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Old 26-10-2008, 03:05   #1
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Any opinions on sea anchors?

On a long term cruising boat, space is at a premium, so all equipment is questioned again and again. I have read both pros and cons, both opinions strong, for and against a sea anchor. Of course, it would be great to follow everyone's advise and put everything ever mentioned on the boat for the "what if" moment, but that is just not going to happen, unless I suddenly purchased a fully crewed 100' boat, as if you read any of the magazines out there, we are all doomed unless we have about 1000 lbs of "what if" equipment aboard (not counting the serious expense involved in following all the "what if" advise) So what about these sea anchors? Any stories of actual experience would be greatly appreciated.
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Old 26-10-2008, 06:59   #2
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FWIW, I am finding room in a 31 footer for a para-anchor
All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangereous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible. T.E. Lawrence
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Old 26-10-2008, 07:51   #3
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drag device data base

There are plenty of actual accounts in the Drag Device Database.
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Old 26-10-2008, 13:06   #4
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Hi there.

I thought it would be useful for anyone reading this to cut and paste documentation of actual experience from the Drag Device Database for everyone to benefit from.

It's pretty gripping reading for a documentary.'s close to our hearts and never too far away.


S/M-42: Vessel name Never Monday, Out Island sloop designed by Morgan, LOA 33' x 7 Tons. Never Monday was tethered to a 15-ft. dia. Para-Tech sea anchor in a whole gale about 500 miles north of the North Cape of New Zealand. "The boat was immediately brought bow into the waves..." (Quoting her owner). Never Monday remained sea anchored for 64 hours, the line chafing through just before the parachute could be retrieved. "I may have second thoughts about deploying the sea anchor because of the rough ride we experienced, but I feel that we were spared a complete roll over by the fact that we were on a sea anchor," (quoting her owner).

S/M-43: Vessel name Blue Devil, Caliber 38' x 10. 5 Tons. This yacht was participating in the 1998 Caribbean 1500 Rally when she ran into the remnants of hurricane Mitch and her skipper deployed a 15-ft. dia. Para-Tech sea anchor. Blue Devil was tethered to the para-anchor for 16 hours in F-9 conditions, her skipper reporting satisfactory results.
S/M-44: Vessel name Dragon, Hinckley 38’ x 11 Tons. This yacht also ran into tropical storm Mitch while participating in the 1998 Caribbean 1500. Dragon was tethered to an 18-ft. dia. Para-Tech sea anchor for 36 hours in Force 9-10 conditions, her lady skipper, Pat Festino, reporting satisfactory results. Afterwards Pat crawled to the bow and retrieved the sea anchor by hand, a crewmember grinding in the rode on a cockpit winch. “Foot by foot it came in. My journal says, ‘inch by inch.” (Quoting her words.)
S/M-45: Vessel name St.Crispin’s Day, Hallberg-Rassy “Mistral,” LOA 33’ 5” x 6 Tons. This yacht also ran into tropical storm Mitch while participating in the 1998 Caribbean 1500. St. Crispin’s Day was tethered to a 12-ft. dia. Para-Tech sea anchor for 36 hours in Force 9-10 conditions, her singlehanded skipper reporting satisfactory results.
S/M-46: Vessel name White Water, full-keeled wood sloop designed by Sparkman & Stephens, LOA 38' x 10 Tons. White Water with family of four on board was tethered to a 15-ft. dia. Para-Tech sea anchor for 15 hours in a gale about 300 miles west of Vancouver, BC. In spite of being partially fouled, the sea anchor did a very good job of holding White Water's bow into the seas.
S/M-47: Vessel name Shag, cruising cutter designed by Lidgard, LOA 40' x 12 Tons. Shag was tethered to a 12-ft. dia. Coppins sea anchor for 63 hours in a whole gale in the Tasman. “Some waves broke on the bow but did not put the boat at risk. Not much heavy water got back to the dodger from the bow,” (quoting her owner). A 6-ft. length of chain coming over the bow roller solved the chafe problem. “Plan B... was to run with a Galerider off the stern. Very much a second best alternative especially as we did not wish to approach the continental shelf in those conditions.”
