduce cavitation. – The 36- inch drogue worked similarly to the 30 inch drogue but affected boat speed by approximately1½ knots.

Rigging Two spinnaker sheets were used. I believe that spinnaker sheets are appropriate as they are generally sized based on length of boat. The sheets were led as two sides of a bridle (port and starboard) from amidships snatch blocks, thru amidships chock or similar and clipped into the swivel at the lead for the drogue. The tails were lead aft to the primaries in the cockpit. It is important to rig this so as to provoke the least amount of chafe as these lines will become your steering cables. We found that the leads need to be led to the axis of the keel as the boat will rotate on the keel. This point is probably somewhere near amidships.

Note : The afterguy block may be ideal for the bridle lead.

Fig1

During rough and/or windy conditions it may be necessary to add weight to the drogue to keep it from cavitating. Using the concept of being limited to equipment that is already on board, we were able to use various lengths of chain attached to the swivel at the lead for the drogue. At the other end we effectively used a spare swivel shackle and attached one end to the forward end of chain and the other to the bridle from the boat. It is important to have swivels at both ends as the drogue will tend to rotate as it is pulled along. The bridle may get twisted up but this does not seem to affect the control. During our tests the length of “scope” of the bridle/drogue did not seem important. The nominal distance aft from the transom varied from 50 feet to 120 feet. It may be necessary to add scope in extreme conditions. I found that reference of the drogues position was valuable information. I whipped colored marks at 10 foot intervals on both spin sheet/bridle which gave a quick reference; this could be done with tape or magic marker.

Findings

Findings – Controlling direction with sail trim alone: Not Possible!!!

– Control direction while motoring using a drogue: This is the easiest scenario. A wide range of control is available. This can be done with only one person, easily. While testing we were able to execute multiple 360 degree turns with full control. Doing 5.5 knots a full 360 can be executed in 4-4 ½ boat lengths. While motoring, adjustments of 2-3 inches results in 5-10 degree course change.

– Controlling direction while sailing upwind using a drogue: The same principals apply except that there needs to be cooperation between the sail trimmers and the “helmsperson”(bridle trimmer). In this scenario the main must be up, even if reefed, the jib may be overlapping, but more control may be achieved with a non-overlapping jib. Tacking takes coordination but, once you get the hang of it, no problem– traveler up, back the jib and come on to the new tack. We were able to achieve 30-35 degrees apparent sail angle. In large seas wider angles should be expected.

– Controlling direction while sailing downwind using a drogue: When the wind is aft of 90 degrees apparent it is necessary to take the mainsail down and sail under Jib alone. It will be necessary to have an attentive jib trimmer in addition to a helmsperson on the drogue controls. The size of the jib will have to be factored in based on wind and sea conditions. We also found that the deeper the angle the harder it was to have fine control of direction. Jibing is pretty straightforward by easing the jib and rotating the drogue.

– Controlling direction while motorsailing using a drogue: The same principals apply as in sections on upwind and downwind sailing.

– Controlling direction while being towed using a drogue: This test, I felt was important because most successful results of rudder loss has a component of a tow of great and small distances to a safe harbor. In this situation we were towed by a 27’ Protector with two 250 HP outboards. A towing bridle was made up on Chasseur and attached to the tow line from the Protector. At 3 Knots the bow was swinging from port to starboard to the end of the tether. At 4 knots it was very difficult to stand on the foredeck. We deployed the 30 inch drogue as rigged for sailing and motoring. The results were immediate. Towing at 7 knots was comfortable and straight, requiring very little input from the helmsperson.

This is an important finding as it suggests that a drogue should be carried at all times so that assistance can be rendered safely, even inshore.

AF

Additional Findings/ FAQs

– If you lose your rudder: First confirm that the rudder port is not leaking- if it is you must first deal with the flooding issue. Once the flooding issue is stabilized move on to the next step of getting home or assistance.

– Communicate with Race Officials if you are racing and/or with those onshore who will worry about your situation.

– Communicate with vessels nearby if in need of immediate help away from a lee shore or collision avoidance in shipping lanes.

– Choose your safe harbor destination based on wind direction predictions, ease of access, proximity, repair facilities, etc. Do not feel that you need to end at the original destination port.

– If you lose your rudder, it is likely that you either hit a submerged object or that the conditions were severe. Remember that you have time. Relax, storms don’t usually last more than a couple of days. Deploy your drogue or sea anchor and get some rest.

– Each time that we went testing we learned something new. Don’t be afraid to try something that you think might help, i.e. longer scope, move lead of bridle forward or aft, larger/smaller jib, reef/no reef, etc.

– An unanswered question is how a drogue will work with different types/styles and underbodies than Chasseur. My personal view is that a drogue will be an effective tool to have on any type of boat and its deployment can be adapted to the type of vessel that uses it. – Offshore you will have room to maneuver. Take your time and don’t stress about steering an accurate course.

– The engine is your friend. You will find that using engine power will provide the greatest degree of control- speed and direction. Use the engine to deploy sails, to get rest, or to retrieve the drogue- retrieval is easiest when the boat is stopped. Be careful to not tangle the bridle in the prop. This was never a problem during our trials. This was probably because; towards the end of trials we used a 5 foot chain pennant to help the drogue from cavitating. The chain component is an important one. I chose the use of chain to weight the drogue because ISAF Offshore Prescriptions require that an anchor with appropriate ground tackle be carried, so it need not be carried as additional gear. Others venturing offshore tend to take ample ground tackle to accommodate the use for other purposes. On a practical matter, I think that it makes sense to have different lengths of chain for required circumstances. It also makes sense that a longer chain can be made shorter using the rig cut away tools as required by the rule. A shorter chain can be made longer using shackles to join shorter lengths.

– How heavy is the Galerider? A standard 30- inch drogue weighs in at 9 pounds and is stored in a bag that is 15 inches in diameter and 5 inches thick. The standard 36- inch drogue weighs 13.2 pounds and stores in a bag that is 18 inches in diameter and 4 inches thick.

– One of the difficulties that you will face to determine where the helmsperson is stationed and has access to heading or a compass. Something that you may want to consider, as you equip for an offshore passage is the purchase of a backup compass which can be remotely mounted. Boats equipped with modern electronic packages may have the option of display of heading for both helmsperson and trimmer/s.

– It would be prudent for any offshore sailor to practice the deployment of a drogue for speed reduction sailing downwind in large seas and to rig and use as a means of steering. This would help to identify the gear necessary to deploy and provide a ready plan to implement if necessary.

– The transition from drogue to drogue steering or vise versa may be easier than you think.

– A trick that we learned is that you can cleat off one of the bridle lines and have control with the other. If you were to cleat off the port bridle line a turn to port would result from easing the starboard bridle and a subsequent change to starboard would result from trimming the starboard bridle. This lazy mans approach gives the helmsperson more flexibility and physical relief.

– What I learned from the extensive testing is that you can achieve a great deal of control using a drogue. I would bet that if any boat is able to sail 100+ miles without a rudder to a safe port, the crew will want to take a victory lap around the harbor to “show off” the newfound skill and seamanship ability.

One last thought. Having sailed over 150,000 miles at sea I have seen many things and have been able to overcome all sorts of adverse conditions, I still have many concerns and reservations. One concern is that of rudder loss and how to deal with that possibility. This test should help all who go to sea with that possibility. The other concern that haunts me each time I go to sea is the amount of floating debris and other objects that may affect the ability of even the most seamanlike sailor to safely passage from place to place. The possibility of being holed or sunk from collisions with floating debris is real. Most of the stories I have heard about boats at sea that have become rudderless have resulted in the abandonment of those vessels. These abandoned vessels represent a threat to those fellow sailors who put to sea and put them unnecessarily at risk. Michael Keyworth is Vice President and General Manager of Brewer Cove Haven Marina in Barrington, RI.

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Tags: education , Safety

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Yachting World

  • Digital Edition

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Drogues and sea anchors: we test a Jordan Series drogue and a ParaAnchor

  • Toby Hodges
  • September 3, 2015

Toby Hodges tries out a ParaAnchor sea anchor and a Jordan Series Drogue on a heavy weather sail training weekend in the English Channel

sailboat drogue steering

Drogues and sea anchors are designed to slow a boat or allow it to hold station in extreme weather conditions. They can prevent a possible capsize, roll or broach by keeping the bow or stern facing the weather. Debates about the pros and cons are rife among cruisers.

In Skip Novak’s Storm Sailing Series he reveals that he isn’t in favour of streaming warps, let alone using a drogue or sea anchor. Yet there are numerous testimonials from long-distance sailors who place their faith in these devices.

Intrigued to see how practical this equipment is to use, I joined Rubicon 3, a sail training and exploration company, during a heavy weather sail training weekend. I was particularly keen to see how easy it is to deploy and retrieve a drogue or sea anchor, and compare their benefits.

We sailed from Portsmouth aboard the 60ft Hummingbird , an expedition yacht built for the original Clipper Race in 1996. We needed to sail 15nm offshore into the English Channel to reach a depth of 20m to set the sea anchor, which has a diameter of 26ft, and find enough sea room to retrieve the 110m drogue. Once these contraptions are deployed, the yacht’s ability to manoeuvre is limited.

60ft Hummingbird expedition yacht

60ft Hummingbird expedition yacht

Bruce Jacobs, together with Rachael Sprot, founded Rubicon 3 to offer a unique crossover of adventure sailing and sail training. They had requested we muster early in the morning so we could check and load the equipment. They ran through the theories of using drag devices and how we would deploy and recover them.

