Q&A: Sea Anchors

Question: What is your thinking on sea anchors and do you carry one on Morgan’s Cloud?

Answer: Sea anchors, a very big subject! First off you should know that I have never used one, so this is all theory. Our normal gale strategy is to heave-to. We have used a Galerider drogue off the bow to slow fore-reaching and keep her head up to the wind in gusty conditions. Yes, I know one is not supposed to use the Galerider this way, but it worked great for 24 hours in a gale south of Bermuda in January 2000.

Why We Carry a Sea Anchor

  1. To lie to if the conditions get too dangerous to heave-to, due to breaking waves. The standard wisdom in such conditions is to run off but I have reservations about that, particularly the danger of broaching and the requirement to steer. When short handed I really think it is important not to have to steer since it will quickly exhaust the whole crew, particularly in cold conditions.
  2. If caught on a lee shore, since the sea anchor will cut drift to much less than heaved-to.
  3. If we lost the mast in storm conditions.

Our Set-up

As to rigging, I think it must be HUGE and that the devil is in the details. Our rig is sized for a safe working load of 7,000lb and breaking load of three times that. We went to a great deal of trouble to make sure that there were no weak links. To this end we installed a special pad eye through-bolted with back up plate on the fore deck; the largest eye Harken make.

From there the rig is as follows:

  1. Pad eye.
  2. 6′ of 7/16” G4 chain, to take chafe, led over the anchor roller, fastened with high tensile 1/2″ galvanized shackles. (We think stainless is too brittle). The chain is retained from jumping the roller by a 1/2″ bolt.
  3. 50′ 1″ nylon double braid rope pigtail led aft outside lifelines so that rig can be deployed from the aft deck.
  4. 250′ 1″ nylon double braid rope.
  5. 350′ 1″ nylon double braid rope.
  6. 24′ sea anchor.

The rode is in two pieces simply because it would be too heavy to handle in one. Each piece has spliced eyes on each end with a massive deep thimble in them and they are connected using 3/4″ galvanized shackles.

Contrary to some recommendations, I do not think that more chain in the system would add any value. The idea that it will help to hold the boat’s head up in storm conditions is, I think, wrong. In addition, more chain will make deployment much more difficult and recovery down right dangerous.

Talking of recovery, we are rigged with a partial trip line to a float, however I have real reservations about whether Phyllis and I would be able to get this rig back on deck, particularly after enduring several days of survival conditions, and in a left over sea. I suspect that we might have to cut it away, but since it is our final line of defense and not our normal heavy weather strategy, we are resigned to that even though it means cutting away $2000+ worth of gear.

The Pardey Bridle

We are also rigged so that there is a short nylon tail led from the joining point of the chafe chain to a forward cleat so that the chain just acts as a safety but the nylon takes the load and gives us a fair lead from the bow if used with a “Pardey Bridle”. (See Storm Tactics by Lin & Larry Pardey).

I am not sure if the ‘Pardey Bridle’ would really work in storm conditions on a boat of your or our weight, but it is worth trying since it would be so much more comfortable.

Update, 05/2007:

Note that we have sold our sea anchor and purchased a Jordan Series Drogue.

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Meet the Author


John was born and brought up in Bermuda and started sailing as a child, racing locally and offshore before turning to cruising. He has sailed over 100,000 miles, most of it on his McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, including eight ocean races to Bermuda, culminating in winning his class twice in the Newport Bermuda Race. He has skippered a series of voyages in the North Atlantic, the majority of which have been to the high latitudes. John has been helping others go voyaging by sharing his experience for twenty years, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 12 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

3 comments… add one
  • Victor Raymond Oct 27, 2011, 7:39 am

    John, I have recently purchased the JSD. I purchased one with 141 cones, which hopefully will do the “job”. I have not however rigged the bridle yet. I have the idea that I would make it in all chain and pre-rig it around the transom hung rudder guard rail with light weight line and through the aft bow rollers for easy deployment.

    It is certainly harder to explain and for someone to visualize than the actual reality. Nevertheless before I go ahead I would love to hear your solution.

    • John Oct 27, 2011, 8:38 am

      Hi Victor,

      You will find our complete Jordan Series Drogue system detailed in this in depth series.

  • Chad Nov 23, 2011, 11:58 pm

    John I wonder if you have ever considered using the Galerider drogue as an excellent way to haul aboard a crewmember in the water? I just posted a thread at the Seven Seas Cruising Association forum.

    Love your site!

    Chad Carvey
    Seven Seas Cruising Association

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