February 24, 2013

Windlass problems

ONCE WHEN I was working for Sea magazine a distressed sailor called me from Mexico.  He wanted to know how to stop his anchor chain jumping off his windlass.  Apparently he’d been caught on a lee shore with a reef close behind and he’d had a very bad night watching the reef grow closer.

The wind died down before his boat struck, but he was concerned that his anchor winch wasn’t working properly because when he tried to weigh anchor in order to re-anchor in a better spot, the chain just kept slipping off the winch.

I found out that his chain made only a quarter turn on the wildcat before dropping through the pipe into the chain locker below.  This is a fairly common arrangement, but it is far from satisfactory if the strain on the anchor chain is excessive.  Then it will tend to jump the cogs when the bow rises to a swell.

The answer is to fit a chain stopper to the foredeck or the bow roller.  It’s a simple pawl that clicks into a link of the chain and jams it when the chain tries to run backward out of the roller.

The manufacturers of anchor windlasses do their best to warn people not to expect too much from them, but that doesn’t stop many sailors from abusing them. Windlasses are designed to lift only the weight of the anchor and its line. They aren’t meant to drag a heavy cruising boat up to her anchor in choppy seas against a strong current or heavy wind. But it happens all the time.

The makers try to salvage their reputations by advising us to choose much bigger windlasses that we really need, so we won’t wreck the machinery before the warranty runs out. Nevertheless, the windlass slaughter continues.

You may do your pocketbook a favor by taking the strain off your anchor rode.  Use power or sail to move forward over your anchor and simply let the windlass take up the slack. If you do this, you can get away with a much smaller and less expensive windlass.  And if you have a manual windlass, your arms and back will be very grateful.

Today’s Thought
Better lose the anchor than the whole ship.
— Danish proverb

When a man and a woman marry, they become one. The trouble starts when they try to decide which one.

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

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