Little Compass RoseCaribbean Compass July 2020

by Chris Doyle

We all love possessions, some of them anyway, but when does our possessiveness end up owning us?

Something happened to me quite recently. Before I had my catamaran, Ti Kanot, built in Trinidad, I had owned an old monohull � one of the really old, original, CSY unsinkable bareboats, called Helos � for about 20 years. It came with the standard anchoring equipment for the time: 12 feet of stainless chain and 120 feet of rope rode, and a CQR anchor, with a Danforth as a spare. Strangely enough, bareboats in those days mostly did fine on that meagre ration, but there was a lot more dragging room in the anchorages back then.

But Helos had been out of charter for a few years and I had a terrible time getting it to stay put anywhere except in the softest sand. On one memorable occasion I had both anchors out in series (one attached to the next) and was still steadily moving with the wind through Hillsborough anchorage with a diplomat on board who was getting late for a meeting and becoming frantic. This was a puzzle; I had used these kinds of anchors on other boats and they were fine. What was wrong? I kept asking people. It took a while, but eventually I found someone who knew: �Anchors with moveable parts, like Danforths and CQRs, become useless after some years of heavy work. The angles of the parts are critical, and when they wear enough for that to change, they no longer hold.� I replaced them and all was well. I eventually bought a Delta with no moving parts and that was fine.

When I had Ti Kanot built, I considered what I had learnt, and what I needed. One lesson was that stainless chain was wonderful: there�s no rust and no mess, and mud does not stick to it. The stainless chain that had come with the old CSY boat never had to be changed and close inspection proved it to be perfect after 30 years of use. But at the same time I was hearing about people buying new stainless chain and having the whole thing disintegrate on them after only a year or two. In the old days we never had that problem, and it seemed unlikely to be the quality of the chain; the chain on those old charter boats was cheap Taiwanese stainless and it appeared to last forever. I noticed that all those with stainless chain woes were using all chain rodes, and they all had windlasses. Those old charter boats had no windlasses, and they only had 12 feet of chain attached to rope. The cause of chain deteriorating today seemed most likely to be electrolysis.

Hauling anchors and chain up from the seabed was getting old (and so was I), so I was installing a windlass on Ti Kanot. But that should be fine � I was not going to use all chain (too heavy for a cat), so the chain would always all be in the water when anchored and there should be no electrolysis. Although up till then I had managed with 12 feet of chain, it was not really enough, so I decided on 50 feet.
And just to make things perfect, I would splurge on an all-stainless anchor, the 40-pounder I'll call Brand X, to go with it. This, back near the turn of the century, was considered the ultimate in new design. It had a giant flat slab of amazingly thick stainless steel shaped like a spade with a sharp point. This slab was welded to an equally massive stock, and, to make sure it set the right way up, a roll-bar. Brand X made both the anchor and the chain, and they were things of beauty, gleaming, shiny, and pretty much a guarantee, if you read the brochure, that that every piece had been welded by a guy with a PhD in metallurgy.

In the beginning all went relatively well and I was happy till one day I sailed into Tyrrel Bay, Carriacou, towing Jeff Fisher�s little racing boat, with Jeff and his racing crew on board. We dropped anchor under sail, so I did not back down on the engine, and we went ashore for pizza. A squall came through (it was dark by then) and soon we got an urgent message that Ti Kanot was moving through the anchorage. Happily, a bunch of wonderful cruisers had grabbed her and tied her to the dock. Whew!
This dented my confidence in my new system somewhat. I do normally both back down on the anchor and dive on it; this made me extra careful.

At that time Tyrrel Bay had a lot more weed on the bottom than before (it comes and goes) and I soon found that the gleaming Brand X did not like holding in weed and had little ability to grab again if it started moving. When the bottom had a lot of coral rubble, the Brand X would scoop it up into a big heap, and if the heap got big enough, it would stop the boat moving. But it was not a comfortable set. I could snorkel down and grab the anchor, and it would wobble around not feel secure. Of course, if I could find some decent sand it would set like a rock, sometimes disappearing altogether.

Had I not had this very lovely, brilliantly shiny, maintenance-free system, I would have given some more thought to how to modify it to make it work better. I thought about adding more chain, but that would have been hard to do well in stainless. So instead I became very adept at knowing where all the bits of good sand were likely to be, and trying to make sure the anchor dropped right in one. And, by being careful, I did not have too many problems. But this was not great, inasmuch as it seemed to me the weed was growing well (good from an ecological perspective: it supports conch, turtles, sea urchins and many more critters) and the sand was washing away, leaving more and more coral rubble.

I had some memorable drags. One was in the middle of the night in a heavy squall off Riviere Sens in Guadeloupe. Another time I was anchored in Deshaies in Guadeloupe, when the wind was funneling through the bay at well over 25 knots. I dived on the anchor many times; the chain fell over a ledge and the anchor seemed well hooked on a solid lump of rock. I was there for some days waiting for friends. When they arrived, I took them out to the boat and prepared lunch. Halfway through the meal, the boat took off all on its own. The anchor had somehow, after three days, decided to break free.

The worst drag was on a night in the crowded anchorage in Clifton, Union Island. The anchor, which had withstood some major squalls during the day, lost its grip in the night. To make things worse the windlass was slipping and as my friend Pinky and I tried to extricate ourselves from the mess, one or two nearby yachts shone bright searchlights at us, blinding us. (Such lights, while they may gratify the person holding them, make life really hard when under stress, so if the person who did this has been leading a miserable life, I hope it was not due to the curse I uttered, but just to make sure, I have rescinded it.)

So I was managing, and generally it was okay but by far from perfect. The Brand X had never held as well as I thought it should. So why did I not do something? I had a big investment in that shiny stainless chain and anchor, so I was not in a hurry to change. I did sometimes wonder about swapping the anchor back for a regular delta just to see what difference it made. But as new anchor designs came out, and people sung their praises, I started to think. I bought a 20-pound Mantus as a second anchor and was impressed with the way it dug in.

Finally, at the beginning of this season, I was unshackled from my stainless chain when my annual anchor inspection revealed several small areas of crevice corrosion forming on several links of the chain. The chain had been in use nearly 20 years and owed me nothing. Time for a change.
I switched it for 80 feet of galvanized chain. I put the shiny Brand X in a locker and bought a 45-pound galvanized Mantus. The difference is amazing. I now have an anchoring system that really works. On coral rubble the Mantus does not heap it up but finds a way to dig right though it and set hard. Same on weed. I no longer need to be so picky about where I anchor, and the feeling of security that comes with knowing the anchoring system works really well is huge. Having been anchored on coral rubble for a couple of months in St. Lucia during Covid quarantine, I can see no galvanizing is left on the chain, so there will be maintenance issues. But the primary purpose of an anchor is to hold you in place; the rest is minor.

I should have made the switch years ago.

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