Once upon a time there was a small catamaran named Exit Only.  Although it wasn't a large yacht, it was big enough to sail the seven seas - the reason was simple.  Ninety-five percent of the time the seas were small and the winds were light.  In fact, in an eleven year voyage around the world, Exit Only never saw winds in excess of fifty knots while on passage, and only three or four times saw winds up to forty knots.


That's the way it is for most boats who sail in temperate latitudes at the correct time of year.  People who sail for pleasure, rather than necessity or racing, rarely find themselves caught out in a gale.  Nevertheless, sometimes mother nature throws you a curve and you get caught in a storm, and that's exactly what happened to us as we ventured out into the Atlantic from Gibraltar.


We started our transatlantic crossing by sailing from Gibraltar to the Canary Islands.  Because this passage takes only five to six days, we were able to select our weather window at the beginning of the trip, but during the end of the passage the weather was up for grabs.  We had no reason to expect it would be bad, and no guarantee it would remain good.


As the weather gods would have it,  the last three days of the trip turned into a gale with winds gusting to forty knots.  Fortunately, the winds were coming primarily from behind so we could run downwind.  Unfortunately, the seas rapidly became steep, up to twenty feet in height, and there were cross seas as well, creating an exciting and potentially dangerous ride.


Why is it dangerous to sail downwind in gale force winds?  Think for a moment about the last time you saw a surfer wipeout going down the front of a twenty foot wave.  He has an awesome ride right up to the moment he and his surfboard go berserk and get pulverized in the surf.  Words like pain and disaster pop into your mind as you watch the spectacular wipeout.


Similar things can happen to a cruising yacht when it surfs down the waves during a gale.  When Exit Only started rocketing down those steep twenty foot seas, our speed peaked at eighteen knots.  Exit Only became a giant surfboard that was forty feet long and twenty-one feet wide.  Surfing at ten knots was fun.  Surfing at eighteen knots was getting close to wipeout speed.  If the autopilot lost control of the boat during an eighteen knot surf, disaster could happen.  Wipeout in a cruising catamaran means flipping it over - a very expensive and painful mistake - not to mention the fact the crew can get badly hurt in a capsize.  When your catamaran is upside down in the ocean, it becomes the most expensive life raft on the seven seas.


So what do you do when things are getting out of control and you are approaching wipeout conditions?  The first thing to do is slow the boat down by reducing sail.  We had already done that.  Our mainsail was furled, and we had about ten percent of our headsail out to give us enough sail power forward to keep our autopilot happy and make it easy to safely steer the yacht downwind.  That small handkerchief of sail kept our boat pointed downwind, but it still gave us too much speed which was getting out of control.


Taking our foot off the accelerator by reducing sail wasn't enough.  We needed to apply the brakes, and that's exactly what we did.  Once we turned on our boat breaks, our speed came down to five or six knots, and peace and serenity returned to our chaotic water world.


What exactly are boat brakes, and how do you apply them?  Boat brakes are drogues that you trail behind your boat to slow down.  There are many types of drogues, and you can trail them in many different configurations.


The main criteria for success in using drogues is they reduce your speed to a safe level.  You have enough speed for the autopilot to easily steer the yacht, but you don't want to slow down so much that waves break on the stern and fill your cockpit with water.  Putting on boat brakes isn't rocket science - just common sense.


Each yacht behaves differently in following seas, and the number and type of drogues you use depends on the design of the yacht.  It's mostly trial and error.  The first drogue we put out consisted of eighty feet of one inch three strand nylon rope with a ball of anchor chain attached to its middle.  We took fifteen feet of three-eighths inch chain and tied it in knots and shackled it to a swivel in the middle of  the rope bridle.  We then attached the two ends of the bridle to port and starboard winches at the back of Exit Only.  This first drogue had a modest effect in slowing us down most of the time, but on the really big surfs, it didn't give us enough drag.


We put out a second drogue consisting of one-hundred and eighty feet of one inch nylon line which formed a giant loop behind the boat, and we also attached it to the winches at the back of the boat.  This slowed us down further, but still not quite enough.  I increased the effectiveness of this drogue by putting PVC hose on the line, and I shackled the dingy anchor and chain to the hose.  The PVC hose was a messenger that transported the anchor and chain down the line, and carried it all the way to the back of the one-hundred and eighty foot rope loop.  This additional weight kept the long loop of rope continually submerged and substantially increased the effectiveness of the second drogue in controlling boat speed.  This was just right.


We ended up trailing two drogues behind our boat.  One loop trailed forty feet behind Exit Only, and the other was eighty feet off our stern.  The weights on the drogues kept them submerged, and the different distances of the drogues from the stern guaranteed that one of them was effective when  the other was slack.  This combination of drogues snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, and our worries were over.


If the storm became worse, we would have deployed our Jordan Series Drogue which consists of a two-hundred foot line with one-hundred and twenty sailcloth cones attached to the line.  That would have stopped us in our tracks.  Fortunately, we didn't need a drogue that powerful, so we didn't use it.  It was ready if we needed it, but thankfully, it wasn't necessary.


