Zack's Faq's - Sea Anchor, Para-Anchor, Parachute Sea Anchor  

After years of open-water testing coupled with hundreds of interviews with cruisers, fishermen, and sailors from all over the world, Zack Smith, a modern day para-anchor inventor and a full time drag device expert; releases this exclusive list of commonly asked questions (fall 2000). 

Have a question you would like to ask Zack? Submit it today. Please use this e-mail to submit your question: info@para-anchor.com. It will be reviewed by our office. If it is chosen, it will posted in our new Zack FAQ's.



Defining a Para-Anchor

Para-Anchor Use

Anchor Rigging

  1. What type and size of anchor rode should I use with my para-anchor?
  2. Should I use chafe gear?
  3. Do I need to add weights to my parachute?
  4. What is catenary?
  5. How do I know how much scope to pay out?
  6. How do I bridle my monohull?
  7. How do I bridle my multihull?
  8. How do I rig a spring line for my para-anchor?
  9. Is rudder damage an issue?

Para-Anchor Storage

  1. How compact are Fiorentino Para-Anchors?
  2. What does the system weigh?
  3. Is it easy to repack and stow my para-anchor?
  4. Will saltwater damage my para-anchor?
  5. Does the nylon parachute rot or mold?

Trouble Shooting

  1. What are some common mistakes people make
    with a para-anchor?
  2. How can my para-anchor help me avoid
     falling off or heading into the wind?
  3. What can I do to keep my boat from jerking and being pulled through the waves?
  4. How does a person tangle anchor rode
     around a keel or rudder?
  5. I've heard that a boat's bow can feel like
    it's being pulled underwater when
    retrieving a para-anchor. What causes that?

Other Storm Tactics

  1. What about using storm or reef sails?
  2. What about lying ahull?
  3. What about running?
  4. Should I use oil and how effective
     is it if I do?

Defining a Para-Anchor

Q1: What is a para-anchor and how does it differ from a sea anchor and drogue device?

A: Para-anchor is short for "parachute sea anchor." This large-diameter parachute system is used to "anchor" a boat in water too deep for ground tackle. Its design stops the vessel's forward progression through the water and stabilizes its position to the wind. Initially designed from selected cargo chutes at the end of World War II, modern para-anchors catch more water than canvas sea anchors used in centuries past. Due to the increased holding power of the new para-anchor, the effectiveness of vessel stability during rough seas has now expanded to fit all boat designs. Parachute anchors (para-anchors)PARA-are still generally referred to as sea anchors by some sailors and manufacturers. They come in a variety of sizes and are deployed off the bow.

Sea anchors where initially designed to perform the same function as the modern para-anchor. They were required gear on steamers and later popularized by Captain Voss in the early 1900s. Sea anchors where canvas, cone-shaped drag devices interchangeably used off the bow and stern. While capable of working effectively on small boats, like fishing skiffs, the results varied when used on boats such as deep-keeled sailboats because of the sea anchor's small size and medium-weight construction. There are still modern sea anchors built with a similar cone shape that are effective on small, lightweight vessels. Other manufacturers build para-anchors and refer to them as sea anchors.

A drogue is any device towed from the stern that slows a boat's movement through the water to increase steering control and allow for directional stability. You can use a manufactured drogue, but rode bights, tires and various kinds of warps can also be used as drogues.

Q2: What size para-anchor do I need?

A: The diameter of the parachute's canopy determines the size of the para-anchor. The
specific size of a para-anchor you'll need depends on many variables and circumstances,
such as the design of your boat and the type of boating you do. Each parachute anchor manufacturer provides different size guidelines.

For size guidelines on the Fiorentino Para Anchors, check out the
Fiorentino Size Chart.

Para-Anchor Use

Q1: How do I deploy my para-anchor?

A: Knowing your boat is an important factor in deploying your para-anchor correctly. The safest method of deploying a para-anchor in rough sea conditions is to allow the boat's drift to pay out the rode.

