Real Life Storm Survival Story

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Drouge on Deck

Here is an email interview we conducted with AAC reader Paul Kirby, who deployed his series drogue, based on Don Jordan's design (SDDJ), in what sounds to us like a true survival situation.

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How would you retrieve the drogue if singlehanding?


I retrieved mine singlehandedly by simply putting it on the cockpit sheet winch, using a helper line to get one bridle arm to the winch and to bypass the junction point from bridle to leader.

The cones passed over the winch drum with very little trouble and got away just a little frayed at the edges. Took me half an hour to retrieve, in 15 to 20 knots of wind. You can’t use the self tailing device of course.


Roger Taylor has done it singlehanded and he has also had to cut a JSD away. He talks about his experiences in his books and on YouTube.


I would like to raise a question about deployment of the JSD.

I always imagined that there would be conditions where it may make sense to deploy less than the full length of the drogue – say 60% of its length. Say you don’t want the boat to be virtually stationary, and your boat’s hull shape is most “comfortable” when drifting at a rate of (for argument’s sake) 2-3 knots.

Early in a storm, you may need to deploy only 60% of the drogue to get the 2-3 knots. Later on, as conditions increase, you may need to release the rest (i.e. 100%) to get 2-3 knots. Or it may just be a less intense storm.

This has implications for how you configure the attachment points – one side would have to be controlled from a winch or similar, as opposed to simply fixed shackles tied onto chainplates. Potentially a rolling hitch could be considered.

Of course, there may be good reasons why you would NEVER want to deploy less than 100% of the JSD’s length. If anyone has insights into this latter question, I (and I’m sure a few other readers) would love to hear.

scott flanders

Paul’s biggest step was adding weather information. We wintered in Stewart Island and the weather is often and severe. The SW point on the mainland of NZ’s South Island (I can’t remember how to spell the point) is often in storm force conditions when the surroundings may have gale force or less. In our case, Ocens weather was spot on, almost within a couple of hours. The currents are fierce with the Tasman trying to trade water with the Pacific via Forveau Strait, and the entire Stewart/Mainland area is quite tidal.


Very interesting report, and it does sound like they did very well under the circumstances. In severe conditions like that, one of the problems with a drogue off the stern is that it exposes your boat’s weaker defenses. Seeing those thimbles makes me wonder if we should be eliminating them in our anchoring systems too. I believe a BoatUS report studying mooring and anchoring gear for hurricanes indicated that cow hitches are the way to go.


Seems a lot of us dislike thimbles, and so do I, especially since I always find it difficult to splice a rope tightly around the things, and mostly fail to do a good job.

The one attractive feature of a thimble, however, is that it increases the radius of the turn in the rope, retaining more of the rope’s strength. So if you were to cow-tail the load-carrying rope to a shackle or D-ring welded to a chainplate, will this not create a much tighter radius, and will this not weaken it appreciably at that point?


Do you think there is enough data to say that boats using parachute sea anchors are damaged more than those using Jordan drogues? Seems like I’ve read of a lot more accounts of boats using parachute anchors than Jordan drogues. In any case, why would that be? They both limit drag significantly, so you are comparing putting the stern into a sea vs. putting the bow into a sea. I venture to guess that most boaters not hanging on a drag device would choose the bow, given their druthers. But, I think we’ve had this argument before.

Matt Marsh

Thimbles. Ugh. The more I see of those things, the less I like them.

Midnight Sun being a canoe-stern design likely wasn’t the deciding factor here, but I would hazard a guess that it certainly helped smooth the ride. The ability to cleanly part a following sea without a sudden shock ought to count for something when running with a drogue in high breaking waves.

Among the design-side lessons from Paul’s story and others like it, I think we can clearly see the importance of having really strong, chafe-free attachment points for JSDs and similar gear, and that every link in this chain has to handle many thousands of load/unload cycles (simply designing it to withstand the maximum static pull is not good enough).

Jonny P

Regarding thimbles I would suggest a look at closed pipe thimbles in stainless steel.


