LAUNCHING and RETRIEVAL
Launching the Drogue
One of the design objectives of the drogue is that it may be launched with one hand under storm conditions without leaving the cockpit and that it will not foul even if the boat is rolling or yawing. This capability has convincingly been confirmed as described in Performance at Sea.
To prepare for instant launching, the drogue is faked down with the bridle end at the bottom of the bag and the bridle legs led up the sides and fastened to the attachments at the corners of the transom. The weight (chain) is at the top of the bag.
To launch the drogue, the chain is dropped overboard and the drogue permitted to feed out. Within a few minutes, the drogue will gently take hold with no abrupt deceleration.
Through many launchings the drogue has never fouled. In fact, this launching capability has probably saved the lives of a number of sailors.
Retrieving the Drogue
Unless you do it right, retrieving the drogue can be a real chore. I am aware of three cases where the skipper actually gave up and cut the drogue loose. One skipper in the Southern Ocean waited for two days for the wind and sea to quiet down before giving up.
It is not very practical to put the drogue directly on a winch or to pull it in hand over hand. However, if done correctly, a petite woman should be able to easily and safely do the job without leaving the cockpit. .
With a single cone or chute, as the drogue nears the boat, high loads can develop when the boat pitches, a dangerous condition.
With the multiple cone design, the load diminishes as the drogue comes in. Finally the skipper just lifts the chain aboard. This is an unanticipated benefit.
I asked my friend Noel Dilly how he handles retrieval on his 26 ft. sloop. Noel, who sails from the U.K, is a very experienced ocean sailor and was a pioneer in using the series drogue about 20 years ago.. He has done much to gain acceptance for the drogue in the U.K. and in Europe.
He stresses that each skipper must choose the system for his boat. We discussed several methods which differed in detail but not in principle.
The attached sketch shows the basics of the system he uses. The drogue is always under control and cannot impose high loads on the operator.
A line is attached to the drogue with a rolling hitch - or Noel uses a loop. He passes the loop around the drogue and leads it through itself twice. This is easy to tie and remove. The drogue is then winched in 8 ft. or so.
A helper line is then attached and fastened to a cleat.
The winch line is then removed and reattached to the drogue at the transom.
The process is then repeated. Depending on sea conditions, this can take about 20 to 30 minutes.
I am always hoping to get feedback from skippers who have used the drogue, but very little has shown up so far..
Noel points our that the drogue is seldom used, and when it is, it may have saved your life. Retrieval is really a minor item and can be a good time to meditate about your good fortune.
Retrieving the Drogue, 2008
The previous section describes the most effective method of retrieving the drogue that I have been able to obtain. However, the process is still a chore. In July 2008 I heard about a skipper and his wife who had been forced to abandon his 39 ft. boat after being battered by a series of storms in the vicinity of Cape Horn . They deployed the drogue three times and retrieved it three times, under conditions that might have induced an average skipper to deploy the drogue.
It took 11/2 hours to get it in the first time, but the able and creative skipper devised an improved strategy which enabled him to retrieve it with little trauma in half an hour.
I asked him how he had done this remarkable feat and he sent me the following information.
First: Before launching the drogue he attached a light line to the apex of the drogue bridle... When retrieving the drogue, he winched this line in first and took the load off the cleats.
Second: He winched the drogue in using a large genoa winch, A Barlow 32. This did not tear the cones.
He had first tried the anchor windlass but this had torn a couple of cones and had problems with the boat sailing from side to side. I would certainly suggest that skippers try his method. If so I would appreciate a short report on the results. Donaldjordan firstname.lastname@example.org.
In all of the many drogue deployments there has been only one report of a failure due to chafe. I believe that this lack of chafe is due, at least in part, to the relatively low loads and the absence of yaw when the drogue is deployed in a moderate storm. The only time that high loads might be experienced is in the event of a dangerous breaking wave strike.
In this one instance, the skipper reports that the steering gear was surrounded with a heavy steel structure to act as a guard. The bridle legs were deployed above this guard. Investigation showed that as the boat went over the very steep crests the bridle legs could be deflected downward by as much as 35 degrees and would bear heavily on the guard. Fortunately the bridle held up until the worst of the storm was over.
I recently received a report form a skipper who encountered a series of storms while sailing from Cape Horn to the Falkland Islands. The wind and sea conditions were the worst I have ever heard of , both in severity and duration. He launched and trtrieved the drogue three times with the sea and wind still heavy. I asked him how se managed this --- and I have included his comments below.