Tuesday, March 21, 2017

An Improved Steering/Speed Limiting Drogue?

Usually there is a specific event, often personal, that motivates me to research something. In this case, ~ 18 months ago I jammed a rudder on a submerged tree. Because I sail a catamaran, I simply disconnected the offending rudder and completed the week long cruise. But it reminded me that if I had been sailing a monohull I would have been completely stranded. I remembered a the loss of Too Good to Be (Alpha 42 Catamaran) due to a bent rudder, and several friends who have been towed in after striking logs. A boat was towed hundreds of miles across the Gulf of Mexico a few weeks ago, after loosing a rudder in nice weather--with a steering drogue I would have been underway again in 10 minutes, no need to make a call, other than perhaps a Pan-Pan to the US Coast Guard as a condition report. It occurred to me that emergency steering is a least as important to the coastal sailor, because there is so much more debris to hit. So I got interested in emergency steering and drogues in general. 

A JSD is unarguably the correct tool for most serious storm conditions. You can Google "JSD Coast Guard Report" for the details, so I will only summarize. IT was a truly clever leap forward that sidestepped many of the problems associated with conventional drogues:

  • No single point of failure.
  • Can't tangle.
  • Can't be thrown forward by a wave. 
  • Can't pull out of a wave face, because the load is distributed. 
  • Very smooth drag.
  • No single heavy piece to handle.

It has some short comings when used at higher speeds as a speed limiting drogue, or more importantly to me, for emergency steering:

  • The cones will shred. Even the new improved ones may or may not be up to sustained 5-8 knot speeds, where the average load per cone is 2-10 times higher. Although reversal is not common, they will be working near the surface, breaking out of waves regularly and getting pounded. Being close to the surface is rough. Easy to test designs.
  • Longer endurance may be required. It could be days, not overnight. On a long passage, it might be deploy several times, just for comfort.
  • They are too close together for proper flow at the higher speeds. Testing of JSDs and plain cone drogues suggest drag is reduced about 30-40% by close spacing.
And yet it has considerable advantages, which no one has explored. With a few modifications, it might well be the best steering and speed limiting drogue available at any price, though I doubt it would be more expensive than the better drogues:

  • No single large element to handle. Pulling a Delta drogue 72 over the transom in rough weather is no picnic. That is an understatement. Single drogues much larger than 2' (Seabrake 24, Delta Drogue 72) are simply not manageable by normal or aging sailor in boisterous conditions. Standard JSDs have a reputation for difficult recovery, but this would be 1/3 the length; I'm confident it is easier than a conventional drogue.
  • Less chance of tangling during deployment or recovery. The worst time with a standard drogue is recovering it; I've had a few get in the rudders.
  • Will not pull out of a wave. This is a considerable advantage, because EVERY conventional drogue becomes unstable above about 5 knots in the presences of steep waves. The wave increases the angle of the rode to the water and the drogue pulls out as the wave passes it. The best you can do is try to put this out of phase with the peak load, which in confused seas, is impossible. This is the primary reason conventional drogues can fail catastrophically as the storm rises; everything seems good, until the speed + load reach a critical level, the wave steepness builds, and the drogue pops out. If it is on a nylon rode, the rode contracts, the drogue snaps forward, and maybe the wind and breaking wave help it along. There is no magic design that can make a single drogue run deep enough to avoid this cycle. I observed this hundreds of times in testing.
  • Drag will be more adjustable. Sometimes you need a lot of drag to make the boat track, and sometimes less would increase both speed and pointing (yes, you can sail upwind with a drogue, just not very high).

Recovering a Delta Drogue 72 (about 24-30 inches across). Even in clam weather it is heavy. Other drogues are awaiting their turn in the dinghy, including a Galerider, Paradrogue, Seabrake, cone, and JSD  from Ace Sail Makers.

In use the drogue is often pulled in quite close to the transom, to reduce drag by lifting the drogue. This is how a Seabrake 24 deploys in 10-25 knots for emergency steering; in light winds it is in close, in stronger winds I you add an extension between the chain and the bridle.

