Drogue, Day Two

Underway the day after our escape.

Sept 18. I watched the second gale peter out all afternoon. Its front hit at 1pm with scudding cloud and a sudden northwesterly to 40 knots. By 2pm winds were 50 knots. The water top started to stream spume and be more white than gray-green, and the seas grew with surprising rapidity until we were again in a neighborhood of heaving blue houses with many white roofs blown off. Barometer: 987. 

It was a flash low. By four o’clock, winds were tailing off, now 38, now 45, now 29, now 40, and with each increment of time they tailed further, but so slowly. 

To haul up the JSD drogue is an arduous task. The 300 feet of line holding the 148 tiny parachutes that stop the boat in her tracks cannot be depowered; they must be hauled in each one against its will straight up and over the side like a gaping flounder. This means one must wait for a diminished wind, i.e. reduced wind force on the drifting Mo to reduce the power necessary for the haul. Typically, this is around 20 knots, and then, with the engine pulling gently astern, a man stands by a winch and either, hand over hand, hauls in the slack between waves or grinds. Under the best of circumstances, the singlehander should expect this operation to take two hours. Two hours of hauling and cranking interspersed generously with irreverent, not altogether subtle, references to the failings of divinity.

But 20 knots just would not come—now 25, now 28, now 23, now 30. And the sea kicked and shoved as before.

Still I watched. Could we get the drogue in before dark? Harmon was more the positivist: “What else is there to do?” I was more in the camp of “we’re going to stop this mechanical bull ride even if it kills us.”

Around 6pm it was decided. For a while, winds had been more 25 than anything else, and though the seas were still of the kind only appreciated by buckaroos, I proclaimed the conditions as “perfect in every way for drogue retrieval.” Any later and we would lose our sun. We suited up.

Harmon put the engine in slow reverse and I hauled. Nothing. A bit more reverse. Still no slack on the drogue line. Apparently, the flounder was prepared to hold his own. Finally, flat out reverse, and then the line began to fish steadily on deck. Harmon tailed; I ground the winch, and the work went quickly, very quickly with two doing the work of one. Within an hour the drogue was stowed below and we were under a triple reefed jib heading NE. The main was flying just as the sun sank below the waves. I laughed, slapped Harmon on the back. Best retrieval ever. How excellent to be on our way. 

Just over two days on drogue; two days and two lows. Operation successful: we lost fewer then 40 miles from our noon position just prior to the first low. But not without cost. The sea that pooped us must had been a doozy. It ripped the zippers off the (new) plastic screen that covers the companion way hatch; actually, shattered the zipper teeth and tore the plastic screen. It tore a large hole in the dodger. Two dorade cowlings were stripped from the deck. It put probably 20 gallons of water (70 strokes of the bilge pump) into the pilot house and shorted out the solar panel charge controller located directly below the hatch (thankfully only that). There was an equal amount of water in the aft bilge. 

We must acknowledge that “holding station in a low to preserve miles made good” is not a design objective of the JSD drogue. Rather, it is intended to save from foundering a vessel that is otherwise unable to maintain control in extreme storm conditions, to keep the vessel from rolling or pitchpoling, to keep it upright, to give it a chance to remain afloat where otherwise there is no hope. Next to which casualties to replaceable items like the above deck hardware would be considered cheap money.

As to the sea anchors vs drogues questions both Harmon and I are getting, you must understand that the debate over which is better is as hotly contested as whether the Trinity is but one god or three. Definition: a sea anchor is a storm drag device released from the bow; a drogue is a storm drag device released from the stern. I have no experience of the former. Clearly, they work, but I have a hard time seeing them work in the extreme conditions for which the JSD was designed. And to answer one final question: the reason the JSD is not launched from the bow is that the boat is still drifting, in our most recent case, at 2 – 3 knots. Making that much way backwards would make it impossible to align the boat to the seas. 

7pm Sept 19. 70 miles to Kodiak. We make 7 knots on a southwesterly. Harmon baked coffee cake on which we have both made ourselves pleasantly ill. Overnight another 997 low goes over the top of us. Winds appear weak but from every direction in the wee hours, inconvenient for a vessel impatient for port. 

How the chart plotter saw our escape to the north. The green X marks are noon positions.

5 Comments on “Drogue, Day Two

  1. Wow. My poor heart. But I am only there for a few minutes while I read this. I can’t imagine being in your boots. You are two amazing men.

  2. Randall. I am curious. Have you ever used a Fiorentino Shark Drogue?? It seems to me it
    would be easier to bring back aboard and stow. I have the Shark but thankfully never have had to use it.

    • Yes, have and have used the Shark. Very good device. It is a slowing drogue where the JSD is a stopping drogue. I used the Shark once S of New Zealand. I was in a “small” gale and ahead was a whopper of a gale coming down from the N. I wanted to slow down, to let the other gale slide to the S before we got there. The Shark took Mo’s speed from 7-8 knots to around 4-5 and added sternward stability. Very comfortable. Kept the Monitor and a small sail up–per usage instructions. Yes, without cones every foot or so, it is easier to retrieve.

  3. Could you explain what you mean by reef numbers in the jib since there are no reef points in it like the main has?

    • Hey Skip, the #2 genoa (smaller, working headsail) has three marks on the foot at regular intervals just aft of the luff, placed by the sailmaker as suggested reef points. Presumably the last (3rd) of these is the most the sail maker thinks the sail can be rolled and still hold its intended shape. So, “three reefs in the jib” in my blog means I’ve rolled to that 3rd, marked position.

      Nice to hear from you,


Leave a Reply