Imagine that sea conditions are deteriorating and the wind is picking up. You head your boat into the wind so that sails luff and the boat stalls. You can then drop your jib (or put up a smaller storm jib) and reef your mainsail accordingly. If you have a power vessel, use only enough forward speed to control steerage. Next, make sure movable objects are secured above and below decks, you're wearing your lifejacket or floatation garment, and (if applicable) your harness is tethered to your jack lines. Then you can safely deploy your para-anchor:

During deployment, your vessel should drift leeward, under power if necessary, at a sufficient speed to allow your para-anchor to sink away from your bow. I like to drift at a speed of one to 1 1/2-knots. You want to avoid sailing forward or being stopped completely, because your para-anchor could end up sitting next to your boat.

Remove your para-anchor from its bag and drop it overboard on the windward side of your bow. In rough seas, you may find it safer, easier, maybe even necessary, to deploy it from the cockpit.

When your para-anchor begins to submerge and your boat drifts away from the chute, snub your Dacron/nylon anchor rode until you feel the para-anchor open and slow the drifting motion of your boat.

Pay out your rode at an even pace and snub it off frequently to keep tension in the system, effecting a continuing "pull" from your para-anchor.

After you've paid out the appropriate amount of scope, cleat off your rode. The stretching of your Dacron/nylon rode will absorb hundreds to thousands of pounds of pressure that could otherwise be stressing your chocks, cleats, or other bow rigging.

If your bow continues to face the wind, secure your rudder amidships. If your boat is wanting to lie beam to the weather, first make adjustments to find the proper sail balance by putting another reef in your main or utilizing your storm sails. Then, secure your rudder slightly to windward. For a boat with a tiller, you would lash the tiller leeward and for wheel steering you would turn it to windward. If your boat still wanders beam to the weather-reduce your anchor rode scope. Last, go below to get out of the weather and take a break.

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Q2: In storm conditions, when is the best time to deploy a para-anchor?

A: Deploying a parachute anchor in a 50-knot wind from a pitching bow is difficult, to say the least. The best time to deploy your para-anchor is before you feel the weight of the storm; that is, before you begin to experience discomfort, fatigue or seasickness. As the old adage goes, "better safe than sorry." If you deploy your para-anchor and find the seas to settle and the winds to moderate, chalk it up as experience. Para-anchors, along with storm sails, lifejackets, liferafts, and EPIRBS, are good insurance for mariners. Being prepared means having the gear as well as knowing how to use it properly!

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Q3: Can I deploy my para-anchor in high winds?

A: Absolutely! Para-anchors by Fiorentino are packed to avoid problems associated with high winds. Fiorentino para-anchors are also much heavier designed than the standard sea anchor made out of thin fabrics. Thin, leightweight sea anchors are similiar to airman chutes and require special containers for deployment. I must add, however, it is much safer and easier to deploy any para-anchor system when wind conditions are more moderate. Therefore, it's best to deploy early.

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Q4: Should I Heave-to?

A: Heaving to is a useful storm tactic that every boater should be familiar with. Austin M. Knight's 1937 edition of Modern Seamanship defines heave to "To bring a vessel's head to the wind or sea and hold her there by the use of sails or engines."

In effect, your boat is no longer moving forward, but stopped and making leeway with its bow approximately 10 to 45 degrees from the wind. The actual position of your boat in many cases will be very similar to sailing close hauled.

The weather on the windward side will push your boat's hull through the water, increasing drag to slow your boat down and creating a slick that will disrupt the approaching waves. Inevitably, sea conditions will increase to a point where a para-anchor is needed to maintain your vessel in a hove-to position.

Because boat designs and specs vary widely, different procedures are required to either maintain your boat in a hove-to position or to head the bow straight into the wind and sea.

Monohull sailboats will have to trim their sails and use some form of staysail, storm jib, or trysail to stay in a hove-to position. If you use a para-anchor to maintain a hove-to position, you should find the use of a bridle system very helpful. How To Bridle A Monohull

Multihull vessels normally lay their bows directly head to sea. Because multihulls have a lot of windage, I would use a para-anchor and rig a bridle from my two outer hulls before running or lying ahull. How To Bridle A Multihull

Heavy trawlers and sport boats function well when para-anchors are run straight from their bow or at a slight angle off the wind. An additional snubber or spring line may be used to form a short bridle that spreads anchor loads to more than one cleat. If the power vessel is swinging at anchor, then secure the spring line to an amidship cleat so the boat takes the weather on the bow quarter. 