S/M-48: Vessel name Ardevora of Roseland, Whisstock Ketch designed by Steve Dalzell, LOA 55' x 22 Tons. Ardevora was tethered to an 18-ft. dia. Para-Tech sea anchor in shallow water (25-100 fathoms), opposing current and Force 9 conditions off the coast of Chile, her owner reporting violent pitching/yawing motion and generally unsatisfactory results. After 4 hours the rode parted from chafe and the yacht came beam to the seas, her owner reporting a much more comfortable ride lying ahull, but with a caveat: “Instinct suggests lying ahull is inviting damage/disaster,” (quoting Ardevora’s owner). “I made mistakes and miscalculations and so lying to our sea-anchor was an unpleasant experience. However I believe that even if a sea-anchor is perfectly set-up, lying to it would not be as comfortable as heaving-to.” (Compare with file S/M-52 below).
S/M-49: Vessel name Okiua, custom ketch, LOA 41' x 11 Tons. Okiua was tethered to an 18-ft. dia. Para-Tech sea anchor for 12 hours in F-8 conditions in steep coastal seas near San Clemente Island (off the coast of California). After some trials and tribulations the sea anchor was properly deployed and did a good job of stabilizing a chaotic situation. “I can see it start to open and take hold, and this is a VERY, VERY good feeling. The bow of the boat came straight to the waves and wind and held great. Well, almost too great, as the next big wave came up under the bowsprit, snapped away 2 planks, then traveled down the deck and drenched me again…” (From the owner’s log.)
S/M-50: Vessel name Harmony, Passport 40’ x 12. 5 Tons. Harmony also ran into the remnants of hurricane Mitch while participating in the 1998 Caribbean 1500. Her skipper deployed an 18-ft. dia. Para-Tech sea anchor – “Deployment was accomplished by tossing the rode bag and sea anchor to weather and everything worked beautifully. The boat just settled bow to the wind and seas…. The ride on the sea anchor was good but rough because of the steepness and confusion of the seas.” Harmony rode to the sea anchor for 7 hours before losing it due to line chafe. Her skipper said he would purchase another one.
S/M-51: Vessel name Illusion, Breekvelt (New Zealand) steel cutter, LOA 36' x 13 Tons. Illusion was tethered to a 12-ft. dia. Fiorentino sea anchor for 10 hours in Force 8-9 on her way to Newport Beach, California, from Ucluelet, Canada. Her owners reported satisfactory results – “We had been in the [adverse] conditions noted on the reverse side [of the DDDB form] for close to three days and were able to catch up on some rest as we laid to our para-anchor.”
S/M-52: Vessel name Shiriri, Chadelle schooner, LOA 55' x 14 Tons. Shiriri was tethered to a 12-ft. dia. Para-Tech sea anchor in shallow water (35 fathoms) for 24 hours in Force 10 conditions just south of Cape Mendocino, California, an area infamous for its chaotic sea states. Her owner reported violent pitching up and down motion at sea anchor. 15 Hours into the deployment the engine went down because of a line around the prop, and later the rudder quadrant sheared. Conditions were so bad that a call had to be placed to the US Coast Guard. An hour before the CG cutter arrived the rode chafed through and the schooner came broadside to the waves, her owner reporting a much more comfortable ride lying ahull, with the usual caveat – “I know that we risked a roll over in those conditions.” (Compare with file S/M-48 above).
S/M-53: Vessel name Blue Cristal, Beneteau sloop, LOA 37' 7” x 6. 5 Tons. Blue Cristal was tethered to a 15-ft. dia. Para-Tech sea anchor for 26 hours in Force 8-9 conditions on her way to Noumea from Bundaberg, Australia. Her owner reported satisfactory results – “The Para-Tech sea anchor worked very well… two other vessels in the area tried to sail out of it… one ended up 75 miles off course and the other ripped its mainsail and broke the forestay…”
S/M-54: Vessel name Supremacy, custom wood sloop, LOA 45’ x 12 Tons. Supremacy ran into a whole gale on her way from New Zealand to Tahiti and her retired owner deployed an 18-ft. dia. Para-Tech sea anchor. Supremacy was anchored to the surface of the raging sea for 120 hours (five days), her owners indicating that she was riding well to the sea anchor. However at a certain stage the cast aluminum rudder quadrant cracked, one thing led to another, and a call was placed to the Coast Guard, her owners deciding to abandon ship. In a letter to DDDB’s Victor Shane, Jim Lott of the New Zealand Maritime Safety Authority wrote: “I concur fully with the comments about cast aluminum [rudder] quadrants. Frankly, I would not entertain the thought of one myself. It is hard to beat cast bronze.”
