The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

Transitioning From Heaved-to To a Series Drogue

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.

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Dick Stevenson

Hi John (and Fernando),
Nice addition to a great series of heavy weather tactics.
I have thought some about this (hove-to to running off transition), certainly more complicated by having a drogue off the bow, but I am fortunate enough to have no actual experience beyond my imagination. The following is for those of us who do not carry 2 drogues. As an aside, I concur that transitions from one tactic to another are to be avoided in the midst of heavy weather. For those of us with one drogue, it might be wise, depending on the forecast, to not deploy the drogue off the bow, but rather to go to running off as a tactic (maybe a bit earlier than strictly necessary) with the stern drogue at that juncture.
As to making a transition from drogue off the bow to stern drogue without cutting it loose, I believe I would be thinking along the lines of what I do when I need to warp Alchemy around a marina in tight spaces and higher winds (where my motoring skills and lack of bow thruster would be telling): that is to try to control all lines & boat at all times.
To that end, I would consider attaching a line to the drogue rode at the bow (rolling hitches in line) and bring it outboard of the boat to the stern cleat on the same side. I would then transfer the load from bow to stern by slacking off the bow (the rode should be kept firm at all times and eventually draped on the deck to preclude it wandering under the vessel). In the transfer, the boat will go from bow load to bridle and then to load on the stern. The bow will drop off relative to the wind and the vessel will migrate more broadside to the waves/wind.
Once the load is on the stern, let the bow go further from the wind through steering or adjusting sails (likely both) till the boat settles approaching a run. Bring the rode aft and transfer the load to the rode. In the likely event that more rode is necessary, I would just cast off the transfer line still attached to the rode: this I do with the snubber on anchor chain when I need to veer more rode, and then recover later when you retrieve the drogue.
For the mainsail, I would douse it when the load is on the stern because I know I can douse downwind in high winds. Without that knowledge, I would likely try to douse the main when the load transition was at the “bridle stage” as quickly as possible and leave the straightening up of the job till later. Slippery track makes this easier, certainly much faster. Dousing when hove-to makes me a bit nervous that the bow would blow off and the lines might get under the boat.
There is some degree of fussing and preparation, but I believe lines and boat would be under control at all times and the operation could be done single handed, but more easily accomplished by a couple with one person never needing to leave the cockpit. With an extra person in the cockpit, I would have that crew be equipped with a good whistle or horn watching for wave strikes (in the transition, you are going to be more vulnerable) so that on-deck person could concentrate on the work.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Drew Frye

I’ve always wondered why so few suggest running the engine for a few minutes to stabilize the situation. Although the prop may want to cavitate in heavy going and you probably don’t have the power for real progress or long endurance (or even want to bash into big waves), even low rpms can add a lot of stability during transitions like this, preventing the boat from turning while you are on deck, away from the helm. It just steadies things up and helps you get it done the first time, in one smooth effort, which is what a singlehander strives for.

I’ve never had troubles with tangling deploying, but obviously line should be carefully flaked and the routing checked twice–as you explain, you won’t be able to correct it.

One concern is the tension when the slack runs out and momentum meets drogue. I do not believe it is a concern if everything is properly designed. Unlike a ground anchor, where the arresting force can be enormous, the force here is limited by the speed of the drogue through the water. Assuming you are not yet surfing and the speed is <5 knots, the "impact" will be no more than the storm working load, and nothing like a wave strike. You have left a deeply reefed main up, but the JSD will keep the speed from shooting up.

There is also the matter of taking the sail down. Mine pretty much jams if the apparent wind is over 15 knots from behind (full battens). But that's just this boat.

Practice. The one thing I glean from most heavy weather fails is that they have not testing this sort of idea in moderate but challenging conditions.

