Storm Survival FAQ

It's now some 10 years since I first started writing the articles that eventually became our Heavy Weather Tactics Online Book.

Over that 10 years, readers have left hundreds of comments and questions on the book's 20 chapters, and I'm sure there will be more in the future.

Those comments have taught Phyllis and me a lot, resulting in numerous chapter edits and updates, and have inspired me to write new chapters to expand on and explore the points raised.

(By the way, I just love the way this process has evolved and, further, I would not still be working as hard at this as I do without your participation. Thank you to all who take the time to comment.)

Several questions have repeatedly surfaced within those hundreds of comments. So I have pulled those together in this chapter and added my thoughts.

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Marc Dacey

Guess who’s fabricating SS chainplates for the bridle of a JSD? All credit to this site for collating this material and making such good arguments on behalf of safety at sea.

Martin

John, thank you for this. I am in the process of purchasing a series drogue to replace my current arrangements .

I am not intending to ask a daft question here but could (and would one ever) fit a series Drogue with the boat facing forward, basically as a sea anchor. Looking at the diagrams and the science I am not clear why this would not work or should not be tried.

Thanks, Martin

Martin

Thank you – a very helpful and very interesting reply.

Chuck B

Another thing to consider here is that with the drogue deployed from the bow, water will be flowing over the rudder in the “wrong” direction.

Drew Frye

Regarding anchoring by the transom:

I’m surprised Jordan did not collect any data. Early this spring I spent a worthwhile day testing different yaw-reduction methods, looking at both yaw angle and load cell readings. Methods included all the standard methods, such as bridles, removing dinghies from the bow, and hammerlock moorings. If the yaw angle was more than about 35 degrees, the anchor load doubled, because the wind is now seeing the side of the boat. Obvious. Then there are all of the anchor loosening effects of yawing, which are harder to quantify and very anchor- and bottom-dependent.

But I did not anchor by the stern. One reason is that my current boat has an open transom, so I just didn’t consider it. It also lies quietly with a bridle. However, I do wonder what the difference in wind and wave force is by the transom. I’m sure it is less than the effect of yawing, but I felt he was quick to dismiss both that and the other downsides. For one, the crew is even less likely to go outside to check on things, since opening the companionway would be a mess and possibly a disaster. You’d probably move the mattresses and go out the V-berth hatch. Even closed, water will blow in past the companionway door or boards.

The upward pitch against the rode would be different, possibly stronger, since the aft sections are broader. This will increase the wave impact portion of hobby horsing. But pitching might be less. This can be a major factor in shallow harbors. But think about motoring in reverse into steep chop.

Interesting. Sounds like measurements are needed. I’m quite sure yawing will stop. But I wouldn’t want to guess on the other factors.

I do think many boat owners have not put enough emphasis on stopping yawing. They believe chain will do that, but chain ONLY helps when it is still on the bottom, which it is not in any meaningful way when the wind pipes up. Most don’t anchor often enough in strong weather to observe the boat at >50 knots. Can’t say I blame them….

Marc Dacey

I’m glad you mentioned the old and out-of-fashion riding sail, John. It seems like a simple plan to test on a moderate day in a half-empty anchorage with lots of space to “solve” mistakes. Say you have 20 knots at anchor, but the wind is veering. Time the distance from side-to-side veer (or have an anchor watch app do it for you). Put up a riding sail, or, lacking one, a storm jib sheeted flat. See if you reduce your speed and distance in veering. That will provide evidence and guidance, although I’m also keen on Colin’s drogue idea because it’s very economical compared to any other idea.

Dick Stevenson

Hi Marc,
I loved when I sailed a yawl and the mizzen would be up for almost the whole of my holiday weather-cocking me into the wind.
Not sure riding sails are actually pertinent in a surviving storm level conditions article, but, with respect to riding sails, it sounds like you are talking about a single-surface riding sail, like using one’s very flat storm staysail. It is my take, with some anecdotal evidence, that a wedge- shaped riding sail is far more effective: “clews” to cleats on the quarter, hoist up the backstay on a halyard and tack to somewhere up forward, very stiff leading edge forward: all very taught.
In this way the wind catches the wedged-out sail surface far sooner than happens with a single flat riding surface sail and keeps the sashaying back and forth to a minimum.
I believe you can find fuller descriptions on the internet.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy
Ps. My casual observation of boats in anchorages with single surface riding sails was that they did not seem particularly effective, but clearly, I did not observe their action without the sail.