“The main thing you have to look for when in heavy weather is breaking seas,” said Jacobs. “The boat can handle breaking waves if they are in the right orientation – 20° each side of the bow and similarly to the stern. The thing you don’t want to do is end up sideways to the sea.”

Choices in heavy weather

Yachtsmen have the choice of battening down and riding out extreme weather by heaving-to, forereaching, or lying ahull. But these techniques will not prevent capsize if a yacht is hit by a breaking wave.

There are three choices of purpose-made tackle to help keep a yacht stable in big seas: a single drogue towed off the stern to stop it surfing, a series drogue (a series of multiple miniature drag devices or cones on one line) or a sea anchor. The latter two are bulky, expensive items to ship, but are proven to keep a yacht bow or stern to the waves.

Jacobs explained that it is easier to keep a yacht stern on to waves as it sits better to the wind and is stable running downwind under bare poles. The counter argument is that the bow has been designed to point into waves, whereas the stern can poop and take waves into the companionway. Both the theories and test accounts of using series drogue and sea anchors are wide ranging.

“Most importantly, if you can keep a fit and healthy crew, you can get around bad weather,” said Jacobs. “If you can keep the boat stationary, then the average storm will blow through in 24 to 36 hours. But most people go with it, which turns that into three to four days, with a tired crew.”

A Force 5 wind against tide produced enough chop to make life uncomfortable on board. It demonstrated how quickly crew can become ill or tired. As soon as we dropped the main, the motion changed for the worse and we struggled for balance as we prepared the drogues. “Even here, where conditions are not severe, the choppy sea has made half the crew feel seasick and want to retreat into their shell,” said Jacobs.

Para Anchor

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We trialled a ParaAnchor from Ocean Safety. The main towline is made from Nylon to keep elasticity in the system. A buoyed snag line improves retrieval and stops the anchor sinking. A parachute anchor has a huge surface area however, so its retrieval is not straightforward.

“We want the sea anchor to be on the same wave cycle as the boat, to rise and fall with the wave pattern,” said Bruce Jacobs, “otherwise you have huge snatch loads. So it’s worth keeping line in reserve so you can pay it out if you’re on a bad wave cycle.”

It is also worth double-checking the sea anchor is set up properly. Flaking out the line so it can run freely without snagging helps, but may not be practical. We paid out 100m of towline, which took up most of the side deck to flake. However, sea anchors are available with a deployment bag, which can simply be thrown into the water.

Para_anchor_global_12_kit_out_of_bag_laid_out

We rigged a bridle to help spread the load. Depending on hull(s) and keel shapes, the correct rigging of a bridle is an important factor in keeping a yacht head to wind. Ocean cruising veterans Lin and Larry Pardey advocate the use of a bridle with a scrap of sail to help prevent rolling. “Improvements may be found in leading it to an aft quarter cleat to allow you to trim it to an angle, or even putting up a scrap of main,” said Jacobs.

“One of the biggest causes of failure is chafe, so we also use a chain first to prevent this,” he added. The preparation and deployment of the ParaAnchor is time-consuming, but it certainly felt reassuring once in action. We drifted calmly, dead in the water, the motion instantly very much more comfortable.

The helm can be lashed and left once the anchor is set. A concern with sea anchors is that they can hold the bow too securely into oncoming waves, with the potential to shunt the boat astern. Allowing some flexibility in the helm lashing, by using a shock cord for example, provides a fuse to prevent rudder damage if this happens.

Para Anchor diag

Other worries with sea anchors are that they place a lot pressure on the bow fittings. Cleats may need reinforcing with backing plates. If not under pressure a sea anchor can sink and pull the bow down. Equally, too much pressure means it may rise up and break the surface, so monitoring is needed.

When in the trough of a wave the towline can go slack and the yacht may yaw away from the wind – the reason the US Coast Guard could not recommend a sea anchor deployed from the bow in its 1987 report .

Jordan Series Drogue

A series drogue comprises a multitude of fabric cones spliced in series onto a line with a weight on the end. The original series drogue was designed by Donald Jordan and it is trailed from the stern. The purpose of a series or ‘medium drag’ drogue is comparable to a sea anchor in that it is designed to hold the boat near-stationary – to prevent capsize in the event of a breaking wave.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The number of cones is determined by the yacht’s displacement, but a typical Jordan Series Drogue (JSD) has between 100 and 200 cones of 5in (12.7cm) diameter attached to a tapered line. The load is spread across the multitude of cones, 172 in the case of Hummingbird ’s JSD.

“The danger with the wind behind is pitchpoling,” explained Jacobs. “The JSD will hold you back, stop you from surfing and prevent that happening.” The yacht is still able to accelerate down the face of a wave, but the JSD will slow it enough for the wave to pass through without dropping into a trough. The drag force is applied softly, allowing gentle acceleration until enough cones bite.

PW 5 tips Diagram 3

The potential to be pooped is an obvious concern. Can the cockpit drain quickly enough? The drogue’s inventor says crew should be below, as steering is not required. So the companionway hatch needs to be sufficiently watertight.

The JSD can flake neatly into a mesh deployment bag. A bight between each cone is attached to the bag, bridle to one end and chain weight to the other. Deployment is then just a case of setting up the bridle on winches and paying it out. We were aboard a robust yacht, but once again I could appreciate the need to make sure the attachment points for the bridle are reinforced.

Once the drogue was set, the motion changed immediately. We went from rolling and lurching to comfortably taking tea in the cockpit, making 4.4 knots SOG, but just 0.1 knot through the water.

Rachel Sprot with bridle and deployment bag, which keeps the drogue neatly flaked

Rachel Sprot with bridle and deployment bag, which keeps the drogue neatly flaked

If the ease of deployment is a benefit of the JSD, its retrieval is its downside. Jacobs says it can take over an hour. But a snag line can be used, and during our trials retrieval took approximately 20 minutes with the aid of a winch.

“You have to find a method that is comfortable for you and your boat – and this [JSD] obviously is for Hummingbird ,” said Jacobs. See also Jeanne Socrates’s article on those who have used a Jordan Series Drogue in anger

Conclusions

The trials demonstrated the value of preparation. Trying to sort out one of these drag devices, including the bridle and chafe gear needed, when the storm has already hit, would be daunting. So knowing how to set and use the equipment is key. It was also surprising to see how quickly a drogue or sea anchor can change the motion on board for the better, and the benefit this has on the mood and fatigue of the crew.

It is quite evident that, with practice, either could be a useful tool for riding out heavy weather. I remember setting a sea anchor during a Pacific delivery, for example, to stop the boat to cut a fishing net free from the stern gear. But during our trials with Rubicon 3, I found the series drogue easier to deploy and adjust than the sea anchor, with less to go wrong.

Prices and contacts For a 45ft yacht of 15 tonnes displacement:

  • Pacific 20 Para Anchor £1,829
  • Yacht Drogue (single) £395. Both from www.oceansafety.com
  • Jordan Series Drogue – 139 cones – £739 (Plus £82.40 for the bridle and deployment bag from £75) from www.oceanbrake.com

Also www.jordanseriesdrogue.com

See Skip Novak Storm Sailing Techniques Part 8 Drogues and Sea Anchors

Rubicon 3 – ‘sail’ ‘train’ ‘explore’

Rubicon 3 is owned and run by RYA Yachtmaster Ocean instructors Rachael Sprot and Bruce Jacobs. They bought Hummingbird two years ago.

Sally Splash - © Sally Golden Rubicon 3

“We wanted to do something different to what is already out there,” said Bruce Jacobs. “There is nothing really like what we do – you can typically only do adventure sailing or sail training, but this combines the two. It’s sailing with a purpose, sailing to get to great places.”

Their clients are typically aged between 35 and 60, around a quarter are new to sailing, and most sign up to sail on their own. The company has launched a series of Ocean Crossing Masterclasses. www.rubicon3.co.uk

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Surviving a Force 11 storm with a series drogue

  • Katy Stickland
  • September 1, 2021

Small cruising boats are not fast enough to sail away from bad weather. Tony Curphey shares how a series drogue was vital while sailing the Southern Ocean in a Nicholson 32

Tony Curphey drogue storm

When the windvane steering can no longer cope with the seastate, it is time to deploy the drogue. Credit: Tony Curphey

There is no textbook procedure to follow when, in a small boat, you are faced with seas and winds which are a threat to the survival of you and your boat, writes Tony Curphey .

Every storm is different and so is every boat and circumstance.

I’m writing from my own experience of Southern Ocean sailing and about 16 deployments of my Jordan Series Drogue, four of which were on my last voyage as a participant in the Longue Route 2018 (which like the 2018 Golden Globe Race , was held to mark the 50th anniversary of the event).

My boats in the Southern Ocean have been 27ft, 32ft and 41ft overall length in the past 17 years.

It is good practice to heave-to by whatever means your boat will do that, even if just for a rest from gale conditions.

Toby Curphey finishing the Longue Route

Tony’s Nicholson 32 has proven to be a tough seaboat, even in the Southern Ocean. Credit: Tony Curphey

It’s a huge relief to have the sudden calm.

If weather conditions worsen, some sailors advocate lying ahull which usually means letting the boat take its own position in the sea with no sail up, and having the helm lashed to the lee to try to keep the bow a little into the wind.

Both these tactics are fine in moderate or even severe gale conditions, but as wind and seas rise beyond gale force it is necessary to change tactics as the boat will be knocked down and that is a prelude to being rolled, in which case the mast will probably be lost.

