Don Jordan and the Jordan Series Drogue

Posted on Sunday 19 April 2009

In my opinion, the greatest storm safety device ever created is the Jordan Series Drogue.

The JSD was the brainchild of Don Jordan, a retired aeronautical engineer, in response to the fatalities that were the result of the 1979 Fastnet disaster. I believe that the Jordan Series Drogue is a piece of gear that every sea-going small sailboat should have.

Don Jordan was an aeronautical engineer, who worked for Pratt and Whitney, eventually retiring from his position as chief engineer. He was also a senior lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for many years. He was a pilot and a life-long sailor. Back when I was getting things setup for the s/v Pretty Gee, I spoke with Don Jordan a number of times regarding the Jordan Series Drogue. I was fortunate enough to get a personal recommendation for the drogue sizing for my boat from Don directly. Unfortunately, Don passed away last year.

What is a Jordan Series Drogue?

It is a safety device for small craft that consists of a long line with a series of small drag cones attached along its length. The JSD for the Pretty Gee consists of a 5/8″ line, 270′ long, with 130 small cones attached to it. It has 15′ of 5/16″ chain on the terminal end as a weight. It is connected to the boat by a bridle that is 45′ long. It looks like this:

Jordan Series Drogue
Photo courtesy of Sail Magazine’s article on series drogues and sea anchors.

How Does a Jordan Series Drogue Work?

How the Jordan Series Drogue works is best explained by Don Jordan himself, on a website that he helped develop about the Jordan Series Drogue. Please visit the Jordan Series Drogue website to find out more about this ingenious device.

Who Makes the Jordan Series Drogue?

There are several ways to get or make a Jordan Series Drogue. First, you can get the materials and make them yourself. Buying a kit is often easier, if a bit more expensive. Both Ace Sailmakers and SailRite make and sell either the cones alone or complete kits, including the cones and double braid line, for making Jordan Series Drogues to cover a series of different size boats. Ace Sailmakers will also make complete drogues as well.

Why Use a Jordan Series Drogue, instead of a Parachute Sea Anchor?

Well, there are quite a few reasons to use a Jordan Series Drogue over a parachute sea anchor. Here are a few of the more important ones IMHO.

First, the Jordan Series drogue was developed and tested in conjunction with the US Coast Guard, and was specifically designed for helping small sailcraft survive in storm conditions, like those found during the 1979 Fastnet disaster that was Jordan’s primary motivation for developing the series drogue. It has been proven to work very successfully and protect boats using it from damage during its deployment.

Second, due to the change in boat design, most boats are far more stable when using a drogue than when using a sea anchor. Don Jordan has an interesting post about this on the Jordan Series Drogue site, and there is no reason to think that the forces that apply to a sailboat at anchor would not also apply to a sailboat lying to a sea anchor.

Third, the overall forces that are generated by a Jordan Series Drogue are lower and the peak shock loading forces that the boat is subjected to is far lower by design. The design of the JSD allows it to gradually increase the resistance applied to the boat as the rode becomes more heavily loaded—and doesn’t have the issues with collapsing and suddenly re-deploying a parachute sea anchor does.

Fourth, Don Jordan had no financial interest in selling or making the Jordan Series Drogue, as he put the idea and patents for it into the public domain after developing it. Some of the oft-cited information sources that tout the superiority of the parachute sea anchor type devices are a bit less than honest IMHO.

How to Install, Deploy and Retrieve the Jordan Series Drogue

Installing the JSD

Prior to setting off on a blue water passage, your boat should be outfitted with dedicated chainplates for the Jordan Series Drogue. These chainplates should be mounted fairly low and as far outboard and aft on the hull of the boat as possible. They should be tied into the structure of the boat as securely as the chainplates for the rigging.

The bridle should be about three times as long as the distance between the chainplates. If the transom is 12′ wide, the bridle for the Jordan Series Drogue should be about 36′. This should give you sufficient length for the splices and to terminate the bridle lines properly. Ideally, one end of the bridle should be an eyesplice that is connected to the eyesplice at the end of the drogue by running the bridle line through the drogue’s eyesplice and then through its own eyesplice so the bridle line forms a larkshead knot around the drogue line.

The other end should be spliced around a thimble and connected to the chainplate via a heavy shackle. Ideally, the bridle legs should be run through tubular polyester webbing to protect them from UV damage and chafe. These lines should be left permanently connected while on any bluewater passage.