Dick Stevenson

Hi Marc,
I loved when I sailed a yawl and the mizzen would be up for almost the whole of my holiday weather-cocking me into the wind. I do not have personal experience with riding sails but have watched friends play with various methods.
Not sure riding sails are actually pertinent in a surviving-storm-level-conditions article, but, with respect to riding sails, it sounds like you are talking about a single-surface riding sail, like using one’s very flat storm staysail. It is my take, with some anecdotal evidence, that a wedge- shaped riding sail is far more effective: “clews” to cleats on the quarter, hoist up the backstay on a halyard and tack to somewhere up forward, very stiff leading edge forward: all very taught.
In this way the wind catches the wedged-out sail surface far sooner than happens with a single flat riding surface sail and keeps the sashaying back and forth to a minimum.
My casual observation of boats in anchorages with single surface riding sails was that they did not seem particularly effective, but clearly, I did not observe their action without the sail. In moderate conditions that most of us would use a riding sail, I would take the single surface riding sail “tack” off centerline to the rail or genoa track (something strong enough). In this way, you would ensure the boat would not be “tacking” back and forth. This may add more windage, but it may not depending on how much surface area of the boat is exposed when it yaws back and forth.
I believe you can find fuller descriptions of the wedge riding sail on the internet.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Marc

I’m not sure I would bother, either, having learned of the rode drogue method. But I have a storm jib I could use to hand, if I ever get curious. And Dick, yes, I’m aware of the wedge type, but I’d have to make one or have one made to try that, whereas I could simply experiment with a reverse hoisted storm jib. I don’t actually have much evidence that our full-keeler would veer much at anchor…I haven’t anchored on her in the right kind of wrong kind of wind.

David Oliver

Might vessels with a canoe stern (such as on a 34′ Pacific Seacraft), in part designed to take waves better, obviate the need for the split bridle? It would be a challenge to attach, and on that boat there is a very robust eye cast into the backstay fitting, heavily bolted down the stern centerline, ideal for a single line to the series drogue.

Eric Klem

Hi John,

I was a bit surprised to see how the bridle legs are attached to the drogue in the first pictures of the dyneema drogue from Ace and a bit of further looking seemed to suggest that this is the common way. I would have thought that instead of being individually cow-hitched onto the loop, they would be done together so that the cow-hitch would be inverted. Do you have any thoughts on which way you would recommend?

I am skeptical of relying on a boat skidding sideways as an ultimate survival tool. There is no doubt that this ability helps and is preferable over not having it but at some point, it can be overwhelmed and I would think that a very fast capsize would result as there is a lot of energy stored that gets dissipated once the boat digs in, for example by the deck edge. For almost 15 years, I did a lot of whitewater kayaking so spent a lot of time side-surfing and it is incredible how quickly you can go from okay to over (what kayakers call getting window-shaded) and it does not take a big wave, you simply need a large sideways speed differential and something to trip on. That being said, I would think that a boat that can skid coupled with a JSD would do very well in the dreaded cross-sea situation. Note, I have never used a JSD and I have no offshore experience on modern (not like Finisterre) offshore centerboard boats so this is only educated guessing.

Eric

Drew Frye

Re. Cow hitching. Interesting question. In fact, I think the cyclone is wrong and I made do the testing to prove it. First, the load is transferred to the eye in a smaller area. More importantly, the second eye in the stack is going to move, resulting in chafe, which is 98% of the risk. This is why we cow hitch instead of use shackles; it was shown to eliminate movement and was safer than thimbles, which can shift under high load. This stacked cow hitch allows movement.

Re. Sliding. I think all of my white water capsizes have been due to catching an edge. It’s fast. Catching the edge of the deck or a chime seems like a real occurrence.

Eric Klem

Hi John and Drew,

Thanks for the thoughts on the cow hitching. Thinking about it a bit more this morning after reading both your comments, I am back to thinking that the cyclone pendant way seems superior to me. I agree with you guys that the key is trying prevent movement. If you do 2 separate cow hitches, when the loads on the bridle legs are equal, the loop in the end of the JSD line will want to be a triangle. When the boat yaws and the load goes mostly onto 1 leg, the loop will want to turn into 2 parallel lines which will cause the bridle leg to want to slide to the center. The question is whether there is enough friction that nothing moves. Also, there is an interesting question about loading of the JSD line splice. Drew, it would be great if you could test this and come to a conclusion. Thankfully it seems that whatever people have been doing works.