So I wonder if a modified JSD (call it something different) might be the best possible answer:

  • Fewer cones. Only about 1/3 the number specified for storm service.
  • Strong construction. The current ACE Sailmaker method (they have up-graded the cloth and added a taped edge) may be acceptable, but 4 webbing straps would better support the cloth and would be more stable at increased speeds.
  • Spacing should increase. This might also improve adustability, by making it easier to vary the number of cones in the water.
  • Less weight. 10 feet of 5/16-inch chain should be enough, or an 8-pound mushroom anchor. The rogue will be more naturally resistant to surfacing at high load or high speed (same thing).

    The most obvious difference is the that the series steering drogue is much longer, about 75-100 feet. But this is part of its strength--only by distributing the load can the drag remain steady is something as fragile and turbulent as water.

    Cones can be purchased for about $7.00 each, although the upgrade cones might be $8.00. For a 35- to 40-foot boat this means about 30 x $8.00 = $240.00 plus the cost of 90 feet of rope ($90), or about $330.00. Assembled it would likely be about $400.00. A comparable conventional drogue is $299.00-$785.00, so no important difference in cost. The bulk and weight would be similar if Amsteel is used for the rope.

    What do you think? I will be testing some designs, I'm sure, once I nail down my thoughts. I would love your input. I think there is potential here from something superior to anything on the market. A short, stout "Steering Series Drogue", designed to snake behind the boat at higher speed.

    Saturday, March 18, 2017

    Internal Reefing and Friction

    Single line reefing can be a delight, until the friction become so great nothing will move. I was pretty fed up with mine, when I first go the the boat, until I realized the PO had left me a tangle. A simple problem, and easy to fix, but often overlooked because it is out of sight.

    The problems is that there are blocks inside, and when these get twisted, they lock up. The twist is introduced by a group of turning blocks near the mast (different from this illustration), that guide the line back to the cockpit or to a winch. Every time the reef is used, their corkscrew arrangement walks a small amount of twist into the boom.

    The cure? Look in the boom-end to confirm that this is the problem. If yes, go the mast-end and untwist the line by hand in the required direction, until the lines are straight and the blocks are vertical. This may take 5 or 6 turns. Chase these twists through all the way back to the cockpit, so that they are not simply stuck between blocks near the boom. Do NOT release the line from the end of the boom and try to fix the twist from there. Although that end is also twisted, that is only a symptom of the twist at the other end. There is no way for twist to sneak in from the boom end, and if you try to fix it from there, you will simply create opposing twists. The problem originates at the boom end and must be fixed there.

    On my boat this must be done about every 50 times I reef. Not very often at all. But if you've waited years, or if the boat is new to you, look inside the boom.

    [This image is from the PDQ 32 Owner's Manual, free in MS word if you request it via the contact form near the bottom of the right column.]

    Tuesday, March 14, 2017

    Marking Anchor Chain

    Someone once told me that marking anchor chain with paint was amateurish.

    Sailors on the US Blue Rige (LCC19) touch up the chain markings.

    Okay, sure. 
    • They suggest that you can feel bits of cloth and such in the dark. Assuming the gypsy don't sheer them off or jam, please don't tell me you would run your hand along a running chain in the dark. That is a good way to lose fingers.
    • Plastic ties. My windlass sheers them off no matter how they are attached. Some manual say there is a right way, but not with a Lewmar vertical.
    • Inserts. If I can't see the paint, I'm going to be able to make out a few mud-coated lumps in the dark? Silly on the face of it. 
    The first article in Good Old Boat Magazine described a better way to paint the chain. Also in "Keeping a Cruising Boat for Peanuts" and "Rigging Modern Anchors."

     They even have a standard color code. Not sayin' you need to use it, although I do use a long red band to warn me of the rope-to-chain splice at 100 feet (98% of the time I stop short of the splice so that I can anchor on all-chain.

