KatieKat Para-Anchoring, November 1-2, 2000

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The following are the details of our first two parachute anchoring experiences - including some implicit lessons learned - during our first attempt at a passage from Noumea, New Caledonia, to Brisbane, Australia on our Seawind 1000 catamaran. We had been running northward for 15 hours trying to avoid a depression which was (hopefully) passing to the south of us. The decision to simply stop sailing and deploy the sea anchor that afternoon was primarily influenced by the barometer, which had been dropping at the rate of one mbar (hPa) per hour for the previous six hours, and I didn't relish the thought of trying to figure out how to deploy the sea anchor, if really needed, later on in the dark. The only previous parachute anchoring experiences were practice sessions on Lake Tahoe with my 8-metre trimaran and 28-ft dia. chute with full tripline.


I currently have on board two parachute anchor systems used for anchoring the boat head to seas and one drogue system used to slow down the boat when running in heavy seas. I'll describe the one I just used, which is a 15-ft diameter commercial sea anchor made by Para-Anchors Australia -

[Para-anchor]This is a drawing from an older Para-Anchor manual. It does not show the second float (trip line) but instead shows the trip line going all the way back to the boat, which is not recommended any more because of the possibility of fouling (wrapping around and collapsing) the parachute.

Starting at the bows of our 5.9-metre-wide (19'-5") 10m (33') long Seawind catamaran, attached to the inboard side of each bow, just in front of the crossbeam, is a very large padeye (which I had specially put in for just this purpose). Shackled to this padeye is a 16mm (5/8"dia) three-strand nylon bridle, each leg being 20 meters long. The two legs of the bridle converge and are shackled to a heavily-reinforced stainless triangle. The 100-metre 16mm three-strand nylon anchor line is shackled to this triangle. The other end of this anchor line is attached to the heavy-duty swivel of the parachute anchor, which feeds through the captive anchor stowage bag. The parachute shroud lines terminate at this swivel, on the inside of the bag. Attached to the head of the parachute canopy is a short strap with a terminating ring, to which is shackled a one-metre length of 3/16" stainless chain (the function of which is simply to aid in extraction of the parachute from the stowage bag during deployment). Shackled to this chain is a 15-metre length of 12mm three-strand polypropylene, the other end of which is shackled to a 16"-long by 6"-dia floating fender. This float is used to keep the parachute from sinking (this has proven to be too small and I am currently replacing it with a larger one and am going to add a swivel attachment). Spliced into this same eye of the fender is a 20-meter length of polypropylene 12-mm three-strand, terminating in a bright-orange float (which I think was also a 6" diameter fender before I lost it) used for retrieving the parachute. There is no parachute anchor retrieval line going back from this orange float to the boat (but I am going to experiment with using one in the future in order to save a lot of time during anchor retrieval).

In addition to the two legs of the bridle converging at the triangle, I added a third line back to the boat, consisting of a 16mm three-strand polypropylene line going over the boat's center bow roller and loosely attached after anchor deployment - the purpose of this third line was to act as a backup in case one of the anchor legs failed (e.g., the padeye pulling out from the hull) and to enable easier bridle line retrieval.


The first deployment was in fairly benign conditions - hove-to in about 20-knot winds and about a one metre sea. I assembled the anchor system, shackling everything in place.

[Deploying]Preparing to deploy the sea anchor. As you can see, the conditions are not bad at all with winds only around 20 knots and the boat hove-to with the jib partially unfurled. Should perhaps have been wearing a safety harness, but I had been carrying a lot of heavy stuff forward and haven't (yet) improved the jackline system which snags a lot - I have to actively pull the tether along with one hand.