The Jordan Series Drogue should be flaked into a bag or container, starting with the bridle end. This should leave the terminal end, with the weight, on top of the drogue line, and allow the drogue to be deployed by simple dropping the drogue’s terminal end into the water.

Deploying the Jordan Series Drogue

Make sure the drogue line is free and clear to run out before doing anything else, because as soon as you release the weight to deploy the drogue—you are committed to it… as the small cones will start to fill and increase the load on the drogue line. When conditions deteriorate to the point you feel the Jordan Series Drogue should be deployed, you should drop the weight and terminal end of the drogue into the water and let the drogue run out.

Check to see that the bridle legs lead fair and then head down below and batten down the hatches. If you’ve setup the chainplates, bridle and drogue properly, chafe should not be an issue. Don Jordan designed the series drogue to be an “ejection seat” for the sailor… where you deploy it and then wait for the ride to end. It shouldn’t require the crew to do much more than keep a watch. No active steering or other crew participation should be required once the series drogue has been deployed, allowing the crew to rest, eat, and restore themselves.

Retrieving the Jordan Series Drogue

This is one of the more difficult things to do. Don Jordan wrote:

I recommend that you deploy the drogue in fair weather to get a feel for the
launching and retrieval. You will need two winches and two helper lines. See website.

I mention this because one skipper recently cut the drogue loose after a
successful ride in a storm because he could not get it back — no excuse
for this . Don

Now, I’ve tried out my series drogue several times and came up with a pretty good solution for retrieving it. What you will need are the following:

  • Two lines about twice the LOA of your boat, with a stopper knot tied in about two feet from one end, and one about halfway down the line.
  • Two snatch blocks attached to the base of the bow pulpit

The procedure is to run the lines forward to the snatch blocks and back to the genoa winches. The winches should be free, since you probably won’t have any sail up if you’ve resorted to a Jordan Series Drogue.

  1. Tie the end of the port line with the stopper knot to the series drogue rode with a rolling hitch. This will allow you to winch about a boat length of series drogue aboard the boat. Watch out and make sure you don’t snag the cones on anything while you’re winching it aboard.
  2. Then tie the end of the starboard line with the stopper knot to the series drogue rode with a rolling hitch.
  3. Next, go forward and untie the first line rolling hitch and bring it back to the cockpit.
  4. Then winch in the second line, and tie the end of the port line to the series drogue rode again and repeat.

On most boats, the series drogue and bridle will be about a dozen boat lengths long or so. So, you only have to do this six times to retrieve it. It is even simpler if you’re sailing with a second person, since they can be moving forward and retrieving the lines, while you’re winching in the drogue. This method also minimizes the amount of time spent tying and untying the knots.

The Jordan Series Drogue and Trip Lines

I asked Don about using a trip line on the JSD… he did not recommend it. As he explained it, the problem is that if the trip line and the JSD rode twist, it could compromise the JSD by fouling the small cones and preventing them from opening properly.

When the boat is not in motion because of the waves, the JSD will usually extend nearly straight down from the stern of the boat. As the boat starts to move, the cones start load up as the road becomes more heavily loaded. When the JSD is vertical like that, it could easily twist and foul the trip line.

4 Comments for 'Don Jordan and the Jordan Series Drogue'

    July 25, 2009 | 1:40 pm

    I fully agree with the comment that a Series Drogue is the “greatest storm safety device”. In a storm it is what you want; something totally reliable that is both uncomplicated and utterly effective. It is no more difficult to retrieve (and in some cases easier) than other drag devices and without the potential hazards associated with deploying the likes of parachute anchors.

    January 5, 2010 | 8:24 pm

    […] retrieval, this blog describes the JSD well: Don Jordan and the Jordan Series Drogue | Adrift at Sea __________________ "The sail, the play of its pulse so like our own lives: so thin and yet […]

    February 11, 2010 | 5:47 pm

    […] than a sea anchor, I'd suggest a Jordan Series Drogue. You can read about the JSD on my blog. I would recommend build a proper bridgedeck at the front of the cockpit on your boat if it […]

    November 13, 2010 | 3:12 am

    […] heaving-to, lying ahull and using safety devices, like the Jordan Series Drogue. I wrote about the Jordan Series Drogue previously and think it is probably the best storm survival device for a small sailing […]

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