Different boat designs and sail plans will determine if you need to use a storm sail or to bridle a para-anchor. So, practice with your equipment in moderate to heavy winds and seas to give yourself the chance to make an educated guess as to what to expect in stronger storm conditions. Besides, there's no greater feeling of accomplishment than successfully maneuvering in a light to strong gale. Remember, simple preparation will allow you to fine tune your vessel and give you the confidence to make prudent decisions when it counts.

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Q5: Can I use a para-anchor for my motorboat?

A: Yes. Thousands of Fiorentino Para-Anchors have been sold to powerboat skippers, who have used them successfully for more than 60 years.

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Q6: How is a para-anchor retrieved using a trip line? How do I make my own trip line?

A: You will really appreciate your trip line after the storm calms. Simply motor or sail up to your retrieval float while pulling in the anchor rode slack during your approach. The wind normally keeps the trip line downwind from the submerged para-anchor. Use a boat hook to collect the retrieval float off the windward side of your boat. Pull the trip line aboard and pull in a collapsed parachute canopy.

Lightweight polypropylene makes an excellent trip line and is tied or clamped to the criss-cross pattern of lines located by the small opening on the backside of a parachute anchor. Pulling on the line spins the top of the parachute 180 degrees until the force of water that inflated the canopy now pushes the canopy walls together. The chute collapses, so it can easily be pulled aboard your boat. There are two types of trip lines, full or partial. The full trip line extends from the para-anchor to the boat and the partial trip line extends from the parachute to a float. Here's one way to rig a partial trip line:

  • Use 50- to 100-feet, 1/4-inch or 1/2-inch polypropylene line. I prefer using 50-feet, because it's easy to handle when deploying your para-anchor by yourself.
  • Grab one end of the line and measure approximately 25-feet. Now that you are at the center of the trip line, secure the support float to the line. I typically use a commercial fishing float because it's small enough for easy packing. The support float provides tension on the trip line to prevent the line from slacking and catching on the parachute canopy.
  • Secure one free end of the polypropylene line to the criss-cross pattern of lines located at the backside of the para-anchor and secure the other free end to an existing buoy or boat fender (also called a retrieval float). I use a larger buoy at the end of the trip line to make it easier to both spot and hold the weight of the collapsed chute.
  • Remember to guard against chafe at your attachment points. A section of garden hose works wonders in this regard.

Trip Line
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How To Rig Your Para-Anchor

Q1: What type and size of anchor rode should I use with my para-anchor?

A: There are two types of rode commonly used: braided and stranded. Either one can be used effectively with your para-anchor. You compare:

Braided rode
  • will not unravel like stranded
  • stronger than stranded
  • much easier to work with and stow
  • resistant to torque and kinks
Stranded rode
  • stretches more which increases shock absorption
  • much easier to splice than braided
  • typically cheaper than braided

A common concern with stranded rode is that it can unravel while attached to a para-anchor, but because Fiorentino's Offshore Anchor won't spin underwater, there is no need to worry that the rode will unravel. You can always add a swivel if you still have concerns about the rode unraveling near the boat.

When it comes to protecting your boat's foredeck hardware, the more rode you deploy, the greater amount of shock the anchor system absorbs. It's important to mention that we still need to maintain "constant rode tension" to avoid long periods of slack rope. Slack rode can lead to dangerous shock loads that can weaken any rope fiber quickly.

Rode Deployment
Size Chart
Use this chart as a guideline for matching
rode and para-anchor diameters
Rode Diameter
Para-Anchor Diameter
1/2" 6'
5/8" 9'
5/8" 12'
5/8" 16'
5/8" 18'
5/8" - 3/4" 21'
3/4" 24'
3/4" 28'
7/8" - 1" 34'
1 1/4" 40'

The size of anchor rode depends on the type of boat you own. Consider the following:

Anchor rode length stored aboard light vessels should be a minimum of 300-feet. Minimum diameter for the anchor rode should be half an inch. Heavy vessels or vessels with excessive windage should carry 300- to 600-feet of rode. Minimum diameter should be 5/8- to 3/4-inch. The standard amount of rode to stow is 10-feet for every foot of vessel. Smaller vessels like kayaks, rafts, and pleasure boats require smaller amounts of rode.

