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Old 06-28-2014, 10:45 PM   #1
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Default Storm tactic: sea anchor versus Jordan Series drogue

Howdy folks!

This my first time to post a thread/topic here on this forum, as I am a new member here. I wrote this to share some interesting information that I think could help sailors make a good decision and to help overcome some natural fear by being informed and prepared for extreme weather conditions while at sea or even when moored!

The topic is about using a sea anchor, typically a cone shape or parachute style, versus using a Jordan series drogue in a storm with breaking waves.
These two things are very different in application and design, and I believe that many people don't see the difference about their deployment and efficacy.

I am not an expert and I am not an engineer. But I found the test evidence compelling.

So I am posting a couple of links to information regarding tests carried out by the U S Coast Guard related to the effectiveness of sea anchors (parachute or cone type) versus the Jordan series drogue.

The coast guard tested multiple designs in controlled lab testing using wave tanks and in ocean conditions AND in extreme location with breaking waves and testing meters.

Anyone concerned about riding out a survival storm with breaking waves should read the full report. . You may be surprised to learn about the propensity of failure of traditional sea anchors.

Anyone considering lying a hull during a severe storm should read this too.

I recently read several accounts of yachts lost in storms due to being hit by breaking waves, usually while they were hove to or riding a hull.

Another yacht loss was due to running during a storm.

This reminded me of an incident that happened while I was in an offshore race in high seas and high waves in the Pacific. While I was at the helm of a squirrelly 40 foot IOR race boat running and surfing down hissing and foaming waves on night watch, a Coast Guard helicopter flew over our boat, with search light penetrating the black sky as it searched for another yacht that had passed us earlier, but had capsized in the seas. That yacht was a large 50 ft trimaran. Dangerous stuff.

Anyone considering running before large breaking seas should read it the linked articles and CG test report. In particular look at the statements about the propensity of yachts to yaw and broach in various scenarios, and how one possible solution combats that.

The following is the PDF of the original USCG report of their tests. It has a lot of data and diagrams. The conclusions were clear, and surprised the testing Coast Guard.


In addition I recommend reading the descriptions or letters from the designer mr. Jordan. These are found on the linked site below.

He makes critical points on the proper use of the Jordan drogue and most importantly, some of it is counter intuitive and counter to what has been traditional methods. In short, using the Jordan series drogue is very different from traditional sea anchors. Those differences are critical to the effectiveness of the innovative design.

One thing you should note is the proper position of the boat to the oncoming waves. You might be surprised by this.

Also, there is another interesting page on the site where mr. Jordan describes a better method of mooring a yacht. Read that too.

I found this enlightening and very interesting. It also gave me several points to remember when preparing a vessel for extreme seas and weather.

Jordan Series Drogue

Note: I have no connection to any entity selling any of this gear.

I now know what I will buy for my boat in the future, and it is NOT what I had my eyes on for years after reading books about seamanship and storm tactics.

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Old 06-29-2014, 03:32 AM   #2
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Welcome Steady Hand. I'm enjoying reading your posts. The whole drogue/sea anchor issue still causes me great concern. I have not had the need to set either and sincerely hope that remains the case.

I ended up buying a 'brand new and never used' drogue and all the relevant tackle from a regular boat bits sale on the Sea of Cortez. It was a good buy and I guess if I ever need it, I will put it over the stern.

I confess the whole idea of using one still gives me the horrors. I have saved the report you linked in your post and will read it during the day. I found the Jordan theory of anchoring to be fascinating. It makes sense, but it would take some guts to give it a crack in a real blow. I will try it in calm conditions when I get back to the boat just to see how she rides, anchored from the stern.

Meanwhile here is a discussion on the topic of drogues from a little while back.

"if at first you don't succeed....Redefine success"!

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Old 06-29-2014, 04:30 PM   #3
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Howdy Auzzie,

Thanks for the welcome and reply.