I might mention that it is proven that the longer the vessel is, the less likely she is to be rolled. However most boats will be rolled, regardless of length, if caught sideways in the trough of a wave.

My present boat, Nicky , a beautiful Nicholson 32 Mk X, will run downwind under control with the Aries (or other windvane ) steering, with or without any sail up until Force 10 or even 11.

Solo circumnavigator Tony Curphey shows his circumnavigation routes

Tony Curphey has completed four solo circumnavigation in small boats and has deployed a drogue in true survival conditions 16 times. Credit: Tony Curphey

Under these conditions, if I have any sail up, I use a spitfire jib of 54sq ft (5m2).

You can’t go directly downwind because the sail will back and fill with tremendous force and will soon destroy itself.

It is better under these conditions to have no sail up. If the Aries can’t handle it any more the boat will broach and will be in danger of being rolled.

If the hull is fouled, as Nicky ’s was in the Southern Ocean on my last voyage, she will go out of control sooner.

Then it’s time to start thinking of survival .

Using the drogue

In my case I use the Jordan Series Drogue which I made myself about 17 years ago.

If the direction in which you want to go is upwind then you will probably be thinking of putting out a drogue, or something to slow you down, much sooner.

One man, or woman can only hand steer for so long under these violent conditions. And I mean violent!

But usually in the Southern Ocean the systems are moving from west to east so with a drogue out you will be making 2 knots or so in the right direction or more likely to the north east or south east.

It is a better idea to deploy the drogue from the inner end, that nearest the boat, into the water first.

Tony Curphey drogue stern chainplates attachment

Purpose-build chainplates are required to take the load of the drogue bridle on each quarter. Credit: Tony Curphey

It goes out under more control and is less likely to snag cones or anything else.

Make sure the drogue does not foul the windvane servo paddle if you still have one down.

Last of all drop in the 25lbs weight and make sure it is clear of the bridle.

On Nicky my drogue is led out under the lower guard rail on the port side.

If you deploy under the rail directly astern, drop the weighted end in first but be careful because it will be snaking out fast and a lot of weight will come on to it as the cones start their work.

Once deployed, the drogue will quickly pull the stern into the seas.

Continues below…

A yacht sailing with a deployed drogue

‘What I learned deploying my series drogue in a gale’

Steve Brown found his series drogue a big asset when riding out foul weather in one of the world's most…

Heavy weather sailing

Heavy weather sailing: preparing for extreme conditions

Alastair Buchan and other expert ocean cruisers explain how best to prepare when you’ve been ‘caught out’ and end up…

Jean-Luc Van Den Heede sailing Matmut in the 2018 Golden Globe Race

Storm tactics from the Golden Globe Race: Jean-Luc Van Den Heede

Golden Globe Race skippers share their experiences of ocean storms, providing lessons for all of us about how to cope…

Sailing in storms

Adventure: guide to sailing in storms

Award-winning sailor and expedition leader Bob Shepton regularly sails some of the most storm-swept latitudes in the world. Not bad…

In a confused sea , a breaking wave strike may come on the quarter but the drogue will pull the stern to the seas within two seconds.

I have experienced that many times.

There is tremendous force on the fittings where the drogue is attached so it is essential that these fittings are built accordingly strong.

Yet, there are no shock loads on the boat or fittings because of the elasticity of the drogue.

It’s like being on a huge bungee, contrary to a single element cone or parachute drogue whether on the bow or stern.

The series drogue is always deployed from the stern on a monohull .

Remove the windvane servo paddle if possible.

Tony Curphey drogue laid out in boatyard

Thicker, stronger rope as you get closer to the boat where the loads are greatest. CreditL Tony Curphey

Fold down and lash the sprayhood and anything else which could be damaged or swept away.

Solar panel gantries are vulnerable. I do have one and have sustained damage there.

Lash the tiller or wheel amidships and scoot below with the servo paddle, securing the companionway hatch on the way.

A good shot from the whiskey bottle is now a plan; your series drogue will look after you.

On Nicky I have a fast closing hatch which can be opened or closed from inside or from outside, with one hand if necessary and it can be dogged down like a submarine door.

It is made from 18mm polycarbonate, is see-through, very strong and totally watertight.

Tony Curphey was 74 when he completed the Longue Route. leaving and returning to Emsworth

Tony Curphey was 74 when he completed the Longue Route. leaving and returning to Emsworth, UK. Credit: Tony Curphey

A standard companionway hatch with washboards may be strong enough but it will not be watertight.

When you have a striking wave hit from astern, water will squirt all over the cabin.

It is awesome in the old-fashioned sense of the word to watch the weather from behind the see-through hatch.

Those moving mountains which sometimes pile up on top of each other and seemingly drop from the sky as the top breaks and topples over and buries the boat from astern.

The most unnerving part is the noise; the screaming and howling of the wind.

During the Longue Route, Tony Curphey had to deal with all sorts of gear failure including a damaged boom, which he lashed, following an accidental gybe.

During the Longue Route, Tony Curphey had to deal with all sorts of gear failure including a damaged boom, which he lashed, following an accidental gybe . Credit: Tony Curphey

That gives you the first indication that the storm is easing as you suddenly realise it is not so noisy. But not yet.

The barometer is rising, the wind could be at its strongest now and there will be a windshift and the seas become confused.

The series drogue is doing its work through all this but it could be some hours before the confusion of the opposing seas allows the movement to ease enough to work safely on deck and bring in the drogue.

Retrieving a drogue

There are many stories about the difficulty of recovering a series drogue.

It’s very physical but you have to be patient and just take in the slack as it occurs and keep a turn on the cockpit winch.

Getting it started is the hardest part.

Some have suggested using a trip line but don’t be tempted.

It will end up in a huge mess and seriously jeopardise the efficiency of the drogue.

However, I do use a trip line to the end of the bridle.

Tony Curphey drogue ready to deploy

Tony Curphey get the drogue ready to deploy. Credit: Tony Curphey

It is looped just aft of the shackles which join the bridle to the main drogue.

If you use a bowline for this purpose, make sure it is tight and has a couple of half hitches around the standing part, for even a bowline will shake itself loose without weight on it for many hours.

The other end of this trip line is made fast to the railing on the port side.

This is a great help and there is no chance of it tangling with the drogue.

It normally takes me 30 to 60 minutes to recover the drogue and then it is carefully flaked down behind the small bulkhead with the weight at the bottom to go out last, all ready for its next use.

How to make your own Jordan Series Drogue

A lot of yachtsmen have heard of a series drogue but very few have used one in anger.

They are time consuming to make and expensive to buy.

My drogue is made in three lengths all shackled seriously together.

The final length, the one furthest from the boat, is of a smaller diameter rope because there is less strain there.

Set up of the Jordan Series Drogue for the Nicholson 32, Nicky

Credit: Maxine Heath

The overall length of the drogue is 107m (350ft) and is attached to the boat by a bridle, in Nicky ’s case, of about 4.5m (15ft) long.

Each arm of the bridle is shackled to a dedicated chainplate on each quarter of the hull.

This is by far the best way to attach the drogue to the boat.

Mine is permanently shackled to the boat and is flaked down at the after end of the cockpit behind a small bulkhead to stop it sliding forward, and is held with two quick-release lashings so it is always ready for quick deployment.

Tony Curphey completed the 2018 Longue Route in his Nicholson 32, Nicola Deux, sailing around the world in 308 days

Tony Curphey completed the 2018 Longue Route in his Nicholson 32, Nicola Deux ( Nicky ), sailing around the world in 308 days. Credit: Tony Curphey

The bridle is joined to the main length of the drogue by more shackles which are tightened and carefully moused with seizing wire.

At the far end of the drogue is a weight of 11kg (25lbs), in my case a length of chain in a canvas bag.

Along the length of the drogue are small cones or parachutes.

The number of cones required depends on the displacement of the boat. In the case of a Nicholson 32 it is 110 cones.

It is important to have the correct type of rope , double braided nylon which gives the elasticity and strength, and the bungee effect.

Full details can be found at www.jordanseriesdrogue.com

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Sailboat Emergency Steering

  • By Don Street
  • Updated: June 12, 2019

Hanse 418

There are countless stories about yachts ­abandoned at sea because they lost their steering or rudder. It’s a ­possible contingency that should be anticipated before ­heading offshore. Boats that have wheel steering should be equipped with an emergency tiller that has been tested and works. Too many ­emergency tillers are useless. Test your emergency tiller in heavy air, not only sailing to windward, but also on a broad reach and dead downwind, two points of sail that require a lot of steering.

Tiller Tales

The inadequacy of emergency tillers was brought home to me early in my career as a delivery skipper. I was delivering a 40-foot sloop, with a short keel but an attached rudder, from Grenada to Fort Lauderdale via St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. About 50 miles west of San Juan, Puerto Rico, the hydraulic-steering system packed up so we were forced to use emergency steering to San Salvador, in the Bahamas the first island we figured we could find a harbor.

Alvah Simon

We installed the ­emergency tiller, but it was not well ­designed. It was simply not strong enough and collapsed after about five hours. I found that the biggest socket in the socket set would fit on the rudder head, and a block and tackle on the wrench handle led to a winch gave us enough control to sail her 400 miles to San Salvador Island where we stopped and rebuilt the emergency ­tiller. Sometimes you need to go with what you got.