Re: Boat loss with a JSD. In November 2003 we were on a Contessa 32 lying to a drogue in a Gulf Stream eddy during a frontal passage that put westerly winds (50+ knots) over current because of the eddy. Seas were running about 40′ (based on report from the Coast Guard chopper pilot). All was as described here, a gentle, elastic pull as each wave went by. Then at (the usual) 2 AM, the boat was picked up unceremoniously and dumped upside down. Because we were below I can only say it felt like a cross sea, or a breaking crest at an angle to the main wave train that hit us. Everything went quiet and wet until the next wave snap-rolled us back up, which took the rig clean out of her and left us, once again, riding comfortably to the drogue. I don’t remember a lot of the detail, I was too inexperienced at the time to handle the mental side well. The inside manual bilge pump and the backup handheld radio were really useful though!


Yes, we got airlifted out. Never gotten comfortable with making that decision either. At the time I figured the risk of injury to my crew from another roll was high enough, and the option of basically blowing across the Atlantic in early November, under whatever I could rig on the six feet of spar (partners to keel) that was left, seemed equally dangerous. ‘Course the other way I put a rescue crew at risk, so no joy in that choice.

I was too spooked by the idea of being on deck if she rolled to stable upside-down again to really explore what I had to jury rig with while it was still blowing. I may have had some of the spar hanging deep enough that it wasn’t banging on the hull. That 150 deg of positive righting moment the boat is famous for somehow becomes irrelevant when you are peacefully floating on the roof inside the other thirty degrees.

The myth of the “indestructible Contessa” I think played a part in making bad decisions.

Marc Dacey

Very interesting report and a breath (or gale) of fresh air. I have a steel boat with bollards welded to the deck, but I suspect I should make extra provision, perhaps in the form of chain-plate-like strapping bolted to the stern quarters, in order to provide attachment points for the JSD, which reports like this are persuading me is a critical bit of gear for survival conditions.

I would like to hear a discussion of how the drogue might be connected to a bridle. Would the better method be to connect with welded rings in a centered three-way connection (a sort of Y shape), or would a free running ring make more sense…or would that point-load even a heavy line to breakage?

It would be interesting if we could ever clap a dynamometer on a JSD deployed in real-life conditions just to see the extent of the forces in play, which would in turn give guidance as to how robust the attachments, rings, line and shackles need to be.

Marc Dacey

Well, I questioned the ring as well. The link you indicated, however, didn’t really answer my question, which would be “how should the bridle ends attach to the drogue line itself?”

I assume that the shackles should be treated in the usual fashion, sized for the load (but what is the load? The 70% of displacement mark?), and seized properly. I would also assume that each “arm” of the bridle would terminate in its own thimble (perhaps a solid or welded thimble?) and these two thimbles would meet a single beefy thimble at the start of the drogue portion.

I also learned that Jordan thought that the bridle arms should be at least as long as the boat’s LOA, and better even longer (although this is unspecified). Despite reading about the JSD for ages (and wanting to eventually make one myself for my steel cutter), I believe this is the first time I’ve seen this instruction.

It’s clear…now that I think about it…that having the attachment points at the extremes of the stern and having the bridles as long or longer than the boat before hitting the line of “droguettes” is key and resembles certain styles of ground tackle deployment.


I’d like to bring up the little discussed issue of what material the drogue line is supposed to be made of or, in other words, why not use spectra line for the appropriate design load instead of braided polyester?

For my JSD I used dyna-one material and it saves a lot of bulk and weight. (Doesn’t save money, unfortunately!) Of course, these savings would be useless if there should be serious drawbacks, but I didn’t discover any. True, the material is famed for its low stretch, but isn’t the JSD system inherently elastic because it’s never really stretched tight before a wave hits? It rather is sloping much like an anchor rode, only in the opposite direction, and it becomes taut only when the boat wants to accelerate, in which case it’s desirable to stop her from doing so as fast as possible with no delay from unwanted stretch. Any initial shock load should go into “stretching out the slope”.

I’m currently on the verge of starting to put together a new JSD with 170 cones for my brother-in law’s power cruiser with aux sails, and it would be very interesting to read comments on the drogue line material.

As for thimbles: I used SS thimbles that are welded together at their throats and reinforced with a stainless plate (welded and filled). Just the recommended thimbles for the type of rope and the high loads it can take. They didn’t show any signs of wear after retrieving my drogue.

Dennis K. Biby

Why not use 3-strand nylon? Yep, it stretches but doesn’t that reduce the shock load?