Rode Size Assistance
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Q2: Should I use chafe gear?

A: Chafe gear is good to store aboard your boat to reduce wear on anchor rode created by vessel motion or rode stretch. Nylon rode moving over a fairlead, roller guard or boat edge may create enough of a sawlike motion to cut fibers. To prevent chafe that can occur at any contact point on your boat, be sure to:

  • Use 24 to 36 inches of high-pressure hose or two layers of firehose.
  • Then use a small spare line to secure the hose to the boat or to the anchor rode itself.
  • Even if you use chain to avoid chafe, add some hose because metal on metal -- as in chain rode scraping on the bow pulpit -- can be as destructive as metal on nylon.

Chafe Gear
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Q3: Do I need to add weights to my parachute?

A: Yes, for storm use. And there are two types of weight to consider:

1) Canopy Weight
2) Rode Weight

Adding weight to the para-anchor system was first introduced in the late forties by Gerrard Fiorentino, who claimed that sewing chain weight into a section of the canopy skirt and/or attaching 6 feet of chain at the end of the anchor rode was the best method for holding the anchor below dangerous breaking seas. As a testament to his clear thinking, current research concludes that para-anchors that are allowed to float near the surface of breaking seas can be pushed, rolled and spun out of control. These unruly actions can tangle the canopy and lead to danger for the vessel and her crew.

Today, fishing weights are commonly sewn onto a section of the para-anchor's canopy. The canopy weight reduces the tendency of the anchor system to spin by holding it safely below the ocean's surface even in heavy seas. Chain is still used as a rode weight when attached at the end of your anchor rode, which will hold the para-anchor deep below the surface and reduce rode slack. "Constant rode tension" is the "big secret" in maximizing para-anchor performance.

The choice of using weight with any parachute anchor system is dependent upon whether the anchor is used for storm or sport. My personal preference is to use a para-anchor with weight sewn into the canopy and to stow a spare piece of chain onboard my sailboat, just in case.

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Q4: What is catenary?

A: An anchor holds best when the pull of the rode is as nearly horizontal as possible. Catenary refers to the sag or curve in the anchor rode that allows for horizontal -- rather than vertical -- pull on an anchor. In the case of ground tackle, holding power is increased as you increase the length of your rode. Adding weights half way down your scope decreases the angle at which the anchor is pulled and increases its efficiency of holding.

You add weight to the nylon line attached to a para-anchor to reduce shock loads placed on your foredeck equipment. Weight placement (normally chain) can be used anywhere along your anchor rode. My personal preference is to place the weight closer to the para-anchor instead of the boat.

Adding weight also maintains a constant strain on the rode to reduce slack. "Constant rode tension" will keep the para-anchor fully inflated at all times and greatly reduce sudden leeward surges of your vessel.

If you use all chain rode, you need to use large buoys equally spaced along the rode to prevent the chain from sinking too deep. Additionally, the buoys will act as shock cords to prevent strain on your boat.

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Q5: How do I know how much scope to pay out?

A: It's best to carry at least 10-feet of rode to every foot of boat to prepare yourself for a worse case storm scenario. Even so, you'll probably never use all of your scope.

When I deploy a para-anchor I always pay out a small portion of rode at a time and secure it to a cleat. When the boat feels solid and comfortable, I relax; when the bow begins to feel bumpy, I pay out more rode.

Sailors that own multihull vessels commonly use bridle systems that limit their ability to adjust rode lengths. Consider rigging a minimum of 12-feet of chain or an equivalent of 16 pounds near the para-anchor. Extra weight should reduce slack in nylon lines that are too long. The chain diameter to use is dependent upon matching the tensile strength of the nylon rode.

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Q6: How do I bridle my monohull?

A: Use the same diameter anchor rode that you use for your para-anchor. Pendant line length is "one foot for every foot of boat," as established by Fiorentino. Pendant lines are typically spliced or shackled to a 3-inch stainless steel snatch block.
  • Depending on the size of your boat, you will use only a small portion of your pendant line.
  • One or two support floats are used to keep the snatch block afloat during slack periods.
  • The anchor rode is placed through the snatch block that sets up your bridle.
  • Anchor rode may be set off the bow or through a port chaulk, hawse pipe, or cleat. Anchor rode set from the bow may sharply bend on some vessels.
  • Your pendant line is attached to your jib or stern winch. Use your winch to adjust the angle of your boat when you're hove-to on a para-anchor.
  • A stiff pendant line made with a hard laid rope can provide better control to position your boat to the weather.
Various snatch blocks, cleats, fairleads and thimbles are just as effective in making a bridle system work for your boat.

