A Chat With Randall Reeves

Randall making a call from his very cool and deeply practical wheelhouse.

As many of you will be aware, Randal Reeves just made a planned stop in Halifax after 227 days at sea circumnavigating Antartica as part of his figure 8 voyage.


(Randall’s original planned stop was Saint John’s, but he wisely diverted because of the unusual density of ice bergs off Newfoundland.)

I was lucky enough to spend a couple of hours with Randall on his boat Moli, most of which we spent discussing his experiences with series drogues designed by Don Jordan.

I’m working on an in-depth article on everything I learned from Randall (not a trivial task because there was a lot), but in the mean time I thought it would be fun to post a short video clip from our chat.

I have only lightly edited it because I want to preserve the reality of two sailors figuring stuff out.

Update 20th July 2019

We now know that my idea of using loops spliced into the drogue line won’t work.

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Steven Schapera

John, great interview, thank you. I’m interested in the Makita unit you have used to “power” a winch – pls advise the model.

Steven Schapera

Thank you…but that link talks about a Milwaukee drill whereas your recent chat talk about Makita. Is this just an error?

Ernest E Vogelsinger

Hi Steven, John made this error while talking. If you check the video again you’ll see the insert John has put in, correcting “Makita” to “Milwaukee”.

Lee Corwin

Have a JSD yet to be deployed in anger. Have Outbound 46’ which weighs 30k fully loaded so Jordan added an extension. We are two. Wife weighs 100lbs so for stuff like this she can tail but do little else. Our JSD is not on dyneema so it’s heavy.
Was thinking of setting up a double block at bow and single with becket on free end using dyneema. Put clip or shackle at bitter end. Use that with powered primary and additional loops in jsd line to retrieve.
Any thoughts?
Please give link on splice you guys referenced

Yannick Piart

Just for information I came to the exact same conclusion for my dyneema JSD after listening to this interview : an added loop on the rode every boat length made of different color dyneema line with a snap hook to the winch. A large block at the bow. Use my high torque Makita with a “winch bit”.
Unfortunately I have the same question you do : how to add a loop to an existing dyneema rode?

Ernest E Vogelsinger

I believe it might be a huge improvement to the JSD if they came with a sort of “inline retrieval eye splices” out of the factory. At least if it were for me I’d be willing to pay some more for such a feature when ordering a JSD from Ocean Brake.

Tristan Mortimer

I think we all as users and subscribers of this resource really appreciate the effort being put into gathering all possible real world information and experience of the use of the JSD, where information from the field is generally scarce. I suspect we will all be the better for the pooling of the specific details on this evidently imortant safety equipment. Great to see Randall talk about his use of the drogue, I’ve been following his blog since just after his departure. Looking forward to further discussion on what was talked about on Moli

Randall Reeves

Couple additional thoughts:

1. It would be worth experimenting with rolling hitches/prusik knots of various line types to see if one grabs where the others don’t. I used a long, old #2 sheet as my retrieval line, running that from the main cockpit winch, up through a block at the bow and back to the drogue with two rolling hitches in series to the drogue line. This #2 sheet was roughly the diameter of the main dyneema immediately following the bridle. The hitches would not grab. Then I tried using 1/4″ covered dyneema and a prusik knot. This also slipped. If a different line or knot combo could be found to work (e.g. rolling hitches of a much reduced line diameter, which I did not try), it would save the expense of the brummel splice solution.

2. One would need to be careful with the brummel splice solution in that the eye must be small enough not to snag *any* deck gear as the drouge is being deployed.

Trevor Robertson

Hello Randall and John
I too would like to change to a Dyneema JDS for all the obvious reasons – it is lighter, more compact and has minimal weight increase when wet. And of course I have thought about the retrieval issue. I considered the Brummel splice solution and rejected it on two grounds – the problem of snagging during deployment and because I do not want anything that could adversely affect the integrity of the main rode.
The solution I propose to try is to put a cut splice in the rode at each retrieval step – in Iron Bark’s case every 7 or 8 metres – using shoemaker splices. The cut spice is made with a short length of dyneema spliced into the main rode at each end. The main rode is NOT cut in the manner normal for a cut splice. The splice needs to be fairly short to fit in the 0.5 metre gap between the cones.
This should be snag resistant and leaves the main rode undisturbed. The splice can be shorter than recommended as it does not take much load and the load it does take is only for a short time during retrieval – it has no effect on the rode when the drogue is doing its job. If a splice should pull, the only result is that you lose 7 or 8 metres of retrieved line without affecting the integrity of the rode.
Any thoughts?

