drogues

Mention of drogues suggests storm survival conditions, and it was with such conditions in mind that I made super strong attachment points on the stern, just above the aft platform. This allows for easy access for attaching lines and eliminates chafe.

Drogue plate - in use.

I made a Jordan series drogue with storms in mind (I've been in a few more than I ought to have been). But I never used it, though I took it with me round the Atlantic. It's my last resort, which I never felt I needed.

 

Scrumpy's Jordan series drogue.

If there's sea room, and the wind direction is favourable, it's fine to just keep sailing, possibly using the Abbot drogue. But if you run out of sea room and need to park the boat in deep water I think I'd favour the series drogue over a parachute every time - especially as with the setup on Scrumpy, retrieval is straightforward.

One drogue that came with the boat is a canvas cone shaped thing - a Galerider - about 4 feet across at the mouth. I didn't anticipate using that, though it being light and foldable I took it with me. It came into its own in northern Spain, Scrumpy anchored in a river. On the ebb tide, the river was running at 3-4 knots, and a strong wind against the flow meant that despite (always) using the anchor bridle, the boat was sailing about the anchor with an uncomfortable motion and threatening to break it out. I found Scrumpy sailing about that way after having been ashore, and I had difficulty catching the boat in the dinghy, the motion was so quick! Anyway, I still had a dodgy engine at that stage, and the anchorage was fairly crowded and I was alone, so I didn't fancy shifting the boat and nor could I see a better place to go. So I attached the cone drogue to the attachment points on the stern, and hey presto - problem solved completely. The boat sat steady on the anchor! The effect was quite amazing - helped possibly because the drogue (as well as the anchor) were on a bridle, so attached to each side of the boat. The drogue caused more drag in the water, so the strain on the anchor was increased - but it was a strain that was steady in direction and force, and was no difficulty for the anchor (a Mantus - a really excellent anchor that never once lost its grip!). Those strong wind over tide conditions are rare in an anchorage, but I think the cone drogue is worth having on board just for this tactic.

The drogue I used most by far was the Abbot drogue. This isn't a drogue I bought or made - it was just made up from what was on board anyway, so there's no extra weight or storage issues. There was only one time I was scared on Scrumpy, and that was mid-Atlantic when the weather really got rough for a while and the waves had built up pretty big. There were times the boat would surf at up to 20 knots, and twice, over 20 knots. Up to 14 knots I was always happy with, even single-handing and under the control of the autopilot (which ALWAYS did the steering, except up winding rivers and approaching moorings and docks) but these speeds were excessive. People think I'm just bragging about the speed of the boat, but I didn't like it, especially as sometimes I didn't even have any sail up at all! What to do? A series drogue would stop the surfing, but I'd probably be stuck going 1-2 knots, which with 1500 miles to go and the wind from astern wasn't what I wanted.

Then I remembered Dave Abbot describing a drogue he made up for his Privilege 39 in the Indian Ocean, so I set about making something similar. I attached a snatch block to one of my drogue attachment points, and then one end of a 200' anchor line to the other. I slipped a length of plastic water pipe over the line and attached a 30' piece of anchor chain to the water pipe. I led the line though the snatch block and up to a sheet winch, then chucked the chain into the water. The plastic pipe can slide along the line without causing chafe, so it was easy to let as much line out as I needed or pull it in a bit - it was entirely adjustable and perfectly easy to retrieve. The effect was frankly amazing. I'd expected to have to pay out all the line to have enough drag for the thing to be effective, but not so! Even with the chain just hanging over the stern, the top speed of the surfing was reduced.

Anyway, I experimented a lot with it, and ended up using this system several times on the Atlantic crossings, so I'll cut to the chase. The drogue stopped the excessive speeds without slowing the boat too much. In fact, I found it best to sail in rough downwind conditions with the drogue out and a sail up! The sail (the jib on the forestay or a storm jib on the inner forestay) kept the boat going in the troughs, and the drogue dealt with the wild surfing. I found it best to adjust the sail area to make best use of the wind, and adjust the drogue length to deal with excessive top speeds. Increasing wind - reduce sail. Increasing waves, let more drogue line out (big waves don't always come with big winds). Towards the end of the first crossing, I had that system nicely worked out, so even when it was pretty rough, I was able to have the boat sailing at a steady 6-7 knots, surging to 10-12 down the wave faces. That's a useful speed, completely under control and very comfortable (no rolling at all of course). It was like having the solidity of a big displacement boat and the stability of a multihull.

 

A slight deviation from the issue of drogues, but I'll mention it here as it's about sailing in rough weather. My trade-wind crossing was hectic for the second half, with very frequent squalls. (On the return crossing 6 boats had to be abandoned, including a capsized catamaran - all crew except a young girl were rescued - details of those conditions are here). Squalls are sudden and sometimes dramatic increases in wind speed. You don't want to be found with too much sail up, but if squalls are frequent, it can be a lot of work getting sails down and back up as the squall passes. I settled on this system: I rigged the storm jib on the inner forestay and left it there throughout the squally weather. That was my in-squall rig - it was better I found to have a tiny sail up to maintain speed, but also to not lose steerage in the odd lull in the squall, which under autopilot can cause the boat to end up side-on to the waves. So I left the storm jib up, and I usually had a sail (or two) hanked onto the forestay using a single halyard (details here). When a squall came, it took just a moment to open the clutch at the mast to drop (both) sail(s) onto the net. Sheets could be left as they were. When the squall was passed, it was easy enough to hoist the foresail(s) again, often only needing the winch for the last part.

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