"More on Storm Tactics--Balance,
& Fiorentino's Trilibrium
By Zack Smith
October 2000, Blue Water Sailing
I wish to add an addendum to Steve Dashew's article entitled "Drag Device Polemics" appearing in the May 2000 issue of Blue Water Sailing. In his article, Mr. Dashew writes that a parachute anchor system "may not be suitable for use in huge breaking seas and winds of severe storm strength." Before I began experiencing huge, breaking seas, I would have agreed. However, after my experiences sailing in seas under a variety of conditions, that is no longer my viewpoint.
My opinion on para-anchors changed over five years ago when I started researching heavy weather tactics by interviewing diehard sailors and fishermen, one of whom happened to be Gerrard Fiorentino, owner of Fiorentino Marine Sales. Fiorentino started rigging para-anchors in 1947 and has talked to me at great length about his experiences. Upon meeting him, I didn't know that our conversations would lead to years of hands-on training in heavy weather. "The key to the para-anchor system," Fiorentino bellowed out during one harrowing offshore training exercise, "lies in how the parachute is rigged and how each sailor adjusts rode or boat." Translated, he was sharing with me the importance of proper balance between boat and para-anchor when it comes to maintaining boat stability in severe weather.
Three factors that effect the equilibrium between your boat and a para-anchor are accurately defined by Fiorentino as 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 plays a huge role in the maintenance of harmony between your boat and parachute during deployment in heavy weather. Dashew provides data on "wave particle rotation" and the theory of "two wave-lengths between boat and drag device." Tests conducted by Fiorentino in heavy weather reveal that para-anchors and boats don't necessarily obey theories; in my experience, that's what makes sailing so adventurous. You have to feel your way through a rode-length problem. For example, if the bow of a vessel starts jerking or feels like it's being pulled through the waves, chances are that more rode needs to be deployed. 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.
This brings to mind the last gale in which I set a para-anchor, including the deployment of 50 feet of anchor rode from a Catalina 30. Winds were a steady 35 knots, with gusts up to 45 knots, and 15-foot swells with occasional breaking tops. I paid out a small portion of rode at a time and secured it to a cleat. When the boat felt solid and comfortable, I could relax; when the bow began to feel bumpy, I paid out more rode. During the test, my anchor rode tethered to the para-anchor was taut. Adding weight to the anchor rode aided in keeping it taut while reducing shock loads to the boat. I've learned to place six feet of chain near the para-anchor whenever I suspect that wind forces may reach storm force.
Another point Dashew raises in his article involves the notion that a boat apt to sail on the hook tends to sail more on a parachute anchoring system too. However, research by Fiorentino demonstrates no consistent pattern to support this theory. If your boat sails on a para-anchor, reducing sail area should correct the movement; if the boat continues to sail forward, consider rigging a bridle to keep your boat in a hove to position. While you may experience some forward motion on your boat when hove to during extreme weather conditions, this action is still your best choice.
Some forward motion is okay as long as this is counteracted by as much or more leeward drift. If the boat is moving slightly ahead, I've never found it necessary to reduce sail. If I begin sailing forward too much, I do notice that my taut anchor rode will sit next to the boat with the para-anchor off my stern quarter. This I take as a hint to reduce sail. Heaving to doesn't take much to master and has solved the problems of sailing at anchor in over 90 storm tests conducted by Fiorentino in monohull sailboats.
If you decide to run a para-anchor straight off the bow of
your boat, consider using weight on the anchor line to keep
it taut. Also consider using spring lines to absorb rogue
waves or disturbed wave patterns coming from more than one
direction. A spring line dampens any sudden surges placed on