S/M-55: Vessel name Virtuosity, Laurent Giles sloop, LOA 25' x 4 Tons. On a bumpy passage between Cyprus and Rhodes, Virtuosity raninto a Mediterranean gale and was tethered to a 12-ft. dia. Para-Tech sea anchor for 11 hours. Her owner reported satisfactory results – “On arrival in Rhodes we met two other yachts who were caught in the same gale… one, a German yacht, capsized and was lucky to recover and make safe harbour.”
S/M-56: Vessel name Morgan’s Cloud, McCurdy & Rhodes cutter, LOA 56' x 28 Tons. Morgan’s Cloud was on a passage from Bermuda to the Caribbean when she was overtaken by a cold front. The yacht ran all day before the gale but when the seas became ungovernable her owner decided to heave-to under triple-reefed main, his tactic of choice. However, “at about 23:00 hrs. we were hit hard on the weather beam by a breaking wave that heeled the boat to about 30-40 degrees…. The lulls would allow the boat’s bow to fall off and then in the next puff she would reach off at as much as 2 knots before the action of the rudder lashed hard down would bring her back up to about 60 degree off the wind, her normal heave-to attitude.” To remedy the situation, her owner then deployed a 42” dia. Galerider drogue OFF THE BOW (similar to the Pardey stratagem). “The drogue line made an angle of about 130 degrees from the bow of the boat, so that the Galerider was in the water behind and to windward of the boat.” This took care of the forereaching problem, allowing the bow to stay 50-60 degrees from the wind with no tendency to fall further. (Experience and creativity are the parents of seamanship.)
S/C-21: Vessel name Mutual Fun, Prout Catamaran, LOA 37' x BOA 16' x 6 Tons. Mutual Fun was hove-to to an 18-ft. dia. Para-Tech sea anchor in a whole gale about 450 nm NW of Bermuda in Force 9 conditions for about 15 hours. “Once the anchor deployed, it was like sailing into another world. No longer were we punching into the sea, but just riding over them.... We were able to say 'time out' during a severe situation.” (Quoting her owner).

S/C-22: Vessel name Stress Relief, Catamaran, LOA 33' x BOA 14' x 6 Tons. Stress Relief used a 12-ft. Para-Tech sea anchor four times in heavy seas en route to Bermuda from Newport. Writes her owner: “First Time, 5-25-97: 48 hours on the sea anchor, seasick. Second time, 5-27-97: water inside the salon -- hung on the sea anchor until daylight. Third time, 5-30-97: radar fell off the mast & engine broke -- hung on the sea anchor until daylight. Fourth time, 5-31-97: genoa ripped during the night -- hung on the sea anchor until daylight.”
S/C-23: Vessel name Laura Lee, Prout Catamaran, LOA 37' x BOA 16' x 6 Tons. Laura Lee used a 15-ft. dia. Para-Tech sea anchor to heave-to in a gale en route to the Canaries from Gibraltar. “It is very important to PRACTICE with this rig under windy but non-gale conditions as small mistakes could be disastrous under gale/storm conditions! We had a 'dress rehearsal' a few days earlier in Force 7 and learned the important lessons needed when the real thing caught us.” (Quoting her owner).
S/C-24: Vessel name Dream Hunter, Kurt Hughes catamaran, LOA 45' x BOA 24' x 6 Tons. Dream Hunter used an 18-ft. dia. Para-Tech sea anchor to heave-to in a gale about 80 miles ENE of Punto Del Este, Uruguay. There being a current in the region, the cat was pulled 24 miles UPWIND (!) in the 36 hours that she was hove to. “Tendency to yaw was eliminated by lowering the boards halfway. No problems with deployment -- flaking the long rode is essential. Used rubber chafe guards. Once the sea anchor was deployed the ride was so smooth and controlled that crew of 3 slept for 12 hours!” (Quoting her owner).
