Deploying our Sea Anchor for the first time

 

Our 15ft Para tech sea anchor off the bow of Aldebaran before we paid out the rode.

Oh, the qualms of going “too fast”. We made better speed than we planned on our passage to Tuamotos… but it would put us at our destination (Makemo atoll) in the middle of the night. Instead of slowing the boat and spending the fourth night at sea, we decided to keep going full-speed and spend that last night in the atoll of Taenga. The catch is that we knew nothing about this atoll. 

 

We averaged 6.2kts for 450nm going fairly into the wind, so no wonder it was a bit bumpy, sorry crewmates! (Navigation note: We were heading 200 degrees, almost due S, and the wind was 15-18kt at 125 degrees, with our 110% genoa and reefed main.)


  

We arrived in Taenga at 3pm. Our cruising guides only volunteered the following information about this atoll, which apparently only houses about 40 people:

  • Rarely visited
  • Possible to moor at the wharf which is in the pass
  • Inside of lagoon by village exposed to tradewinds (poor anchorage)
  • Requires local knowledge to navigate the pass
  • Nearly constant strong outgoing current with large south swell or strong tradewinds blowing

The side of the atoll with the pass is sheltered from the tradewinds (the west side) making smooth seas. That is one reason we thought we might like to anchor there overnight. 

There was more swell action at the pass than we expected. Furthermore, nobody answered our VHF radio calls for assistance to enter the pass. We hesitated to navigate the pass on our own – this being our first pass ever – knowing the combination of waves, strong currents, and narrow turning space could put us in harm’s way. 

We looked for a spot to anchor along the atoll. Although the wind was blowing off the land, it was 400 feet deep right next to shore – we would have had to take lines to boulders on the beach, and hope we didn’t swing at night if the wind shifted! So that option wasn’t attractive. 


Schematic of the sea anchor from the Para-tech manual. Note that we just attached the sea anchor to our normal Delta anchor rode, so the 80ft of chain was on the side of the sea anchor. This seemed to work fine, although when the wind drops the sea anchor sinks out of view; then it comes back to within 15ft of the sea surface when the wind starts blowing above 20kts.

 

I like to quip that my favorite part of boating is stopping the boat – ie. anchoring. Ah… the sweet sound of chain rumbling down the bow roller as we anchor in a beautiful place; this is one of the joys of flinging ourselves across the wild sea. And there was one anchor that I hadn’t the pleasure to try yet: the sea anchor. 

The sea anchor is essentially a large parachute (ours is 15feet in diameter) which is specially designed to deploy from a boat. The sea anchor is advertised as a critical tool for boats dealing with large storms at sea, as it keeps the bow of the vessel pointing into the wind and seas – which is the best way to take weather. In contrast, taking heavy weather from beam on (ie. from the side) can have catastrophic consequences for any boat if they roll over far enough. 

When people ask us about the concern of flipping multihull – which don’t flip back, unlike a monohull – our answer is two words: “sea anchor”. And then we add: “Plus, it’s nice not to have ballast, that darned stuff wants to pull your home base to the bottom of the sea”.

Deploying the sea anchor is pretty easy (in calm seas, at least!) The hardest part is that we must unshackle and unseize our Delta anchor, and shakle and seize the sea anchor onto the Delta’s rode (80ft of chain and 300ft of line). Then you throw the trip line and sea anchor bag in the water. As the boat drifts backward with the wind, it pulls the parachute out of the bag. 

Aldebaran was only drifting backwards at barely 0.5kts with the sea anchor deployed. The boat’s motion was very comfortable, with no rolling around. After observing for a few hours I felt happy enough to go to sleep with our anchor light and cockpit illumination to warn other vessels of our presence. 


Sabrina swimming out to get the trip line and float, since the wind had turned calm. we probably could have motored to it but were a little anxious about running over the sea anchor.

 

What about pulling the sea anchor back onboard? Just like raising any anchor, we used the electric windlass. Oddly enough, the trip line didn’t float down towards us as it is supposed to, so Sabrina swam out to grab it. In retrospect, we could have motored forward to grab the trip line, without fear of running over the sea anchor, since the chain was weighing down the sea anchor; but we felt apprehensive being our first time. 

We were pleased to learn this new technique for use in storms… and to add it as a very different kind of  “anchor” in our quiver! 

6 thoughts on “Deploying our Sea Anchor for the first time

    • Indeed we had it ready to deploy on the bow the entire 2300 miles to Pitcairn! Of that the only rough days were just before and after Pitcairn, but it never got close to necessitating a sea anchor… but I’m glad we had it because our friends beforehand ended up having to wait out some storms at sea (Stella Polaris) enroute to Gambier, so the sea anchor would have been well-applied.

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  1. Cool to hear about how the deployment went. We carried a sea anchor on our boat, bet never used it. Great idea to learn how to deploy it in easy conditions and not in a storm.

    Another response on the issue of monohull vs multihull stability…
    Considering multihulls are essentially unsinkable and monohulls are certainly sinkable, multihulls are most stable when inverted, monohulls are most stable on the bottom of the sea.

    Keep the blogs coming! Always great to hear from you all! Jim

    • Haha, i suppose that is fairly true about stability! they also say, “when you’re in the middle of the ocean the closest land is usually right below your feet…”. Stability aside, a multihull’s achilles heel is of course windward performance, unless you have a pretty expensive boat – like a porsche of the seas. In comparison, Aldebaran is more like a VW bus of the sea… so we continue to look to plod along in favorable passages and use our sea anchor if things get too grizzly 😉

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      • Yes, indeed! It’s so little about the boat, and so much about the people your with and the places you visit. You’re clearly getting the most out of Aldebaran by working to her strengths. I’d always oft for the VW van over the big, high tech RV. We kept our boat simple on the gear and spent a lot less time fixing it, than the high tech cruising boats. When I learned to sail in 1971, about the only electronics for cruising sailboats was a depth sounder and a radio direction finder. Offshore navigation was celestial and dead reckoning. It took a bit more work than GPS navigation, but there’s something quite special about navigating across the open ocean by heavenly bodies. Do you carry some kind of sextant for backup in case hackers take down the GPS system? That’s seems very unlikely, but lots of unlikely things seem to be happening these days. May you have blues skies and favorable winds! j

  2. Favorite passage moments:

    Sharing songs and stories with sister Melanie as we did the 8pm to 12 am shift…And Having Matt step up for his shift early because he was hearing Melanie and me arguing sailing strategy and then knowing we’d both sleep well after learning that we were both right.

    Meeting the only two living creatures out on the Pacific…or so it seemed, with two Boobie birds joining us in the night. They were our Boobies!

    Celebrating Sabby’s birthday off the Taenga Atoll, all of us knowing we had made it through the harder segment and also the gift of smelling land, seeing lava and hearing chickens!

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