­Leopard 50

Contrast that to the tale of Pixie , a 54-foot Gardner-designed, ketch-rigged ­motorsailer. We were on another delivery, from St. Croix to Fort Lauderdale, when on the second day out once again the hydraulic steering failed. But it was no problem as Gardner had designed a proper emergency tiller. Pixie had a center cockpit and a large ­after deck. We simply undid a deck plate, moved a cushion in the aft-cabin bunk, dropped the emergency tiller through the deck plate onto the rudder head, and we were all set. As the tiller was a full 6 feet long, we had plenty of leverage. As seen in the accompanying photos from the 2019 Boat of the Year tests, many contemporary production cruisers have emergency tillers as well thought out as Pixie ‘s.

Hanse 548

One common ­problem, ­particularly with many ­older vessels, is that many ­extended emergency tillers are ­designed to pass over the top of the wheel. This arrangement may look good on paper, but when you try to use it in heavy weather, especially going downwind, it doesn’t work. The problem is that the ­tiller must have some height to clear the wheel, but because of its accompanying short ­lever arm, there’s not enough torque or leverage for it to be effective.

Lagoon 40

Contemporary yachts, of course, are very beamy and they carry that beam well aft, which means extremely wide sterns. I think many ­designers are missing an opportunity on these boats to create a ­better emergency tiller. Because they’re so wide, why not employ a T-shaped ­tiller? (There were ­examples of T-shaped emergency ­tillers in the Boat of the Year ­testing, but I’m thinking about one that would extend ­farther abeam.) It would be ­easier to ­fabricate with a longer lever arm extended port and ­starboard. If control was an issue, two people could steer, one to either side. You’d ­probably want the “arms” of the T to be ­easily removable for ­storage. One thing you already see on some modern boats is an emergency tiller pointed abaft the rudder head. This solves the problem of conflicting with the wheel and pedestal.

On cable-steering systems, the most common ­failure, naturally, is broken cables. Replacing steering cables at sea is difficult, but not impossible. Superyacht ­skipper Billy Porter told me a ­story with advice useful to any cruiser. Porter was a veteran of the Royal Navy who crewed aboard a yacht in a round-the-world race that entered as part of the service’s sail-training program. The crew figured sometime in the Southern Ocean, after thousands of miles of downwind sailing, a steering cable would break and they’d lose steering. When that happened, they planned to round up, drop the spinnaker, hoist the staysail and trim the boat so it hove to. Then they could make repairs.

Halfway to Cape Horn, that exact scenario unfolded. The crewman designated to steering controls — everyone had a specific duty — dove down below to address the ­problem. The rest of the crew ­reckoned it would take hours to do the job. But 20 minutes ­later, the crewman popped out of the hatch and said, “New ­cable installed and tensioned, get underway.” Everyone was amazed and asked how he did it so quickly. It turned out that during his time in port, he stayed aboard and set his alarm for midnight each night to practice changing a cable. The first time took three hours, but he soon learned to assemble all the required tools and different lengths of spare cables near the ­lazarette. Each night he got quicker and more efficient, so when there ­actually was an ­emergency, he was ready. The point is, for those heading offshore, it’s ­worthwhile to try ­replacing a steering cable in port — ­before setting out.

Lost Rudders

Another common characteristic of modern designs is spade rudders. Again, in recent times we’ve heard too many stories of crews abandoning boats in midocean because they completely lost a rudder that either dropped because of a ­structural issue or because it hit something. Scanmar International is one of the few companies that builds dedicated emergency rudders. The firm’s M-Rud unit works in conjunction with its Monitor windvane, and its SOS Emergency rudder is a stand-alone system worth investigating.

Jeanneau Sun ­Odyssey 490

If you do lose a rudder, and you are not carrying a ­specific emergency rudder, my advice is not to waste any time trying to rig a spinnaker pole with a door secured to it as a rudder. I have heard and read about dozens of sailors who have tried this rig, and it simply does not work.

A more successful tactic was employed by the crew of the Dutch 55-footer Olivier van Noort in the 1953 Fastnet Race. After rounding Fastnet Rock, the boat lost its ­rudder. The crew responded by­ rigging a spinnaker pole across the deck and running lines through blocks secured to the ends of the pole’s port- and starboard-side that were attached to a drogue streamed astern. With the lines led to winches, the crew was able to manipulate the drogue to steer the boat.

Island Packet 349

I’ve heard a similar story from yacht designer Bill Tripp, who was aboard one of his own 60-footers when it lost a rudder on a race 60 miles north of Nassau, Bahamas. That crew didn’t use a spinnaker pole, but they did deploy a drogue that was “­triangulated” by lines led directly to ­winches. In a ­northerly breeze, they had some success, but ­ultimately were more ­successful a­fter ­setting a staysail (with no main). The drogue kept the stern ­directly behind the bow, and the crew was able to fine-tune their course by ­trimming the staysail to control the ­direction of the bow. And they made it safely to Nassau.

Fountaine Pajot Astréa 42

Likewise, the Rhode Island-based Keyworth brothers, Mike and Ken, have been able to tightly control the Swan 44, Chasseur — ­also without a wheel or rudder — by ­employing a 30-inch Galerider storm drogue with a double-reefed main and just enough of the genoa unfurled to fill the foretriangle. To rig their drogue, the Keyworths led spinnaker lines from the drogue forward to a pair of snatch blocks set amidships, then aft to ­cockpit winches. In all these cases, there was a lot of experimentation with sails and line placement for the drogues before finding a workable solution. But solutions were found.

Never underestimate the option of just using your sails if the breeze is favorable. With the wind abeam or forward of abeam, depending on the vessel, many good sailors can steer a boat using sails alone. Yes, it’s easier on a ketch or yawl, which have more options, than it is on a sloop or cutter, but it’s possible with any rig. That said, a cutter with a staysail as well as a jib is easier to steer under sail alone than a single-­headsail sloop. Once the wind goes abaft the beam, it’s time to switch to the drogue.

Swan 44

To sum up, for resourceful sailors, a loss of steering or a rudder should not ­necessarily be regarded as a ­complete ­disaster. If well prepared, with well-practiced routines and the proper gear onboard, they could just be a major inconvenience!

Don Street is a legendary sailor, author and voyager, and a frequent contributor to Cruising World. His seminal book, The Ocean Sailing Yacht (volumes 1 and 2) , was originally published in 1974 but remains a valuable ­resource to this day, and can be ­ ordered online from Amazon and other outlets.

  • More: Hands-On Sailor , How To , rudder , safety at sea , steering
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Emergency Steering with a Drogue: A New Approach

April 11, 2014

By John Rousmaniere

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Steering a boat that's lost her rudder is one of the most daunting problems a crew must anticipate and prepare to manage.  

The tests were done with a Swan 44 whose rudder had been removed

The Newport Bermuda Race Safety Requirement is:  “4.1 Steering in an Emergency: A yacht's crew shall be aware of multiple methods of steering the yacht with the rudder disabled, and shall have chosen and practiced one method and be prepared to demonstrate it while sailing both upwind and downwind.”

One method is dragging a drogue astern.  A new technique has been developed by Michael Keyworth, an experienced offshore sailor, a Newport Bermuda Race inspector, and a presenter at safety seminars.

His video, below, How to Steer with a Drogue: Don’t  Lose Your Boat When You Lose Your Rudder demonstrates emergency steering under power and sail using a  Galerider.   Adam Loory produced the video.                 

For additional information, see FAQ 4.1, Steering in an Emergency, http://bermudarace.com/entry/faq/

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8 Ways to Follow the Newport Bermuda Race 2024

The Newport Bermuda Race begins June 21st and boats will take anywhere from 2-5 days to arrive in Bermuda and here are eight fantastic ways to stay engaged with all the thrills and spills of this legendary event, whether you're in Newport or tuning in from across the globe.

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Sea Anchors & Drogues

Taking bad weather bow-to or stern-to is a fundamental quandary. much depends on your boat. then you have to decide which sea anchor or drogue to buy. we sort through the decision tree..

sailboat drogue steering

Sea anchors are as old as seafaring. Sailors through the ages have carried buckets, bags, cones—just about everything except the kitchen sink—and thrown them over when they wanted to limit drift. Where the water is too deep for anchoring to the ground sea anchors have long had their uses. Drogues, too, have a long history. Whether as “drags” used to tire harpooned whales or “brakes” to control hard-to-maneuver barges, drogues have been working the waterways for centuries.

Sea Anchors & Drogues

Our examination of commercially available devices is not a product comparison but an overview of some available options.

Definitions There’s understandable confusion between sea anchors and drogues. A sea anchor is meant to fix a boat in place, much like a conventional (non-floating) anchor. A drogue, on the other hand, generally goes over the stern. You use it to control speed and stabilize your course as you run downwind away from the seas.

Both sea anchors and drogues work by creating drag. Both are ways of keeping your boat end-on to the wind and seas. However, their heavy weather missions are quite different.

Sea Anchors The main reason sea anchors and drogues get confused is that, until relatively recently, they were basically the same thing. What John Claus Voss (author of the turn-of-the century classic Venturesome Voyages) and even Adlard Coles in his Heavy Weather Sailing called “sea anchors” were small conical devices much like present-day drogues. However, dating roughly from the end of Word War II, sailors and, most particularly, commercial fishermen, began experimenting with parachutes as devices for heaving to. Patrick Royce was the first sailor to tell of these adventures (early 60’s). John and Joan Casanova subsequently (70’s and 80’s) made well-documented use of a parachute anchor in their multihull cruising. Lin and Larry Pardey (aboard the monohull Seraffyn) used ordnance chutes to heave to and wrote about it.

