Member Fernando asked the following question in the comments to one of the chapters in our Storm Tactics Online Book:
When you decide that heaving-to is dangerous, how would you move singlehandedly from a hove-to situation to deploy the Jordan series drogue? You are with the main up and need to move to running downwind. If you lower the main first, the wind gets the control of the boat during a dangerous time, but if you turn first you can reach dangerous speed downwind with the sail up, and have difficulties to lower it afterward.
That’s a very good question and one that brings up a lot of issues about storm survival.
First off, my general thinking is that the survival technique that you go into a storm with (whatever it may be) is the one you are stuck with, since it’s just way too difficult and dangerous to change once it’s really blowing and the sea is up.
And, added to that, as the noise and motion of the storm wears on the crew, they will become less and less able to make a change safely (particularly if short-handed), due to exhaustion and often seasickness too.
Or, to put it another way, we need to get this stuff right the first time.
That said, I think the scenario you postulate might, if the boat is set up properly, be an exception to this rule. And, while I have never had to make this transition, primarily because our boat heaves-to so well, I have given it quite a bit of thought.
Step By Step
Here are the steps we would take:
Deploy the Jordan Series Drogue using the set up and steps that we detail in this chapter. Since the boat will be slowly slipping to leeward and almost certainly forereaching very slightly, I don’t think there is much risk of the JSD fouling the rudder, and a big advantage over normal deployment will be that the JSD will pay out slowly, rather than at a run as it will in a normal deployment.
Winch in the Galerider (if deployed) off the bow as detailed in this chapter.
Start the engine to provide more control, unlash the helm, and bear off to a broad reach.
Not Cast in Stone
Note that, depending on the boat and circumstances, it might make sense to change the order of some of these steps. For example, if I had any concerns that the boat might not move away from the JSD as it was deployed, I would consider retrieving the Galerider first (if present), or even motoring ahead slowly while still in the heaved-to configuration, while deploying.
That said, do realize that both of these modifications would increase the chances of a bad wave strike during the manoeuvre. Sorry, no perfect solution here. Or, to put it another way, while it’s always good to have a plan, observation of the circumstances, flexibility, and common sense are vital.
Strike the mainsail. Here I’m writing from first-hand experience in that Phyllis and I were able to claw down and furl our mainsail in winds of over 50 knots (sustained, not gusting) south of Greenland when we needed to slow down (due to the possibility of ice) but still keep going under a partly-rolled staysail.
The Devil Is In The Details
Based on that experience, the key to this last step, like so many things on offshore boats and particularly in the area of storm tactics, is proper gear set up, so I will go into a bit more detail, particularly since being able to strike the main without having to round up is very useful in all kinds of circumstances.
First off, this will only work if we are already well reefed down with no more than 35 to 40 percent of the mainsail showing, as described in this chapter on reefing downwind, and we have a properly-rigged preventer set as described in this chapter.
Second, a good lazy jack system really helps to contain the main and stop the leach getting hung up on the shrouds—more on ours in this chapter.
Set up this way, clawing down the rest of the mainsail, particularly when fitted with good quality roller bearing cars and full battens, as we are, is surprisingly easy, to the point that although Phyllis helped me on that memorable occasion, I’m confident that I could have accomplished the strike and furl by myself.
One tip: leave the boom all the way out, restrained by the preventer, while you are doing this, and only centre it once the sail is down and well secured and all crew are back in the cockpit out of harm’s way.
All well and good, but I do need to close with one final point.
Despite everything I have said above, it would be a hell of a lot better not to go through any of this. This is why I recommend the Jordan Series Drogue—the only storm survival system that will work in pretty much any circumstances—so strongly, particularly to those new to offshore sailing who may not have the experience to decide whether or not heaving-to (or any other tactic) is going to do the job for the entire duration of the storm.