I built a Jordan series drogue for my last crossing but never deployed it, so my comments are theoretical – always a danger.

3-strand is far cheaper than Spectra or braided line.

s/v Ferrity


Samson has some interesting thimble options available both for high tech line as well as the more traditional types.

I was especially interested in the bronze thimbles shown on page 9, since I’m using double braid for my bridal. BTW, I have a JSD built by Ace Sailmakers. I installed two dedicated SS plates on the stern, using the specifications provided by Don Jordon since as it happens my boat fit nicely to the example he gave in his instructions. I have not however, resolved the thimble issue to my satisfaction. I’m going to upgrade them soon since later this year we are planning to sail from NZ back to Chile to cruise in Patagonia and the JSD may get used on that route.


Ocean Navigator (March/April 2011) published a fellow Amel Super Maramu owner’s experience using the JSD on a late October voyage from NY to the Caribbean.

Bill Bowers

Thank you John for your efforts to share your offshore wisdom!

Following your lead in this chapter, I built a JSD last winter from a kit from Dave Pellisier for our J42 ConverJence. The port quarter of our lazarette is virtually inaccessible due to the location of our twin autopilots and the liferaft well, so it would be difficult in the extreme to install proper backing plates for transom bridle chainplates as specified by Don. However, the beefy stern cleats on the J42 are bolted through the deck athwartship right aft above each corner of the transom. I had Dave make up my bridles from 7/8 doublebraid with an extra 15 feet of length and no eyes at the forward ends. I hitch each to a stern cleat and then lead each tail from there 6′ forward to the twin Lewmar 40 mainsheet winches at each end of the end boom traveller just forward of the wheel. The thought is that by setting up stain on the idle sheet winches I can balance some of the load on the cleats. Since there is a clear 170 deg horizontal and 150 deg vertical arc aft from each stern cleat, with no chock at all, I think that chafe will not be an issue.
I also added a 1/2″ retrieving line from the cowhitch eye of the primary drogue line which can be lead through a removeable fairlead I made up from 6″ PVC pipe and fittings lashed inside the pushpit . This line leads cleanly to the port primary winch which has an electric drive for aid in hoisting the main.

Bill Bowers

Hi John,

Following up on your reservations above, last winter I upgraded the JSD on our J42 by installing SS chainplates to Don’s spec, with a slight modification. The holes for the shackles in the plates were water jet cut oval to allow the massive Crosby shackles to pass thru the plates. This permits the shackle clevis to engage the solid thimble of the bridle, and avoids off-axis loading which Crosby warns reduces the WLL of the shackle.

I added 6 staggered plies of 10oz glass tape bonded to the sanded cored inner hull with a single cast of epoxy, epoxy cored the reamed balsa at each of the six 3/8″ bolt holes, and added 1/4 x 6 x 16″ aluminum backing plates with 1 1/2″ fender washers.

I also upgraded our companionway drop boards from the original 3/8 Lexan single board to split 1/2 Lexan boards with the lower board having a beefy 1″x2″ Lexan bolted top spine with twin barrel bolts.

We have not yet needed the drogue in anger, but are happy to have made these improvements to come up to Don’s scantlings.

Bill Bowers
SV ConverJence


I’d like more information and photos of the special chain plate attachment for the Jordan Series Design Drogue.
Thank you.


What are soft eyes? And how are they cow hitched? in your comment. “Our JSD does not have thimbles at the join between the bridles and the drogue leader. Instead we have soft eyes, cow hitched together. “


When you bought your JSD did you do so exactly to Don’s recommendations. From his specifications then your boat would carry 172 cones on a 110m line. From many accounts I see people saying “if we did it again we’d use a longer line”. I was curious if you stuck to the 110m or specifically went out of your way and have it made longer?



Yes the accounts were from other drag systems but my question was more about increasing just the length rather that the number of cones which I appreciate has been calculated precisely. Anyway thanks for the feedback. I’ll also be specifying solid thimbles also as recommended.


Hi guys, I am currently ordering up an Ocean Brake with your voucher (thank you very much). Our boat is 21T so we’re getting 156 cones. I’m also specifying solid thimbles based on the above discussions. However, the largest chainplates they offer have 1inch (25mm) holes. The strongest shackles I can find which are tested and go through a 1 inch hole are rated to about 5T (breaking at approx 35t).