Para-anchors have come into their own; large-diameter devices on the parachute model (or, as in the case of the modern Shewmon anchors, designed from scratch) have evolved in the past 20 years to offer infinitely more “holding” power than the time-honored cones. The sea anchors available in the US today (from Para-Tech Engineering, Para-Anchors International, Fiorentino Para Anchor, and Shewmon Inc., among others), plus those few available on the international market from Para-Anchors Australia and Coppins, Ltd. (New Zealand) all have the size and strength to do what the older devices couldn’t—”stop” the boat from drifting and hold its bow to weather.

Your sea anchor allows you to stop, to attend to a problem, make repairs, get a rest. If the wind and waves are moderate, “anchoring” your boat in open water is relatively simple and straightforward. If it’s too deep to drop the hook, the sea anchor lets you “park.”

Sea Anchors & Drogues

Most sailors, however, look to sea anchors to help them handle heavy weather. And in robust blows and gale force winds para-anchors have earned high marks. They have proven that they can bring the boat end-on to the waves and limit drift (often to as little as half a knot). Testimonials are impressive. For example:

Windswept (Hinckley Bermuda 40 yawl) deployed a 12′ Para-Tech sea anchor during passage of a frontal trough (winds 35-40 knots) off the coast of Maine. The skipper recounted thusly:

“After deployment my yawl lay bow-to the wind and waves with very little yawing. With 400 feet of rode there was absolutely no shock loading. My boat rode like a duck, up and over each wave, always nose to the wind. Altogether a very pleasant, safe, and secure feeling.”

That happy, cozy result is what sailors are looking for. Shewmon advises, “Set the anchor at the first sign of heavy weather, BEFORE the deck gets wet and it’s hard to work. Then go inside and catch up on your rest.” The parachute sea anchor is often painted as the “last, best solution” for the weather-whipped sailor.

But it’s dangerous to regard the sea anchor as a “set-it-and-forget-it” solution to heavy weather. Once crests form on the waves, things change. Water now moves laterally, not up and down. It moves at wave speed (up to 25 knots) and can have an impact of one ton per square foot. That changes the game. Breaking waves slew boats off course, roll them over, rocket them out of control. Breaking waves usher in survival conditions.

It’s a comfort that not many storms produce breaking waves. Still, when they do, they introduce significant problems if you’re riding to a sea anchor. The first is yawing.

Sea Anchors & Drogues

Other Aids For Staying Bow To How your boat rides to a ground anchor is a good guide as to how she will ride to a sea anchor. Multihulls, for instance, ride relatively straight to both ground and sea anchors when they bridle the anchor from both bows. A monohull, on the other hand, streams a sea anchor from a single fixed point. That increases yaw.

One antidote is a riding sail. A sail set well aft (even a storm jib hanked to the backstay and sheeted flat) will help a boat stay head-to-wind. If you are able to, reduce windage forward (roller furlers are classic culprits) you can do a lot to keep yourself effectively bow-on.

Another remedy is the form of heaving to popularized by the Pardeys. They ride, with or without sail, to a sea anchor, but they attach a control line to the rode and bridle it to their quarter. By adjusting the control they can “winch the stern to weather” and bring their bow off the wind. The hull makes some leeway which in turn generates a “slick” that helps dampen wave action on their weather side. It’s a promising variation to riding bow-on.

Even if you eliminate yaw, you are left to deal with the effect of powerfully breaking wave crests. Thrown aft against an anchor “fixed” in the water, your boat can conceivably generate a pull approaching its own displacement. The tactic here is to position your anchor so that it is in phase with the boat, cresting when the boat does. You don’t want the anchor to be “fixed.” Maximum scope goes a long way toward achieving the “in-rhythm” balance that can keep loads on the boat and road within reason. Para-Tech recommends a minimum of 300′ of rode (or 12 times the boat’s length overall, whichever is greater). Both Shewmon and Para-Tech insist on nylon rodes because nylon’s elasticity limits shock loads.

“We used to think that we could set a sea anchor with the gear that was already aboard for ground tackle. I’ve learned that you need to have gear designed especially to do the job, in terms of strength, efficiency, and chafe prevention,” said Earl Hinz, author of Understanding Sea Anchors & Drogues. Wind loads alone can push the pull on a rode to more than a ton. Para-Tech specifies 1/2″ nylon for boats up to 35′, 5/8″ for boats from 35′-45′, and 3/4″ rode for boats up to 55′. A dedicated strong point, one that doesn’t rely on deck cleats or skimpily backed windlasses, seems almost mandatory for handling a sea anchor.

Sea Anchors & Drogues

Chafe is also a problem. There are reports of systems that chafed through “within hours.” Hinz inserts lengths of chain at 100′ intervals in his rode and lets the chain handle abrasion. Repositioning chafing gear on a bar-taut rode from a wave-swept foredeck is difficult, at best. You can’t do much once you’ve set the anchor. That makes adjusting rode length virtually impossible beyond “freshening the nip” by easing it a couple of inches every hour or so. Shewmon’s answer: “Assume the worst case scenario and stream all of the rode permanently protected from chafe at the boat end from the start.”

Pre-planning helps, but practicing is the best preparation for setting your sea anchor in a storm.

Boats riding to a sea anchor will make some sternway. The more severe the motion astern the more grave the threat to the steering system. A rudder hinged on the keel or transom might even be forced against its pintles and sheared off. To counter the backdowns induced by wind and wave, lock the rudder amidships. Lash the wheel rather than relying on the friction brake. Better yet, mount your emergency tiller and lash it.

Riding to a sea anchor more or less rules out adopting any other heavy weather tactic. That’s mostly because getting going again involves either cutting the gear loose or trying to wrestle it back aboard.

Trip lines are standard items with both Para-Tech and Shewmon sea anchors. The Pardeys and many others don’t use them, though. They fear they might snag and sabotage the system. Hinz favors a partial trip line (about one-third the rode’s length) with its own buoy. Even when you succeed in imploding the chute via a retrieval line, you still have retrieval to contend with. In moderating conditions you may power up gradually along the rode and get away with as little as 15 or 20 minutes of intense line handling. If the waves remain and things are anything but perfect, however “retrieval is harder than you can imagine” (according to author and cruising instructor John Neal. As another sailor put it, “It’s like trying to reel in a giant squid from 20,000 fathoms down.”

Sizing a Sea Anchor Choosing a sea anchor begins with the size of your boat. Shewmon explains that his anchors function at their rated diameter “while the Para-Tech anchors are flat. That means that they curve when they fill with water so their working diameter is 30% less than their rated diameter.”

For example, a 6′ Para-Tech sea anchor equals the holding power of a Shewmon sea anchor only 4′ diameter, he said. Shewmon’s sizing guide suggests a 10.5′-diameter meter chute for a 35′ boat and a 13.5′ device for a 45-footer. Recommendations for Para-Tech equivalents are 16′ (for a 35-footer) and 20′ (for a 45-footer), respectively.

US Sailing’s Recommendations for Offshore Sailing puts forth a general guideline—sea anchor diameter should be approximately equal to one-third of a boat’s length overall. Says Victor Shane, a maker of para anchors as well as the author of the Drag Device Data Base, “Err on the larger side for safety, much as you would with ground tackle.” Fears of tethering to “immovable objects” have occasionally led sailors to fit their boats with under-sized chutes. Says Walter Greene of the 4′ Shewmon streamed from his 50′ catamaran Sebago, “I thought anything bigger would be too unyielding.” The boat survived 48 hours of 50-knot winds in mid-Atlantic, but her bows sheared off at 45°-60° throughout the storm.

Sea Anchors & Drogues

The bigger the sea anchor the bigger the challenge involved in deploying and retrieving it. Getting it over the side is essentially a matter of preparation and technique. Set the chute to weather (to minimize chances of its sliding beneath the hull), “sneak” it directly into the water to keep it from blowing about, have the rode properly led, flaked and snubbed, and pay off under control (sail or power). Tension on the rode should open the chute. Given the elasticity in the system and the required (considerable, to say the least) scope, the shock of fetching up against it should be minor and not break anything.

Drogues Tests conducted by the American Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers have proven that a boat running before waves is likely to broach when waves approach a height equivalent to 35% of its waterline length. Steadied by a drogue, however, a boat will withstand waves as high as 55% of waterline length. And there are other virtues to towing a drogue.

Most often boats lose control running off before heavy weather because they are going too fast. Leaping off the top of one wave into the back of the one in front will, sooner or later, present problems. Calming your pace so that you stop short of pitchpoling, get a grip on broaching, and put a stop to pounding can be a simple matter of towing a drogue. Most of those available have shown that they can cut top speeds in half.

Drogues do more than that to help steering control. By holding the stern into the waves they limit yaw. By adjusting the drogue so that it pulls on your weather quarter you create an “anti-broaching” force. You can rig a bridle from the stern and use it to “pull the stern around” or lead the bridle to strong points forward of your rudder so that you can “tow the drogue around” with positive control.

“Drogues,” said Shewmon, “are for fair weather. Once waves start to break you want to deploy a sea anchor.”

It’s true that none of the drogues on the market today can “save the day” on its own the way a sea anchor might. Tethering to a sea anchor is primarily passive. You don’t trim sail, dodge waves, or do much more than monitor the situation. Running off is a more active approach. Boat type, sea room, crew reserves, storm avoidance, damage control…the factors that go into choosing which tactic to take are legion and complex. Drogues offer no absolute guarantees against pitchpoling, broaching, or capsize—but they do help the boat stayl end-on to the waves (running off). Keeping that choice open makes them valuable in heavy weather.