One thing I picked up on reading the Jordan Series Drogue material is the importance of having a Series Drogue that is appropriately sized for the displacement of the vessel for which it is to be used. In other words, the proper sizing (length of drogue and the number of cones of fabric) is critical.

In other words, to have one be effective, the proper sizing is critical. There is a information the Jordan site that makes it easy to enter one's displacement to see the number of the drogue cones that should be in the series for that size boat.

Again, I have NO financial connection to any dealers etc. I simply learned after reading the available materials online.
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Old 06-29-2014, 06:07 PM   #4
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Thanks for your input on this thread and for your words of welcome.

First, I want everyone to know that my remarks above and below are focused on the "Jordan" Series Drogue (JSD). I believe, (after reading about this) that there is a significant difference among "drogues" and that NOT all of them are the same nor are they as effective. In other words, "a drogue is a drogue" is NOT true.

I emphasize this, because "drogues" of one type or another have been used for a long time. Simple "warps" and even "auto tires" and other types of "drogues" were mentioned in earlier books on seamanship. Several older books suggested dragging tires, for example.

But, while those "old school" methods may have been recommended, they were only "effective" by anecdotal stories or by hypothesis. And they often were used but failed. The testing of the JSD (see my earlier links) AND the other styles that were common (parachute or cone style) show conclusive evidence for reasons the typical or traditional types of drogues did fail to work or failed over time (before the storm passed).

The difference, as I see it, is the Jordan Series Drogue has been tested in controlled labs and in controlled experiments in the ocean by a reputable and carefully monitored tester, the USCG. They compared it to other common designs, some of which were "traditional" and had earlier been recommended, and they found the JSD to be superior in design and effectiveness. Actually, not just "superior" but by a very easy to see difference that the others were ineffective and risky to use after testing revealed the design flaws that caused them to fail.

So, once again, my comments are solely focused on the use of the JSD. That is the only one I would use, and I would only use one that is the proper size for my yacht's displacement. If you have one that is too small/short/not enough cones, you may not have an effective one for your yacht. Size matters (size in this case means longer and more cones on the series).

In a way, it is like picking an anchor. Some anchor designs have been used for decades and were the "standard." But recent designs have been tested proven to be far superior in holding power and effectiveness (do they lose their grip?). Similarly, if my new boat came with a CQR (a traditional design that is common on yachts) I would sell it and get a new more effective design. But, that my choice to go with what is proven more effective than the "standard." Of course CQR anchors work, and they are on thousands of yachts. The question is: "Is it the most effective?" I think recent tests (by independent sources such as Practical Sailor and others) have clearly demonstrated or proven that a CQR is NOT the most effective or the best for holding a yacht. So, I would NOT use it, I would buy something else (a different topic).

Your remark above about "the horrors" (an attitude I assume means "anxiety") is one I would have shared until recently. But, I don't feel that way now. I have had a "sea change" in my thinking!

In fact, I think THIS is something that has had a profound change in my own way of thinking of the issue. And, it is my hope that this kind of change of thinking may also positively HELP others who may have anxiety about offshore sailing in storm conditions. As I see it, being prepared mentally and with gear and with practice is a good way to overcome almost any anxiety.

As I see it, most of the sailing we do offshore can be pleasurable and mild, if one goes with the flow (the trade-winds) and not the "wrong way" or "wrong season."

But, we should always be prepared for weather.

When thinking of conditions that may cause one to "finally" put out a drogue, one usually thinks of it as the "last and final effort" to control a boat in high seas and winds (aka storm or gale).

I know that it may appear to be a "last ditch effort" to survive, as it seems that all of the accounts I have read on the use of storm tactics and "storm survival" always seem to make it appear that the boat was going to go down unless....etc.

I feel differently about this now. Why? Well, I read the data on the testing of the Jordan Series Drogue (as tested by the USCG in labs AND in rough real world conditions with breaking waves). It changed my thinking profoundly.

To make it simple (for this forum discussion), I now think like this:

Waiting until it is "too late" is too common as many accounts of lost yachts feature broaches, roll overs, capsizes, and lack of control of boat speed, even when the boat is lying a hull with no sail up.