Having just spent a month anchoring conventionally with a bridle, Kathy and I had developed a very good deployment technique whereby we both wear small FM two-way radios and I give Kathy motor control directions. We had been hove-to with a triple-reefed main and backed jib at about a 60-degree angle to the wind and primary swell. I furled the jib and lowered the main and we started motoring slowly upwind, Kathy trying to keep the bow about 10-degrees off the wind, which is very hard to do as the boat's center of lateral resistance surprisingly seems to be quite far forward (the wind wants to catch the bow and push it off). Once I was ready to deploy the anchor system off the starboard side of the forward beam, just as with a conventional anchor, I instructed Kathy to stop and put both engines into slow reverse. I first tossed out the bright orange float and had Kathy control the boat such that this float's polypro line streamed nicely to windward and a little bit to starboard. Next came the fender, and I just kept streaming everything out in a straight line, Kathy nicely keeping the boat going backwards at the proper angle. Then came the chain, which pulled out the parachute, then its bag, and then the anchor line itself. I repeatedly snubbed the anchor line which opened up the parachute nicely, and so we just kept going backwards in a straight line, got to the bridle attachment triangle and tossed it in and just payed out the three lines until the bridle tensioned up. Loosely secured the third line to the normal anchor cleat, and happily watched the boat sit there anchored in the middle of the ocean, pointing straight into the wind. Turned off and stowed the engines and watched in awe as everything worked as advertised, with the anchor bridle streaming straight out in front of the boat and the bobbing fenders (especially the orange one) visible in the distance.

[Deployed SA]A view from the top of the boat of the deployed para-anchor bridle. Note how it goes out horizontally from the boat. The third line is loosely draped over the bow roller just to starboard of center. The jib is tightly furled, and I was still in the process of strapping down the mainsail cover (not zipping it shut). The good conditions had provided us with the opportunity of deploying the para-anchor in a stress-free environment.

Sitting at Anchor

The winds were still quite steady at only 20-25 knots and the environment inside the boat was quite benign, the sensation akin to being in a normal anchorage with continuous boat wakes. We were able to relax and make dinner, with nothing toppling over inside. With the rear fabric main saloon enclosure zipped shut, we were warm and dry inside. When it got dark, and after thinking of the alternatives, I simply turned on the anchor light (besides, not lighting the running lights saved power). We each got a very good night's sleep (it's all relative, what with checking on possible shipping traffic and downloading weatherfaxes), with the winds holding quite steadily in the low 20-knot range. By the way, the GPS showed us going two knots to the northeast (ocean current) whereas the winds were rotating and by morning were almost directly from the west, meaning the low was passing to the south of us.

Morning Surprise

In the morning, I was surprised to see a big change in the angle of the para-anchor relative to the boat: the bow bridle lines, instead of streaming out nice and horizontally from the front of the boat, were now going down at about a 45-degree angle. The floats were nowhere to be seen! I surmised that somehow the floats had detached from the parachute, allowing the para-anchor to sink weighted down by that one-metre chain. Despite this problem, the very pleasant surprise was that the boat was still bobbing up nicely on the waves and was not being held down tightly by the anchor - indeed, the motion of the boat basically hadn't changed from that of the previous day.

[Bridle Down]A view showing the starboard bridle going downwards, visible in between the middle and lower lifelines.


With the main stormfront south of us (far enouth away, we thought), it was time to get sailing towards Brisbane to the southwest, despite the wind being from the west. So, after breakfast, here's how we recovered the sea anchor...

What to do? Without the retrieval float, I imagined it to be virtually impossible to try to reel in the anchor, and was beginning to resign myself to having to cut everything loose; however, I was intent on salvaging whatever I could, and so I started with the goal of saving the bridle intact (remember, I have another parachute anchor onboard - a real parachute - off my trimaran, and could use this bridle with it).

Again, just as with raising a conventional anchor, Kathy and I communicated with the FM transceivers. Conditions were still a steady 20-25 knots, and the seas were still a mess. Remember, I have three lines streaming down off the front of the boat: the bridle and the center polypro line. I didn't know if motoring forward would relieve much of the load or if the anchor would then simply sink down more, but with Kathy slowly powering to windward I began winching in the center polypro line - it was doable, and so I slowly winched in this line. When I had about 20-feet of it in the boat started yawing a bit more but I was able to grab the now-slack bridle lines and bring them aboard. Bit by bit I was able to slowly winch in the line and keep pulling the bridle lines until, after about a half-hour, the bridle triangle came aboard. I cleated the anchor line and unshackled it from the bridle, happy that I now had at least a good heavy-duty bridle available for future use. Kathy noted that the barometer dropped a point and the winds (which had been steady all night) were now in the 25-30 knot range.