For what its worth, both our mooring pendants and our snubber consist of a dyneema spliced loop cow hitched into a spliced loop in nylon just like the cyclone pendants. However, we only have a single piece of dyneema which is likely an important difference. We have never seen any movement or chafe but they are also really easy to get apart again too which is nice. About half the boats in our mooring field run the cyclone pendants per the picture and I am unaware of any issues from it, the issues seem to be from people who either don’t have the cyclone pendants or get ball wraps due to not lashing pendants and no floats.

Eric

Jojo

Hello,
Really enjoy reading all your fantastic posts.
As I watch the Golden Globe Race and hear their negative views of the JSD I am so surprised that they don’t understand the science behind it! They are still talking like people did befor the JSD was developed and tested!
My question is regarding a storm where the wind shifts 180 degrees very fast, leaving a massive sea from a different direction and creating a very dangerous situation. How do you think a JSD would work in this situation?
So far in the GGR I think that a JSD would have stopped most of the boats from loosing their masts. For example JLV was running too fast and pitch polled. But what about the storm that dismantled Gregor? In your opinion would a JSD have worked?
I am looking forward to hearing more learning points from this race!
Jojo

Paul Padyk

Thank you for the thoughtful information here. I suspect the claim to waves coming from different directions is at least in part caused by vestibular fatigue, the reduction of input from our inner ear when it is stimulated continuously. This would cause a reduction in ability to rapidly sense changes in yaw – very helpful to reduce sea-sickness but not so useful to reliably indicate how the boat is getting kicked around – one moment the wave is on the port quarter and next on the starboard beam, with little input over time from the inner ear to indicate the change. At that point we are left to construct our story only from what our eyes see. That would also explain why hand steering in heavy seas is so exhausting and requires such practice – we have to actively engage our senses to understand our position because the passive information is no longer reliable.

Fred Smeaton

Hi, my current boat a Sceptre 43, has a sugar scoop stern with a hydrovane steering gear installed offset on the Portside. My concern is that the bridle for the series drouge will foul the vane if the boat yaws excessively. Would using a longer bridle help aliviate this problem or cause other problems? Any thoughts appreciated.

Marc Dacey

We have a Voyager windvane AND a transom-hung rudder, so it’s “busy” at our stern. Snugging up the blade out of the water is the only option I can see for the reasons cited. An offset wind vane complicates matters, unfortunately, to my mind.

Fred Smeaton

Hi Marc, agree with your comment that the offset position of the vane is less than ideal in this particular circumstance. My previous yacht had a servo pendulum gear center mounted. I’ve been surprised how effective the Hydrovane is in the off center position despite my initial misgivings. I don’t think moving it would improve things much in relation to using the drouge and doing so would only negate the few advantages offered by the sugar scoop stern. I guess like most things in life I’ll have to compromise and live with the consequences.
Always enjoy reading your comments regards Fred.

Fred Smeaton

Hi John, yes I agree with your thoughts. Removing the rudder, although difficult, is the prudent thing to do. I still worry the frame of the vane is at risk no matter where it’s mounted on the transom. Hopefully the purchase of the drouge and practice using it in mild conditions will envoke John Vigor’s fifth element(black box theory)and we won’t ever have to get it out if it’s bag in anger?
Also John, congratulations on building such an informative website. I am a relative new comer to sailing and my wife and I have garnered more than a few wardrobes full of pertinent information from you and your commenters. Even when we don’t agree with one of your ideas, it a least gives us some food for thought, if not a good reason to go and do some more research on the matter. Well and truly worth the price of admission regards Fred.

Drew Frye

Cow hitching. I think John nailed it when he said the knot simple cinches down tight. I’ve used cow-hitched sheets, and they don’t move. In the end, it is chafe on the roller cheeks, over the anchor, or around the ball that matter. I’m sure the JSD is the same.

Wide transoms. A new trend is toward boats with wider stern sections and open cockpits. MY PDQ catamaran was center cockpit, with relatively narrow transoms, and would take waves pretty well from either end. Not even any real slap, even towing drogues in near gale conditions. In contrast, my trimaran has a cockpit that is open at the transom and not far above the water. Heck, we occasionally get our feet wet if we bear off quickly in largish following seas. An exaggerated case, but I see a lot of boats, mono and multi, billed as cruising boats, where the stern is wide and flat. Don did mention this, but boats like that were uncommon then and were generally race boats. Now they are all fat in the back. I’m not sure how you address this. One answer would be to slow the boat less. This runs counter to Don’s capsize logic. Additionally, none of the drogue designs, including the JSD, are stable at higher speeds (more than ~ 4-5 knots). An interesting line of research.

