Steve Brown found his se­ries drogue a big as­set when rid­ing out foul weather in one of the world’s most in­hos­pitable sail­ing grounds

Yachting Monthly - - CONTENTS -

Storm tac­tics in the South­ern Ocean. ‘What I learned de­ploy­ing my se­ries drogue in a gale’

Some sailors can go a life­time with­out ever need­ing to re­sort to heavy weather tac­tics; oth­ers sim­ply end up in the wrong place at the wrong time and have to find a way of rid­ing out a storm. Both of my pre­vi­ous boats had been pretty good at rid­ing out bad weather when hove-to. I had read and reread Ad­lard Coles’ book on heavy weather tac­tics and con­cluded that I could jury rig a drogue if re­quired. Some 50,000 miles later, this had still not been necessary but my plans for my boat No­vara would take us to the higher lat­i­tudes both north and south. No­vara is a 60ft aero-rigged Beste­vaer schooner, a com­pletely different ket­tle of fish to my pre­vi­ous cut­ter rigs.

I ex­per­i­mented with pos­si­ble meth­ods to heave-to but with little suc­cess, and so I be­gan to re­search the al­ter­na­tive meth­ods to ride out bad weather in safety and rel­a­tive com­fort. There was al­ready a para­chute drogue on board when I bought No­vara, but not only was this con­sid­ered too small, I was con­cerned about launch­ing the para­chute in heavy weather and then rid­ing bow-to the break­ing waves and big seas.

Fur­ther re­search led me to the op­tion of trail­ing a drogue from the stern and in par­tic­u­lar, the work of Don Jor­dan and his Jor­dan Se­ries Drogue (JSD) de­sign. His re­search, rea­son­ing and the feed­back from those that had used his JSD de­sign in anger led me to pur­chase a pur­pose-built JSD from Ocean Brake in the UK in time for our two ad­ven­tures in the South­ern Ocean.

The drogue con­sists of a two-piece 25mm-thick bri­dle that con­nects to a three-seg­ment (20mm, 16mm and 12mm) line to which the small plas­tic cones are at­tached by sim­ply thread­ing the tape through to outer braid. The drogues are made to order and the over­all length and num­ber of cones are de­ter­mined by the length and weight of the boat.

The first of our South­ern Ocean ex­pe­di­tions was to South Ge­or­gia and was likely to give us our stiffest chal­lenge with a con­tin­u­ous se­ries of storms sweep­ing up from Cape Horn, threat­en­ing the five-day down­wind pas­sage and the far more se­ri­ous up­wind re­turn. It would there­fore be good sea­man­ship to think through the best launch and re­trieval tech­niques, set it up in ad­vance for a quick launch and then hope that it did what the de­signer and man­u­fac­turer claimed it would.

We had set up the 24mm-thick bri­dle be­fore we left Stanley in the Falk­land Is­lands, clip­ping it in place with large zip ties. The launch bag for the main drogue was rolled up and tightly se­cured on the pi­lot­house and the chain used as the end weight was kept in its launch bag tied down on the side deck close to launch po­si­tion.

The 775-mile out­bound leg gave us a fast pas­sage with 20-35-knot winds mostly aft of the beam, and we ar­rived in the se­cure har­bour of Grytviken just ahead of a big storm that had the Chilean fish­ing boats run­ning for cover amid 65-knot winds and 9m seas.

We spent the next five weeks ex­plor­ing South Ge­or­gia, ven­tur­ing around the south­ern tip and into Larsen Har­bour, ski­ing on the glaciers and ice fields and mar­vel­ling at the wildlife. But it was then time to re­turn to Stanley. We had been watch­ing the weather for some days and saw little op­por­tu­nity for a smooth pas­sage back. Five days was spent sit­ting out a huge storm that at its peak, cov­ered over 2,000 square miles of South­ern Ocean, stretch­ing from Cape Horn to the Falk­lands and across to South Ge­or­gia.

Hav­ing de­layed our de­par­ture and missed our flights in the process, we were in­creas­ingly con­cerned to get a weather win­dow for our re­turn pas­sage, but could only see a con­stant se­ries of gale-force winds and the oc­ca­sional storm pass­ing across our re­turn path to Stanley. The skip­pers that ply th­ese wa­ters for a liv­ing had told us of con­stant head­winds and mo­tor­sail­ing into big seas and

gen­er­ally gave us little hope of find­ing a six to seven-day favourable weather win­dow. In­deed, all spoke of this be­ing con­sis­tently more ar­du­ous than cross­ing the Drake Pas­sage to Antarc­tica and hav­ing done that in 2007, this did not fill me with con­fi­dence!

As it was, we left as soon as the huge storm had passed over the is­land, know­ing that seas would still be high but both wind and waves would ease as we mo­tor­sailed north-west to­wards Stanley. The wind and waves did ease, but only for a short time and with the need to con­serve fuel, we tacked back and forth across our rhumb line mak­ing little progress to­wards our des­ti­na­tion.

The twice-daily grib files of­fered no respite and by the fourth day they were show­ing a large weather sys­tem de­vel­op­ing in the An­des that would sweep across the Falk­land Is­lands and move slowly across our path. See­ing no way through or around this sys­tem, we en­listed the help of a weather router who gave us a better idea of the big pic­ture but no miracle so­lu­tion.

By day six, we knew that we would en­counter winds of 45 knots with gusts far in ex­cess, and break­ing seas of 7m or more. Time for some heavy weather tac­tics. So with winds and seas build­ing, we de­ployed the drogue be­fore things got too hec­tic and set­tled down to sit out the storm. The drogue is de­signed to turn the stern into wind and waves and slow the boat down to 1.5-2 knots, lift­ing and fall­ing to the fol­low­ing seas. It works!

The storm proved to be very slow mov­ing with winds in ex­cess of 45 knots, and so we ran off south-south­east and away from our des­ti­na­tion for 42 hours. No­vara rose and fell as each wave passed harm­lessly be­neath us. Oc­ca­sion­ally, a big break­ing wave would crash over the stern, flood­ing the cock­pit and seep­ing in and around the pi­lot­house door, but the long JSD kept the stern to the wind and waves.

When the wind dropped to 25 knots and the seas eased, we re­trieved the JSD, lead­ing the lines for­ward and around a block be­fore run­ning them back to the big pow­er­ful main­sheet winches. When in­spect­ing the JSD on our re­turn to Stanley, we found that one of the bri­dle legs had chafed 50% through due to an area of dam­age on the stern hawser. The first 10-12 of the cones had also suf­fered some dam­age as they were lifted clear of the wave train and flogged in the wind.

The bri­dle ex­ten­sion and all dam­aged cones were re­placed by Ocean Brake free of charge.

The cock­pit flooded but the JSD kept the stern to the wind and waves

Steve Brown, owner and skip­per of No­vara

De­spite a tu­mul­tuous sea, the drogue slowed the boat to the 1-2 knots promised by the de­sign­ers

Each JSD is cus­tom made, the length and num­ber of pock­ets pro­por­tion­ate to the size and ton­nage of the yacht Many small but strong pock­ets spread the load

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