After carefully stowing the bridle in the anchor locker and clearing the large polypro line off the deck, I now turned to the task of trying to salvage as much of the anchor line as I could (remember, I was resigned to having to cut the para-anchor away at some point). Slowly, with Kathy motoring forward and me winching in the anchor line, we ever so slowly brought it aboard. All of a sudden, Kathy excitedly started yelling and pointing to windward: the two floats had appeared! Furthermore, the anchor line no longer streamed down at a sharp angle! Wow! There was hope to bringing everything back intact!

Bringing the Para-Anchor Aboard

Drawings of the parachute anchoring setup always show the retrieval float off to the side, and so the strategy I had developed in my mind was to simply cleat off the anchor line to the side of the boat and make a big circle and motor up to the retrieval float, pull it in with the boathook, and then reel it in, collapsing the parachute in the process.

Two things are different in reality:
(1) This is not a calm placid environment - the jumbled seas and wind make maneuverability very difficult.
(2) The floats are not off to one side, but are directly in line with and over the parachute.

[SA Drawing]This drawing is intended to show how one launches a para-anchor out of the cockpit of a monohull - the anchor rode breaks the little ties along the stanchions and the boat swings bow-to the anchor and waves. The drawing appears incorrect at first glance since the sea anchor should be streaming off the bow, or perhaps a small bridle off to one side of the bow. Nevertheless, it shows the two floats which, as discussed above, in reality end up right over the parachute and anchor line.

Suffice it to say that, after a lot of trial and error and anguish and near-disasters we eventually reverted to doggedly continuing to reel in the main anchor line bit by more-difficult bit until the retrieval float was reachable with a boathook. A long very time consuming process. Once I had the retrieval float, I then was able to just drag it and its line, pulling in up to the second float, then -

STOP PANIC AW GAWD @#%*, THE STARBOARD ENGINE DIED! This had never happened before, with Kathy noting (for want of a better word) that it wouldn't restart! Oh, and by the way, the winds are now a steady 30-33 knots and the waves aren't getting any smaller...

Since we were so close to finishing the task, Kathy just tried to keep the boat into the seas with the single motor (the rudders are useless at zero knots) while I continued pulling in the float and then the chain and then the sea anchor canopy, then all the shroud lines, then the attached stowage bag and swivel - the attached bag was wonderful, as I was able to stuff the shroud lines and canopy into the bag immediately and close it with only the chain sticking out. The chore of pulling in the remainder of the anchor line was quite easy, and we finally had the boat free with nothing else in the water (or so we thought...)

Initial Stowage

So now, imagine this scene: a huge catamaran foredeck covered with 300 feet of anchor line and another 100 feet of tangled lightweight polypropylene line attached to the two floats and a nicely stowed sea anchor in its bag, and then having a stray wave washing over things and water shooting up the two trampolines and making a bigger mess of the spaghetti on deck and threatening to wash everything back over the forward beam and into the water - oh, and the winds were now a steady(?) 33 knots and dark clouds were looming from the southwest and holding the boat positioned how we wanted it was just about impossible with no sails and one motor. The saving grace in all this is that the boat was rock solid and didn't seem to care what was going on - it just sat there like a big stable raft and allowed us to do our thing (if it had a soul, it was probably laughing at us the whole time).

Thankfully, upon hearing the impending weather situation, I had previously taken the big Bruce anchor and its 100 feet of chain and gobs of rode and stowed them down below in the port hull in one of the blue boxes, and thus the deck anchor locker was empty (except for the bridle I had just put in). I now unshackled the various connections and stuffed most of the sea anchor rode on top of the bridle into this locker (this locker overflowed, with the lid unable to close), stuffed the para-anchor and fenders and polypro line into the port deck locker, and now had a less-messy foredeck and it was time to take care of other things...