Drew Frye

Yes about the swell. All of the interesting and unexpected problems happened me when the boat was moving in 3 planes. One of the complete failures deserves a blog post of it’s own, since it is a published but is a dangerous method:

One of the methods I tested an adjustable bridle created by running the drogue rode straight off one of the primary winches and then using a pendant with a snatch block to the far side to create a bridle with adjustable position and rode length. Obviously, it increases loads and decreases stability, but I was testing for an article. I have seen this method described in several manuals and books. However, there are several enormous problems, which several well-traveled cruisers confirmed:

1. In a swell a boat yaws. When the boat yaws more than about 20 degrees, The pulley can suddenly snap to one side, since the legs of a short triangle tend to be about equal. The rode is then pinned to one side, the boat goes beam-on to the waves, and the tension on the rode doubles.

2. Once the rode snaps to one side, the pendant becomes doubled, and so the load on the pendant increases by 4 times. The result is that the force exceeds what you can crank in and you must release the pendant and start the engines to regain control. In my case, in moderate gale conditions (sustained 35-40 knots) the load jumped from ~ 600 pounds peak with non-breaking waves (very manageable by winches when divided into two legs) to over 2000 pounds (the WLL of my Lewmar 40s is 1700 pounds, although turning the handle is a bear over 1200 pounds). In real storm conditions, breaking the winch anchor bolts is a very real possibility (they are what the WLL is based upon). There is no condition where you would use a drogue where the loads on the winches would remain safe using this rigging.

3.Finally, it is not useful for emergency steering with a drogue even in very mild conditions. Using the spinnaker sheets is better.

This happened to me twice, since I had to re-rig it to prove to myself that the first was not an error or a fluke.

You might wonder about this problem practicing in a bay, but when the boat yaws in a swell, it becomes really obvious. Had you deployed it thus in a storm, you probably could not recover it to fix the problem, which goes back to our central theorem; whatever you deploy must be able to go the duration with only minor adjustments you can make safely.

Thus, do NOT try to make a bridle by using a pendant line with a block. it is unstable. A camel hitch may be acceptable in moderate conditions–plenty of cruisers do it this way–but fixed lines are safer.

Drew Frye

Yes. First, why risk the winches for anything more aggressive than emergency steering in moderate conditions, which may look similar, but is not in terms of loads. Second, most winches are not backed well enough to take much over the actual working load. I’ve pulled OEM winches loose just sailing in a breeze. I’ve seen boat-show winches where the washer were already bending. Finally, what you really know about the cleats? Often the backing is very difficult to confirm, and generally they are not big enough. And then there is chafe.

The other thing I would recommend is a cheat sheet. Yes, you worked all of this out in practice, but are you going to remember every vital detail in the dark, when your bushed? Write yourself some notes, just like we do for first aid. You don’t want to have to think too hard to get it right.

Interestingly, for catamarans, heaving to is generally a non-subject. Fore reaching works for a time, and running off is easier than most monohulls, but heaving to puts you in the one position no multihull sailors likes in rough weather; somewhere near beam on, without enough way on to feather if need be. Very uncomfortable (a snap-roll) and vulnerable to wave induced capsize. Thus, you sail until you cannot, and then you put a lot of drag off either the bow or stern, and wait. Thus, the transition is normally to run off and furl the jib, and then come back up and drop the main. If you are already going deep and are afraid to come up, well then you just do your best to haul the main down, which one way or another, is doable. The only time I have done this is strong winds it was ~ 35 sustained and the main was tipple reefed. Although it would not budge, I was able to place a hook in each grommet, winch down 30 inches, and repeat. I doubt it took more than 5 minutes, since the winch is right there and I have a vertical jackline right there to steady me. But it still felt like poor planning. Or maybe it was the best way.