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Q7: How do I bridle my multihull?

A: A bridle for a multihull can be made in the same fashion as the monohull. The main difference is that your bridle is rigged off the two outer hulls of the multihull. The multihull generally takes the weather on the bows as opposed to a heave-to position. Bridle arms on average extend 25- to 60-feet off each of the bows, depending on the type of bridle system that you use. My rule of thumb is to construct a bridle "one foot for every foot of boat."

u can reduce pressure on your foredeck attachment points by increasing the length of a fixed bridle. (A fixed bridle is made by placing one piece of line through the anchor rode's thimble or by attaching two separate lines to the thimble.)

Snatch or swivel block pendants function better with a shorter bridle arm. Fixed bridles work better with longer arms. Avoid making block bridles too long, however, because they tend to hang loose causing anchor rode pull to increase on the single bow that it is attached. If this happens, your boat can end up spinning beam to the seas. A stiff pendant line made with a hard laid rope can provide better control to position your boat to the weather.

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Q8: How do I rig a spring line for my para-anchor?

*At the end of World War II, Fiorentino successfully used elastic cords from air craft carriers to make a para-anchor spring line (photo to the left).

A: Spring line, also referred to as a snubber line, stopper or shock cord, are used to absorb some of the shock on a mooring or anchor line to which a boat is riding. There are two methods of rigging spring lines for vessels keeping their bow into the weather while riding to a para-anchor.

The first requires running anchor rode through a separate thimble or snatch block that is spliced into a nylon line. In this case the spring line is short and is attached to a separate bow fitting opposite the anchor line. Both lines protruding from the port and starboard fittings form a small bridle. Such a setup allows parachute anchor loads to spread to the port and starboard deck fittings. A spring line arranged in a bridle set is most effective when sailing in strong, persistent winds. Individuals use this particular type of spring line when it is too much of a hassle to remove your ground tackle from your bow or there are weak attachment points on your vessel.

*A second method entails placement of an elastic cord, much like a bungee cord, onto the anchor rode that is run straight off the bow. The shock cord is four to six feet in length, with both ends of the cord rigged with shackles or thimbles. Anchor rode is run through the hardware, which is located on the shock cord, and then clove hitched to the shock cord. A small section of anchor rode will hang loose between the knotted shock cord. Since the shock cord stretches more than nylon, it absorbs more strain than anchor rode. However, if the shock cord breaks, the nylon rode will take over the workload. This particular spring line is good at reducing strain on your deck fittings, including your anchor windlass.

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Q9: Is rudder damage an issue?

A:With a properly rigged parachute anchor the likelihood of rudder damage occurring is rather slim. Even with minimal risk there still is a chance that a boat could lose its grip in heavy weather and slide backwards, jamming the rudder over hard enough to shear the pintles or part the rudder from its shaft. Adding simple rudder stops and shock cord to the tiller are two common ways to reduce possible rudder damage.

On a boat with wheel steering, it might be wise to disconnect the steering system and insert the emergency tiller to avoid weakening any part of the wheel system. Be careful about getting too comfortable with locking the steering down just because it is easier than retrieving the emergency tiller out of the boat locker.

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Para-Anchor Storage

Q1. How compact are Fiorentino Para-Anchors?

A: Remarkably compact, considering how large the canopy opens underwater. Fiorentino Para-Anchors are made with pliable materials and contain no stiff wires or metal-a great advantage for easy packing. Your packed para-anchor looks just like a rolled up sleeping bag. The tighter you roll your para-anchor, the tighter the fit.

Loose Packed Dimensions (Includes hardware):

Coastal Anchor Size
Diameter     Length  
Offshore Anchor Size
Diameter  Length    
6' 11" 7" 3' 9'' 6"
9' 15" 9" 6' 17'' 9"
12' 19" 12" 9' 22' 11"
16' 30" 15" 12' 29' 13"
18' 34" 16" 16' 37'' 16"
21' 36" 17" 18' 41'' 19"
24' 40" 19" 21' 47'' 21"
      24' 50" 23"
28' 56" 24"
      34' 60" 26"
40' 66" 28"


Packing Photos
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Q2: What does the system weigh?