These storm management techniques worked well for us because we are a catamaran.  The arms of the drogues were attached to winches that are twenty feet apart on the stern, and that augmented the ability of the drogue to create directional stability in the yacht.  It also worked well because a catamaran has a bridge deck, and when breaking seas assault the stern of Exit Only, they pass under the bridge deck rather than come into the cockpit.  On a monohull yacht, the same techniques might be less effective, and you might end up with water in the cockpit.  Every yacht behaves in a different manner when they trail drogues in steep following seas.  Several monohull yachts sailing in the same gale ended up with water in their cockpit.


In 33,000 miles of sailing around the world, this was the first time we ever needed to trail drogues behind our yacht.  That should put things in their proper perspective.  If you sail the seven seas in a conservative manner at the correct time of year, you have a ninety-five percent chance of having a wonderful adventure, but five percent of the time, things may unwind a bit, and you end up in a gale.  When that happens, you say, "No worries mate."  You trail your drogues and control your speed until the storm passes by.  Then you continue on to your destination and tell your friends about how you survived the savage seas.


Boat brakes.  I love them!



Log 1 Peter Pan Around the World
Log 2 Weapons of Mackerel Destruction
Log 3 Pirates of the Malacca Straits
Log 4 Kissing Cobras
Log 5 Debriosaurus Rex
Log 6 Go Ahead - Live Your Dreams

Log 7 The Man Who Built His House on a Rock
Log 8 Ambivalent Eagles
Log 9 One-Shovel Full at a Time
Log 10 Hitchhiker's Guide to Planet Earth

Log 11 Keeshond

Log 12 The Red Sea Blues

Log 13 Feel the Freedom

Log 14 The Danger Zone

Log 15 Lucky Man
Log 16 Dream Machines - Land Rover Defenders

Log 17 Trade Wind Dreams
Log 18 Logs With Fins
Log 19 Everywhere, Everything
Log 20 Shark Slayer Is History

Log 21 Viking Funeral - Burial at Sea
Log 22 Improbable and Impossible

Log 23 Keep on Trucking
Log 24 Dream Machines II
Log 25 Bodysurfing Whales
Log 26 Hitting the Wall
Log 27 Surviving the Savage Seas

Log 28 The Next Step
Log 29 Welcome to Barbados
Log 30 Atlantic Rally for Cruisers
Log 31 The Man with the Unplan
Log 32 Dali Dolphins
Log 33 Flying Like a Turtle
Log 34 The Foolish Man Built His House on a Pitch Lake
Log 35 Go West Young Man
Log 36 Crossing the Atlantic in a Row Boat
Log 37 The Unsinkable HMS Diamond Rock
Log 38 Catamaran Capsize in 170 mph Winds
Log 39 When Are You Coming Home?

Log 40 Master and Commander of Anegada - Frigate Birds
Log 41 Baths of Virgin Gorda - Batholiths of Central Arabia

Log 42 Free at Last
Log 43 Stalking the Wild Manatee

Log 44 Spreaderman
Log 45 Attack of the Flesh Eating Bees
Log 46 Sharks and Coconuts
Log 47 Stingray Picnic
Log 48 Boo Boo Hill
Log 49 Whale Slayers
Log 50 Noddies (Not Naughty)


Log 51 Exumas Land and Sea Park
Log 52 David and Goliath
Log 53 Turquoise Clouds of Paradise

Log 54 Momma Nightjar
Log 55 Maximillian The Great
Log 56 Chiton Kingdom
Log 57 Flying and Holding On
Log 58 Far Horizons
Log 59 Clouds Are a Sailor's Friend
Log 60 Getting Connected
Log 61 Fear
Log 62 Grand Schemes and Other Important Things
Log 63 If Jellyfish Had a Brain
Log 64 Cousins That Don't Kiss
Log 65 Swimming With Sharks
Log 66 Perfect the Way You Are
Log 67 Space Travelers
Log 68 Aliens
Log 69 Monsters of the Mind
Log 70 My Butterfly Collection
Log 71 Somewhere Other Than Here Societies
Log 72 Five-Hundred Pound Spiders
Log 73 Red Sea Sunsets
Log 74 Gibraltar Sunrise
Log 75 Big Sea - Small Ship
Log 76 Just Cruising
Log 77 Castle Mania
Log 78 You Must Know the Sea
Log 79 Flying Like a Goat
Log 80 The Joy of Photography
Log 81 Universal Camouflage
Log 82 My Rainbow Collection
Log 83 Indian Ocean Reward
Log 84 Fiber W
Log 85 Turkish Reflections
Log 86 Mirrors and Mirages
Log 87 Lycean Tombs Rock
Log 88 Rigging Emergency
Log 89 Pamukkale
Log 90 Volcano Land
Log 91 Sniffing the Air
Log 92 Why I Don't Kite Surf
Log 93 Resurrecting Exit Only in Turkey
Log 94 Greased Pole Competition
Log 95 Tsunami Damage
Log 96 Afraid of Living
Log 97 Living on the Edge
Log 98 Borneo Adventure
Log 99 Uligamu Tree Tender with Full Benefits
Log 100 God's Fireworks Display

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