Case Studies of Survival
First hand accounts by some Para-Anchors Australia clients with the authority of experience using their para anchor in storm conditions:
Cairns - Lautoka Fiji: Magic Happens
Dr Gavin LeSeur was the doctor at Mallacoota in south east Victoria during the time that helicopters were lifting survivors from the 1998 Sydney to Hobart Race. He said,“As l tended the cold and distressed crewmen, I was able to sympathize with them. My wife Catherine and I had been plucked from a life raft in the Tasman Sea ten years earlier. I didn’t let on that I had been in their situation as l felt that Catherine and I had been much better prepared for the ultimate disaster. You cannot be too well prepared!”
In mid-June 1999 aboard Magic Happens, Dr Gavin LeSeur and two crew left the Gold Coast Queensland, bound for Fiji. The 12 metre, 7 tonne Hitchhiker Mk 11 Catamaran carried more than the‘recommended safety gear’.
“As we headed towards Fiji” Gavin LeSeur relates,“the wind was gusting 45 knots and the seas were breaking. The depression was stationary and deepening, the crew seasick. I decided to launch the Tasman 15 parachute sea anchor. I had already rigged the sea anchor with rode of 200m nylon braid. The retrieval float was secured to 15m of light braid and attached to the apex of the parachute. On each bow Magic Happens has a bridle that I use for anchoring. This was tied to a rolling hitch and the rode end secured to a bollard.
“The parachute sea anchor in its launch bag was thrown off the port bow and within a few minutes we had pulled around into wind and waves, secure for the night. During the night the wind generators screamed and roared as they stalled, spun and deformed. Wind speed hit 60 knots. The port wind generator cracked at its base. During the night the catamaran slewed sideways. The bridle had broken. A new one had to be attached”. This was finally attached and Gavin continued“When I crawled back into the cabin I stripped off and crawled into the bunk. Wet, cold, exhausted and shaking I needed time out to tune out. Mike and Nigel kept watch, putting out the all ships alert that I wanted repeated every half-hour on the VHF radio. This was a warning that we had no ability to manoeuvre, and were secured to a parachute sea anchor. To our surprise a ship responded requesting our position so as to be able to avoid us.The weather continued to deteriorate.The waves, peaking at 7 or 8 metres, regularly broke over the bridge deck.
“Unbeknown to us at the time a 9m monohull, Puffin, was battling the same gale and eventually succumbed, requiring rescue by the French Helicopter Service out of Noumea.Tracking our movement on the GPS, we were approaching the point where we had been three days earlier, having drifted in a complete circle. Under the parachute we had moved at less than half a knot in the direction of the current”.
It must be stated here that it is better to move with a current than with the wind. Winds can, and do, blow ashore. Currents keep moving and invariably pass along the coast.
Gavin LeSeur concludes “Forty-six hours after launching the parachute sea anchor, I sent Mick and Nigel to the foredeck trampoline to start hauling in the rode line while I motored full throttle into the thirty knot wind. Within no time, Nigel had the parachute shroud lines in and broke the shape allowing it to be hauled aboard. The parachute sea anchor did the job, was deployed in time and we rode through a severe gale with minimal damage. The VHF warning to all ships may have prevented us from being run down. We made it to Fiji and my family was happy to have the job of sailing home downwind.”
Adelaide - WA: Prisana II
Deborah Schutz was sailing in the Indian Ocean. They had sailed from Adelaide and were abeam Cape Naturaliste on the south west coast of Western Australia.“Sunday 15th July 1996. By nightfall we had a 40-knot NNE. There were no safe anchorages along here in these conditions. Throughout the night, Mother Nature unleashed a storm of unrelenting fury. The NNE blew to 50 knots with large seas, our only choice to head out to sea”.
“Monday: Perth radio gave a gale force warning. The barometer read 996 and was falling rapidly. As night progressed, squalls reached 60 knots.The ferocity of the storm was intensifying.The needle of our wind indicator went beyond the last notch of 65 knots and the seas were dramatically rising. At about 0500 a huge wall of white water knocked us, the helmsman was standing in chest deep water and our mast touched the ocean surface. We deployed the parachute sea anchor, and then all crew went below and battened the hatches. We were 30 nautical miles off Rottnest Island.
(Inset) Track of Prisana II during storm, July 1996 (Below) Weather pattern experienced by Prisana II
-Courtesy Adlard Cole’s Heavy Weather Sailing
“Tuesday: During the morning I ventured above to the cockpit and was immediately awestruck. The seas were reported to be 11m on top of a 9m swell, the faces of the waves being around 60 feet! We had plenty of sea room and we drifted in a southerly direction on a west wind at 1 knot. The parachute sea anchor held us steady, as the cyclonic wind whirled overhead at 70 knots. For 24 hours we drifted in this direction.
“Wednesday: The weather remained unchanged. AII day long the winds continued to blow over 70 knots and we were down almost as far as Bunbury. A cargo ship had just lost 30 containers off Cape Leeuwin.
