Seth and I are grateful to have Ace Sailmakers and the Jordan Series Drogue supporting our voyage! Ever since weathering a Force 10 storm off South Africa, we’ve wanted a series drogue on board, so we were very happy when Dave at Ace Sailmakers agreed to be a supporter.
Despite modern forecasts, ‘weather’—the sailors’ classically understated euphemism for a storm—is still a fact of life at sea. If you spend long enough traversing the world’s oceans, you’re bound to run into gales if not full blown storms. Waves begin to break (think of surfing) in storm conditions, and boats can capsize or pitch-pole in breaking waves. Drogues, especially the Jordan Series Drogue, can prevent this.
Capsizing can occur when a boat turns broadside to a breaking wave: the boat rolls past her limit of positive stability, turns turtle, and (if she’s a ballasted monohull) comes back upright, usually without her mast which has snapped off because of the force of either capsizing or righting. Pitch-poling (essentially nose-diving) happens when a yacht reaches the wave’s velocity, accelerates down its face as it breaks, and crashes into the trough. Her stern comes right up and over her bow like a cyclist flying over his handlebars. Again she’ll lose her mast and the impact could cause major additional damage, including sinking, as happened to the wooden yacht Winston Churchill in the 1998 Sydney-Hobart Race. (Her demise was – one theory goes, anyway – there is actually no consensus on this – a combination pitch-pole/capsize: she hit the trough at an estimated 50mph at a 45° angle which tore off 8ft of her leeward planking.)
Drogues—drag devices set from the stern of a boat–help in two ways. Correctly deployed, they keep a boat running with the waves, preventing her from turning broadside to them, thus preventing capsizing. Equally important, they decelerate a boat before she reaches a wave’s trough, thus preventing pitch-poling and the kind of extreme force that spelled tragedy for Winston Churchill.
On our circumnavigation we experienced a Force 10 (possibly 11 – winds were gusting over 60 knots) storm off South Africa’s Cape Agulhas, during which, to be honest, we should have deployed our drogue. Thankfully we made it through unscathed aside from exhaustion and bruises. Our drogue then was a traditional one consisting of 250ft of 3/4 inch line, at the end of which was a large parachute and a weight of chain and our small stern anchor. While this would have helped, it would not have come close to the effectiveness of the Jordan Series Drogue.
Developed by aeronautical engineer, MIT lecturer, and sailor Don Jordan, the drogue consists of a series of cones woven into a tapering line, at whose end is again a weight of chain. It’s attached to the boat’s stern with a bridle. The number of cones and the length of the line is determined by your boat’s displacement. It works better than the single drag device because it has so many drag elements strung out along the submerged line. Don Jordan meticulously worked out the number of cones and their placement along the tow line through scale models, research at US Coast Guard facilities, and then testing in real breaking waves at the US Coast Guard’s motor lifeboat test site. Ace Sailmakers has maintained these high standards and in the 20 years the drogue has been in use, no boat has ever been damaged while using it. There’s a ton more information on the Jordan Series Drogue website, about the engineering behind the device, wave science, and the case study of the Winston Churchill.
Seth and I will continue to analyze weather data and will continue our practice of subordinating any schedules or goals to storm avoidance. Nonetheless, as we set off across the Gulf of Alaska this summer, we’ll be comforted to know that we’re carrying an authentic Jordan Series Drogue, set up and ready for deployment at a moment’s notice!