Techniques & Tactics

GALERIDER DROGUE: For Steering and Heaving To

Drogue test

You probably won't be too surprised to learn that I've been thinking about jury-steering systems ever since my little adventure back in January aboard the catamaran Be Good Too. One thing I've wondered is whether we might have managed to save the boat if we'd had a proper drogue onboard to try steering with. If we'd been able to neutralize the effect of the bent port rudder, which was constantly steering the boat to starboard, by either losing the rudder entirely (not really feasible) or by letting it swing freely (which would have been easy if we'd known the rudder was bent before we "fixed" it), I'm quite certain the boat could have been steered with a properly sized drogue. The more pertinent question is whether or not a drogue could have overcome the steering bias created by the damaged port rudder to allow us to control the boat in spite of it.

In retrospect there's no way of knowing that for sure, and to have definitively answered the question at the time we needed access to a good drogue. Believe it or not, I've never actually carried any sort of a drogue or sea anchor on any bluewater boat I've owned, but ever since we abandoned Be Good Too I've been thinking I should at least carry a drogue.

Coincidentally, in the January 2014 issue of Cruising World, which came out not long before we set sail on Be Good Too, editor Mark Pillsbury described in his Editor's Log column how he'd gone out sailing with Michael and Ken Keyworth on Chasseur, a Swan 44 (see photo up top), and cruised all around Narragansett Bay steering only with a Galerider drogue. Since then the experiments conducted by the Keyworth brothers have been more widely publicized, and a full write-up, by brother Michael, can be studied here.

There's also a nifty viddy that has been posted on YouTube:

The most pertinent points raised in Michael's report and video are: a) to steer his 44-foot 28,000-pound Swan he found a 30-inch Galerider worked best, yielding the most control with the smallest reduction in speed (about 1 knot); and b) the drogue is only effective for steering if the two lines making up its steering bridle are led well forward of the transom, more toward the middle of the boat, so the boat can pivot on its keel and the transom can swing freely.

Since January I also came across an article by John Harries, published at his Attainable Adventure Cruising website, in which he describes streaming a Galerider drogue from the windward side of the bow of his boat while hove to so as to keep the bow from falling off the wind. This struck me as an absolutely brilliant idea, as most modern boats (mine included) do have a pronounced tendency to fall off on to a near beam reach when heaving to, and this promises to be an effective antidote to that problem.

Drogue diagram

Diagram by John Harries, showing his streaming of a drogue from the bow while hove to versus Larry Pardey's technique of streaming a sea anchor on a bridle at an angle from the bow. The attitude of the boat relative to the wind and waves in both instances is similar, but to lie to the drogue you need to carry some sail so as to drive the boat a bit forward and sideways

I've been revisiting the topic, as I am now getting Lunacy ready to sail south for the winter, and just today ordered a Galerider drogue of my own. The one big question in my mind, of course, was what size to get.

Dashew with drogue

Steve Dashew with a really big Galerider drogue aboard his 83-foot powerboat Wind Horse

Check out the website of Hathaway, Reiser and Raymond, creators of the Galerider, and you'll see that for a boat my size and weight (39 feet, 21,000 pounds) they recommend a drogue with an open diameter of 36 inches. Study Michael's information up there, and you'll see that in his steering test with a 36-inch drogue his boat was about half a knot slower than it was dragging the 30-inch drogue. Both drogues were effective for steering, but he considered the 30-inch model to be optimal.

I discussed the size question with Wes Oliver at Hathaway and explained to him I thought I was much more likely to use the drogue for steering or heaving to than I was as a straight drag device in extreme conditions. I asked if he was familiar with John Harries' heaving-to technique, and he said he was and that a few customers had purchased drogues for just that purpose. He had no hard information, however, on what size drogue works best in this application.

So I ordered the 36-inch model. Overkill, I figure, is usually better than underkill, especially when it comes to emergencies on boats. If I do somehow lose my rudder and end up having to steer with this thing, being half a knot slower than I might have been will likely be the least of my worries.

PS: John's excellent article on heaving to with a drogue is no longer available for free, and to read it you must now pay to subscribe to his site.

PPS: Another thing you can do with a drogue is stream it behind you when running inlets plagued by breaking waves. The drogue will keep you from broaching and wiping out when a wave hits you the wrong way. John C. Voss, in his famous book 40,000 Miles In A Canoe, was a proponent of this technique and describes it briefly in the book's appendix.

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