Copyright (c) Marc Dacey/Dark Star Media 2006-2020. Above photo (c) Marc Dacey. Powered by Blogger.


Thinking outside the anchor locker

I was once ignorant and accepting of the logic of boat design. I'm still ignorant...I can't even draw Bambi...but certain features of even the best of boats can annoy me and strike me as continuing to exist not because of logic or even utility, but because of habit. Examples can include restricted access to critical systems or components, like seacocks or engine parts or tankage. Like when I realized my SS water tanks had decent access ports (good) which were within one centimeter of the underside of the pilothouse floor (stupid).
Measure twice, oh, to hell with it.

But nobody's perfect, right? And one person's bad or compromised design is another's beloved vessel. Provided the boat in question doesn't sink while it's spantaneously combusting, de gustibus non est disputandum.
A typical modern design with a typical windlass and chain setup. Photo (c) Tom Irwin

But, having demonstrated love and tolerance for all boats and those who sail in them, why the hell are anchor lockers at the front of most small yachts? It has occurred to me of late that few sailors in my experience does the right thing in terms of the physics of ground tackle. Logically, you would want the windlass right in front or beside the mast, with no centerline hatches in the way, and that centerline space covered in either a stainless strip or even an inset "gutter".
As one does on HMCS Montreal.

The chain or rope rode would go down a spurling pipe forward of the mast (the hawse pipe is where the chain rode is routed off the bow and into the water, by the way) into a bilge or keel locker very close to the center of gravity of the boat. This locker could be in the aft corner of a cabin or would be built as part of bulkhead involving the head, so the chain pipe (which would be removable for servicing or inspection) could be stowed inside that, which could actually strengthen the deck.

If the windlass dies, you've got beefy winches on the mast or deck right to hand. If you choose not to install a chain washdown on deck, you could have the chain flake down in the bilges over a perforated plate, under which is a low-profile bilge pump. So you can "wash without slosh", and then pump the bilge-based anchor rode locker a lot drier than something forward. You can examine the chain for defects or service either inside the cabin, or on the deck in a more stable and sheltered location than the actual bow. Lastly, the wire runs to the windlass are shorter and unburied: easier to service and shorter, cheaper wire runs.
Why, the way this ship does things would wreck the V-berth!
Getting the chain over the keel, like getting the batteries under the saloon settees instead of beside the motor, typically aft in most boats, makes physical sense. I can only assume that habit and an aversion to bringing the potentially mucky "machinery" into the condo-like interior of most modern cruisers (plus their limited bilge stowage of many) means this idea is a non-starter.

But let's look at the problems implicit in the current design choices: Having a load of chain and anchor and machinery weight at the bow leads to hobbyhorsing, seas over the bow, difficulty staying upright, harnesses and jacklines for the person handling the gear (which is never a bad idea, actually) and a lot of wear and tear from the movement of the stowed chain...despite this, most sailors will tell you that there isn't really a better spot. Not on most modern yachts. Now, sharp-eyed readers will note that on the ship pictured above, the chain fall (the sloped ramp beneath the windlass) and chain locker are well back from the stemhead, leaving the foredecks blissfully clear and largely untrodden by the crew unless it's Titanic Tribute Night. But this is rarely done on sailboats.
Lots of people put paint dashes or tags or cable ties to indicate the amount of chain rode they've paid out, or, as some spell it, payed out. Photo (c) Ocean Navigator magazine.
In the below example, the anchor locker is reasonably well-lidded and the Lofrans Tigres (I think) windlass is bolted to a sunken platform, which, most of the time, will keep it and its electrical connections out of the weather and the deck free of a tripping...or worse...hazard. There's a plastic (probably HDPE) plate forward to take the wear of the chain and anchor shank, and the fall of the chain is being guided forward by a roller. It's as far back as it can go, and this is about as good an installation as is typically found on production boats in my snack bracket.

Roughly analogous to what happens on Alchemy. Photo (c) Sauniere59

Of course, while there is no excuse for poor design, the fact is not only that fewer boats these days anchor much, but also that fewer sailors know how to anchor, and on occasion seem to be unaware that anchoring includes etiquette. I'm no Ancient Mariner on the topic, but I see problematic stuff, like insufficient scope, lack of sturdy enough fair leads, rode left on the roller, rarely a snubber or a bridle, etc. Part of that, to be honest, is where I live: it's mostly fair-weather sailors stopping for lunch. But another part is that the habit of anchoring is being lost, I think, because the activity of anchoring is being discouraged. After all, anchoring is in some ways part of the watery version of the commons, and while the tragedy of shared access cuts both ways, there's more money for a marina in renting the visitor to the fuel dock a slip for the night, particularly when some abuse the resource.
The bigger the boat, the more chance of doing the anchor locker concept correctly by having the chain fall aft, low and with no easily breached lid on deck. This is a S&S 60. Photo (C) 2011 Practical Sailor

But back to the dilemma of anchoring and ground tackle, which is almost invariably heavy (even if there are exceptions) and is best kept aft and low, but usually isn't. It's not like the problem is unknown: Practical Sailor had a couple of really good articles here and here a few years ago. Many of pros and a greater number of the cons are enumerated. But if the best practice of ground tackle management is to stow chain low and aft, why is this so rarely a feature of modern production boats?

A large part of the reason is that many people who own boats prefer not to be reminded that they are actually on a boat, I think. They want the "working" part of the boat (the backing plates, seacocks, pumps, engine compartment, tankage and yes, anchoring gear) to be invisible in the "living" area, and banishing the often smelly and rusty chain to the pointy end is one way to do this, even if in terms of the physics of sailing the boat it's like putting a fat kid on the very edge of the see-saw seat.
Custom, homebuilt projects can think outside of the anchor locker if they are willing to commit to non-traditional layouts. Diagram (c)
In the diagram above, which is from the blog of a Dutch trimaran builder, the chain locker is well-aft, giving the height needed for an effective chain fall. This is the distance and angle that chain runs off the windlass's gypsy so that it piles neatly in a pyramid at the bottom of the space provided.