The first order of business was to have the boat properly stabilized with respect to the wind and waves and not rely upon the motors - all this time Kathy had been maneuvering the boat with the single engine trying to keep the pointy end of the boat somewhat upwind. The technique of heaving-to entails having some mainsail up which causes the boat to weathercock and just sit there rocking back and forth at some reasonable angle to the waves. If this pointing into the wind is too extreme, then the jib can be partially or fully unfurled and backwinded (jibsheet pulled in on the "wrong" side) to balance things out.

Don't ask me how I did it with those lazyjacks, but I did get the mainsail up and got the boat to heave-to with just the main on its third reef - it was sitting at about 60-degrees to the wind and waves (I would prefer about 30-degrees), but that was good enough and so I could now turn to the motor situation...

The Starboard Motor

After confirming that indeed it wouldn't start (accompanied by a most awful groaning noise as it tried), it didn't take a rocket scientist to find the problem: BikeBoat's towline, purposely left loose for ease of deployment in case of inversion, had washed off the deck and was the culprit; not only that, but it was also wrapped around the starboard rudder. A few quick slashes with the knife (since the raised motor prop is somewhat reachable by hanging over the aft beam and accompanying automatic saltwater face wash) and both the motor and rudder were cleared - and the motor started and purrrrrrred so nicely.

Stowage and a Dunking

Ok, now that we could hold the boat head to the wind and waves a little better, it was time to properly stow the sea anchor line and secure the foredeck, as it was really beginning to look dark and nasty coming in from the southwest. I got out the bag dedicated to this anchor line, opened up the anchor hatch, sat down on the foredeck and slowly carefully began feeding the 100-metres of 16mm (5/8") nylon line into the bag so that it could be smoothly deployed if needed in the future. I was still tied in with the safety harness and tether. A digression - all this time, the boat has been bobbing along happily, the main swells making it go up and down in pitch and the two diagonal swells gently (sort of) whapping the boat from side to side and causing some yawing, and the only rolling was in unison with the swells. The intersecting swells and surface waves produced some splashing and water over the sides or bow or up the trampolines, but nothing to get excited over.

Well, anyway, I'm sitting there stuffing this rope into this bag and Kathy is keeping the boat head into the wind with the motors while the reefed main is helping stabilize things when all of a sudden she screams "Wave!" and I'm now swimming with aerated water up to my neck, the breaking wave having washed over the whole boat, going from bow to stern. I had managed to grab the edge of the anchor locker and thus didn't travel too far and hollered to Kathy through the soggy headphones that I was ok - we had simply met a bunch of intersecting waves which unusually had pitched the boat off one wave and right down into another that happened to be breaking - happily, with not much force in the aerated water. I just continued the interminable task of stuffing all that line into the bag, then tidied up the bridle routing and left it in the anchor locker and then brought the sea anchor line in its red bag back into the cockpit and put it under the table in the main saloon (it was too wet to take below), continuing the maxim of keeping all heavy things centered and as low down as possible in the boat.

Sailing and Squalls

Ok, with the decks clear, it's time to go sailing. At this point I should have been putting up the backup forestay and rigging the heavy-weather jib, but I thought I'd give the primary jib a try by sailing with it partially furled in these steady 33-knot winds. So off we went, with the furled jib and the main on its third reef (actually, its fourth reef because I don't use the first), into the southwest, trying to make back some of the ground we had lost when para-anchored. Our progress wasn't spectacular (translation: we weren't losing ground), so out came the motors again for a stint at motorsailing. After a short while, the weather was really looking awful with very visible squalls coming at us so I figured we'd better heave-to again. We were still sailing and just as Kathy finished rolling in (furling) the jib completely when WHAP the winds jumped instantly from the steady 33 to... I was kinda busy but a glance at the windspeed readout showed 47 knots, but with the motors humming I was able to point the boat straight into this wind and terrific downpour - the seas were amazingly flattened by all this torrential rain, although the primary swell was still there and bigger than ever (remember that boat climbing up in the Perfect Storm? - we had nothing of that magnitude, but you get the idea). The boat performed wonderfully, and, if you can believe this, the open main saloon stayed nice and dry and totally unaffected and the steering was also totally protected, with just some splatters from the side (primarily from the rain accumulated on the overhead cover).

