Bow-to or stern-to

There is often much debate about whether it is better to be bow-to or stern-to the waves in big seas. The sea anchor is basically designed for a vessel to be bow-to the waves and to hold the boat stationary in the water so that the bow cleaves the oncoming waves. This is fine if you want to sit out a storm but it comes with inherent risks. Traditionally in the past skippers would try to meet breaking waves head-on so that the vessel knifes through the top of the wave which then rushes safely past it. However this is a risky practice with some of the bigger breaking waves as they don’t always come from exactly the same direction and a slight miscalculation can have the vessel’s bow twisted around so that it broadsides into the wave with catastrophic consequences. Rogue waves can also appear from anywhere and by definition don’t follow the direction of the other waves. Another complication arises should the wind be too strong to be able to use a storm or trysail, the rigging is compromised, the steering damaged and/or the engine not working. Without any ability to influence the direction of the vessel you are at the mercy of the sea and with a sea anchor a device that may or may not be keeping you facing in the direction you require to ride out the storm.

A series anchor, on the other hand, is designed to be deployed off the stern of a vessel so that it is effectively stern-to the oncoming waves as although the series anchor shouldn’t stop the vessel dead in its tracks it will slow it down to a speed far slower than that at which the waves are travelling at, effectively having them approach the boat stern-to. For most vessels, especially those with sloop-type rigging, there is far greater wind resistance forward of the centre line of lateral hull resistance with no sails up (as any skipper trying to manouvre a vessel in a marina with windage on the bow and without the luxury of bow thrusters can tell you) and this resistance should trail the point of attachment of any resisting device (such as a sea anchor or series drogue) for the vessel to remain stable in its position. Vessels with a mizzen mast such as schooners, ketches and yawls can artificially create stability by hoisting some sail on their mizzen to hold the bow into the wind, as they do at anchor in extremely strong winds whereas sloops are better off anchoring stern-to under such conditions.

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