The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

Get Vane Gear Blade Out Of The Water Before Deploying JSD

As I have said before, there are few people on the planet, probably less than a dozen, who know as much about surviving storms at sea in a small boat as Susanne Huber-Curphey.

I’m privileged to be on her email newsletter list. The latest contained the following nugget of wisdom:

This self-steering was also the reason why Ian on ‘Puffin’ did not deploy his Jordan-Series-Drogue (JSD) one week ago, causing his boat to capsize in a severe storm…

…Ian clearly experienced the most severe weather in an otherwise rather quiet GGR, but I do wonder why he activated the Epirb on the then undamaged boat, rather than deploying his JSD after getting the imminent warning of over 90 knots of wind for several hours by the race organizers…

In my experience the exposed rudder of any self-steering system must be easily removable and stowed below deck in the to be expected, somehow wild conditions of a force ten or above. 

Emphasis mine

This confirms my thinking that Maxime has made the right choice in equipping the Adventure 40 with a servo pendulum gear, not an auxiliary rudder, since the boat will be tricked out for a JSD, as well as confirming my own reservations about the latter type of gear.

If you want to dig deeper into Susanne’s thoughts on the loss of Puffin, there’s an interesting conversation over at Peter Foerthmann’s site. Yes, Peter is hardly unbiased, but that doesn’t alter the fact we can learn useful things from him, particularly since he also makes an auxiliary rudder gear.

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Drew Frye


In my testing, bridles and rodes can chafe, tangle, and get in, under, and around everything when things get crazy. It takes only a few seconds of slack, which sudden wind changes and odd swells are happy to provide. In fact, the most important lessons I learned about drogues all related to avoiding tangles and chafe.

The other lessons relate to avoiding slack and keeping the drogue buried in the water. That is the value of a JSD–it solves most of those problems.

Colin Speedie

The ability to lift the entire leg, rudder and all up to a 10 O’clock position is quick and relatively easy (well, as easy as anything can be in wild conditions) on Peter’s Windpilot Pacific, one of the reasons I favour that model.
As Drew rightly says, anything can happen though, when the going gets really tough…

Matt Marsh

Big downside of the Hydrovane, it’s damned awkward to get that rudder blade mounted or dismounted *period*. I wouldn’t dare attempt it while underway, let alone in any kind of weather.
To install a Hydrovane or similar aux rudder gear in a way that is safely compatible with a JSD would, I think, require you to engineer and fabricate a tilting bracket for the whole assembly, hinged at the transom top and with a cockpit-mounted control for the lower latch. Not difficult, but also not something that people ever actually do.

Arne Mogstad

Hydrovane themselves have been, and are apparently, working somewhat on a solution according to the FAQ section on their website. However, I have actually found it quite okay to get the rudder OFF, even in somewhat rough conditions. You just need to get the locking pin out (can be done with a boat hook), and it’ll fall down on its own, and you just pull it up with the attached rope. I have a pretty good sugar scoop aft, so I get close to it while being fairly protected which probably makes it a lot easier than a tall stern. It might get knocked a bit if you’re not quick though. Also, getting it back on I find close to impossible unless it’s fairly calm.

Arne Mogstad

No absolutely not! To get it on, I need calm inshore conditions. Even a rolly anchorage can make it challenging! Which means, on an ocean passage, you probably won’t get it back on before you’re becalmed. Also, getting it off, you probably should do it before it gets too bad. This sort of defeats it’s whole purpose, as you’ll be reluctant to take it off. But I have got it off in 2-3 meter waves and a pretty stiff breeze without problems just for practice. What I did was attaching the tether to the arch attachments, pulling out the locking pin, and the rudder falls down pretty quick and then it is trailing behind the boat and easy to pull in. Not in any way a perfect setup, but I would say it can be removed at least.

However, I am not really sure it will fix anything, because with the rudder sticking down deep in the water, it would be harder for the bridle to get under it, whereas when you remove the rudder, there is a ~20 cm rod sticking out underneath that is just at the water level, plus the whole topside mechanism. Intuitively, I would think it’s better to have the rudder there (on the hydrovane specifically), to reduce the risk of a snag. Plus being so far aft, I would presume it could help stabilise the boat (at least on my OVNI with the centerboard pulled up). Just assumptions of course as I have never deployed a JSD myself, however it looks pretty violent from the few videos I’ve seen.

Richard Ritchie

I wonder if we are missing a point regarding the interaction of aux steering and JSD, and likely failure modes.
I cannot see how lifting the blade solves the crucial problem
In a broach there are only hydrodynamic loads on the blade. These may be much greater than you would imagine, but pale into insignificance compared to the load and shock if the bridle snatches or hooks onto the aux steering mechanism. I suggest this is the crucial failure mode, and raising the blade relatively insignificant.
You cannot move the structure out of the way. So make it strong!
This applies to ALL the proposed methods. They all have vulnerable and exposed structures.

Mark Wilson

I have a photograph, from October 1983, of the before and after of a Hydrovane falling off the stern while crossing Biscay. I have been trying to upload it. Unfortunately the little symbol for attaching an image doesn’t appear in the bottom right of my comment box.

Nevertheless, it is interesting that forty years later Hydrovane is still having it’s ups and downs.

Having clicked on the link to Peter’s blog I was was struck by two things: his insistence that his Pacific Pilot Plus was not an emergency rudder substitute for Southern Ocean conditions. And that Susanne and Tony had coincidentally first deployed their Jordan Series Drogue, in the worst conditions Susanne has ever experienced, in the same area that Puffin got into trouble. The very same area I met my worst conditions, just when I was thinking I was out of the maximum danger zone.



Mark Wilson

Hi John

I have dug out my old journal and it shows that not only do old men forget but they shade the facts to suit the story. It turns out I was nowhere near where Ian and Puffin got clobbered.

I was in about 28 degrees south, 19 days out of Punta Arenas, 14th April 1988, solo, on passage to Falmouth, UK. “Ocean Passages” suggesting maximum wind strengths of force 5 to 6. I had been in NE 7 to 8 all day, wind on the nose and fore reaching under a scrap of furled yankee. In the night it continued to rise and I woke at 10 pm to hear the furling line above my berth let go. We were in a rain squall, force 10/11. Before I had got a few feet of the Yankee down it tore free up the luff and ended up under the boat. Luckily the snap shackle at the top of the furler had let go. It turned out that the sail made a pretty effective storm anchor. The rain squalls continued through much of the night. At one point the wind meter hit and held for a while on 71 knots. I hadn’t realised it went so high.

So not storm force winds as I had remembered, 12 degrees further north than Ian and a few weeks later in the year. The tidy up and repairs were epic and included some even more scary episodes; I read your going up the mast article with very close attention.

Terence Thatcher

I have been worried for some time about how I would successfully deploy my drogue in bad conditions with a Monitor hanging off the stern. Practicing in mild conditions is not the same. It is easy to swing the pendulum up, but that might make a bigger target for the lines, although I do not believe a broach is likely once the drogue is deployed, thus reducing the risk. Getting the pendulum off requires getting over the aft end of the boat, pulling a cotter pin (wingding) and pulling the connecting pin. Possible in a calm, scary, at a minimum, in a storm. But at my age, I fear I will never again be in a place where I may have to do it. For coastal cruising I have added a Shark drogue to my inventory.