A: The following charts show the shipping weights of Fiorentino's Offshore and Coastal Para-Anchors (Includes hardware):

Coastal  Anchor Diameter     Weight   
Offshore Anchor Diameter    
6' 7 3' 6
9' 11 6' 11
12' 15 9' 19
16' 22 12' 27
18' 25 16' 35
21' 27 18' 38
24' 37 21' 44
    24' 58
    28' 71
    34' 84
40' 200
> 40' call

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Q3: Is it easy to repack and stow my para-anchor?

A: Yes. After retrieving your para-anchor, you won't have to spend much time folding your parachute to make sure it will deploy on its next use. Our unique roll-proof packing technique is:

  • Quick -- it takes just two minutes
  • Won't tangle shroud lines
  • Only takes one person
  • Guarantees your para-anchor to work upon next deployment

Packing Photos
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Q4: Will salt water damage my para-anchor?

A: If saltwater dries on your para-anchor, a residue of salt crystals forms on the material. These crystals can breakdown nylon fibers over time. This process normally takes many years to occur.

A freshwater rinse is all it takes to protect your para-anchor. If possible, allow some drying time in the shade, too. If it's inconveniant to clean the para-anchor then at least rinse the stainless hardware and pack the chute. The anchor will likely remain wet until you return to shore where it's easier to properly clean your setup.

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Q5: Will my nylon parachute rot or mold?

A: Fiorentino para-anchors never rot or mold. The heavy-duty nylon is designed to last for years. I have para-anchors from the 1950s that are still in great condition. Black spots can appear on the para-anchor if you don't rinse the equipment. The spots are from organic substances that build up on the surface of an unwashed parachute canopy. Black spots shouldn't effect the integrity of the Fiorentino para-anchor.

One thing to keep in mind is proper care and maintenance of your para-anchor, especially when using it for extensive commercial purposes. Treat your para-anchor right and you'll get good use out of it for a long time to come.

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Q1: What are some common mistakes people make with a para-anchor?

A: The following mistakes have been shared with me by other sailors. You can use their experiences to avoid your own mishaps:

  • Forgetting to place the shackle between the anchor rode and the para-anchor
  • The trip line is not attached or is rigged improperly to the para-anchor
  • The chafe gear is not placed on the anchor rode prior to deployment
  • If you use your ground tackle rode, finding out that your hardware is locked and frozen to the ground anchor, rendering it useless when you need it for the parachute
  • You have either a deteriorated or unrigged surplus parachute or sea anchor that came with the boat and have never pulled it out of the bag to check its condition

Emergency or storm situations arise very quickly. You probably won't have time to check your para-anchoring system, so stay one step ahead of the game and be prepared before you leave the docks for a day-sail or blue water excursion.

If you need advice on your drag device system, e-mail two or three clear photographs of it. I'll look them over and get back to you as soon as I can.

Q2: How can my para-anchor help me avoid falling off or heading into the wind?

A: Here's the scenario:
Your boat is effected less by the wind when it drops into the trough of a wave. As soon as you reach the crest, you're blasted by wind. This causes some boats, depending upon their design, to either swing beam to the seas or head directly into the wind. This forces your sails to luff into irons or causes you to accidentally tack.

To avoid falling off or heading into the wind, try to stabilize your boat by creating balance between your boat and para-anchor. Balance can be achieved through the "Trilibrium Factors." They include: 1) Sail trim; 2) Rudder positioning; and 3) Rode length.

Familiarity with your boat makes sail and rudder trim straightforward. For example, as a gale intensifies, the bow of a fin-keel sloop normally starts to fall off the wind. In such instances, reducing sail forward to control leeward movement is an obvious opening tactic. If you're still having trouble achieving a comfortable balance, the next step is to hold the bow up with rudder angle, by steering more to windward. If this doesn't do it, and as sea state changes, a third adjustable factor - anchor rode length - comes into play.

