“One more round on the drag device issue” By Zack Smith  July/August 2002 Good  Old Boat.

Recently we completed a series of open-sea tests of drag devices that we designed for U.S. military use. These tests took place under different sea and weather conditions, including storms. When I was done I headed back into port and took some time to catch up on my reading. I started with the May issue of Good Old Boat. What caught my eye was a letter written by Lin and Larry Pardey called “No Silver Bullets.” It was a response to an article written by Cary Deringer that appeared in the January issue. As I read it, I found myself disagreeing with the Pardeys’ blanket generalization of all drag device companies.

In their letter, the Pardeys’ claim para-anchor and drogue manufacturers “capitalize on our fears” by using scare tactics to sell their products. They go on to emphasize that”…brochures, manuals and sometimes elaborate-looking books created by the gear salespeople” reinforce their claims.

Additionally, the Pardeys attack drag device manufacturers and distributors for having little to no seamanship experience. While I’ll agree that most manufacturers of drag devices have limited experience on the water, Fiorentino isn’t one of them. To date, Fiorentino Para Anchor is the only drag device manufacturer made up of commercial fishermen and experienced sailors who regularly test para-anchors and drogues in real storms with power and sailboats of all sizes.

The Pardeys contend that incapable vendors regularly recommend oversized products for profit and are”…unaware of the excessive strains this oversize gear can exert on the boat.” Larry Pardey and I have discussed this topic face to face. We agree that it doesn’t take a very large para-anchor to steady a vessel in a storm. It’s how a sailor rigs the para-anchor that heavily influences what size anchor is needed.

In most cases, monohull sailboats that heave to can use a smaller para-anchor. That’s because the boat’s hull creates more resistance when it drags through the water laterally. The bigger and heavier the vessel, the easier it is to use a relatively smaller para-anchor either in a heave to position or straight off the bow.

Big boats tend to catch more wind, which keeps tension in the para-anchor system. Heavy boats don’t swing back and forth at the anchor like small vessels. A smaller sailboat using a para-anchor off the bow to keep its head into the sea should consider a stern riding sail to keep tension in the system. The riding sail essentially catches wind, so that boat sails backward at a fast enough pace to keep continuous drag from the anchor.

Excessive strains on a boat are a direct result of the para-anchor system being allowed to go slack and then tighten up. A deflated parachute or too much rode paid out are typical culprits in this scenario. Slack in a para-anchor system means the drag device is not holding your vessel in place and that you are momentarily drifting as though lying ahull. The energy created as the para-anchor grabs hold of the water whips the bow of a boat head to sea. This action places heavy strains on the drag device and your boat.

Research vessels and fishing boats may wish to use larger anchors because they typically use the products in lighter wind conditions. Unfortunately, oversized anchors when used in heavy weather can place additional strains on cleats, chocks or fairleads.

With appropriate gear and instruction, drag devices are easy to work with. In
her article, Cary Deringer took the time to research all available sources on drag devices and learned how to deploy and retrieve several different systems under
my personal guidance. As I told her, research and practice takes the mystery out of any storm tactic.

My best advice for boaters who are considering the purchase of a drag device is to gather as much information possible from leading U.S. manufacturers and to take plenty of time to make their decision. Additionally, boaters should develop a list of questions when researching equipment for their boat and situation. For example, what is included with a purchase? What other costs are involved? And how does one rig a para-anchor to a particular boat? Ask about the company’s history. For example, did the company have any product recalls? Once boaters have these answers, they can make an informed decision and avoid costly mistakes.

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