Surfing down a wave can be exhilarating (I have done this at 20+k on a Santa Cruz 50 "sled" in a race going down waves off California) but it can also lead to disaster (hence this thread). Going "too fast" for the boat does not require a race boat, it just requires high seas and a speed too fast for that hull/boat. When any running boat (large or small) buries its bow in a trough or wave, it is in danger of broaching, and that is why the helmsman often has white knuckles!

On the other hand, reading the accounts of the tests of the Series Drogue and the accounts of its use by sailors, leads me to a very different way of thinking of it.

Rather than seeing it as a "horror" because one thinks (naturally) of the possibility that one may capsize in a storm) I see it as a logical method of seamanship, something that SHOULD be done to control boat speed in high waves (breaking seas conditions) and to PREVENT the boat from running into a trough at speed that will cause the boat to broach (and likely then be capsized).

In other words, I see this (the JSD) as a device that should give one some "RELIEF" that one is doing something that should lead to slower boat speed in dangerous conditions and also give the crew some relief in the riding conditions.

Looking at it "positively," deployment is something one can do to increase one's safety and that should give one some mental as well as real relief.

Reading the accounts, once the Jordan Series Drogue was used, the boats experienced a much calmer ride (even in high waves) that allowed the crew to ride easier. Of course the conditions of the water did not change immediately, but the action of the boat ON the water did.

We have all probably felt that kind of "relief" when we heave to. I know my crew has felt immediate relief when we hove to on San Francisco Bay, and we were able to enjoy a nice lunch in the cockpit after beating upwind in 20k winds and chop. The boat responds by a much easier ride, almost calm in comparison. Heaving to makes a lot of sense in many situations. Unfortunately, not all situations, and sometimes boats and crews are not good at doing it (I read about crews unable to get their boat to heave to). In extreme conditions, even small sails up can be a problem, and even reefed mains and yankees may be too much sail.

So, simply "heaving to" may not be the best thing to do in a storm. And simply "lying a hull" (in the simplest way, without a JSD) is also another thing that is questionable or risky. At least that is my interpretation of what I have read based on many accounts of sailors who did and many who suffered from capsizes in all types of yachts, including racers and heavy displacement steel cruisers.

Recently I read of a nice steel yacht that went bare-poles and lay a hull in strong winds and high seas. It was lost after a capsize. It was a strong boat, but still lost. When I read that I was thinking: "If that yacht, with that circumnavigator could not survive, what will?" But, then I read the testing of the JSD and something clicked in my mind. I thought, "Oh...now I get it. That is what happens with a yacht in high seas." This has to do with wave dynamics and how a boat rides on the waves etc. Best described in the original sources I linked.

There is something important to note, vis-a-vis simply "heaving to." I think it is best to read that as part of the materials I linked earlier. Again, I am not an expert, but I learned something from reading the reports.

Anyway, I hope this helps folks who visit to learn something here. I know learning about this has reduced my stress (anxiety) about "what to do" in a storm at sea. And that means I will be better able to respond to conditions and better able to use seamanship to do my best to survive. With knowledge, comes confidence.

Finally, I don't want anyone reading this to think I consider myself an expert on this topic or any others regarding sailing. Despite whatever experience I have had sailing, I always consider myself a "newbie" and willing to learn from others. I believe I can learn something from anyone. And I believe learning is a life-long adventure itself. So, my suggestion is to learn what you can, consider the sources, and look for evidence that fits. In this case, I have never used a JSD in a storm, so I have no personal experience with it. But, based on what I have learned, and remembering my experiences in storms in high seas, I would not hesitate to use one in the future, and having one at hand on my yacht would make give me confidence knowing I was better prepared for one situation that commonly causes people to worry or be anxious about going to sea in a small boat, namely, being caught in a storm with high winds and high waves that are close to breaking or breaking.
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Old 06-30-2014, 12:00 AM   #5
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Hi there,

We all have our "favorite" ways of doing things--be it anchoring, managing in heavy weather, or splicing lines...it seems there are many ways of getting things done and more-or-less they all DO work. Some just work better for certain of us, in certain boats and certain conditions. Others work for others of us, in other boats and other conditions.

