Saturday, August 17, 2013

Hold Fast!

Wandering Dolphin Swinging on the hook!

One of the more common questions people ask us is, “Doesn’t it cost a lot of money to pay for a dock every night?”  They are a little surprised to find out that we almost never go to a marina, in fact,  we once went for 18 months without ever even touching a dock for any reason.  Our boat is very self sufficient.  We make our own water with a desalination system.  We make all of our electricity, 90% of our power generation comes from solar and wind, the other 10% from either the boats engine or our little Honda generator.  We sail where ever we go so our diesel engine is used very little.  We use about the same amount of fuel in 1 year as we used to use in our vehicles in just a couple of days back in Montana.  But even with all of that self sufficiency, perhaps our greatest freedom comes from anchoring out.  
The kids playing off the Anchor chain and snubber in Martinique.

With a good anchoring system a cruising sailboat can safely turn any protected harbor into a new home.  There are no dock fees or mooring fees.  There are no permits (some places do require anchoring permits if you stay in one place for too long, just pull up the hook and move if you don’t want to pay them.)  There is no one to come around writing down your electric and water usage so they can charge you for that later.  Best of all the boat always turns up into the wind and the fresh ocean breeze blows down through the open hatches cooling the boat.  The swimming right off the boat is almost always great, and usually the company of other boats is pretty cool too.

In order to enjoy all of the freedom and benefits of anchoring out Cruisers must feel secure in their ground tackle and in their ability to use that gear properly.  We have been out cruising now for 8 years and the majority of that time we have been hanging on our own ground tackle.  We have learned a few tricks both from trial and error and from some other great cruising friends.  I would like to pass on some of this information so that those of you who live on land will understand it a little better and those of you on the water might be able to adapt a few of these ideas if you choose.

Before we get started on gear I would like to mention that our system is HIGHLY influenced by our desire to keep as much weight off our bow as possible.  Our boat is a wonderful sailboat with a beautiful ability to sail to windward and, without compromising the safety of our anchor system we do not want ANY extra weight on our bow.  We have noticed that new cruisers tend to over do it on chain and HUGE anchors right up on their bow.  This will not only hinder your boats ability to go to windward but, in a storm situation where you are forced to run it can cause your bow to continually bury itself in waves struggling each time to recover and can also hinder her ability to heave to.

Let’s start with the ground tackle itself.  An anchor system requires a few key components:  The Anchor, The Shackle/Swivel, The Chain, The Rode, The Snubber, The Windlass.

Our new anchor, a 55lb Rocna.

The Anchor:  

We have used a 45lb Bruce with all chain for years as our main anchor.  We have only had two experiences where we dragged, however I believe that the deficiencies in our anchor were compensated for with a lot of chain and a longer scope in many conditions.  Today there are a lot of new modern anchor designs that are FAR more efficient than the Bruce.  After looking at independent tests and talking to many real life cruisers we have upgraded our main anchor to a 55lb Rocna anchor.  This anchor far out performs all of the anchors tested.  After 8 years on the hook we have eliminated our 45 pound CQR anchor completely.  It is my belief that in any conditions which will cause the 55 Rocna to pull out and drag the CQR would not even hold at all.  We now have a 35 pound Danforth at midships in a deck holder that is ready and available for kedging or for a stern anchor if needed.  It is not our intention to ever use it as an actual secondary anchor.  

Fortress FX-37

     Our final anchor is a HUGE FX-37 Fortress Anchor.  This is our emergency storm anchor and don’t let the light weight fool you, this Aluminum, take apart anchor has some of the most consistently high break out power of any anchor tested.  It’s right up there with the Rocna.  

Fortress ready for stowing down below

     The beautiful thing about the Fortress though is its ability to break down into a small package.  We have had a bag made to store it and an extra 10 feet of chain with its shackles.  The whole thing is stored down below, low in the boat.  The Fortress will be used in severe weather, hooked in tandem with the Rocna rather than out on its own rode.  

     I have heard the common saying, “You can’t have too many anchors!”  To that I say, “Bullshit.”  In my opinion, a sailboat is small enough, and it is difficult enough to store everything you NEED for everyday living.  There is NO place on our boat for things that will not be used, especially VERY heavy things,  again I will harp on WEIGHT.  Cruisers are always complaining about the poor performance of their boats, they lament the poor sailing abilities of their over weight full keel boats with CRAP piled high all over the decks and HUGE anchors and 300 feet of chain up in the bow locker and a couple of other unused anchors buried in crap somewhere else on the boat.  After all of these years I cannot think of a situation where if my Rochna failed I would be better off digging out my old 66 pound Bruce from deep in the hold hooking it up and using it, or throwing the 45 pound CQR off the bow and assuming it will somehow do a better job than the Rocna and the Fortress did hooked in tandem.  
All three anchors, Rocna, Danforth, Fortress.

     I believe you should have three anchors.  Your main anchor should be up to the task, by itself, of holding your boat in conditions up to Tropical storm force and you should have a Storm anchor that you can store deep in the boat to tandem with that anchor if conditions are forecast for greater than storm force.  (And I ask you... why are you and your boat sitting there in the path of a hurricane?  I digress...)  You also need a versatile light anchor that can be used for a stern anchor or kedge.  This anchor needs to be light enough to deploy from your dingy.  For this we recommend a smaller Fortress or a Danforth.  We chose the Danforth just because it was about half the price of the Fortress.  I will discuss how we hook this anchor up in the section discussing Chain and Rode.