Henry Crawford

Hi Randall and John
No experience of using a drogue to date, but since you suggest trying different hitches/line sizes, have you tried using an Icicle Hitch?
(in case you are unfamiliar)

Carter Croley

Hi Randall and John
Has anyone tried a climbers ascender on dyneema? If still to slippery might 2 in tandem work?
Any thoughts on how to protect self steering gear from JSD damage?

Richard Elder

Hi John

The first thought that comes to mind when trying to devise a method to attach load to the middle of a slippery high-tech line is: Why not start from a proven design that we know works? Something like a Spinlock line clutch is quite compact and could be rubber armored so it could be hauled along the deck without damage. It would seem that a hinged side housing using the same internal components could be designed that would allow the fixture to be clamped anywhere on the JSD drogue line. It should be faster than tying and untying to loops, have more position alternatives, and not risk weakening the drogue with splices or fouling the loops during retrieval. It might be necessary to use covered line for the JSD instead of bare Dyneema, but I can’t think of any other challenges.

Ernest E Vogelsinger

A cam cleat attached to the haul-in line might work.

richard e stanard

i guess i am the only one not able to break through the muffled audio here…muffled beyond hearing most of the words…oh well…hi tech strikes again ?

Henning Dürr

Regarding “brummel”:
When I first heard of it, it was referred to as “brummel lock”. As I understand it “brummel” just refers to the way the two parts of the line forming the loop are locked to prevent the inside part of the splice slipping out of the outside part when not under load.

I would guess you will get a splice performing to near breaking strength of single braid dyneema by just sticking the end into the core for 72 times line diameter. Probably slightly more still when tailing the end inside (cutting strands randomly to make it thinner towards the end). But clearly this will work only under lab conditions. In real life, that kind of splice would slip out when *not* under load almost immediately.
So it needs to be locked. I would see 3 ways to do that: a normal whipping, a seizing using stiches and a “brummel”.
The brummel part is not intended to take any load, just to prevent the actual splice to come undone by slipping out.
Because of the way the strands are forced inside out in a brummel lock, I would suspect breaking strength is slightly reduced, similar to but maybe less than by a knot. As a normal whipping on a slippery line is probably also suspect, of the three I would vote for a stitched seizing.

Much of the dyneema sold these days is treated with polyurethane which makes it a lot less slippery than untreated dyneema to the point of it having more grip than e.g. standard polyester double braid. Not sure how long the coating will hold up when exposed to the weather.

Charles Starke MD

Hi John
To retrieve the jsd, if lengths of line or loops cannot be spliced stably into dyneema, why not use two equal lengths of dyneema for the whole jsd. Then there is automatically a loop to grab for retrieval in between each cone. If the dyneema were doubled with two equal length legs, it would do away with a slice or knot at the boat end and could be attached by a cow hitch. That would eliminate the one fail now documented at the boat end. Each cone would have to be securely attached to both legs. And the jsd would be that much stronger.
Best wishes,
Charles L Starke MD
s/v Dawnpiper

Philip Wilkie

At first glance this has a lot of appeal. I wonder if you couldn’t just interleave the two strands at alternating intervals, say 150 mm buried, 150 mm separate, and then sew the cones on at a point where the two strands are together.

Arnstein Mustad

I disagree on the JSD retrieval…not the method but the act itself. Deploying JSD’s offshore is something I teach as part of Club Nautique’s Offshore Passage Making program (a week-long offshore course). What I use to retrieve the JSD is a polyproline attached to the end (pre-measured out to the length of the JSD when fully deployed). We just haul it in in reverse, end first. But that’s because we’re practicing in less than a John Kretschmer’s average blow.

BTW, we would never deploy a JSD in heavy weather with a retrieval line as it would twist down and around the rode and collapse the cones. We only do it in practice.