Stern anchoring. I’ve done a few limited tests of anchoring by the transom over the past few weeks (trimaran, 10-25 knots, sheltered waters). There is little question that yawing is reduced. Assuming waves are small (should be in harbor), the rode tension will be lower, even though the boat is less streamlined. This is because yawing is a MUCH bigger factor. But the ride is quicker, spray in the companionway is really going to suck in even light squalls, and ventilation is difficult. And then there are the anchor handling problems; solvable, but relevant. Still I find it interesting for the boat that just won’t sit still. My recommendation is that you get an honest number for how you boat will yaw in a storm (try using rope rode for a test, to eliminate the stabilizing effect of chain, which tends to vanish in a storm anyway). I think many are surprised how unruly they are, because chain calmed them on typical cruising weekends. Look at your compass bearings and apparent wind angles. IF the swing is more than about 15 degrees to either side, you are NOT doing yourself any favors, since the load goes WAY up when the wind sees the side of the boat. There is no substitute for sitting still.

Interestingly, my tri makes a good test bed for yawing behavior, since anchored with rudder down, board up, and no bridle, she will yaw 160 degrees. With the rudder up and a bridle, less than 20 degrees. Or anything in between, depending on the tricks you try.

Drew Frye

I should.

What type of riding sail did they use? Single luff vs. split (like Fin Delta)? If single luff, was it angled to one side? How far?

This is not an area I studied much in the past, since multihulls with a proper bridle are very stable (without a bridle they are terrible).

Jamie

I am surprised by the positioning of the JSD attachment points on the Boreal. As I understood they should be further forward and lower so as to reduce the downward drag on the stern, allowing the stern to rise and pivot to meet the wave.This is very much emphasised in the research.
A long keel yawl sits very quietly at anchor whatever the wind strength. I wish there more ketch or yawls
I am a new member and am enjoying this site very much.

Jhildy

I am considering crewing on some sailboat deliveries that might entail crossing an ocean or at least one to two week deliveries. After reading these articles on the JSD, I am thinking i should query the skipper first to determine if he will bring a JSD along. If the only heavy weather strategy is to run off, then politely decline. Would you agree?

Bob McDowell

J Hildy
While in theory the JSD for ocean crossings is becoming a required item I think you will find that on deliveries this equipment is not available. Deliveries are an unusual beast in that the boats are “run what you brung”. You can certainly ask if the boat/skipper has a JSD but don’t expect a polite response. Good delivery skippers can be a querulous bunch.
You want to make sure the skipper is very experienced and has done the passage many times. On deliveries the crew needs to be able to respond instantaneously to emergencies with limited resources and limited familiarity with the vessel. New boats tend to have very little equipment and used vessels are total unknowns. The skipper has probably had a few hours to go over the boat and check all systems. I use a very complete checklist, developed from the “New Boat” checklists that a certain manufacture uses as there QC check. On a new boat I spend about 20 hours on checking over the vessel and on used boats the number varies but usually not less than the 20 hours unless I know some of the boat’s/owner’s history.
If you are signing on as a crew on a delivery understand your legal responsibility as a crew member (MGN280, Cowsop2010, MGN020). Also understand that deliveries are “outside” of the normal professional marine standards. The boats often have provisional paperwork that allows the vessel to transit national boundaries without normal paperwork and customs procedures.
Make sure you get references for the skipper, and have a lot of communication with the skipper fleshing out all of the PP’s (Policy and Procedures). If the skipper is professional he will have standard PP’s in writing that you can peruse before you commit to the journey. If he does not have PP’s run away, unless he is John Kretschmer or one of the known skippers who haunt these august environs at AAC!
What makes me an authority on these issues you should ask? As skipper I have done 6-10 long deliveries (over 1500nm) per year in the last few years (with many more over the last 40 years of sailing but only these recent trips count regarding skillsets) including at least one ocean crossing delivery per year. That being said, I hope and am sure that many of the writers here will chime in with better thought out and written advise for you.

Tom and Deb Jarecki

Regarding using Dyneema for the bridle and rode of a JSD, since Dyneema floats, should the weight at the end be increased? The answer seems to be obviously YES. So if that’s the case, increase by how much?

We have a 156 cone JSD. We bought the cones from Ocean Brake and followed their recommendations for bridle and rode lengths and equivalent sizing in Dyneema (actually Acera Amundsen). The weight that Ocean Brake recommends for a 156 cone JSD using double braid polyester is 18kg.

I asked Angus at Ocean Brake about the weight increase for Dyneema and he suggest 20-22kg. That seems not very much more at all. What are your thoughts?