    Saturday, March 11, 2017


    Life consists of many part and moods; when my thoughts drift to what is important, I think of Lin Yutang and The Importance of Living. It belongs in the library of any philosopher, and no sailor, climber, or person wanting to milk the full value from life can not be a philosopher. From a chapter on happiness, adapted to my experience (inspiration from Chin Shengt'an):


    My Seven Happy Moments. There have been more, and will be to come, but these few thoughts step forward today:

    1. A Cigarette boat comes joins the 6-knot parade out of the the harbor through a narrow channel. But he can't wait in line, guns the throttle, passes to starboard, and runs definitively aground in 12 inches of water. When you return to the harbor after a brief sail, the young men are still aboard, arms akimbo, visually proclaiming "we're cool." Is this not happiness?
    2. You are anchored in a pastoral cove, alone with your thoughts. There is only the faintest breath of air from the east, just enough to swing the boat, but not enough to ripple the water. It is not hot, just warm. Without a cloud in the sky, the sun is a low, an impossibly large red orb that cannot last. Is this not happiness?
    3. In preparation for a climbing trip to the Wind Rivers and Tetons that will involve long pitches on snow and ice, you climb pitch after pitch of easy rock rock at a convinient crag near home, unroped, to build speed and confidence. Nearing the top of a straightforward 5.5 crack, you overhear several 20-somethings chat about how difficult the climb was (with a rope), lament that there fathers could not join them, but allow with great understanding that "Dad is in his 40s" and it's unrealistic to expect so much. I easily top-out sans rope, and while walking past them mumble that I'm 48 (some years ago) and that my 12-year old daughter also enjoyed the route. Is this not happiness?
    4. I sit in the backyard with a good book (Lin Yutang), with DEET-based bug repellent on one lag and catnip-based repellent on the other, the stuff of another article research project. The DEET leg is all alone, and the mosquitoes only circle the other, confused and unable to process critical landing information regarding the tasty mammalian flesh below. Is this not happiness?
    5. Since my daughter was old enough to baby sit, she would fill bags with teacher-like stuff and spend hours developing an activity plan and preparing for her "job." During her senior year of high school, after several false starts, she announced that she knew what she would do in college. She is going to be a teacher (some years ago--student teaching now). Is this not happiness?
    6. Your career of 32 years comes is victim to massive consolidation following a merger with a company that does not understand what you do. At the same moment, you realize that for the first time in your life you have a chance to chose your path. A cross roads to be faced as an adult, with all of life's experience to draw upon. Is this not happiness.
    7. My daughter is home on break from college. We are sailing in light winds and she is collapsed, semi conscious on the bow. Is this not happiness?

     Sometimes I write solely to practice putting words on paper in a thoughtful way. Unfortunately, I don't have a philosophy sufficiently considered to express at length. Whenever I examine it closely, it flits away, unwilling to pinned down or well understood. Faulkner said that "free time only exists when not measured" (The Sound and the Fury), and so perhaps philosophy can only be fresh and thus worthwhile so long as it is unexamined, not ruined by anything more than a furtive glance in its general direction. Maybe it's simpler than all that. We should just be happy.

    Thursday, March 9, 2017

    Stagger When You Anchor

    Sounds like I've either been drinking to much or sailing too long. But bear with me....

    I'm convinced the average person cannot see in 3 dimensions when they look across the water. They can recognize right and left, and to some minor extent distance, but they cannot accuratly relate what they see to a map-view.

    Anchoring is the classic case. They move the boat to what seems like a good spot and lower the anchor,  without being able to visualize where the boat will be after they stretch out scope, or how boats may swing. They end up anchoring either very close in front of you or exactly beside you, neither of which they actually intended. They just measured wrong.

    1. Calculate how much rode you will use, including an allowance for adding scope if a storm arrives. For example, if the water is 7 feet, you bow is 3 feet, and you like 7:1 scope, (7+3) x 7 = 70 feet.
    2. Lower your anchor 1 rode length +1  boat length off the bow of your neighbor. This might be 1.5 to 2 mast-heights, a simple way to gauge distance if you are reproaching from astern of your neighbor. By the time the anchor tips, digs, and sets, particularly in softer mud, it will be off the beam of your neighbor.
    3. Need to anchor in front?  You need to be about 2 rode lengths + 2 boat lengths (about 210 feet). Simple come up beside the boat, note the lon/lat, and move 0.039 minutes forward (a minute is 1 nautical mile, and GPS typically displays 0.001 increments). Or time the distance; 1-knot ~ 1.5 feet per second. At 3 knots, 210 feet will take about 45 seconds. The point is, do something better than just guess.
    You have now achieved the optimum stagger, which will allow the maximum number of boats in a minimum space, with minimal need to visualize the geometry.