In reality, however, most cruisers will be too exhausted after a prolonged storm to entertain the thought of hauling in a JSD even under partial load in aftermath-seas and the associated winds of a lessening tropical blow, say 25-35 knots. I tell my students “forget it and cut loose. You just used your insurance policy.” There’s no sense straining yourself, damaging the boat, or risking injury to haul in such an ungainly beast.

The way I figure it, it’s very unlikely you’d ever need to deploy a JSD. You could deploy warps or a cone and remain “active” while spinning out of the storm. If one chooses to go with the JSD they’ve made the decision to go “passive” and sit it out…because it’s that bad! In my book, that doesn’t happen very often. But then again, I sail across oceans in the right season.

David Luck

Hi John,

This post reminded me that I have wanted to ask a basic question about the JSD.

If you only sail between 40 degrees N and 40 degrees south, short of being caught in a tropical cyclone, do you still recommend the JSD be included in on-board safety gear? My wife and I have no extreme latitude ambitions.

Thank you,

David Luck


Thanks for the reply! I’ll certainly reread those chapters.

All the best,

Rob Gill

Hi John,
I have been thinking about the issue you discuss above with Randall which has been well commented on here by yourself and others. I find myself confused as to the solutions being discussed, as I’m not sure I understand the problem(s) faced. So apologies in advance for being slow, or if I have missed something, but I want to make sure I’m not making any false assumptions for our own JSD retrieval process.
Is Randall’s need for retrieval loops in the Dyneema JSD, so he can use a powered windlass for retrieval, using a lazy line running forward, rather than directly use the manual sheet winches? So he can get longer hauls? Because he finds the cones snag with the Dyneema rode on his sheet winches? Because his cones are made of nylon and damage too easily if JSD retrieved around a sheet winch? Or because the Dyneema line slips on the sheet winch and is therefore dangerous? Or ineffective? All of the above? Any other issue I may not have considered please John?
br. Rob
p.s. We have an ACE hybrid JSD with the front section made from Dyneema.

Rob Gill

Thanks John – just re-read Trevor’s article. I hadn’t considered the possibility of the boat broaching side on if using the sheet winches to retrieve the JSD. I need to consider how to create a lead that is strong enough to retain the JSD line at the stern during retrieval, whilst being open enough to allow the cones to pass through. Look forward to your article.
Br. Rob

Thomas Braun


I’ve been pondering the JSD problems for some time.

What I’m considering is a captive reel in the transom, much like those seen for anchor winches on vessels in the PNW.

This would have several advantages:

1) if the JSD was connected periodically with eye splices, only a portion of the line could be deployed, allowing continued progress with more directional stability. The eye splices would provide attachment points for the harness, so the load wouldn’t be born by the winch drum except for the few moments while the harness was rigged.

2) The full length of the JSD could be used for its intended purpose. Again the captive drum would only bear the load as long as it took to deploy the harness.

3) Additional lengths of line could be stored on the drum, so if sea room was an issue, they could be deployed and the JSD would function more as a sea anchor. Depending on how long the lengths between eyes, this could be fine tuned by selecting different eyes to attach the harness to.

4) Retrieval would simply require reeling in as the boat motored astern.

Problems that I can foresee are. 1) serious modification of my transom and cockpit lockers. 2) weight in the end of the boat. 3) ensuring the winch was strong enough to temporarily bear the weight of the JSD while the harnesses were being made fast.

Has anyone attempted anything like this?

Thomas Braun
S/V Nomad (little sister to Randals boat)

Alan Pottasch

As an experienced mountaineer I’d like to add my two cents. While a prusic knot may not grab the dyneema a jumar certainly would. The benefits being easy placement and removal anywhere on the line. It can be moved, slid or removed under load. The largest line it could handle would be 12mm but that is plenty for most boats.

Alan Pottasch

I’ve read through some of your earlier comments and thought more about. You mentioned the roughness of a climbing rope being better suited to the jumar and that is not the case. It would positively work on dyneema. In fact the problem may be the opposite. Under design loads the jumar would shred the dyneema. Simple retrieval would suffice but a broach during retrieval may destroy the dyneema.