Anchor rode length has a huge role in the maintenance of harmony between your boat and parachute during deployment in heavy weather. If the boat feels like it is heading beam to the seas, even after adjusting sail and rudder, some rode needs to be retrieved because there's too much slack in the system. Excessive slack in the parachute system can be avoided by deploying small portions of rode at a time.

Whenever you need to buy time for making balance adjustments on your boat, move your rudder to find a position that gives a settling motion to your boat. Aides like the bridle, spring lines, storm sails, and makeshift leeboards all help in achieving what we all desire, safety and comfort.

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Q3: What can I do to keep my boat from jerking and being pulled through the waves?

A: Once again, the "Trilibrium" factor of rode length comes into play. Anchor rode is like a rubber band. A short band is more resistant to being pulled apart than a longer one. Similarly, a short rode will stretch less, turning your boat and crew into a shock absorber when waves are too large. Experiment with paying out more anchor rode. I'm sure you'll notice a difference.

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Q4: How does a person tangle anchor rode around a keel or rudder?

A: I have never seen an anchor rode or any para-anchor manufactured by Fiorentino catch underneath any of our test boats. A problem like this can occur, however, when the para-anchor is deployed on the lee side of your boat or when there is insufficient lee drift and the para-anchor ends up sitting next to your boat.

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Q5: I've heard that a boat's bow can feel like it's being pulled underwater when retrieving a para-anchor. What causes that?

A: You're correct when you say "feel like" because, most often, your boat is not actually being pulled underwater. It just feels that way because the inflated parachute is hanging directly under your boat like a wide-mouthed bucket filled with water.

If this is hard to imagine, just think of a bucket of water the size of your boat's beam on deck. Now imagine that the seas are sloppy with small waves. Naturally, your boat will want to rise up and over any wave, but that parachute full of water under your boat does not allow for this to happen. Therefore, a person will feel the bow stay put as waves nearly wash over the deck which, leads to unwelcome thoughts of disaster. This is the number-one reason sailors mistakenly cut their para-anchors loose.

Using a trip line abates this problem because it neutralizes the drag of a parachute during retrieval. As a skipper motors forward to slacken anchor rode, the parachute's hardware will sink the parachute until the retrieval float on the trip line stops the downward motion. With no tension on anchor rode the para-anchor will hang loosely and effect no drag.

It is important to note that smaller para-anchors do not require a trip line, since they are more forgiving during retrieval. In contrast, larger para-anchors should have at least partial trip lines. If a boat owner decides not to use a trip line, he/she should wait until weather and sea conditions are calm before attempting to retrieve the anchor.

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Other Storm Tactics

Q1: What about using storm or reef sails?

A: Every boat or ship reacts differently in high winds. The design of the boat will either allow it to ride comfortably with a para-anchor or cause the bow to swing back and forth. Staysails, storm trysails, storm jibs, or reefing your main can be very effective in stabilizing your sailboat. Storm sails also add the advantage of decreasing para-anchor loads placed on your foredeck hardware.

Sailors must find a sail plan that works best for them and their boats. I find it uncomfortable and difficult to spend a lot of time on a bouncing deck when a fellow technician and I are practicing in dangerous sea conditions. On sloops, for example, I quickly bring down the main and furl the jib to about 1/3 the normal sail area before I backwind it. The rudder must be hard over to the windward side as soon as you backwind the jib. In seconds, the boat is stopped in a hove-to position.

I deploy my para-anchor at this point to maintain the hove-to position. Then I change the rudder position close to amidships, with a slight angle toward the windward side. You can normally sit in this position comfortably until you reach force 9 winds. Eventually, a reefed main or trysail should be put up to maintain the balance of your boat.

You should always consider using chafe gear with standing rigging to protect your sail from unnecessary wear and with a jib sheet to keep it from chafing through the line.

Experimenting is the best way to learn the proper sail balance to hold your boat in a heave-to position. Here are some common sail plans recommended by authors of various books about sailing:

Morley Cooper's The Cruising Yacht (1945)

"Ordinarily, a schooner or cruising type may be successfully hove-to simply by sheeting in the foresail flat, while dropping all headsails. The mainsail has been furled sometime previously, of course. A yawl or ketch should lay to quietly under a flattened mizzen and jib, but the jib may have to be sheeted slightly to windward in order to offset the tendency of the boat to sail. This trim of jib or staysail may also be required with the schooner. The cutter heaves to well under shortened mainsail (or storm trysail) and jib. The sloop rig...with a storm trysail and perhaps a storm jib, you can sometimes work out a combination of sail trim and rudder setting that will prove entirely satisfactory."