The drogues inherited from whalers and cod fishermen suited sailors well for a while. But boats got faster, loads got bigger, and a few flaws began to surface. Time-honored cones and the variations thereon tended to porpoise, swerve, oscillate and pulse as water flow increased. For good speed and steering control you need a steady pull. A new generation of drogues developed almost entirely since the Fastnet storm of 1979 now provides it.

Galerider. Developed by sailmaker Ed Raymond along with yachtsman Frank Snyder, this open-weave basket of webbing gets its pull from a small disc of heavy vinyl in the basket’s bottom. Shewmon’s tug tests (and testimonials from a number of sailors) indicate that it pulls straight with no tendency to yaw. Galeriders come in six sizes (from 18″ diameter to 48″) and have been described by sailors who have towed them as strong, durable, consistent, and simple to deploy and retrieve. John Neal favors it.

Seabrake GP-24. Evolved by Australian commercial fisherman John Abernethy, Seabrakes are based on variable flow. On the original solid Seabrake a baffle prevented most water from passing through it, making it provide tension enough for moderate steering and speed control. Increased water flow from increased speed opened the baffle to create turbulent water flow. That increased drag by as much as 70%. The successor drogue (GP-24) has a “staged system” of variable resistance to produce similar performance in a lighter device made from cloth. Seabrakes have been in use for 15 years and found favor with Down Under racers (like Sir Peter Blake) and cruisers in both multihulls and monohulls. They have limited availability in the US.

Attenborough Sea Drogue. Developed in the UK and used there by lifeboats and fishermen as well as sailors, this 25-lb. solid stainless steel weldment contains a series of angled vanes. As speed increases, flow over the vanes accelerates. That causes the device to dive deeper and “pull harder.” By adjusting the vanes to a shallower dive angle you can use the Sea Drogue for steering control alone. Stowage and retrieval of the solid unit present problems. It has yet to be marketed worldwide.

Shewmon Seamless Drogue. Sold in three sizes (27″, 54″, and 106″ widths) these drogues are made from single pieces of cloth. Shewmon has tug-tested the largest up to 9,000 lbs. of pull. Pull varies with the square of speed (tripling speed produces nine times the pull). Additional speed control can be achieved by adjusting the trip line and “shrinking” the drogue. However, as Shewmon warns, “Readers are advised to abandon all thoughts of partial tripping unless they are willing to spend considerable time and patience experimenting.”

Para-Tech Delta Drogue. Due to tri-corner exhaust vents, increased flow through this drogue produces increased drag, thus suiting the load to the conditions. Guide surface design promotes stability and the water flow helps assure that the drogue will retain its shape. Available for boats from 25′ to 80′ in length, the device comes in six sizes. Made from heavy, vinyl-coated fabric, the Delta stows easily and is relatively easy to retrieve.

Jordan Series Drogue. Towed from the stern like a conventional drogue, this device attempts to do the job of a sea anchor by aggressively holding the boat end-on into the seas. Donald Jordan, its inventor, is a veteran of the aircraft industry and former MIT professor. Jordan’s answer is a series drogue, a rode arrayed with a series of small cones and stretched downward and aft by a weight. Depending on the size of the boat, 90 or more 5″ cones are spliced in line to a 300′ tow line at 20″ intervals. Jordan said that an average (25,000-pound) boat will need about 130 cones.

Sailors who have used Jordan’s drogue say that it works well.

“It slowed our speed to between 0 and 1/4 knot. Yaw was only 5° either side of heading,” reported Gary Danielson of using the device aboard his 25′ monohull in 25-30 knots. The problem that arises, however, is that the boat’s stern quarters tend to be held where they are vulnerable to assault from waves.

Jordan counters, “The approaching water mass is essentially wedge-shaped. In most cases a breaking wave slides under the stern and lifts it rather than smashing down on it.”

“I disagree,” said Steve Dashew, circumnavigator and author of the new book, Surviving The Storm (order at www.setsail.com), who supplied photos for this article. “You can’t discount the impact of a breaking wave. Some boats are well-protected aft, perhaps with center cockpits, but many others, with exposed cockpits, lockers, and companionways are vulnerable. The wisdom of riding stern-to the storm thus depends almost entirely on the type of boat that you have.”

Recommendation—Sea Anchors You might get an inexpensive conical device or prospect the offerings of such far-flung para-anchor purveyors as Coppins, Ltd. (New Zealand) or Para-Anchors Australia. However, after reading hundreds of case histories and talking to sailors and manufacturers we have found little or nothing to justify taking your sea anchor search that far afield. Design and construction of the basic parachute varies somewhat, but the track records, accessibility, and commitment of the two proven and accessible American manufacturers—Para-Tech Engineering and Shewmon, Inc.—make them ones you may wish to consider.

Dan Whilldin, Para-Tech president, is a veteran of more than 30 years of working with parachutes, both for aircraft and for boats. Feedback from the sailors who have used his sea anchors was a big factor in developing the deployable stowage bag that lets you set your Para-Tech by simply dropping the bag (with rode attached) overboard. To us this appears a significant advantage and one that sets Para-Tech apart from Shewmon, whose larger canopies need to be rolled and stopped with twine to ready them for use. Coupled with a significant weight difference (Para-Tech = 17 lbs., Shewmon = 50 lbs.) for comparable sea anchors, Para-Tech is the easier of the two to set.

Shewmon sea anchors are heavily built. A mining engineer and inventor, Dan Shewmon made his own sea anchors for his cruising motorsailer, then went on, in 1978, to found Shewmon, Inc., which now makes and sells a variety of anchors and drogues also of his own design. An anchor for the average (35′-40′) monohull is made from 7-oz. knitted, slightly porous Dacron cloth. “Water is non-compressible and 853 times heavier than air,” he argues. “Common sense dictates that sea anchor cloth should be considerably heavier than parachute cloth.”

Para-Tech employs zero-porosity, high tensile (approximately 2-oz.) nylon in its canopies. Shewmon’s Dacron is undoubtedly stronger. But Para-Tech’s nylon has proven (in Dan Shewmon’s own tug tests) that it can survive loads greater than those seen in recommended use. Further, more than 30 reports in Victor Shane’s Drag Device Data Base tell of setting Para-Tech anchors in winds up to 85 knots, seas over 25 feet, and for as long as 53 hours. Only one account mentions cloth failure: two “well-frayed holes between vent and skirt were found upon retrieval, but there’s no doubt the anchor saved the boat,” said skipper Stephen Edwards of Adelaide, Australia.

Shewmon argues that the porosity of his cloth stabilizes the canopy. Para-Tech points to the resiliency nylon cloth gives to its anchors, better enabling them to absorb loads. There are also significant design differences. Shewmon has created a hybrid of conical and flat shapes with a deeply scalloped (rather than dimpled à la a parachute) circumference. Para-Tech chutes, modeled closely on the standard BU ORD drop chute, depend on a swivel in the system. Shewmon contends that swivels aren’t reliable and that he has “designed out” oscillation.

Pulling power?

Says one chute deployer, “Despite my para-anchor being clearly undersized by manufacturer recommendations, it held us like a brick wall (in winds of 35 knots and 20-foot seas).”

Yawing and oscillation?

Neither are reported as problems in Shane’s Drag Device Data Base.

Commendable as Shewmon’s durability appears and as persuasive as his arguments may be against swivels, we don’t see how the Shewmon differences translate into improved sea anchor performance. Both systems are equally cranky and awkward to retrieve. Making a choice then shifts to the last variable—ease of deployment—for which the Para-Tech seems to have the edge.

Recommendation—Drogues The Jordan Series Drogue is in a class by itself. Much more of a sea anchor than a true drogue, it fixes a boat end-on to the wind and waves with a resilient efficiency that wins praise from all quarters. Your boat has to be designed and built to survive seas stern-on, however, before the JSD becomes a good option.

The Galerider and Delta are simple to use. They deploy without fuss, create high drag at relatively low loads, and pull with a firm steadiness that makes them ideal for steering control. Both rely on swivels. The recommended use of a length of chain to hold the Delta below the surface adds, we feel, unwanted complexity. Galerider’s open-flow design seems less-likely to become unbalanced than the tri-corner system seen in Delta. Galerider costs, however, nearly twice what Delta does.

The Shewmon Seamless Drogue offers the fascinating potential of controllable drag and incorporates the ingenuity of an egg-weighted lower side and a hole-vented upper lip to promote stability and “grip.” These elements make it more complex, however. Given the consistent and effective performance of its simpler competitors, it seems to us that the Shewmon drogue (made from a single piece of cloth and therefore seamless) may take more adjustment and getting used to than the others. But, at $79 (54″ model) it is only half the price of its nearest competitor. That might make it a worthwhile experiment.

Experience at sea has shown the GP-24 (and the solid state Seabrake from which it evolved) to be effective, but these Australian-made devices are hard to get in the US. The solid Attenborough Sea Drogue from the UK is cumbersome to stow. Also, sea trials indicate that deployment is not a simple matter.

Because drogues are more versatile, adjustable, and easier to use than sea anchors, any of the ones we examined might be useful. Because it combines value, function, and proven performance, our selection is the Delta drogue.