S/C-25: Vessel name Kapal, Roger Simpson catamaran, LOA 42' x BOA 24' x 5 Tons. Two days out of St. Maarten, Kapal had a close encounter with Hurricane Jenny (November 1999) and her owners deployed an 18-ft. dia. Para-Tech sea anchor. Kapal was tethered to that sea anchor for 44 hours in winds of up to 60-knot winds. “We are very happy with the result and certainly very glad we didn’t go through the eye of Jenny (30 nautical miles in diameter).”
S/C-26: Vessel name Sanyassa, Prout catamaran, LOA 35' x BOA 16' x 6 Tons. On her way to Fiji from New Zealand, Sanyassa ran into a nasty blow and her owner decided to deploy an 18-ft. dia. Para-Tech sea anchor. Difficulty was encountered in setting the sea anchor in those conditions, but “once the parachute was deployed all problems ceased,” (to quote her owner). Sanayassa was sea-anchored for 24 hours in Force 7-8 conditions, her crew managing to get much-needed sleep.
S/C-27: Vessel name Mango Mi, Chris White catamaran, LOA 42' x BOA 23' x 7 Tons. Twenty-one days out of Mexico and 350 miles from Hawaii, Mango Mi found herself in confusing seas piled high by 28-35 knot trade winds blowing over the unlimited fetch of the Pacific. Suffering from fatigue and worried about the prospects of surfing down 15-20 foot seas at 17 knots, her crew decided to deploy an 18-ft. Para-Tech sea anchor, in their own words, “to park it and get some sleep.” Deployment went off without a problem and soon Mango Mi was anchored to the surface of the sea, facing into the waves. “We lay at anchor for 20 hrs. and got some much needed rest. We drifted 8. 3 nm towards our destination.” (Quoting her owners).
S/C-28: Vessel name Catapult, aluminum catamaran, LOA 40' x BOA 23' x 7. 5 Tons. Catapult was tethered to an 18-ft. dia. Para-Tech sea anchor for three days when her crew ran into adverse conditions in the Tasman Sea. “The wind did not ever get to a steady 40 but there were rather large seas as is commonly the case in the Tasman. The boat rode OK but I did not enjoy the motion and my crew and eventually I got sea sick.” Difficulty was encountered in retrieval but the skipper came up with an idea: “I tied the boat end of the sea anchor line to a couple of large fenders and tossed it free so that the whole sea anchor rig and line were floating free. We then motored up to the trip line buoy…. The recovery from the moment of picking up the trip line buoy was a piece of cake.”
S/T-22: Vessel name Friends, Walter Greene trimaran, LOA 35' x BOA 29’ 6” x 3 Tons. Friends ran into a nasty blow with large and confused seas 60 miles off the New Jersey coast. Her skipper deployed a 15-ft. dia. Para-Tech sea anchor, but the 50-60’ of nylon rode snapped almost immediately. It is difficult to ascertain what happened, but the relatively short 3-strand rope is suspect. 3-Strand nylon tries to unlay under extreme loading -- the “torque-wave” associated with extreme dynamic loads can create a hockle or local stress point, resulting in failure at that point. From the owner’s report: “Rope was wrapped around Harken winches (3 times); rode went slack and tensed suddenly; rode snapped right near winch… the strands were somewhat fused together.” The solution would be to use a no-torque braided nylon rode instead. See also illustrations on the Wave Rotation page of this website for a possible explanation.
D/M-20: Vessel name Cinnabar, cutter designed by Robert Perry, LOA 40' x 11 Tons. Cinnabar towed a 42” dia. Galerider drogue in a gale about 75 nm NE of Bermuda in 40-knot winds and 18' seas, the owner reporting satisfactory results. The drogue was deployed to stabilize the attitude of the yacht in a wind-current conflict situation, exacerbated by severe --60-knot -- squalls. Microburst activity can't be ruled out. The drogue was deployed for 12 hours, the yacht reported to have traveled about 12 nm in that time.