    Simple.This, along with every detail of single and multi-anchor rigging that I could test, is described in "Rigging Modern Anchors."

    Saturday, March 4, 2017

    PDQ 32 Owner's Manual

    I've scanned the manual that came with my boat, converted into MS Word, and adapted it a little my specific boat, modifications and all. I figure it's a nice courtesy to the next owner, and something that will help maintain PDQ value for all of us.

    PDQ Yachts Inc
    Whitby, Ontario

    Revised for Shoal Survivor, HIN XXXXXXX
    Rev. August 20, 2015
    February 2017

    If you would like a copy, just send me an e-mail via the contact form at the bottom of the right column. No sweat.

    I recommend converting it to PDF (MS Word will do this) once you have customized it. It will scroll MUCH faster.

    Thursday, March 2, 2017

    Mexican Navy Tows Disabled Sailboat for 1 1/2 Days.

    Described in the link below, a sail boat became disabled when their rudder sheared off, 3/4 of the way from Texas to Mexico. The US Coast Guard contacted the Mexican Navy, and the Mexican Navy sent a 180-foot cutter to provide a tow.


    Without getting political, it's something to think about. Things do go both ways. I like to get along with my neighbors. It seems to work out better.

    Of course, a proper steering drogue would also have solved the problem, just as quickly and with less drama. After my own experience with bending a rudder on a submerged log (repair described in "Keeping a Cruising Boat for Peanuts"), I did considerable research on drogues for emergency steering and storm management, learning that a good drogue is a solution even a singlehanded sailor can make work in minutes, with just a little preparation and practice. In the above situation, I would have had a steering drogue in the water within 5 minutes, and we would have been on our way, a knot or two slowwer, but with certainty.

    A failed rudder is simply not a valid cause for rescue or loss of your boat; I've sailed hundreds of miles with no rudder or worse, a rudder jammed to the side. It's quite manageable.

    See "Faster Cruising for the Coastal Sailor" for the details.

    Monday, February 27, 2017

    Boat Writer's International -- 2016 Marine Writing Contest

     In its 24th year, the BWI contest attracted 151 participants submitting 378 entries. In addition to cash awards, Certificates of Merit were presented to writers of another 43 articles which scored within 95 percent of third-place tallies in each category. All submissions to the contest were published in 2016. Each of the categories (noted below along with sponsors) was judged by four active journalists in the first few weeks of the New Year. Links are provided to the top three scorers. Results (there are 17 categories):

    Gear, Electronics & Product Tests – sponsored by Xantrex/Schneider Electric
    1st, “Splash Test Dummy” by Drew Frye (Good Old Boat, Sept.); 2nd, “New Options in Small Outboards” by Darrell Nicholson (Practical Sailor, Jan.); 3rd, “Hitting the Bricks” by Nigel Calder (PassageMaker, Sept.). “Despite it being a controlled product test of a cold water immersion suit, the author packs the article with a satisfying mix of information and hard data, accented with a good dose of humor throughout – An excellent piece of professional journalism,” noted judge Rich Armstrong. Merit Awards: “Trial By Fire and Water” by Lenny Rudow (Texas Fish & Game, Sept.); “Fish Whisperers” by Ron Ballanti (Anglers Journal, Fall).

    Seamanship, Rescue & Safety – sponsored by Sea Tow Services International
    1st, “The Storm Trysail” by Edward Zacko (Good Old Boat, Jan.); 2nd, “In the Perfect Position to Fail” by Ralph Naranjo (Practical Sailor, April); 3rd, “Naked and Afraid” by Pete McDonald (Boating, Jan.). Of the first place selection, judge Jim Rhodes said, “A thoroughly researched and well-presented article. Punctuated by vivid personal anecdotes, it was written with the authority of someone who knows the subject matter.” Merit selections: “Hitches to Grip Anchor Chain” by Drew Frye (Practical Sailor, May); “Go Forth and Cruise” by Tom Cunliffe (Sail, June).