Dick Stevenson

Hi Drew (and others),
With patience and persistence, it is possible, when sailing downwind, to get many mainsails, even those with full battens and boats with conventional (ie. not-slippery) car/track, reefed/doused in higher winds. I would do most anything not to round up in higher winds and seas.
What I do (and I suspect you know this, but I write for others to experiment with when they have the chance) is as follows:
Center the boom as much as reasonable (to allow you to reach the trailing edge of the sail and/or the outhaul reef lines and to get as much sail as possible off the mast). Say you want to go from full main to first or second reef in 15+kn of wind dead astern with a poled-out jib (the same approach applies going from second reef to third or dousing altogether). The seas are likely fairly predictable so you have a relatively stable platform. Center the boom so as to reach the boom end/sail end or close to it, but ensure the boom is well prevented from any movement. Tighten the 1st reef outhaul so it is tensioned. Loosen the halyard while taking in on the first reef outhaul. Without slippery track, it will hang up on the slides. Take ahold of the outhaul reef lines and, anticipating the regular loading and unloading of the sail, give a pull on the outhaul reef lines to empty the sail of air and the sail will drop a few inches or more if you are lucky.
This is harder to describe than it is to accomplish. Just keep repeating gaining a few inches to a foot at a time. Keep taking in and tensioning the outhaul (maybe also tension the 2nd and 3rd reef outhaul to pull the belly of the sail aft and off the mast and off the spreaders). There is no rush as everything remains under control. Just having the sail more amidships should have slowed things down a bit.
I am sure I left things out, but the above, I hope, gives the idea. Again, it has always scared me so I would do most anything not to round up in boisterous downwind conditions.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Dick Stevenson

Hi All,
I would like to underline Drew’s suggestion of a “cheat sheet”. I believe them to be very helpful for any maneuver that might be done under duress*. For most of us, anxiety makes us dumb. Much as we would like to think that an emergency brings out our most competent self the opposite is more likely the case. Under duress, the best outcome will happen to those who have practiced a lot under varying conditions. Practice means you do have to rely on thinking and remembering: you just know. And I know of no recreational vessel (including Alchemy) who feels they practice important safety procedures sufficiently.
The cheat sheet should not be considered as just something to turn to in desperation when need arises, quite the contrary. Working out the details and writing something down augments memory manifold. Making a “cheat sheet” (or crib sheet as we call them on Alchemy) is a viable form of practice (an addition, not a substitute for actual practice). As is reading/studying/imagining the crib sheet later. Ours are laminated and left in the “reading” room (the head) for occasional perusal. For initial write up, include every detail of every move and the thinking behind it: you can edit it down later.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy
*drogue and parachute anchor instructions, flooding and fire response, launching the liferaft etc.


Just rereading this 1 1/2 years later, and what comes to my mind is the flight manuals and oprational checklists as used in avionics. While sailing in a boat might not be just as sensitive as flying an airplane, the reasoning behind checklists and given procedures will still be the same – to make as sure as possible that no important step is forgotten in situations that are imposing stress on the operators.
I certainly like Dicks “reading room” 🙂

Dick Stevenson

Hi John,
I really and totally agree with you. Sometimes it is a matter of choices and the kit you have to work with.
I wrote to those boats that do not have what you call “good kit”: slippery mainsail track/cars which, given their price, is likely still the majority of offshore vessels. Without slippery track on my previous boat, it was not possible to lower the main going downwind while tugging at the luff: one needed to round up (and even then, it was tough). I felt my boom control set-up was secure enough to absolutely fix the boom in place (I actually worked from the middle of the boom, not the end, and on a considerably smaller boat) and the platform settled enough that the method I described was preferable (for me) to rounding up. I can well understand others may differ and I retain immense appreciation for boom’s capacity to do damage.
Similarly, with respect to the other comment I wrote, I was addressing Fernado’s initial transition question from my perspective of only carrying one drogue. One’s options clearly do change if you carry 2 drogues of different types. However, if your boat’s kit only includes one drogue (perhaps Fernando’s actual situation and the stimulation for his question and also likely the situation of most recreational sailing vessels out there), the way I suggested would, I believe, work: the alternative being to retrieve your one drogue off the bow, turn downwind and re-deploy off the stern. On further thought, (for one drogue boats) the hassle of what I describe, while do-able, vs the ease of going from a hove-to position when there is no drogue off the bow to running off with a drogue leans me to suspect that I would not put my one drogue off the bow. If wave strikes became an issue when hove to because of fore-reaching too fast, I will likely just go to running off with a drogue assuming sea room.
This all makes for interesting speculation and the fun of bouncing around ideas and tactics.
Thanks, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Dick Stevenson