D/M-21: Vessel name Mary-T, Cheoy Lee Offshore 40' x 10 Tons. Mary-T was one of the boats in the 1994 Queen's Birthday Storm off New Zealand. She did not have any purpose made drag devices on board, but was able to jury-rig something out of her spare sails, shackled to a ground anchor. The makeshift device was “no good off the bow,” to quote her owner, but fared better off the stern before being lost due to chafe. Like many of the other sailors that went through the Queen's Birthday Storm, the skipper of Mary-T emphasized the important of PRIOR PREPARATION: “We are amazed at the variety of boats and techniques that were used with success and no discernible pattern apart from strong boat and preparation. Preparation BEFORE the storm counted more than what you did in the storm.” (Words of wisdom indeed.)
D/M-22: Vessel name Glenyon, CSY cutter, LOA 44’ x 23 Tons. Glenyon was a participant in the 1998 Caribbean 1500and towed a 42” Galerider drogue when she ran into tropical storm Mitch, her owner reporting satisfactory results. The drogue was deployed for 24 hours, the yacht traveling 25 nm in that time.
D/M-23: Vessel name Starlight, Ericson sloop, LOA 38' x 9 Tons. Starlight was returning to Annapolis from Bermuda when she ran into a gale in the Gulf Stream. When she began to surf uncontrollably at 9. 5 knots her owner deployed a Para-Tech Delta-72 drogue. This “slowed the boat to around 5 knots, and steering was easy.” (Quoting her owner.) However the rig was lost when the towline chafed through. The drogue was deployed for 8 hours, the yacht traveling about 40 nm in that time.
D/M-24: Vessel name Moonlight of Down, Camper Nicholson sloop, 35’ x 8 Tons. Moonlight of Down was on a passage from Cocos Keeling to Rodriguez Island (in the Indian Ocean) when she ran into gale conditions and ungovernable seas. Her owner wisely deployed a 36” dia. Galerider drogue “to stabilize the situation.” The drogue reduced her speed from 6. 5 knots to 2. 5 knots. The Hydrovane (self-steering) was then adjusted to put the wind/waves on the port quarter, and the towline adjusted to position the drogue at the back of the following swell. “The use of the Galerider to steady the vessel running in hard Trade Wind conditions was most successful due to the increased comfort of ride and the re-assuring feeling that you were not likely to broach.” (Quoting her owner.) The drogue was deployed for 43 hours, the yacht traveling 73 nm in that time.
D/M-25: Vessel name Egress II, Discovery cutter, LOA 42' x 15 Tons. On her way to New Zealand from Tonga, Egress II ran into heavy weather with 40-50 knots winds and 20-ft. seas. Her owner deployed a Jordan Series Drogue with 145 cones, each 5 inches in diameter. “We did not feel any jerk as we slowed from seven to one knot,” (quoting her owner). Egress II was tethered to the series drogue for three days, drifting 100 nautical miles in that period. “We were very happy with our series drogue’s performance in a storm and wish to send a ‘thanks’ to Donald Jordan for his unique answer to a longstanding sailing dilemma.”
D/M-26: Vessel name Swift Cloud, Brooke cutter, LOA 37' x 6 Tons. In June 2002 Swift Cloud left New Zealand for Rarotonga and ran into a Force 10 storm. Her singlehanded owner deployed a homemade series drogue consisting of 30 cones, each 10 inches in diameter. “At 45 knots the drogue held Swift Cloud stern to, but an angle of about 20 degrees to the wind. At 60 knots she was taking wind and sea dead astern. The ride was a little like being on a bungee – I could feel her accelerate as a sea approached, but as she went up the face of the sea the forward movement would slow and then reverse.” (Quoting her owner.) The stern of the yacht took a beating, however, water coming in through the companionway “as though from a shower nozzle.” The self-steering gear was carried away when a weld failed, “but the boat was kept well under control.” Swift Cloud was tethered to the series drogue for 60 hours during which time she drifted in circle of about 20 miles radius.
The use of 3-strand rope for tether or towline is now discouraged. 3-Strand nylon will try to unlay and torque (spin) under load, leading to hockles and/or stress points that can fail. It may even deform under extreme dynamic loading as the force tries to travel the full length of the rode at the same time that the coil is trying to unlay (untwist). The solution would be to opt for a neutral (no-torque) nylon braid instead.