Is that vague enough?

In terms of dragging a drogue, it's true that folks have dragged a lot of things behind their boats to slow down and manage to keep from broaching. I love a story that a friend of mine tells of her parents dragging a bicycle behind the boat because it was the only thing left aboard that would suffice as a drogue. Another friend related a story to me about how he deployed a particular high priced drogue behind his 31 ft trimaran on a sail back from Hawaii to Canada. The lines chafed through in mere minutes. He was at a loss of what to do so he disassembled his folding dock cart and using chain (he learned a bit from the chafed drogue lines) dragged the wheels behind the boat, adjusting the length of chain for each independent of the other to give himself a bit of angle to the waves. As an aside, dragging two items one off each quarter, with adjustable line lengths, is a great way to put in place an emergency steering system should one lose the rudder.

The "other way" to deal with heavy weather is to face up into the wind and use a sea anchor off the bow. Many cruisers do carry such sea anchors while few have used them. I only know of one person who has drug a sea anchor/drogue off the bow--that person was in the Oct 12 (2009) storm off central California which was considered a survival storm by many. He was coming down the coast from San Francisco Bay to San Diego in a little 28 ft boat that really wasn't an ocean going vessel. The forecasts were not at all correct and many boaters ended up out in horrible conditions. He rolled his Danforth anchor up inside his jib and deployed that off the bow and then rode out the storm for over a day. His boom was broken by waves over the boat but he and the boat survived using this configuration to keep the bow facing up into the waves. I wouldn't have thought it would work, but it did.

We have the good--and bad, depending upon how you look at it--fortune of sailing in a very, very heavy boat. Thought she was 29Ton but our haulout last fall shows us that she's actually 32Ton. Our waterline is 47 ft, sparred length 68 ft, 54 ft on deck. Heavy girl. As such, it takes a lot to move her and it takes a lot to slow her down.

In gale and storm force winds, to slow down, we have been down to our 200 sf staysail alone. In perspective--with main, fore, staysail, and the 100% jib up we have 1600 sf of sail. So that's 12.5% of the sail area in place. Otherwise, with fore and staysail up (that's 700 sf or so) in gale and storm force winds, we have practiced the art of "slow down" on a run. With our boat, there's a sweet (slow) spot which exists nicely between a broad reach and a run. I suppose it's that whole thing of the sails going from being a nice air foil while broad reaching and turning into the "barn door" on the full run. No matter the reason--we have found that we can shave off a knot or two simply by sailing the sweet spot.

For reference speeds--our boat's hull speed is about 10 kts. Comfortable sailing happens between 6 and 8 kts. We have to start thinking a lot and paying attention at 9 kts. We don't like to go over hull speed since that is literally surfing not sailing.

On this boat, we endeavor to slow down to reduce crew fatigue when we are regularly seeing excursions up into 10 kts. The recent night when we were under staysail alone, running downwind in 25 to 35 kts of wind we were seeing a slow and very manageable 4 to 6.5 kts which allowed us to literally lallygag along restfully. At that time, we were both exhausted, both had bad head colds, neither willing to deal with putting up more sail in the sleet and rain we were encountering (which we could have done, the conditions weren't all that bad but we were both sick and didn't feel like doing any more than drinking hot tea while slowly sailing along). We really needed to rest but we weren't far enough offshore to happily heave to and weren't close to a reasonable anchorage.

The answer in those sorts of situations when making way down wind--just go slow. Doesn't matter how you get "slow" but just do it. Even with slow, one has to keep enough speed on to manage steerage and be maneuverable.