Oceanbrake say the maximum theoretical load on each bridle point could be half the boat disp. On that note I’d have though it prudent to get a 10T WL shackle but that would have a pin diameter of 1 1/8th (28.5mm) and then a new customer built chain plate.

What are your thoughts on the matter?


Thanks for this. Looking through the G209A does look good but the same model with the security pin shows 6.5T WL.

I called Crosby UK and they can’t figure it out. They think there might be a typo on one of them since they are the same model using the alloy. I’ll report back what I find out as I feel the safety pin version would be a good idea.


Ok I have had word from Crosby. The G209A is basically the same model as the G2130A but the latter has the split pin. The former is 9.5T WLL and the other 6.5t WLL.

They confirmed they are the same shacle but the 209A was re-categorised as 5 x safety factory rather than 8 x safety factor used for most of their shackles. I think this is important as most other shackles on the market use a 6-8 x factor which makes the G209A look like it is significantly better that the rest.

That said I agree the Crosby ones are reputable and a good bet. I also think the split pin is a good idea and give you one less thing to worry about.

Stein Varjord

I have no experience with the Jordan Series Drogue, and I have no illusion that I can contribute with actual new knowledge, but I still notice there are some important points not mentioned in this thread that I’ll try to add. In situations like those mentioned here, we look for some method to make the boat survive in conditions too heavy for any other procedure. We look for a last resort life saver that can give our boat new capabilities. Make it adapted to a completely different set of rules. This method must reliably: 1. Keep the boat from being thrown sideways to the waves. 2. Avoid that the waves will damage vital parts of the boat. No matter which type of drag device we use, and how well it works, the boat will move with the wind and waves. It will have a “speed”. When a big wave hits, that speed can be considerable. Even when a big sea anchor works flawlessly, this is true. Having the bow into the wind, means the boat moves in reverse. No matter how the rudder is locked or not, the boat will be directionally very unstable. It’s like throwing a dart. If you throw it with the feathers first, it will certainly turn in the air. Boats are exactly the same. The only factor keeping the boat bow into the wind, is that the pull from the sea anchor is stronger than the “steering” of the unbalanced boat appendages. The first time there is a bit of slack in the rope, the boat will certainly be turned beam onto the waves, which is our first priority to avoid. This alone means the option bow into the wind must be graded “fail”. Priority two is avoiding damage. Most boats can take more of a beating from the bow than from the stern, but a boat that is very vulnerable from the stern should be deemed not seaworthy, no matter what strategies used. The question is: Is exposing a somewhat weaker side, giving other advantages that more than compensate? The answer is yes, definitely. Firstly, what happens to a boat that is thrown backwards at some speed. Some rudders will survive this. Others will not. Damaging the rudder is another “fail” for bow into the wind. Waves have huge power due to their mass, but the speed of the wave it self is quite low. Meaning that if we move a bit in the same direction, the speed difference between the boat and the waves is much reduced, and the potential energy just as much. The JSD does let the boat move more than with a sea anchor, which also assists directional stability, as discussed above. More flow around the rudder and keel. More important, the JSD just lets the wave push the boat away with fairly low holding force and then gradually hold more and more until the boat stops, but then the wave has already passed. Exposed to excessive power like a… Read more »


John, you mentioned that you had a larkshead knot to attach your bridle to the main drogue leader. This means before you go to sea you have to have the bridle and drogue all attached and rigged. Easy for a centre cockpit.

However I’m considering shackle connections so that only the bridle needs rigging before a passage whilst the main drogue bag can remain stashed elsewhere.

With that in mind, what are you views in this? Are there any downsides and what connections would you recommend? Another hard eye on the end of the bridle and then big shackle into the splice loop of the leader? Is a shackle on a spliced loop a poor choice in terms of chafe?



Thanks for the reply. Since it is not possible to put two deprecate hard eyes on the existing slipped loop of the leader then my method would mean a shackle going directly onto the rope. Would two shackles connecting directly onto a single slokiced loop be considered a No No in your book?

