December 8, 2015

An appeal for bow rollers

WHEN I WALK AROUND our local marina I can hardly believe how many boats lack anchor rollers. What were the manufacturers thinking? Thirty footers and bigger, without any proper means of retrieving the anchor and its rode. Did they imagine their boats would never ever anchor, from choice or necessity?

In my humble opinion, no boat over 20 feet in length should be allowed to leave the factory without a proper anchor roller at the bow.

Anyone who has ever tried to weigh anchor by hand in a boat without a bow roller knows how awkward and difficult it is. Consequently, you’ll notice that all sorts of after-market rollers get bolted on by boat owners seeking to ease the pain of retrieving the anchor. Some of them look far too flimsy for the job. Some stick out from behind the forestay at an odd angle. Others have to be bolted on top of a bed of teak to bring them to the correct level. And they’re not cheap, either. A reasonably sized one that will house the anchor costs in the region of $200 with shipping. And then you have all the fun of fitting it yourself.

I was lucky enough to own a boat that was designed from the beginning to have an anchor roller. It was part of a simple bronze fitting that incorporated the bow chainplate, a bow roller, and the stemhead fitting to which the forestay attached. I blessed its little heart every time I weighed anchor, which I was able to do sitting down on deck behind it and bracing my feet in the anchor well.

In the days of my youth I used to be able to raise that way a 35-pound CQR on an all-chain 5/16-inch rode in 90 feet of water. But when I later bought a 27-foot Cape Dory with a built-in roller, my anchor weighed only 25 pounds and there was only 30 feet of 1/4-inch chain; the rest was nylon line. So I had it a lot easier and I was very grateful.

I can only imagine that unscrupulous boat manufacturers deliberately omit a bow roller in an effort to keep the selling price down a few bucks. It’s a wicked practice, like selling a new car without a horn, or without a spare tire. If I were in charge of the boat-manufacturing industry I would make it a federal crime to sell a boat without an anchor roller. But since they’re never likely to elect me to that position, the situation is unlikely to change unless we all start complaining to our representatives in Congress.

Never mind Obamacare for the moment. Never mind Trump and Isis and Iran and North Korea. Forget all that for now. Surprise your elected U.S. representative. Ask him or her to sponsor legislation about bow rollers. You never know. It might be such a refreshing change from the same-old, same-old, that Washington DC could catch fire with enthusiasm for compulsory bow rollers. And if that means some boat manufacturers will end up behind bars, so be it. They deserve it.

Today’s Thought
The law is the last result of human wisdom acting upon human experience for the benefit of the public.
—Samuel Johnson, Miscellanies

“Did you know old Joe survived mustard gas and pepper spray?”
“No. How’s he doing?”
“Oh he’s a seasoned veteran now.”

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


Anonymous said...

Consider yourself fortunate, not all CD27s came with bow rollers, they were only after a certain year. Our 1977 model didn't have one and there was no good (read: aesthetic, pretty, functional, etc) way of installing one. It was really frustrating and I wasn't about to hack up that pretty bronze piece for some hack installation, I was really envious of the later models that had the roller built into the bronze bowpiece.

The lack of a bow roller represented my ultimate frustration with the boat: it lacked functional features. It was pretty, it sailed well, and it had many nice features, but it lacked things that were, IMO, requirements for a practical cruising boat. The later models largely addressed this and I'm sure people worked around it (I know ours was sailed from Boston to BVI and back at least once), but I found it really frustrating that the boat lacked some of the simple things to made it functional for two people to cruise and live on (e.g. anchor locker, roller, useful storage). We managed someworkarounds ourselves, but, in the end, the sum of the things we felt it was missing ended up being significant and resulted in us moving on.

Francey said...

-smile- If you cater to the neophytes, and such... when you write of things only experienced sailors know,
why don't you include a sketch, a picture, a clip...anything to show what the heck a 'bow-roller' is? Would have
made your article informative. I'm not
a sailor and never will be...I just visit occasionally, so I don't need a sea person's education- but a quick show-me would
let me read your article and learn something without having to get the dictionary out. -smile-

John Vigor said...

Oh Francey, that's too bad. I don't usually illustrate this column because I compose in Microsoft, and Google doesn't like to work with Microsoft, especially as far as pictures are concerned. And Blogger has to do its own thing to re-edit my column so it fits onto my website. And my PC is falling to bits as well. So it's hellish complicated, and I rationalize by telling critics that this column is meant for people who like to read, versus those who won't read anything unless its surrounded by eye candy and bling, and I'm sure you're not one of those are you Francey? Course not.

Anyway here's a link to a yacht's anchor roller. I might just mention that you could have done this for yourself and not bothered a hard-working bloke like me. I mean, you just have to Google anchor roller, or bow roller, and Bob's your maiden aunt.

It goes right in front of the boat at the very tip of the bow (front end, Francey, front end). The anchor line runs from the boat, over the roller, and down into the water. The roller makes it easier to pull up the anchor when it's time to leave.

John V.

Alden Smith said...

A good sized anchor and plenty of chain is my boats insurance policy and peace of mind on a very windy night.

I find the most useful part of my bow fitting after the roller is the chain pawl. I pull my anchor and chain up by hand and having a chain pawl allows me to take a rest every now and again - I wouldn't be without one.

Allan S said...

I just removed our bowsprit from our Seafarer 38C in order to refurbish and am in desperate need of a new roller. the wife and I were just talking about how few boats have them nowadays.

John Vigor said...

Alden, I quite agree about the pawl, which allows the chain to run only one way at a time. I first saw a chain pawl on the bow roller of Eric Hiscock's Wanderer III. There's a picture of it in his book, Cruising Under Sail. Alternatively, one can use a separate chain stopper bolted to the foredeck. As Hiscock says, for a small boat it's worth more than a windlass.

John V.

Eric said...

I would guess the reason for not including a bow roller is as you suggest, to save pennies on the cost of the boat. I don't know that much about boat manufacturers, but I would guess that boat designers, if they are anything like other designers that I do know, are rather high-minded and could care less about anchors, bumpers, davits, cleats, or chain lockers. I can hear them saying; "I design boats, not accessories".
As for passing a law? Fuggettaboutit. Besides, how are you going to make the rest of the world comply? How many sailboats are actually made in America today? Or have been in the last 50 years? Just try and get a permit in America to spray fiberglass at an industrial level today, again fuggettaboutit.
I agree, bow rollers and chain lockers should be part of any design from the beginning, but seriously, I can hear them crying; "Why are you hanging your boat on an anchor in the first place, when there is a perfectly good dock right over there?" I think it more likely to get the manufacturers to include permanently installed "bumpers" to prevent dock chaffing.
How about that? A top-rail that integrates a full-length adjustable rub rail? Better yet, make it water filled so you can add counter-weight on the windward side?