We have not towed tires, trailed warps, nor employed a drogue or JSD. We do have a bit of wire cable and a bit of chain, a winch at the transom specifically for the purpose of retrieving something being dragged as a drogue, plenty of line and plenty of sketchy items aboard that we'd readily deploy off the stern to employ as drogue. On the topic of dragging things on a heavy displacement boat--pick up a copy of Bob and Nancy Griffith's book "Blue Water" where they happen to talk about all sorts of what I consider the "making do" way of doing things. They had a set up where they dragged their spinnaker pole, an anchor, and something else. All at three different lengths of line and with the intent that each would be "in" the water no matter the wave period of the big seas. They were quite successful circumnavigators and were awarded the Blue Water medal by the Cruising Club of America, btw, so well worth the read. Interestingly, Bob loved doing things with the items he happened to find a good deal on. Therefore, if you read this book, you'll learn that you can pretty much do just about anything with well...whatever you have managed to get a good deal on. He doesn't quite present it that way, but I figured it out when he was describing one of his "5 anchor" set ups with all 5 anchors too small for his heavy boat.

I personally like the JSD very much and if I just could find the time to make one, between all my other projects, we'd have one aboard right now. Similarly, if I just had a place to store them, I'd have two 14 or 15" tires (what it would take for a big boat) aboard to haul behind us on cables for heavy weather or emergency steering. Alas--no place to put those big tires and no time to make the JSD nor extra cash that I'd like to put out to buy one.

One of our other moderators who is not so active now, JeanneP, made a JSD and really believed it was the best thing to deploy. I just realized the links in her old 2007 post are dead, and I'll endeavor to get her to come and update the links so there'll be instructions for the JSD in the Cruisers Wiki (here) under "Drogue" and in her old post (here). In the meanwhile, I've uploaded instructions from Marilyn Lange of SV Kuan-Yin, as an attachment to this post.

I note that Marilyn in a trimaran, my Hawaii-to-Canada friend with the trimaran, and moderator JeanneP with a modern hull monohull and light displacement on SV Watermelon, all have something in common--they can go FAST in light winds and can go TOO fast in heavy weather. They have much more reason than I have to ensure they've got something suitable to drag behind their vessel.

As I started this post saying something along the lines of "different things work/are needed for different boats"...almost certainly smaller vessels or those of light displacement experience heavy weather in a much different fashion than do those of us who generally slog along slowly until the heavy weather hits.

One of the best things I can think of about the JSD is the fact that it is readily retrieved whereas it is difficult to retrieve most objects one chooses to toss over the stern when attempting to slow down the boat. Does anyone else have a good source of information about constructing your own series drogue? Or, direct experience using one?

Fair winds.

PS--on the "modern" anchor thing...don't let the hype of new anchor vendors go too far. Old designs still work quite nicely. Its interesting how many unique designs we've recently seen in use up here in Alaska. About the CQR--a sufficiently heavy one works quite nicely even though some of the new "modern" anchor vendors will tell you otherwise. We thought we'd be trading in ours for one of the more "modern" designs but found the CQR to be very very nice. We carry a 105# CQR, a 95# Danforth, a 37# Fortress, a 125# Delta, an old-style 120# fisherman, and a 30# Norhill. We didn't buy any of them, they came with the boat or from a friend. They all have their place and use. What would I like to be different? I'd like an extra heavy anchor of some sort--be it CQR or a more modern design. Will we buy one? No, because we've been well served by what we have now. Mud, silt, sand? CQR, Danforth, Fortress, or Delta. What about Rock? CQR, Delta or old-style fisherman. Kelp, weed, grass? old-style fisherman. It's all good.
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Old 06-30-2014, 12:48 AM   #6
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Sailors can purchase a ready to use JSD directly from a sail maker that makes them to the original design by mr. Jordan. These are made to the tested design and to the length and number of cones needed to be effective for your boats displacement.

Or, you can purchase a "kit" from the same source and do the assembly yourself using the kit of materials that you sew and attach.

See the site I linked for information on these methods.

Or, you can follow the design by Mr, Jordan and make one using materials you source y ourself while using his design. He wanted everyone to have access to the design. I found that admirable.


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