September 8, 2013

Anchoring and the singlehander

ANCHORING IS ALWAYS AN ART, but it’s more artistic than ever for singlehanded sailors.  The main problem is that the anchor’s at one end of the boat, and the cockpit controls are at the other end of the boat.  Thus, when the anchor is clear of the ground, your boat is basically out of control until you can get all the ground gear raised and stowed, and you have managed to scramble back aft to the cockpit.

During this period your boat can start moving, whether blown by wind or borne by current, and if other idiots have come and anchored close to you the scene is set for some nasty collisions.

A friend of mine who singlehands a 27-foot sloop has been thinking about all this and worrying about the day that she feels is sure to come when the wind really gets up and starts making the anchorage so choppy that she’s forced to weigh anchor and seek shelter elsewhere.

Her boat doesn’t have an anchor winch and she’s not exactly an Amazon herself. Furthermore, she has a weak back.  So she’s wondering how on earth she would get her anchor on board in a stiff breeze.

My advice to her was to secure the bitter end of the anchor rode to a fender and throw the lot overboard.  Come back to  retrieve it when the weather has calmed down. But that means she’d need a second anchor and a spare rode if there wasn’t a marina handy nearby.  And there’s always the chance that some unscrupulous bounder would make off with her fender, anchor line, and anchor.  I mean, these people who set crab pots are forever stealing each other’s crabs.  What’s to stop them stealing an anchor?

I have heard of another wrinkle that might work in some circumstances, and that’s to take the nylon anchor rode aft to the main halyard winch on the mast.  That would give you a lot more purchase and save a lot of strain on your back, but I worry that the unfair direction of pull on the mast might bend it and cause it to collapse on top of you.  If your mast  has a hefty section, or is solid wood, and is keel-stepped, it might work, but otherwise I would be very cautious about trying this.

One thing I know that helps greatly in weighing the anchor is a chain pawl on the bow roller, or one that is bolted to the foredeck.  It will also work with nylon rode, and it makes sure that when the bow rises to a wave, the anchor line won’t overcome your desperate pull and run back over the roller.  The rode can only move aft, into the boat. You can, of course, reverse the pawl when you want to veer the cable.

My own experience with anchoring has not lacked excitement.  I have crushed vertebrae in my back on two separate occasions, but the two most difficult weighings were once in the wilds of Vancouver Island when I discovered after getting back to the cockpit quite exhausted that the engine was running in reverse gear, and another time in the Gulf Islands when I managed to raise, along with my anchor, a rusty old engine block that someone had discarded. 

Yes, I did think about installing an electric anchor windlass, but it always seemed like too much trouble and expense for a 27-footer.  And, what the heck, I still had about 30 vertebrae to go.

Today’s Thought
He who has suffered shipwreck fears to sail
Upon the seas, though with a gentle gale.
— Robert Herrick, Shipwreck

The student nurse tucked up her patient for the night.
“When the doctor comes to see you in the morning I want you to look cheerful and healthy,” she said.
“But I don’t feel cheerful,” the patient whined. “I don’t want to smile, I feel terrible.”
“Never mind, just do it for the doctor’s sake,” said the nurse. “It would cheer him up no end — and I just happen to know he’s terribly worried about you.”  

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


Robert Salnick said...

Why not use a sheet winch?

John Vigor said...

Yes Robert, that could work, depending on how clear the path is between the bow roller and the sheet winch. There could be a lot of friction where the incoming rode comes into contact with the cabin top or shrouds. There is more likely to be a straight path between the main halyard winch and the bow roller. You might be able to set up a freestanding block on the end of a line to guide the anchor rode around obstructions, but that's starting to get a bit complicated. Better simply to throw the lot overboard.

John V.