“Thursday: Conditions were moderating; winds now down to 50 knots and the barometer slowly began to rise. Seas still large but easing. Late in the afternoon we retrieved the parachute sea anchor. Our 130m rope had stretched an extra 20m. The wind now 30-40 knots felt like a mere breeze as we set course for Rottnest Island.
“Friday: Around 1030 we motored into Fremantle Sailing Club, grateful that we had decided to purchase a parachute sea anchor. With it we were able to ride out and survive the conditions, our bow held to the seas. The weather bureau in Perth described the freak weather as a rare winter tornado. It struck the coast at 200km per hour winds.”
25-35 ft waves, 65 knot winds John Cadwallader sails Avatar, a 60ft sailing trimaran with 53ft beam out of Port Vila, Vanuatu. She’s 18 tons with a draft of 4ft 6in. En-route from Auckland to Brisbane they encountered tropical storm Yianni. A cap shroud rigging screw gave way and they lost their rig. The barometer was reading 994 and 55-60 knot winds hampered their efforts. The 25-35ft seas were 120-150ft long and very uneven. They deployed their 28ft parachute sea anchor (Indian 28) on 150ft rode. In 14 hours they drifted only 3-5 nautical miles.
New Zealand - Rarotonga: Hokulele
James Bradley sails a 37ft Searer, Hokulele, out of Kailua, Kona, Hawaii. He was on a passage from New Zealand to Rarotonga and deployed his Force 10 Para-Anchor in a gale. The winds ranged from 30-50 knots and the waves built up over 4 days to 20ft in height. The vessel yawed only 5 degrees from side to side and drifted 10 miles into the wind.
James wrote to Para-Anchors Australia,
“Dear Alby, Thankyou for your very efficient and prompt help in getting our parachute sea anchor to us before we left New Zealand. We were becoming fatigued after 3-4 days of big seas so we decided to deploy our parachute sea anchor just to take a break and it worked very well. We were able to go below and relax, prepare some good meals and get some good sleep. We stayed on anchor for two days until conditions calmed to 20-25 knots then we retrieved the parachute sea anchor easily by motoring up on it and pulling it in. We did not use the trip line or float. It worked great and I won’t go offshore without my parachute sea anchor."
Tahiti - Australia: Smoky Cape
The late Jack Earl is famous in Australian yachting. His suggestion in the bar of Sydney’s Cruising Yacht Club of Australia to “have a little race down to Hobart”, was the origin of the now world-renowned summit of ocean racing, the annual Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race. In the Kathleen Gillet now on display at the National Maritime Museum in Sydney, Jack was the first Australian to skipper a cruising yacht around the world. He was a renowned and highly skilled marine artist. A dream of Jack and his wife Kathleen was to sail his later yacht Smoky Cape, a 7.3m yawl, from Tahiti to Australia, but they never achieved their dream.
Steve and Michaela Moss of Queensland Australia bought Smoky Cape and enacted Jack and Kathleen’s dream. It was a 4500 nautical mile voyage and they write, “We added a vital piece of equipment, the parachute sea anchor by Para Anchors Australia”.
During the trip an unpredicted gale developed and Michaela wrote,
“We battled the building seas and increasing winds. The swell reached a height of 10 metres with a vicious cross swell racing through the troughs. Howling wind blew the tops of the waves through the spreaders of our little yacht. It was frightening, tiring, wet, uncomfortable and difficult to keep the boat safe. We tried many different storm tactics including running before it with warps, but the cross swell would push us around to a dangerous angle.
Four days later with fatigue setting in and conditions deteriorating, we decided to deploy the parachute sea anchor.Steve took the Coastal 9 Para-Anchor with line attached,up to the bow,leaving the remaining 100 metre coil of line in the cockpit with me. We had read and re-read the instruction booklet before going to sea and it deployed efficiently. We positioned pieces of hose on the secured line to minimise chafe, checked for wear frequently and stayed on the parachute sea anchor while the gale howled around us, waves broke over us. We drifted about 1 nautical mile per hour. We were able to cook and eat a large, hot meal and catch up on much needed sleep. After 6 days the gale warning was cancelled. The parachute sea anchor was easily retrieved, an exercise similar to pulling in Smoky Cape’s MR anchor.
It is our belief that the Para-Anchor parachute sea anchor should be carried aboard every boat that is going offshore. The strongly built chute is lightweight and easy to store, its convenient deploying bag assisting in its use. It enables any small vessel to sit safely while a bad weather system passes. The comfort provided and the deserved confidence in the Para-Anchor parachute sea anchor also reduces the likelihood of injury to the crew and damage to the vessel.
In other circumstances, the ability to safely stop and hold a vessel in position, while miles offshore, has many benefits especially for short handed sailors in need of a rest or waiting a rendezvous with another vessel. Our gale lasted 4 to 5 days with estimated 50+ knot winds. To our knowledge we were the only vessel in this particular gale not to sustain any gear damage or crew injury. We believe that the Para- Anchor parachute sea anchor was our saving grace. And only in a 24 footer.”
KatieKat Para Anchor Experience