AVOIDING HIGHLY LOCALIZED BOUNDARY CONDITIONS: Would you park your car in the middle of a narrow battle zone, with bullets whizzing by and mortar shells exploding all around? There may be a moral in this for the mariner because sometimes it is possible to sail out of narrow “battle zones” in a matter of hours; or better yet, avoid them altogether. If the choice were between deploying a sea anchor in shallow water, say, over the Cortez Bank, or in deep water only 10 miles away, which would you choose? We have a number of files now where sailors have set sea anchors in shallow coastal battle zones and complained of a very rough ride – uncomfortable pitching up and down motion. Examples would be file S/M-48 where a sea anchor was deployed in 25-100 fathoms in a contrary current off the coast of Chile, and file S/M-52 where one was deployed in 35 fathoms of the coast of Mendocino, California, a narrow area infamous for chaotic sea states.
It goes without saying that shoals, underwater ledges and continental shelves have a destabilizing influence on wave shapes, in some places exacerbated by underwater geography, strong currents, funnel effect, and/or some other local boundary condition. In the Bass Strait between Australia and Tasmania, for example, mature waves traveling the whole fetch of the Southern Ocean suddenly “pile up” and get squeezed over the continental shelf, creating havoc and pandemonium in certain conditions. Bearing such things in mind, the wise and prudent seaman will anticipate conditions ahead of time and try to avoid a situation in which he has to park his ship right in the middle of a “battle zone.” Remember, if you deploy a sea anchor in a shallow “battle zone” you will be stuck there until the battle is over, even if deep water is only a few miles away. Granted, one can’t always choose, but one should always be mindful of bottom contours and the depth of water under the keel. On any ocean passage one should try to anticipate the exact day on which the keel will cross the boundary that separates deep water from shallow, just in case there’s a storm brewing. (It helps to clearly mark continental shelves, shoals and currents on your charts.)
FOOD FOR THOUGHT: “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven,” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). A time to use a sea anchor, and a time to use a drogue. Everything else being equal, it might be time to tow a speed-limiting drogue to sail safely out of a battle zone. Conversely, if you are approaching a continental shelf and the forecast is “Force 10 Imminent,” it might be time to deploy your sea anchor and park the boat until the storm passes on and it is safer to sail onto shallower water. The words of John Armstrong, owner of Shag (see file S/M-47 above), are indicative of this sort of hard-gained seafaring wisdom. Having assessed the situation, having considered all of his options, Armstrong decided to deploy the sea anchor in deep water, writing the following: “Plan B... was to run with a Galerider off the stern. Very much a second best alternative especially as we did not wish to approach the continental shelf in those conditions.”
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Old 26-10-2008, 15:52   #5
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Originally Posted by waterworldly View Post
So what about these sea anchors? Any stories of actual experience would be greatly appreciated.
We lay to an eighteen foot diamter parachute sea anchor about three-hundred miles north of New Zealand in the middle of winter. It worked as advertised. We drifted about half a mile in 17 hours on the sea anchor.

I believe in parachute sea anchors so much that I carry two of them on my boat. If I am ever in a storm and a panel blows out in the sea anchor or if I have to cut it away because of shipping traffic, I will put my backup parachute sea anchor out.

We are a catamaran with a large beam, and sea anchors work well on vessels like cats that don't go into death rolls when lying to a sea anchor.
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Old 26-10-2008, 16:08   #6
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shakelton survived in the drake passage on a 22 footer dont know what the sea anchor was.
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Old 26-10-2008, 16:52   #7
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I have a sea anchor and a drouge but my wife says I can only use them once, so I have to pick my weather well. I have had occasion to heave-to a few times (30-40kts) and have planned a system as Parday's suggest of using sea anchor and heaving to if things got worse. I think it makes good sense and if the sea anchor is lost then sail is already up. I don't like trying to raise main sail offshore. It's always easier to put more reefs in (3 total) than try and raise from bare poles while boncing around.
Note : I have 600ft of 1inch line for sea anchor cut in 3 lenghts that I though were managable. They lived in the anchor lock , handy to the bow. Well one fine day at dock I tried to move them. They were soaking wet and weighed 3 times the dry wieght. I have found a new place for them below, where I can shackle together and flake on deck.
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Old 26-10-2008, 19:57   #8
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