Hi John,
I agree: mainsail slippery track/cars are on my personal list of required offshore equipment.
When we bought Alchemy18 years ago now, I was pleased the previous owner had not put on many of the “toys” that seemed to adorn so many vessels. I considered the Antal track/car system as one of the choices that I might not have made. Pretty quickly, I appreciated the ease with which the sail went up and came down. It took a while to recognize that I could reef and douse downwind and the appreciation of the slippery track/car system went from one of luxuriousness to one of safety: and a big boost in safety it was.
It is interesting to me that some progress in gear design, even when seen on the showroom shelf, immediately shows itself as really benefitting the ease and safety of sailing while other innovations seem to need to be lived with till appreciation develops. Slippery track seems to be in that latter category. Last I looked, even those high-end boats made & advertised for offshore work, did not have slippery track as standard.
As a note, I believe that one can enter the slippery track re-fit realm without the expense of Antal and Harken equipment and (closely?) approximate their attributes with Tides Marine strong track. Casual dockside chat seems to have owners pleased, but this is pretty anecdotal and, for me, needs further data collection.
Also, it is my take that skippers, when sailing off the wind, wait way too long to reef. If it is said when sailing up wind that one should reef when one first thinks of it: then, off the wind, one should reef well before you first think of it. There is usually little appreciable hit to boat speed and there is a big boost to comfort and boat control.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Marc Dacey

Yes, although not in “anger”, i.e. over 25 knots true. I installed the Tides Marine setup (the only part of which that was much of an issue was the grinding out of the larger “gate” required) when we got a new main for our boat last year, and it has made a appreciable difference (along with Dyneema-cored halyards all about) to the desired slipperiness of the main. Next up is to rig jacklines and more appropriate reefing gear. So far, however, so good.

I would ask the collective brains trust, however, if a mainsail downhaul is considered an unnecessary complication or a possible amelioration of the “sticky track under load” issue. I’ve used light line downhauls for big genoas on my old IOR-style boat and did the same on the “sticky” main. I would suspect that Dyneema properly covered would help, but downhauls are not common these days. Of course, neither are Cunninghams or barber-haulers.


Hi John,

I have been wanting to ask this question, but have not really found the context to do it, but here you are, discussing some concerns re: storm tactics.

My question is simple: Why would you ever consider stopping being hove to?

In a John Kretschmer book he was discussing this very point and said, “when heaving to is no longer an option” (loosely remembered). When is that? He did not elaborate at all.

The Pardey’s bridle system, they claim, provides sufficient drag to create a sufficient slick to provide sufficient stoppage of most (all?) breaking waves.

Even Hal Roth in his book, Handling Storms, also completely omits any comment on why someone would stop being hove to.

When the seas get big enough? When the breaking waves become more often? When the slick isn’t enough?

This has perplexed me for a very long time, and if I may be VERY presumptuous and make a bold statement about men and women who have FAR more experience than it, I think that they imagine a circumstance where heaving to is no longer a viable option because they have never tried the Pardey bridle system (with a Jordan series instead of the para that the Pardey’s used to use).

Please remember, I am out of my league. Be gentle and use small words if you reply.

Unceasingly pondering,


Marc Dacey

This has occurred to me as well, to be honest. I find the prospect of switching out of hove-to to running off more fraught than the idea that running off might require deployment of the drogue in the first place. There’s a lot of factors, obviously, sea state and misjudged or “surprise” weather movements at the top of the list, or even proximity to land or shallows (that woman who just passed Cape Horn was explicit on this). But my strong preference would be if hove-to, to stay that way, or, if running off, to have a pretty compelling reason to do so, hopefully at a productive angle to the passing weather front.

