Surviving a Force 11 storm with a series drogue
Yachting Monthly|December 2020
Small cruising boats aren’t always fast enough to run away from severe weather. Tony Curphey explains how he survived the Southern Ocean in a Nicholson 32
Tony Curphey
There is no textbook procedure to follow when, in a small boat, you are faced with seas and winds which are a threat to the survival of you and your boat. Every storm is different and so is every boat and circumstance. I’m writing from my own experience of Southern Ocean sailing and about 16 deployments of my Jordan Series Drogue, four of which were on my last voyage as a participant in the Longue Route 2018. My boats in the Southern Ocean have been 27ft, 32ft and 41ft overall length in the past 17 years.

It is good practice to heave to by whatever means your boat will do that, even if just for a rest from gale conditions. It’s a huge relief to have the sudden calm. If weather conditions worsen, some sailors advocate lying ahull which usually means letting the boat take its own position in the sea with no sail up, and having the helm lashed to the lee to try to keep the bow a little into the wind.

Both these tactics are fine in moderate or even severe gale conditions, but as wind and seas rise beyond gale force it is necessary to change tactics as the boat will be knocked down and that is a prelude to being rolled, in which case the mast will probably be lost. I might mention that it is proven that the longer the vessel is, the less likely she is to be rolled. However most boats will be rolled, regardless of length, if caught sideways in the trough of a wave.

My present boat, Nicky, a beautiful Nicholson 32 Mk X, will run downwind under control with the Aries (or other windvane) steering, with or without any sail up until Force 10 or even 11. Under these conditions, if I have any sail up, I use a spitfire jib of 54sq ft (5m2). You can’t go directly downwind because the sail will back and fill with tremendous force and will soon destroy itself. It is better under these conditions to have no sail up. If the Aries can’t handle it any more the boat will broach and will be in danger of being rolled. If the hull is fouled, as Nicky’s was in the Southern Ocean on my last voyage, she will go out of control sooner. Then it’s time to start thinking of survival.

USING THE DROGUE

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