Yet More On Series Drogue Retrieval

We just received this e-mail from Evans Starzinger who, together with his partner, Beth Leonard, completed two circumnavigations. The second one was west to east and south of the great capes, on their Samoa 47 Hawk.

Someone sent me a link to your latest drogue retrieval discussion and I thought I should mention something you might want to add into your thinking: the load on the [Don Jordan’s Series Drogue] rode is not at all static or steady. It’s in fact very highly cyclic, being highly loaded when the bow is pointing down the face of a wave and lightly loaded when the bow is pointing up the back of a wave. This has two implications for retrieval:

  1. It’s actually quite possible to ‘manually’ retrieve the rode by spinning the winch quickly for 3 or 4 turns during the low load portion of the cycle and resting during the high load portion of the cycle. Just as a second confirming opinion, Tony Gooch happened to be on Hawk yesterday. He used a series drogue several times during his southern [circumnavigation] solo record run. He had this exact same cyclic experience and in fact did not use a winch handle during the retrieval. He had 4 wraps on the winch, just held the line so it would not slip during the high load part of the cycle and pulled as fast as possible hand over hand during the low load portion. He tended to get going when the wind dropped to 30 to 35kts. [Editor’s Note: In direct communications with Tony, he said that his hand retrieval method only worked when the wind was down to 15 to 20 knots and that it was still exhausting, even then.]
  2. The cyclic loading is quite hard on electric drives. We were messing around with Steve Dashew’s series drogue and retrieving with a big powerful electric winch in calm conditions but with a big swell running. We quite quickly overheated the winch because of the high loads while the swell was rising under the boat. The electric motors take time to spin up and down so it’s not really practical/possible to run them only during the low load portion of the cycle.

I take Evans’ point on the cycle loading. In our tests we were trying to simulate a worst case, with the drogue subjected to a steady strong load. As I mentioned, our concern about retrieval was based on the experience of our friends Willem and Corri Stein who, even after waiting for two days for the weather to calm down, were unable to retrieve their Jordan Drogue and finally had to cut it away. We feel that it makes sense to be prepared for a worst case scenario, particularly when that preparation just means the acquisition of a relatively inexpensive electric drill, three batteries, and a winch bit; all of which will have many other uses.

Also interesting about overheating the winch on Windhorse. Here I think the drill motor has an advantage since it is very quick to spin up and shut down. I can see being able to run it full out in the lulls, maybe even in the second (middle) speed on our three speed winch, and then stopping when the load comes on.

And Evans’s further comments:

I think a strong battery drill is one of the most important and versatile tools on board, so the 24vt drill sounds like a great addition in any case, and having a winch drive socket for it only makes sense. Hopefully you will simply never have reason to discover if you need it to retrieve the drogue.

Your boat is quite a bit heavier than ours and carries more momentum, so probably accelerates and decelerates less in the wave cycles, so gets less ‘benefit’ from the low load portion of the cycle.

This is some really good input from a number of very experienced sailors. The interesting thing is that Tony Gooch’s experience was different from that of Willem and Corri Stein as related in this post. Does that make one of them wrong? Absolutely not; it just shows that different boats and different circumstances can require very different solutions to what might appear to be the same challenge.

It is also important to keep in mind that as the boat gets larger the series drogue must be longer. For example, ours is half as much again longer than that recommended for a boat the size and weight of Tony’s or Evans’. Not only will this yield more load but there is more to grind in.

Cruising boats have got larger in recent years but are often still crewed by one or two people who are likely in their late middle age. These trends demand a fresh look at tried and proven techniques that are effective on smaller boats for younger and/or tougher crews but that might be a stretch too far for aging wimps like yours truly.

Further Reading

For a complete step by step guide to storm preparation including instructions on how to retrieve a Jordan Series Drogue see our eBook Heavy Weather Tactics 

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Meet the Author

John Harries

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.

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