Contacts- Attenborough Sea Drogues, (Dr. Neil Attenborough), Fallowfield House, Puttenham, Guildford, Surrey GU3 1AH UK; (44) 1483-300366, fax (44) 1483-34496. Fiorentino Para Anchor, 1048 Irvine Ave. #489, Newport Beach, CA 92660; 800/777-0732; www.paraanchor.com. Galerider, Hathaway, Reiser & Raymond, 184 Sellect St., Stamford, CT 06902; 203/424-9581; www.hathaway.com. Jordan Series Drogue, Ace Sailmaker, Hellier’s Yacht Sales, 128 Howard St., New London, CT 06320; 860/443-5556; www.acesails.com. Para-Anchor International, (Victor Shane), PO Box 19, Summerland, CA 93067; 805/966-9782; fax 805/966-7510. Para-Tech Engineering, 2117 Horseshoe Trail, Silt, CO 81652; 970/876-0558; www.seaanchor.com. Seabrake International, (John Abernethy), RFD (Australia), 3/7 Kent Rd., Mascot, Sydney, NSW 2020, Australia; (61) 29-667-0480, fax (61) 29-693-1242. Shewmon, 1000 Harbor Lake Dr., Safety Harbor, FL 34695; 727/447-0091.

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The link to the Sea Anchors and Drogues Value Guide is broken. I would like to look at that guide. Can the link be fixed or the guide emailed to me? Thanks!

Thanks for the article. Very informing. I have a Fraser 36 . It has a high , possibly ” Clipper ” bow with a lot of reserve buoyancy. We have a rear cockpit and a traditional three board with a sliding main hatch . We tend to yawn quite a bit at anchor . The bow lifts very readily , maybe too readily, in steep choppy waves . I am wondering how these attributes would affect the choice between a drogue and a sea anchor . I would have gone with a drogue, if not for thought of sea breaking on our rear hatch .

The three washboard companionway problem can be solved by installing thick hinged Barn Doors on the outside of your washboards. Lockable from inside and out.

The Barn Doors provide increased impact resistance plus give you other (less fiddly) options when closing your companionway.

Barn Doors backed by your Washboards will keep you dry.

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Seabrake Drogue

Seabrake

  
  
  
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Seabrake’s unique principle operates through the disbursement of water flow to induce local turbulence creating a variable pressure wave which is activated by speed through the water.

We're currently unable to show live stock information on our website, so if you need delivery fast we strongly recommend checking availability first. Simply fill out the form below and we'll get back to you, or call us on +44 (0)1243 375774 for an immediate answer.

  
  

I don't know where to start. From the personal Email confirming the specifications of my Boat so they could send the correct Towing Bridle, and the speed at which it arrived in the U.S.A., to its high-quality construction and Storage Bag, I am very pleased to be an Owner of this Safety System.

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Product Information

Seabrake features.

  • Twice the drag of conventional sea anchors & drogues
  • Up to 11 applications including emergency steering
  • Superior durability
  • Doesn’t rotate and is tangle free
  • Formally tested by credible authorities and institutions
  • Original design

The Seabrake tow kit supplied by Ocean Chandlery consists of:

  • 10mm galvanised chain - 2.5m (GP24), 3m (GP30), 4m (GP48)
  • Braid-on-braid rope tow line (3 times boat length including chain)
  • Braid-on-braid bridle to make up to 4 times boat length (minimum 10m)
  • 2 x 10mm stainless steel shackles
  • 1 hard eye splice in the main tow line

When ordering, please advise your make and model of boat using the form at the checkout.

Please note: If you wish to make your own tow kit it is vital that you use LOW STRETCH rope and NOT mooring or anchor warp.

Selecting your Seabrake

Model GP24 GP30 GP48 GP60
Boat Length 10-35ft
3.0-10.9m
36-55ft
10.9-16.8m
57-75ft
16.8-22.9m
75-95ft
22.9-29.0m

Please note that the table is a guide for production boats. Vessels of heavier construction or with high windage areas are advised to go up a size.

Uses for the Seabrake

Seabrake’s unique principle operates through the disbursement of water flow to induce local turbulence creating a variable pressure wave which is activated by speed through the water. The greater the flow through the unit, the greater the drag effect. As the water is disbursed evenly through the four (4) exhaust ports at the base of the Seabrake it tracks truly with no rotation, providing endless hours of tangle free operation and reliability.

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Ocean Navigator

Emergency steering

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To the editor: Wayne Canning’s recent article on emergency steering (“ Emergency Steering ,” Ocean Voyager 2017 ) was accurate about how to set up the drogue for emergency steering and how it can slow a vessel too much. 

However, our product, the Shark drogue, is the exception to the rules. The Shark doesn’t require the Y-shape setup as described in the article, only the two rodes forming a V-shape. Second, the Shark can be pulled up close to the boat, which dumps out some of the water to reduce drag so the boat doesn’t slow down too much. 

—Zack Smith is head of research for Fiorentino Sea Anchors. He performs at-sea tests of the firm’s sea anchors and drogues.

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Steering Without a Rudder

In modern cruising and racing sailboats with fin keels and spade rudders, the most vulnerable part of the whole boat is the rudder. Every year during the fall and spring migration seasons when hundreds of boats sail offshore between winter and summer cruising grounds, a few have rudder problems. Collisions with submerged containers or a whale, can do serious damage to a spade rudder. Getting tangled in a drift net or other fishing gear can cause a rudder to fail. Very occasionally rudder posts break off between the rudder and the hull; this can be caused by work-hardening in stainless steel or aluminum posts or a poor laminate in a composite post.  Whatever the circumstances, if you find yourself without your rudder with many miles still to sail, you don’t have to call for help because the boat can still be sailed and steered. But, you have to be prepared.

Veteran offshore sailor, skipper and professional Michael Keyworth took it upon himself in 2013 to figure out how to prepare a sailboat to be steered without a rudder. The old ideas of fashioning a rudder with a spinnaker pole and a table leaf really doesn’t work for any length of time. What has worked in the past is towing a drogue of some kind behind the boat. But this concept has never been really effective.
    Keyworth removed the rudder from his Swann 44 Chasseur and set about doing sea trials with all sorts of different jury-rigged steering systems. What he found was there are several key elements to setting up an effective drogue steering system. First, you need the right type and size drogue. He found that a 30-inch Gale Rider gave the best connection to the water while reducing speed by only a knot. Second, the control lines on port and starboard should not be run directly to winches in the aft cockpit. Instead, the control lines should be run to snatch blocks fixed to the amidships cleats on the side decks and then aft to the cockpit winches. These cleats are generally positioned close to the boat’s center of gravity and to the center of lateral resistance in the keel. In other words, without a rudder aft, the boat’s pivot point is the keel. Third, in winds over 20 knots, a length of chain needs to be added to the Gale Rider’s bridle to keep the drogue well immersed in water.

With this rig, Keyworth found he could control Chasseur on all point of sail and could even tack without turning on the engine by simply trimming the control lines port and starboard. He wrote up his findings with all of his observations and recommendations in a comprehensive report, and you can find it on the Newport to Bermuda Race’s website. If you truly want to be self-sufficient and self-reliant when sailing offshore, knowing how to sail your boat without the rudder is an important, even life saving skill.  Read the full report here.

sailboat drogue steering

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GALERIDER DROGUE: For Steering and Heaving To

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You probably won’t be too surprised to learn that I’ve been thinking about jury-steering systems ever since my little adventure back in January aboard the catamaran Be Good Too . One thing I’ve wondered is whether we might have managed to save the boat if we’d had a proper drogue onboard to try steering with. If we’d been able to neutralize the effect of the bent port rudder, which was constantly steering the boat to starboard, by either losing the rudder entirely (not really feasible) or by letting it swing freely (which would have been easy if we’d known the rudder was bent before we “fixed” it), I’m quite certain the boat could have been steered with a properly sized drogue. The more pertinent question is whether or not a drogue could have overcome the steering bias created by the damaged port rudder to allow us to control the boat in spite of it.

In retrospect there’s no way of knowing that for sure, and to have definitively answered the question at the time we needed access to a good drogue. Believe it or not, I’ve never actually carried any sort of a drogue or sea anchor on any bluewater boat I’ve owned, but ever since we abandoned Be Good Too I’ve been thinking I should at least carry a drogue.

Coincidentally, in the January 2014 issue of Cruising World , which came out not long before we set sail on Be Good Too , editor Mark Pillsbury described in his Editor’s Log column how he’d gone out sailing with Michael and Ken Keyworth on Chasseur , a Swan 44 (see photo up top), and cruised all around Narragansett Bay steering only with a Galerider drogue. Since then the experiments conducted by the Keyworth brothers have been more widely publicized, and a full write-up, by brother Michael, can be studied here .

There’s also a nifty viddy that has been posted on YouTube:

The most pertinent points raised in Michael’s report and video are: a) to steer his 44-foot 28,000-pound Swan he found a 30-inch Galerider worked best, yielding the most control with the smallest reduction in speed (about 1 knot); and b) the drogue is only effective for steering if the two lines making up its steering bridle are led well forward of the transom, more toward the middle of the boat, so the boat can pivot on its keel and the transom can swing freely.

Since January I also came across an article by John Harries, published at his Attainable Adventure Cruising website , in which he describes streaming a Galerider drogue from the windward side of the bow of his boat while hove to so as to keep the bow from falling off the wind. This struck me as an absolutely brilliant idea, as most modern boats (mine included) do have a pronounced tendency to fall off on to a near beam reach when heaving to, and this promises to be an effective antidote to that problem.

