Evolution of an Anchor Handling System

Fifteen years of sailing around the English Channel, North Sea, Bay of Biscay and the Mediterranean taught me many things, not the least of which was the importance of good ground tackle and a means to handle it.
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Fifteen years of sailing around the English Channel, North Sea, Bay of Biscay and the Mediterranean taught me many things, not the least of which was the importance of good ground tackle and a means to handle it.

All of which left me somewhat surprised at the rudimentary anchoring setups on many North American boats, especially those built prior to the 1980s. It seemed that extended anchoring was not part of the boating psyche at that time; most boats were intended to spend their lives on moorings or in slips and hence sported vestigial bow rollers that would make the average northern European sailor recoil in horror.

Our project boat, a 1973 Norlin 34, was built in Sweden as a racer-cruiser, so did not come with the hefty bow roller typical of that country’s cruising boats. Instead she had a dainty affair that could have come off a 19ft daysailer, certainly too small to stow an anchor on; and with no chainpipe to lead the rope rode belowdecks, I was reduced to dumping it in a bucket to make it easier to carry it and the 22lb anchor between the cockpit and the foredeck. The bow cleats were perfect for mooring pennants but awkwardly placed for cleating off an anchor rode, and the chocks were lethal—as I found out when they cut through my bow lines like knives during a nor’easter, causing the bow to crash repeatedly against a dock box.

This obviously would not do. My first, rather hasty anchoring upgrade involved purchasing a good-sized Windline anchor roller and installing it atop a hastily fashioned teak baseplate; cutting a hole in the deck for a chainpipe; and installing a central cleat for the anchor rode. I upgraded the anchor rode to 200 feet of 5/8in Yale Brait spliced to 70 feet of 5/16in G4 chain, but decided to keep the 22lb Delta in the interests of preserving my back. It was actually an excellent little anchor that never once dragged in all the time we used it.

Oh, and I got rid of those evil line-chafing bow chocks. In fact, I decided to do away with chocks altogether, instead cutting away the first two feet of aluminum toerail and mounting a larger pair of cleats from Schaefer Marine on teak backing plates.

We sailed with this arrangement for several seasons, and had no problems with it except when trying to get the anchor up when it was blowing hard. I also felt that a bigger anchor would be essential if I wanted to sail further afield, so we upgraded to a 35lb Spade. Between the extra weight, the need to stuff the rode down the chainpipe on a heaving foredeck, and the fact that the Spade tends to dig in so deeply it can take some real effort to break it out, I soon decided that a windlass would be a sensible upgrade. And—full disclosure—that anchoring system was damned ugly.

I installed the Maxwell RC800 windlass two springs ago, over the space of a couple of weekends. More details on this project HERE.

This proved to be one of the more enjoyable projects I’ve undertaken, and I felt a real sense of satisfaction the first time I pressed the button and the chain rattled happily around the gypsy as the anchor made its way to the surface. To aid the anchor’s progress up and over the roller I installed a Quickline swivel. In the process of this upgrade I also tidied up the foredeck, getting rid of the teak baseplates and having the bow roller welded to the stainless steel bow plate that had held the original roller. All round, this was a huge improvement in both functionality and appearance. If I have all 70 feet of chain out—which I do most of the time, now that I don’t have to sweat it up by hand—I just cleat the rode off. I also have a 20ft nylon snubber with a chain hook on one end that I’ll use if I’m staying put for any length of time.

It took a few years, but I eventually ended up with an anchor set-up that is ideal for 90 percent of scenarios. I’d have liked a second bow roller, and maybe I should have gone for the rope capstan on the windlass. Still and all, it’s a joy to use, which means it gets used often!

Photos by Peter Nielsen

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