I find interesting this blog author's contention that figuring out the angles of his chain fall had to be derived empirically and not from an established set of parameters. Diagram (c)
Now, getting the chain aft on the premise that this is better needn't involve radical surgery: one boat builder found even eight inches aft made a difference and also introduced me to the rather useful and economical concept of the recycled tire garden trug as a durable receptacle for piled chain. This is easier to remove and clean and cheaper in time and dollars than was my idea of making a triangular box with several coats of Rhino Liner applied.
If you're prone to drug, pay out the trug. Photo (c)
A related approach is seen on the rather beautiful S/V Jedi, a Sundeer 64. Here the chain run on deck is taken well back to an offset windlass and protected hawse pipe straight down into a dedicated locker.
The best option to my mind involves a willingness to surrender a bit of internal space, but so what? It's a boat! Photo (c)

Now, I thought I had all this ground tackle nonsense sussed out years ago. Alchemy came with a relatively shallow, uncovered anchor "well", which carries some 200 feet of chain splayed about only 14 inches below deck level. The positives were (and remain) that this well is dry and protected by pipe rails. Losing 14 inches in height means the forces in a seaway attempting to throw crew off the boat are mitigated, somewhat. The drain hole for the anchor well is relatively high in the stem; even in a plunging sea, there is enough buoyancy in Alchemy's bluff bows to keep the anchor well drain hole out of the sea, and the area is shallow enough that even brimming with ocean, it wouldn't drag down the bows before it self-emptied.
Conceptually in 2009, because I got absorbed with repowering and detanking.
As can be seen, the "well" is basically just a place to get sorted. So I thought "hey, why not make a nice deep bucket? At the front of the boat? I'm sure I could make a lid for it!"
This is actually represents a vast amount of cutting and welding. And would set the mandatory lifevests on fire.

But while this would work, it turns the bow into a bucket, leaves far less prospective anchor well "floor" in which to stand, and doesn't move the chain back so much as down, while removing the aspect of "self-draining" that is desirable in a steel boat.

"Spurling pipe" is number 11 and is the least likely clue in Pictionary.

So my new thinking is to leave well enough alone (pun intended). The forepeak workshop space is seven feet aft of the stem; I can move the windlass about five and a quarter feet back, almost to the forepeak hatch frame. This will keep the windlass slightly more protected and out of the weather and will leave the well as a place for chain management and cleaning, a rode footbath, so to speak. The chain fall can then be a simple pipe from the underside of the deck, in the same "empirical" combination of straight and angled spurling pipe down to a floor-bolted trug. This means there is no bucket, no welding, no lid, just a lined hole in the deck that pipes chain into a sort of soft bucket. Chain is cleaned on deck before it is stowed low and several feet aft, and I can keep the buttons to work the windlass when in electrical mode better protected, another win.

I think I'll start measuring twice and cutting once. I may have just talked myself out of an expensive mistake.


Silverheels III said...

Marc, when you get out of Lake Ontario you'll find, as did we, that anchoring is much more commonplace than you've indicated here. Georgian Bay for example, and certainly the Caribbean.
I don't understand your statement about needing tethers and safety harnesses when on the foredeck and anchoring the boat. If the anchorage is that rough, find a calmer location.
The windlass, wherever you finally mount it above or below decks will still suffer from saltwater and mud from the chain. Install a deckwash for sure, no way do you want salty smelly mud and algae in your chain locker. Also, whether using an anchor swivel or not, the chain will become seriously twisted over time, so allow good access to your chain bucket to unwind those inevitable knots. We have removed the stainless swivel between our galvanized HT chain and the galvanized Rocna and Delta anchors. It was corroding the last link due to SS/galvanized electrolysis. We have friends who have lost anchgors due to swivel faulure. We use one large galvanized load rated shackle to connect chain to anchor. Are you going sailing with only one chain and anchor instantly deployable?

Rhys said...

Ken/Lynn: I've actually anchored now in several non-freshwater places, but certainly more here than elsewhere, and one notices the habits of others. My comment about tethers and harnesses relates to "surprise" conditions, such as having to deal with rising winds in the night to put on a bridle and to cast off a single snubber. My thoughts may be coloured by my experience with Hurricane Gonzalo, which was supposed to be 45 knots max, but effectively doubled that within three hours of being forecast. I saw anchored boats that held through that and anchored boats that dragged or parted rodes, and it's interesting to think why that was. It's made me more fond of the "running off to sea" plan, but that would depend on fetch, state of tide, type of bottom, etc. Riding out a hurricane at anchor is a very conditional proposition!

I agree about a deckwash, in my case in the anchor well, which is kiddie pool-sized. Dropping clean chain into essentially a big rubber hamper I can a) drain separately and b) remove for swilling out seems now a better idea than my initial one, as does my 360 access in an otherwise open forepeak.

Research and hearsay has put me off swivels, and I agree that an SS one with galvanized items at either end is just asking for it. The way in which they are used (chain to swivel to shank) is problematic as well to me (see I'm not sure why you wouldn't have chain to swivel to one foot of chain to shackle to shank, so that the pin of the swivel couldn't take the total torque of a surge as it's "trapped" in the shank hole.

Lastly, I plan on having two full chain options on my bow at the ready, plus a stern anchor with chain and rope rode aft on the rail. Plus an anchor buoy! The question remaining is what is the best all-round main anchor I should select? The existing CQRs and Bruces aren't going to cut it, although I might keep the Bruce as a spare. I gather you are happy with your choices. Did you go "one size up"?