Rob Gill

Hi Steve, excellent question.
John and others must answer that, but the scenarios we have considered are: because we have lost our rig, we have lost or damaged our storm sails, we are fore-reaching out of our slick despite the SeaBrake drogue deployed from our bow (due to any combination of the factors you list), or lastly because we are rounding up and in danger of tacking. Which raises a question of my own please everyone – in this last scenario, should we first try deploying a second SeaBrake from the stern? Yes, we have two!

Rigged as per: but from our quarter-deck cleat, perhaps with a light 1Kg shackle to set the two drogues at different depths and lengths, so mitigating the chance of the drogue lines becoming tangled. We have 14 metres separation between the bow and quarter mounted cleats.
I am envisaging in this set-up that the bow drogue would control the tendency to go “bow-down” and fore-reach, the quarter drogue controls the tendency to round-up, and sail balance controls our attitude to the wind and waves.
Best regards, Rob

Raymond Smith

I just watched a 90 minute Maryland School of Sailing video on storm tactics and why they prefer heaving to (if necessary, with a sea anchor) to running while trailing a drogue. It seemed pretty convincing to me. Among the points they made: bow better suited to handling seas than stern; seas breaking over bow less damaging than breaking over stern; less chance of broaching and therefore of being knocked down or rolled. They discussed downside of possible rudder damage with sea anchor and how to mitigate the problem.

Eric Klem

Hi John,

Your approach seems logical. Depending on the circumstances, I could see there being some gybe risk before the main is clawed down as you loose most of your steering ability once the drogue is deployed but never having used a JSD, it is hard to say exactly what would happen. The steering issues may also make bearing away a bit tricky although the wind would eventually push you around.

I would be curious about your (and others) thoughts on another potential deployment method which I have been thinking about. Having never actually deployed a JSD, I have no practical experience on how this might work. My thinking stems from the fact that many cutters have the mast far enough aft to sail acceptably to weather under just the staysail in heavy weather and that the staysail is often a part of their heave-to plan. Transitioning from hove-to to sailing slowly under staysail on many boats is not that hard, especially if the engine is utilized so that steering is maintained in the transition. If the main or mizzen were up, it could then be clawed down relatively quickly and without it against spreaders.

At this point, you could pick your window, make the turn and immediately deploy the drogue. You might surf down 1-2 waves before the drogue is fully deployed but with a well-rested crew, that seems like a reasonable risk. Then, just about any type of staysail is reasonable to get down on a run.

This method would have a few points of higher risk but they would be limited in time and risk level. I suppose that if you failed to actually deploy the JSD, that could be exciting.


Terje M.

Another question is when do you Hove To? Can the circumstances be too bad to get into Hove To? With my limited experience, I would say yes.
I have been in one sea survival situation where the captain decided to run in front of the weather. With phenomenal seas (14 meter+) and wind steady over 60 knots, it would be impossible to get the yacht into Hove To, it was simply too late.
I was helming under bear poles doing 14.8 knots, downwind! Trying to hove to would have been impossible. The only thing I could have done was to set the SeaBrake drogue at the stern to slow things down. As the owner of the yacht I wanted to set the drogue earlier on, but the hired delivery skipper refused! I was close to mutiny.
Since then, where I have taken over as captain, we have practised hove to in harsh conditions. We have gone out in bad weather just to play with hove to. With a fast 42 feet, fin keel yacht it can be difficult to get the yacht in hove to. The forward motion is too great. She wants to sail. With three reef in the main and three plus reefs in the genoa or the storm sail she stays under distress in hove to with the helm to windward. I have many times asked myself, would we have survived in hove to in our monster storm?
I would think I could have dropped the drogue the stern to slow her down. And then dropped the sea anchor at the bow. This should have turned the yacht into a hove to position. Where we could have a break.
My point with this note is; if your strategy is hove to, do it early, or doing before it is too late. And practice.

Bill Attwood

To go from the gor blimey to the ridiculous, I have always understood the correct term to be “hove to”. Not that I wish to start a debate.