Erroll Bruce's Deep Sea Sailing (1978)

"In a sloop the headsail is backed by hauling aft the weather sheet, the mainsheet is checked, and the tiller secured a-lee, some cutters, particularly if they have a long bowsprit, will need to lower the jib before backing the staysail. It is not wise to heave-to for any length of time with an over lapping genoa, as this will be hauled against the weather shrouds and chafe."

Lin and Larry Pardey's Oriental Adventure
& Storm Tactics Handbook
(1983, 1997)

"I have lain hove-to quite happily in our cutter with reefed mainsail only. Two of the ketches we delivered lay hove to in force-ten winds with just their mizzens sheeted in flat. Some fin and skeg boats heave-to with a storm jib on the backstay: others are happy with a storm trysail set..."

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Q2: What about lying ahull?

A: Lying ahull is a common tactic used by many sailors to combat heavy weather, but in my experience, it's not the best plan. However, if you want to try it, the first thing you want to do is drop all sail. Next, for powerboat skippers and sailors alike, secure everything above and below decks. You are now lying ahull, just like a piece of wood drifting in the ocean.

This tactic works fine until the seas build. It was my father's favorite storm tactic when we sailed in the straits of Juan De Fuca and the San Juan Islands. While I don't remember it as an efficient storm tactic, I do recall lots of objects flying around the boat, which caused mighty painful bruises.

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Q3: What about running?

A: If you're unable to make it into a protected harbor, running before a storm is another tactic you can use. To accomplish this, enough sail must be used to keep a boat moving uphill on the back of waves. If you use power to run, you'll have to "jog" in the weather by increasing and decreasing speed to maintain steerage of the boat.

It's important to learn to actively steer any type of boat to avoid breaking crests and hopefully avoid racing down the face of any wave too fast. Streaming warps or drogues off your stern greatly aid in steering and reducing the chances of pitchpoling or broaching.

Adlard Coles in his book Heavy Weather Sailing 3rd edition, points out that plenty of sea room is needed and, in very bad storms, running has the disadvantage of presenting the vulnerable part of the boat, the cockpit and aft bulkhead to the following seas. Furthermore, it may be impossible to steer a vessel through a storm with just two people. Coles, an advocate of heaving-to, concluded that most authorities find running with warps streamed is the best answer in gales. I personaly believe that para-anchors and drogues both work equally well. It's just a matter of personal preference on what tactic you choose to use. The para-anchor tends to be more popular than the drogue since exhaustion is a significant issue with running.

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Q4: Should I use oil and how effective is it if I do?

A: For centuries, mariners have used oil to smooth the effect of heavy seas by reducing breaking waves. The oil weighs down the water, keeping the wind from building up the size of the waves. Waves approaching the oil slick are reduced in size by the time they reach your boat. Oil, just like your para-anchor, should be deployed on the windward side of your boat. The best oil to use is a vegetable or animal oil. Oil is dispersed through:

  • An oil bag tied off the bow of our boat
  • A canvas bag connected to your trip line or para-anchor
  • A bottle of oil with a punctured cap secured to your railing
  • Flushing of the heads while oil continues to drip in them

If you decide to use or make your own oil bag, Austin Knight's 1937 edition of Modern Seamanship, recommends using a canvas bag of close-woven canvas, stuffed with oakum, cotton, rags, or waste saturated with oil, and punctured in a number of places by a large needle.

The amount of oil required for a boat is dictated by the size of the seas. Austin Knight mentions that two gallons an hour is sufficient to calm the seas. Commercial fisherman that I interviewed in San Pedro, Calif., will use approximately one gallon or less per hour. They normally use large coffee cans filled with oil, punctured at the bottom with a nail, and tied off the bow.

I suggest carrying at least two gallons of cooking oil, enough to buy you some time to stabilize your boat so you can deploy a makeshift or manufactured drag device in heavy weather.

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