Diagram by John Harries, showing his streaming of a drogue from the bow while hove to versus Larry Pardey’s technique of streaming a sea anchor on a bridle at an angle from the bow. The attitude of the boat relative to the wind and waves in both instances is similar, but to lie to the drogue you need to carry some sail so as to drive the boat a bit forward and sideways

I’ve been revisiting the topic, as I am now getting Lunacy ready to sail south for the winter, and just today ordered a Galerider drogue of my own. The one big question in my mind, of course, was what size to get.

Steve Dashew with a really big Galerider drogue aboard his 83-foot powerboat Wind Horse

Check out the website of Hathaway, Reiser and Raymond , creators of the Galerider, and you’ll see that for a boat my size and weight (39 feet, 21,000 pounds) they recommend a drogue with an open diameter of 36 inches. Study Michael’s information up there, and you’ll see that in his steering test with a 36-inch drogue his boat was about half a knot slower than it was dragging the 30-inch drogue. Both drogues were effective for steering, but he considered the 30-inch model to be optimal.

I discussed the size question with Wes Oliver at Hathaway and explained to him I thought I was much more likely to use the drogue for steering or heaving to than I was as a straight drag device in extreme conditions. I asked if he was familiar with John Harries’ heaving-to technique, and he said he was and that a few customers had purchased drogues for just that purpose. He had no hard information, however, on what size drogue works best in this application.

So I ordered the 36-inch model. Overkill, I figure, is usually better than underkill, especially when it comes to emergencies on boats. If I do somehow lose my rudder and end up having to steer with this thing, being half a knot slower than I might have been will likely be the least of my worries.

PS: John’s excellent article on heaving to with a drogue is no longer available for free, and to read it you must now pay to subscribe to his site.

PPS: Another thing you can do with a drogue is stream it behind you when running inlets plagued by breaking waves. The drogue will keep you from broaching and wiping out when a wave hits you the wrong way. John C. Voss, in his famous book 40,000 Miles In A Canoe , was a proponent of this technique and describes it briefly in the book’s appendix.

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COMMENTS

  1. Which drogue should you buy? 7 drogues on test

    Using a drogue as emergency steering device. J-109 J-Fever arriving safely into Cherbourg without a rudder thanks to deploying and steering with a drogue. ... A drogue to help control a boat under tow. A drogue streamed astern can help when a boat is being towed in waves, preventing snatching loads on the tow line and stopping the towed boat ...

  2. PDF A Guide to Steering without a Rudder

    The 36- inch drogue work ed similarly to the 30 inch drogue but affected boat speed by approximately1½ knot s. Rigging . Two spinnaker sheets were used. I believe that spinnaker sheets are appropriate as they are ... • The transition from drogue to drogue steering or vise versa may be easier than you think.

  3. Using a Jordan Series Drogue for Steering

    The bottom line is that while a JSD tail could be used as a steering drogue in an emergency, a purpose-built steering drogue is better. Darrell Nicholson. Practical Sailor has been independently testing and reporting on sailboats and sailing gear for more than 50 years. Supported entirely by subscribers, Practical Sailor accepts no advertising.

  4. Sailing Without a Rudder

    Drogues for steering boats 30-45 feet. The above table lists drogues recommended by their manufacturers for boats that generally fit in the 30- to 45-foot range. This is an estimated size, and the broad range of boats in this category—stretching between a Catalina 30 to a William Garden Vagabond 47—illustrates the importance of consulting ...

  5. Emergency Steering? You Can Jury-Rig a Drogue For That

    Published: May 13, 2024. 0. Your get-home jury-rig won't be pretty. It consists of a bridle line (spinnaker sheet works nicely), a length of chain to keep the drogue submerged, and a series of fenders to aid recovery. I had been driving my 34-foot catamaran down the Chesapeake Bay at 8-9 knots all morning, propelled by a fresh breeze.

  6. Storm Drogues and Sea Anchors, Explained

    Fiorentino Para-Anchors. The Storm Drogue. A storm drogue is a device towed submerged from the stern to limit (but not stop) the boat's speed, and to keep the vessel's stern at a set angle to following seas. Conversely, a sea anchor is a device deployed from the bow to stop the boat's movement through the water, and to keep the boat's ...

  7. DIY emergency steering drogue

    Join Date: Jun 2009. Location: Annapolis, MD. Boat: Sabre 34-1 (sold) and Saga 43. Posts: 2,223. DIY emergency steering drogue. So, I sail a boat with a modern high aspect spade rudder. No long keel heavy displacement safe rudder here! And the thought of losing the rudder worries me.

  8. A Guide to Steering without a Rudder: Methods and Equipment Tested

    - The 36- inch drogue worked similarly to the 30 inch drogue but affected boat speed by approximately1½ knots. ... Take your time and don't stress about steering an accurate course.

  9. We test a drogue and a sea anchor

    Toby Hodges tries out a ParaAnchor sea anchor and a Jordan Series Drogue on a heavy weather sail training weekend in the English Channel. Drogues and sea anchors are designed to slow a boat or ...

  10. The Need For Less Speed: Storm Drogues And Sea Anchors

    The use of drogues is relatively well known as a steering device for sailboats in the event of a lost rudder, but they can have an equally important application to the modern power cruiser. Mariners have known for centuries that dragging something from the stern of the boat will slow it and keep its stern square to the waves.

  11. Surviving a Force 11 storm with a series drogue

    Surviving a Force 11 storm with a series drogue. Small cruising boats are not fast enough to sail away from bad weather. Tony Curphey shares how a series drogue was vital while sailing the Southern Ocean in a Nicholson 32. When the windvane steering can no longer cope with the seastate, it is time to deploy the drogue.

  12. Sailboat Emergency Steering

    One thing you already see on some modern boats is an emergency tiller pointed abaft the rudder head. This solves the problem of conflicting with the wheel and pedestal. On cable-steering systems, the most common ­failure, naturally, is broken cables. Replacing steering cables at sea is difficult, but not impossible.

  13. Emergency Steering with a Drogue: A New Approach

    Steering a boat that's lost her rudder is one of the most daunting problems a crew must anticipate and prepare to manage. Drogue steering under power and sail was tested and videotaped on this rudderless Swan 44. The Newport Bermuda Race Safety Requirement is: "4.1 Steering in an Emergency: A yacht's crew shall be aware of multiple methods of ...

  14. eOceanic

    EMERGENY DROGUE STEERING Most of today's authorities agree that the drogue system is most likely to succeed. Fortunately, it is also the easiest system to set up and manage in operation. ... The majority of cruising boats will be fitted with a windvane steering system that has a rudder of its own, such as a Hydrovane or a Windpilot Pacific ...

  15. Galerider Drogue

    Galerider Drogue. The drogue provides elastic, but high resistance to eliminate surfing, yawing, and pitchpoling tendencies. In the trough, it continues to provide low resistance for steering control and function as an emergency tiller:. Updated in 2021 with eye & eye needle roller thrust bearing swivel designed to rotate under any load.

  16. Sea Anchors & Drogues

    Steadied by a drogue, however, a boat will withstand waves as high as 55% of waterline length. And there are other virtues to towing a drogue. ... By adjusting the vanes to a shallower dive angle you can use the Sea Drogue for steering control alone. Stowage and retrieval of the solid unit present problems. It has yet to be marketed worldwide.

  17. Seabrake Drogue

    Seabrake Drogue. Reduces broaching/surfing → increases control and stability. The collapsible drogue is designed for power and sailing vessels for operational speeds below 12 knots. Seabrake's unique principle operates through the disbursement of water flow to induce local turbulence creating a variable pressure wave which is activated by ...

  18. Emergency steering

    To the editor: Wayne Canning's recent article on emergency steering ("Emergency Steering," Ocean Voyager 2017) was accurate about how to set up the drogue for emergency steering and how it can slow a vessel too much. However, our product, the Shark drogue, is the exception to the rules. The Shark doesn't require the Y-shape setup as described in the article, only the two rodes forming ...

  19. How to Steer a Sail Boat or Power Boat Using A Drogue or ...

    Hello Friends,This is a video where I explain the system I used to sail my 30 sailboat 1000 miles / 18 days to Hawaii using a rigid sea drogue for steering a...

  20. Steering Without a Rudder

    These cleats are generally positioned close to the boat's center of gravity and to the center of lateral resistance in the keel. In other words, without a rudder aft, the boat's pivot point is the keel. Third, in winds over 20 knots, a length of chain needs to be added to the Gale Rider's bridle to keep the drogue well immersed in water.

  21. Practice drogue steering?

    DIY emergency steering drogue: sailingharry: Health, Safety & Related Gear: 18: 08-05-2020 18:01: Another Drogue Besides Jordan Series Drogue? OrangeCrush: Seamanship & Boat Handling: 14: 22-06-2019 16:58: Emergency steering with a drogue: SailFastTri: Seamanship & Boat Handling: 2: 13-03-2014 12:47

  22. GALERIDER DROGUE: For Steering and Heaving To

    Steve Dashew with a really big Galerider drogue aboard his 83-foot powerboat Wind Horse. Check out the website of Hathaway, Reiser and Raymond, creators of the Galerider, and you'll see that for a boat my size and weight (39 feet, 21,000 pounds) they recommend a drogue with an open diameter of 36 inches. Study Michael's information up there ...

  23. How Does A Sailboat Steer

    Steering with a drogue will need the sailboat to balance with the sails instead of the rudder. As we mentioned before, the mainsail causes the vessel to head up (turning the bow towards the wind direction) and the jib makes the boat fall off (turning away from the wind).