    Friday, February 24, 2017


    Yale Maxijacket 

    I investigated this product primarily on a whim. I was working on an article on chafe protection, and a magazine editor had asked about trying coatings, just in passing. After all, what can you expect from a product that looks like nothing more that water-based varnish? Obviously boat show advertising hype. Someone had also  given me a sample of a related product, Spinlock RP25.

     Both sides were cycled across a grindstone for 2000 cycles: Spinlock RP25 on the top and Maxijacket on the bottom. A baseline test (no coating) reached the RP 25 wear level in 1000 cycles.

    I was dead wrong.

    Maxijacket. The only things that lasted longer were tubular nylon webbing (5x) and Dyneema chafe sleeve (20).
    •  6-15 times longer than uncoated rope
    • 10 times longer than clear vinyl tubing
    • 2 times longer than APX aramid chafe sleeve
    • 3 times longer than 1/8-inch leather
    RP 25. Good for stopping core slippage, but less so on chafe.
    • 2-3 times uncoated rope (greatest improvement when wet)

    Applications? I've been using the stuff for 4 years and remain very impressed.
    • Docklines. Anywhere chafe gear won't fit.
    • Furler lines. Best for roller reefing, where the line is highly loaded.
    • Any splice subject to wear.
    • Fabric prone to abrasion.
    Mooring lines, with and without coating. I tried chafe gear, but it kept creeping off. This is easier to clip and extends the life of the wear section to match the rest of the line.

    Topping lift. Abrasion was the problem, so I used some webbing as a thimble and dipped the whole knot. This allows me to down-size from 3/8" to 5/16", saving some windage.

    It seems impossible that a product resembling thick latex varnish (stick with clear--other colors can transfer) can make such a a difference. While West Marine charges more than you want for more than you need, Knot & Rope Supply sells a small jar--probably all a sailor needs for a few years-- for $7.10. A bargain.

    The Spinlock RP25 does have its applications too. It performs better on HMPE ropes (Amsteel et. al.), reducing both wear and cover/core slippage, and has the flexibility to use on running sections of rope. I'll use RP25 on sections of my Amsteel lifelines.

    A penny-pinching tip.

    A good-seamanship tip.


    Instructions. Whatever they say on the can. These are just my observations. When in doubt, let it dry longer before exposing to heavy load--it will wear longer.

    To coat a long line, such as a furler control line, stretch tightly between 2 points.

    Maxijacket. By all appearances, it is a thick latex varnish. Any brush suitable for water-based paints will work fine, and clean-up is easy. Apply in one heavy coat, soaking in as deeply as possible. Some riggers favor dipping splices, but this does not increase chafe resistance, wastes material, slows drying, and makes the splice too stiff--just coat the outside. Don't bother with a second coat--it will just sit on top and do nothing useful. Don't try a light coat--that blocks penetration. Allow to dry to the touch before installing, several days in good drying conditions before using, and a week before or soaking (anchor bridles).

    RP-25. Petroleum based, it is relatively tine and soaks in rapidly. One very heavy coat is preferred. It will not stiffen the line as much as Maxijacket, but it will lock the cover to the core (halyards and furler lines that have been stripped) and will give some chafe resistance. Slower drying that Maxijacket; allow to dry to the touch before installing and one week

    Friday, February 17, 2017

    Book Store Up-Date

    The Book Store has been updated.
    • Two new titles:
      • Keeping a Cruising Boat on Peanuts
      • Faster Cruising for the Coastal Sailor
    • Four titles are now available as PDF:
      • Keeping a Cruising Boat on Peanuts
      • Faster Cruising for the Coastal Sailor
      • Single Handed Sailing for the Coastal Sailor
      • Circumnavigating the Delmarva--A Guide for the Shoal Draft Sailor
    • Table of contents preview is available. 
    The anchoring book ("Rigging Modern Anchors") has been a very serious undertaking and will hopefully be going the conventional paper publication route. It contains a lot of new research and I've had some good reviews from within the industry.

     This is where most of the work gets done. There's a lot more to it than typing.