[Waves Panorama]Before the squalls came, I had climbed up onto the cabintop to take this photo as the boat crested a wave. A video would have provided a better perspective.

[Joe Steering]This photo was taken exactly a half-hour before the squall hit, and we've already started motorsailing in winds of about 33 knots. Note the mainsheet draped over my knee, an old racing cat habit.

[Squall]Kathy thought I was nuts as I asked her to grab the camera and take my picture. This photo was taken during one of the squalls that hit us (not the initial very violent one). Note the seas temporarily flattened by the very heavy horizontal rain - winds about 40 knots. Kathy claims this photo proves my hair was standing on end.

[Squall]Same squall. I've taken to wearing sailing gloves as they give an excellent grip on the stainless handrails when going forward. Not trying to sail, but simply keeping the boat temporarily feathered into the wind.

[Squall]This is what a squall looks like - I think this one missed us, but I sure haven't figured them out yet. All I tried to do was steer away from big black cloud things.

Thoughts About the Sinking Floats

I had been thinking about the submerged floats of the para-anchor retrieval system and the only conclusion I could come to was that either they had somehow become wrapped around the parachute (unlikely) or else the Seawind exerted so much drag on this 15-ft para-anchor that it simply dragged the floats down. I concluded that the next time I would try putting on a larger fender as the initial canopy support float.

Latest thoughts (January, 2001) - Many ensuing discussions with cruisers and racers and thoughts from Alby McCracken from Para-Anchors Australia suggest that the opposite had happened: perhaps the wind had died down for a while during the night and the weight of the sinking anchor line and para-anchor with its chain simply dragged down the floats. The wind in the morning was perhaps initially not strong enough to restore the system to its natural state of having the bridle and anchor line go out horizontally from the bow. In any case, the solution to the problem - use of a larger float - was the same.

Para-Anchor Re-deployment

At this point in time a critical weatherfax got obliterated when the refrigerator turned on, and so we didn't know if the depression had turned and was perhaps moving back up on us; however, based on the wind direction (west), I believed the depression to be passing us to the south. It was mid-afternoon, and I wasn't relishing the thought of playing with squalls all night long and so when there was a break between them I rushed forward with the red para-anchor line bag, reshackled the whole parachute anchor system back together (this time adding one of the large boat fenders to the existing support float), dropped the mainsail and we deployed the whole thing nice and smoothly again, then wrapped up the mainsail tightly inside its sailbag (I didn't zip it because I wanted to leave the third reef in place for quick deployment and it's external to the bag) - and then we collapsed with a big WHEW!

After a few more gasps, the wind gradually abated back down to the 20-25 knot range. The seas were still confused. There were three very distinct swells: the main one roughly (+/- 20 degrees) aligned with the wind, a second one coming in from starboard at about 45-degrees, and a third swell coming in from port at about 45-degrees. On top of that was the wind-induced chop. Spurts of wind-strewn waves were constantly appearing all over the place, my impression being that these were the result of the swells bumping into each other. These intersecting swells produced a somewhat unpleasant environment, with the boat either riding up nicely on the main swell or being batted to either port or starboard by the other two swells, all randomly. The wind-induced surface waves were no problem. These port or starboard whaps would cause the boat to yaw significantly, and it would take maybe ten seconds(?) for the boat to recover back to dead center. Every once on a while a foamy wave would whoosh close by or into us producing noise and spray but not much impact strength. Despite this motion, we were warm, dry, and comfortable, and we spent another relatively peaceful night tied to the sea anchor.

[Wave Up]Kathy pointed out that the ocean shouldn't be up above the window looking down at us. Note how everything on the table is simply staying put and not being tossed around. When we reviewed this with some monohull cruisers, they were incredulous!

[Wave Up]Same comment.

[Sky Up]By the same token, maybe the bow shouldn't be looking at the sky, either.