Failing that I could have two short wire bridles made and attach the existing had eyes directly to them leaving the existing bridle attached to the leader via a larkshead.


hi, best money i ever spent was subscribing to this site.. thanx.. gotta throw this out there, i haven’t been in the water yet on my new old boat, pearson 35 . I’m a big fan of the jordan drogue and read up on it quite a bit.. understand that a trip line the length of the jd could foul things up got me thinking about a 50? foot line attached to the end of the chain with something to float to the surface after the blow that you could just sail/motor up to and heave to while you retrieve it from the backside.. thoughts?


think i got a good one here and would like any feedback here or there please on what i’ve got planned..

thanks in advance

Dick Stevenson

Hi all,
A recent field report on the use of the JSD in a storm can be found at
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Chuck B

Paul describes the rope he used as “18 mm (7/16 in).” But 18 mm would be closer to 3/4 in.


John: Here’s a story/letter from the Indian Ocean written by a circumnavigator that was sent to the Kelly peterson 44/46 Formosa46 website. I changed only idenification of author: “Our friend (female) on ’44 ft cutter’ is doing a single-handed circumnavigation. I remember we had some discussion on the Jordan Series Drogue. Here is part of a letter I received today. Every blue-water sailor knows this sea anchor called ‘Jordan Series Drogue’, to be deployed over the stern of the boat. Depending on the displacement it contains of many small cones attached to a thick rope which on (boat) is shackled to heavily reinforced alloy-eyes on either side of the transom. The total length is 140 meters of rope between 22 and 14mm diameter and there’s a weight of 10kg at the end. We have 145 cones sewn and attached by myself in many hours of work. Shackles with a breaking strength of 16.5 tons and a piece of anchor chain for the end weight. All this is pretty serious stuff and rather bulky, I see it as my life insurance. I know you will not believe me that it was a total of seven dwarfs and luckily I didn’t turn into ‘sleeping beauty’ with deep sleep being unknown here anyway. I’ve said it before: ‘Single-handers do not sleep at sea’, at least not in the common way of turning in and forgetting the outside world. Eventually the ‘fairy forest’ was lying behind and I was pottering along between 37º and 39º South, leaving the higher latitudes to the real sailors. Friend —— in South Africa made a huge effort of still providing me with weather forecasts every day, either by his charming voice or by sending the info in a sms. That’s how I knew the strange paths of the ‘dwarfs’, knew of every southern big Low passing and not to forget the position of the High pressure systems. Sam had agreed to supply this wonderful personal forecast to every yacht in the GGR which is an incredible task. Due to impossible requirements of the organizer the plan fell through as none of Sam’s suggestions were considered. Winds from try sail to calms at the same day were not uncommon. Or the other way round from still waters to real storm in just a few hours, like it was on this black Friday the 21st of September, when day and night had the same length. Already on Tuesday Sam warned me, he even apologized: “Sorry, (name), this is a real nasty one!”. A Low of 977 hectopascal was to pass below 42º S in a distance of 150 miles to us, but the real wind turbo came from a High of 1027hp, a mere distance of 466 miles from the Low. That created a gradient difference of 50hp and Nehaj would be right in the shooting path. Sam predicted WNW 45-60 kn at night, followed by 60 kn SSW after the wind shift by Friday morning. That is force 11… Read more »

Tim Good

An excellent and interesting account! Thanks for sharing. I do wonder what the predicament would have been if a JSD was deployed for Mark Slatts for who the eye of that storm passed directly overhead leaving him with no wind to drive the boat forward yet still in huge seas. Would a boat with a JSD deployed be in even more danger at that point?

Tim Good

I suppose the consideration is that if the wind suddenly drops to a point at which the boat speed drops to nearly zero then the drogue could drop nearly vertical from its fixing points in the stern. At that point I imagine the performance of the deacceleration would be inhibited perhaps? However, it would likely “bite” before the boat got to a serious speed and maybe be pulled from the breaking section of the wave in time as you say.

That said, looking at that famous YouTube clip of the charter yacht entering a harbour where it gets knocked down but a breaking wave, sending its crew flying…. it goes from surfing to knockdown in a matter of half a second once the keel trips it up. It would see unlikely a drogue could “catch” a boat if was aligned beam on to a wave in the conditions of a no speed or water over the rudder.



Since the JSD is meant to be a ‘hands off device’, is the general thinking that even the self steering gear is locked and disengaged? I also I imagine my large vane on my hydrovane would be destroyed quite quickly in the event of a large breaking wave over the stern.