On Drogue

  • Sept 17
  • Day 18
  • Noon Position: N55392 W150 06 9
  • Course: ESE: 3
  • Wind: W 35-40
  • Miles Since Last Noon: 35
  • Tracker
  • Harmon’s Blog

The more I studied the weather charts, the less sense it made to run off to the E with the blow. For one thing, we don’t want easting; for another, we’d be traveling with and into the low, which would extend its life and intensity for us, and take us half way to Sitka in then end. 

So, while making sail adjustments yesterday morning, I decided to sit this one out on the Jordan Series Drogue (JSD). hThis would have the effect of nearly stopping us in our tracks, saving our northing and westing; it would also relieve me of having to sail a mature 50 knot snorter that I thought would be worse than did the meteorologists (curiously, most every wind of note we’ve had this passage has been stronger than predicted).

This idea–to use the JSD as a way of holding station in a low—had been tried before on Mo and with disastrous results. So I was not as confident in the maneuver as I would have enjoyed. 

I took part of the morning and afternoon to dig the drogue out, inspect it, flake it, replace its anchor weight of chain with a heavier weight of chain, and then plan its deployment. Gale force winds weren’t due till midnight, but I wanted daylight for the exercise, which Harmon and I executed at 4pm.

There is something disquietingly final about riding a drogue. You are, in a sense, anchored to the sea, and like being anchored to a good holding bottom in a storm, you are there for the duration. For the JSD, duration is usually when winds come back down to 25 knots or less. So, there is no escaping the drogue until the event concludes, except that it be cut free, an expensive proposition. 

Rough. Mo rolled terribly in the building sea and always with the wind a bit on port quarter. Odd that. We made dinner and I hit the hay first. At midnight I woke in midair and with the sense of being shot from a cannon. That was the sound, a whopping boom to starboard as we were slammed by a sea, so my sensation was justified. Only the webbing of my berth’s lee cloth kept me from catapulting across the cabin. Then a call from Harmon, who was in the dog house. The dorade vent over him had exploded with water. The vent had been covered with a stainless steel cap and then stuffed with a rag, so it, and that side of the boat, must have been decidedly underwater for a time. That’s the only way to explain the pressure needed to explode the rag. We’d been T-boned by a breaking sea. Not a good way to start the night. 

I spent the next half hour at the stern adjusting the JSD’s bridle lines. Goal: to get Mo perpendicular to the wind and sea. Having done that we went on watches and had an uneventful night, save for needing to call a container ship on a collision course. “Ever Grand, Ever Grand, sailing vessel MOLI. Our courses converge in one hour. Please be advised we are hove to and unable to maneuver.” After three tries on the radio, a reply and a change of course 20 degrees to the south from Ever Grand. 

Then the chocolate cake with a pudding center fell under the stove and overturned. A whole roll of paper towels required. Then the quinoa container flung its seed upon the floor.

But Mo rode well. In the thick black of night, I could feel the braking of the drogue as she was pushed forward by a sea. She felt solid, steady; yet any movement in the cabin required two hands and planning or else one was thrown around mercilessly. 

When I came on watch at 8am, winds were in the mid forties. The sea was gray and streaked with spume; they towered but only some small percentage were breaking. At 11am, the anemometer read steady winds in the 50s and a few gusts to 60. The rigging howled. At 11:50 we were pooped, a slamming thud into the cockpit and then the cockpit hatch fountained with water into the cabin. Let’s call it five gallons. Nothing to sink a ship but enough to soak sitting cushions, the remaining few dry towels, some electronics, and the skipper, who had been under the hatch at the time. 

By 1pm, winds were back into the 40s. By 3pm, the forecast called for the gale to ease, but it did not, much. Even now, at 5pm, winds are in the high 30s and gusting above 40. So, we will be on drogue for the night. In fact, we may stay on drogue tomorrow for a quick egg beater low that is due to pass through on the heels of the one dissipating today. Then we plan to hoof it for Kodiak…to dry out, warm up and to plan the last leg to Homer.  

Did the strategy work? Yes. As of this writing, we are a mere 35 miles from our position at noon on Saturday; compare 160 if we’d run off. Was it worth it? The cost has been high: a solar panel modulator and probably a single side band radio lost to wet; the dodger, blown out by the pooping sea. Not to say that sailing would have been cost free…

9 Comments on “On Drogue

  1. Oh wow! After a gorgeous gentle early fall day, visiting beautiful horses in Sonoma county, this shook me out of my “boots”! Phew! talk about “vicarious adventuring”…can my eight-decade heart deal with it🤣? Glad Moli and crew are doing well, if damply, in the challenging conditions. Prayers tonight for calmer seas

  2. Wow! 😳 each entry me and my boys read is more than exciting, We are not sailors. Just mere mortals who have a vested interest in the health and well being of our friend. This should be a movie. I followed the Figure 8 voyage for a year and so did my boys ( 10 & 11 now) Uncle Randall is a super hero. Thanks for the updates, Be safe guys

  3. I am on the edge of my seat! And my seat isn’t moving. Another grand Randall adventure. I am glad you have company on this one. Stay safe.

  4. Randall,
    Once again, thank you for the continued updates. Sounds like a wild 36+ hours, but with advanced thoughtful planning crew and vessel are once again safely on the move with minimal damage!
    One of the many reasons I follow is to learn how others address precarious situations such as this. Not intending to question your tactics, but to understand rationale, I am wondering if you carry a sea anchor, i.e., a ‘drogue’ deployed off the bow for the non-sailors following the thread. If so, please help me understand the thought process of why you deployed the JSD instead of the sea anchor?
    Fair winds,

  5. Hello Randall,
    We are breathlessly with you every day. As a follow up to Blair, can the JSD be deployed from the bow?
    Go lightly in safety,
    Howard & Steph

  6. by now you should be up and gone and approaching your destination but what an effort – good test of the drogue but don’t envy getting slammed by that wave.

  7. Hello Randall,
    It seems that you had the droque tied to the stern. Could it have been better to have it tied from the bow? Perhaps less risk of being pooped?

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