Retrieval Again

Morning came, and we had drifted NE another 25 miles (correction: I had previously incorrectly written 50) directly away from our destination and all the floats were nicely visible to windward and the bridle came out horizontally off the bows, so maybe the larger fender did its trick. The winds were a nice 17-21 knots, the skies were clear, so it was time to go sailing again, despite the still-nasty seas. After a good breakfast and shower, we geared up for the retrieval again. I had decided to follow basically what I had done the previous day, and so we started motoring upwind again.

Winds were increasing, and were 20-25 knots by now. Everything was going well, with the bridle and retrieval of most of the anchor line quite uneventful, but a great aerobic workout (for me).

Near Disaster

The winds were still increasing, close to 30 by now and the rough seas continued - which I would guestimate to be 4 metres peak-to-trough (when the boat was in a trough, I couldn't see the horizon when standing up on the side deck, which is about six feet off the water).

We were having difficulty communicating as the wind noise was drowning out my words over the FM transceiver to Kathy. We continued heading upwind and just as I was about to grab the orange float a gust blew the boat off to starboard while we had forward motion. I asked Kathy to port reverse hard but she didn't hear the word "reverse" and gunned it forward, driving the boat over the fender, the trip line, and then the parachute line - my screaming merely resulted in her gunning it forward (instead of reverse) harder and we basically ran over the whole works, entangling the rudder and motor around the trip line (thankfully, not the anchor line). The motor died, the boat slewed off to starboard and the para-anchor trip lines were now dragging the motor and rudder sideways. Luckily, I was able to raise the motor slightly, reached down under the aft beam with a knife and cut the tripline. The damage so far appears to be limited to a torn off plastic shroud on the exit side of the propeller, something I just recently noticed and which perhaps explains the anemic performance of the port engine in our subsequent maneuvering.

The lesson learned is somewhat obvious - Kathy and I are now developing a good set of hand signals as backup for our FM headset voice communications system.

Retrieval Completed

The orange float drifted off and I pushed the GPS MOB button to perhaps use this as a retrieval exercise later. The motor started and ran, so we went back to the original retrieval technique, but this time needing to get much closer to the para-anchor itself in order to retrieve the two supporting floats. Successfully dragged everything back on board, although the two floats were very tightly wrapped up around each other and the para-anchor retrieval line - I don't know if this was the result of entanglement with the propeller, but I intend to put swivels onto the float attachment points. Winds were now a steady 30 knots.

Sailing Again and Broken Block

We hove-to and, after putting all the stuff away, we hoisted the full jib and triple-reefed mainsail and proceeded to try to head towards Australia into the 30-knot west wind and miserable seas. The orange float was already over two miles away so I kissed it off.

The true wind had dropped a little, but with our forward motion to windward, we still have an apparent wind hovering around 30 knots. After an hour or so I thought I'd see just what our included tacking angle was in these conditions, so we tacked and would you believe the starboard jib turning block came flying out off its car, resulting in no ability to sheet in the jib on port tack and threatening to damage the next turning block! Went back on the original course and I then saw what had happened: the retaining roll pin for the pivot pin which secures the block to the traveler car had come out, allowing the pivot pin to back out. I found the pivot pin on the deck, but unfortunately it was bent and couldn't be reinserted. Found a long bolt of about the right diameter in my parts box so I held it in with a ball-bungie and we were back in business.

Went back to trying to see what our westward progress would be on the port tack, but, unfortunately it was about the same as the other, so we went back to heading SSW and beating our brains out, the boat performing beautifully but with not much VMG to windward (darn, I keep forgetting to use that feature on the GPS!). It was simply a much-scaled-up version of thrashing on San Francisco Bay on a small catamaran, although I found the boat needed to have its speed kept down to around 6 knots in these conditions (it's considered poor form to have a cruising cat go airborne flying over waves and then come crashing down into the following trough). I wish I had had a video camera as it was very dramatic.

[Waves Frothy]This is the fun stuff we were beating into.

[Jib Fairlead]A bolt and a ball bungie and the jib turning block is as good as new.

