April 16, 2013

How to secure the bitter end

I WAS RECENTLY WATCHING a dramatic video* of two men trying to board a 60-foot ketch left unattended at anchor on a lee shore on Pitcairn Island. There was a storm blowing and the ketch was throwing herself  around in a fine old fashion.

The plan, apparently, was to weigh anchor, motor around to the protected side of the island, and anchor again in calmer water. As I watched, I kept thinking: “Even if they do manage to get aboard, how are they going to get the anchor up?”

No anchor winch is designed to take the strain that ketch was subjected to.  Perhaps if they could motor forward, and their anchor chain ran through a stopper to prevent it running out when the bowsprit made a leap for the sky, they might have a chance to recover their gear before they were blown ashore.

But the obvious way out of this pickle was to dump the anchor rode as quickly as possible — to buoy it and come back to recover it when the weather had improved.  (Presuming that they had a second anchor and rode, as any cautious cruiser should have.)

And then I wondered how many cruising boats would be able to slip their cables for a quick getaway from a lee shore. How would they be able to find the bitter end of the rode in the chain locker, buried as it would be under fathoms of chain, and unshackle it while the bows were flinging themselves violently up and down?

Then I remembered a tip I learned while sailing on an old gaff rigger as a teenager.  The skipper told me always to make the bitter end of the anchor chain fast to a length of nylon line.  That line should be long enough to reach from the eyebolt in the bulkhead of the chain locker, up through the deck pipe and onto the foredeck.

In an emergency, therefore, when you needed to dump your anchor and line with utmost speed, you could simply let run all your rode and cut through the nylon line with a knife on deck.  If time and circumstances permit, you could also attach a fender or buoy outboard of everything to act as a recovery float.

Frustratingly, the video I was watching ended just after the first man finally managed to get aboard the ketch after a series of what could have been very serious incidents, so I don’t know how things turned out in the end.  I can only hope they got away safely.

Today’s Thought
By experience we find out a shorter way by a long wandering. Learning teacheth more in one year than experience in twenty.
— Roger Ascham, The Scholemaster

Noah Webster, my favorite dictionary man, naturally had a passion for words. He also had a passion for his secretary.
One day, while the two of them were locked in fond embrace, Mrs Webster burst into his office.
“Oh, Noah!” she burst out, “I AM surprised!”
“No, my dear, you are wrong again,” said Webster. “It is we who are surprised. You, surely, are astounded.”

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


Edward said...

Oh John that was a chilling video....Thank god my wife didn't stumble across that insanity:)
The two items that POPPED into my mind were,
1. The unthinking certainty in the reliably of that outboard motor.
2. There needs to be an upper body workout routine as part of the cruisers wandering days.

The Unlikely Boatbuilder said...

One of my favorite authors, D.A. Rayner, wrote that one essential quality for sailors is imagination -- primarily, the ability to think ahead and ask yourself, 'what if…'.

Clearly, imagination was lacking in this case. A lot of trouble could have been saved if the skipper had asked himself, 'What if the wind comes up when we are ashore?'

I hope they got her off okay.