Reluctant Decision

It was getting to be mid-afternoon and we were making negligible progress towards our destination, the weatherfaxes were showing a succession of lows over Australia (weather moves eastward) and one low was already off the coast and was coming towards us, I still was quite uncomfortable with the angle with which we were heaving-to in these conditions, the sea anchor retrieval system needed fixing and if I fixed it and we deployed the sea anchor and hung off it for the next 1-1/2 days until the wind shifted we would have drifted 75 miles NE (we want to go southwest), there was a sudden single extremely loud metallic ka-chink as we came corkscrewing off a wave (I subsequently traced it to one of the anchors stowed under the saloon table, but it was not a sound one wanted to hear in these conditions), we were both a little unnerved, and we had drifted back to being only a day and a half out of Noumea. Since I was once told that I'm a gentleman, and gentlemen don't sail to weather, I said the heck with it and turned downwind for a sleighride back to Noumea. The misadventures upon arrival will be another tale to tell...

Present Activity

Before setting off for Australia again, I am gathering parts to put together an improved para-anchor retrieval system, with a larger fender to hold up the parachute, a swivel on the line going to the retrieval float and perhaps one on the head of the para-anchor, and I am going to get a long polypropylene (floating) line and, in non-extreme conditions, have it attached to that retrieval fender and bring it back to the boat and thus obviate the need to significantly power up to the para-anchor. Hopefully, I will be able to properly adjust the tension of this retrieval line to minimize the possibility of it wrapping around the para-anchor.

Some More Thoughts Regarding Sea Anchoring -

I was fearful that the relatively short (100m) para-anchor line would result in significant jerking of the boat; i.e., that tension would be rapidly and violently applied to the bridle. This proved not to be the case in the conditions we were in, with a very smooth tension increase as the boat was brought back from any deviations it may have suffered caused by the swells or wind. We were tied to the 15-ft diameter para-anchor in winds that probably never exceeded 30 knots, and I would like to try the same thing with the 28-ft dia. parachute and compare the performance, but not now...

Regarding the issue of being batted from side to side by the two cross-swells, it is interesting to speculate what the behavior of a similar catamaran without fixed keels would have been. From the literature, it appears that a raised daggerboard or centerboard results in far less resistance to lateral movement than to a catamaran with fixed keels - and this is considered a significant plus in extreme conditions (although I imagine the motion felt inside the boat is greater). In our case, these waves coming in from the side produced a very noticeable impact upon the boat which did, nevertheless, yield and slew quite a bit but never heeled sideways at all as a result of such whaps. Another point to ponder would be the amount of time it takes to get back to a head-on position to the wind after such slewing. In any case, during this exercise there was never a situation where I considered having the fixed keels on the Seawind a detriment.


Before I forget, there were a number of downright dangerous things that I experienced with handling of the para- anchor. Even though obvious and dumb on my part, I pass them on so that someone reading this and in a similar situation will keep these points in mind -

1. When pulling in the anchor line, I would pull in maybe 10 or 20 feet by hand while we motored forward and then cleat off before repeating this process. Sometimes the wind/waves would slew the boat to such an extent that I would have to let go and the boat would slide backwards until snubbed up by the previously cleated line - well, the loose pulled-in line would go tearing out over the bow and I had one instance where it had wrapped around my leg and I was barely able to extricate myself in time.

2. Similarly, I had entangled my safety harness tether with this pulled-in anchor line.

3. When pulling in the final few feet of the retrieval line there was a significant resistance caused not only by the collapsed para-anchor but its storage bag - I had wrapped the line around my hand to get a better grip (dumb!) and the darn thing tried to drag me overboard on a surging wave.

Closing Thoughts

This whole experience was in fact a rather benign test of para-anchoring (winds when using the para-anchor weren't over 30 knots), but it provided us with a good idea of its performance in boisterous seas and gave us the much-needed practice for the time when we may need to use it in earnest.

In subsequently thinking about it, we should have simply stayed put to the para-anchor the second time until the conditions dramatically changed and not have been in a hurry to continue sailing (we had lots of sea room). We're slowly acquiring a cruiser's mentality through the school of hard knocks.

Joe Siudzinski, Noumea, New Caledonia, 4 November, 2000

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