Rated Wasi Swivel

The Shackle or Swivel:

The whole anchoring system is only as strong as its weakest link and very often the weakest link is the shackle that connects the anchor to the chain.  There is a lot to be said for a swivel and an argument can be made both for and against using one.  Generally the argument for not using a swivel is that the person speaking personally knows someone, who knows someone, who knows someone else has had a swivel fail.  It fails because there is one part, usually a pin or bolt that failed.  I'm sorry to tell you folks but this same thing can be true of shackle, shackles often fail or the pin backs out.  ( I have even had one that had worked itself so much that it broke the several strands of seizing wire before it backed out!)  I am not advocating the use of a shackle or swivel, I think they are both good if the person setting up the system uses a shackle or swivel rated to the same or greater breaking strength as the chain used.
The problem for some boats, with not using a swivel is that the constant turning of the boat at anchor puts turn after turn into the chain and the rode.  If you have a small chain locker it can pile up in such a way that it forms knots in the chain itself.  Also when you bring up the anchor the chain holds all of the energy from these twists and can become so badly twisted by the end that it actually fouls your windlass, slips off and dumps itself into the ocean in an unstoppable freefall.  A swivel allows the chain to turn without getting twisted and makes it very easy to bring up and store the chain in the chainlocker.

The problem with using a swivel is that most swivels, at least the less expensive versions are really nothing more than two shackles connected by a bolt in the middle.  The shackles turn on that bolt and that bolt alone becomes the weakest point in the whole system.  The bolts used in most of these cheap swivels is not rated as high as the chain used.  I do NOT recommend these swivels and suggest you immediately remove them if you have one.  I do recommend the Wasi swivel, to my knowledge it is the ONLY swivel that is actually rated with a breaking strength.  We have successfully used one for six years and the only problem we faced was that at the end of the sixth year it became almost impossible to remove.  I do recommend that you remove this swivel every year to inspect it of weak spots inside or corrosion.

There is also a lot to be said for a plain old high test galvanized shackle.  Do not use a stainless steel shackle as they are notorious for the pin working its way out. (This is the type which backed out even though it had been seized with wire.  It wiggled itself enough to break the wire and we caught it right before it completely let go!)  A galvanized shackle will seize itself in salt water, but still you should make sure to back the pin up with wire.

Chain and Rode:

Ok we will probably get a little bit of controversy on this next discussion but I say, “Bring it on!” 
First I would like to make a distinction between chain and rode.  Technically your chain is part of your rode but when I refer to rode I mean the rope used as part of the anchoring system.  It is connected to your chain.

I am shocked at the number of 40 foot cruising boats out there with 300 feet or MORE of 3/8 chain sitting in their lockers!  We were no different.  When we started we were assured by all of the salty cruisers we met that it was simply crazy to go out with less chain and to consider a chain and rode combination was foolhardy.  Let me say that I do, in fact, prefer to anchor with all chain but I have found that even with our vessels seven foot draft I am able to anchor most places with only 150 feet of chain in my locker.  With my Rochna anchor I can anchor in up to 30 feet of water at 5 to 1 scope still only using all chain.  We have rarely found anchorages where we couldn’t anchor in 30 feet or less and most often it is in 20 feet of water.  We have also found that 5 to 1 scope is enough, if it looks like a blow is coming we will let it out to 7 to 1.  Our chain is spliced directly into 250 feet of 5/8 three strand rode.  This gives us a total of 400 feet of rode with more than 1/3 of it being chain.  We use high test BBB 3/8 galvanized chain but if you have a smaller boat you may not need 3/8 chain.... again.... get what you need, save weight!  

Here is something a little different we have done.  Instead of connecting a bitter end down inside the chain locker we have spliced another length of 25 feet of chain to the opposite end of that 250 feet of rode.  A line is tied with a bowline to the end of this chain and led up through the secondary anchors haws-hole (remember we do not have a second anchor actually hanging off the bow.)  This line is secured to a cleat on deck.  If we need to use the Danforth for a kedge or for a stern anchor we can connect it to that 25 feet of chain and 250 feet of rode, run the whole thing off the stern and secure it to a stern cleat, PRESTO a stern anchor which can actually still be retrieved using the rode side of the windlass at the bow.  

On a side note:  We have seen many ways people mark their chain over the years and have tried about all of them, paint wears off and needs to be redone all the time, markers fall out, zip ties break quickly.  For the past five years we have done a simple thing that works great.  We take a brightly colored polypro line (the kind you use for pulling water skiers), we pull these strands apart into three small lines and cut them into one foot lengths using a rope cutter.  If you take these and feed then over and under through your chain at the spot you want to mark it works great, the color stays for years, they do not foul your windlass and you can even use different colors for different points on your chain.  They can also be braided right into your Rode itself in the same over and under fashion.

The Snubber:

The purpose of a snubber is to take up the shock load of all chain and both make it more comfortable on the boat but also it keeps the chain from suddenly stretching to the point that it might pull the anchor free.  I actually think that if you have 5 to 1 scope out the chain will not actually shock load all the way up to the anchor with enough force to pull the anchor free but I will say that a good snubber sure makes life more comfortable when you are anchored on all chain.  Our snubber is 25 feet of 5/8 three strand rode one end of which has been spliced into a high test shackle connected to a high test quick release load removable shackle.  This makes a very quick and easy connector to your chain.  The rode itself is the run through a rubber snubber and a few twists are built into this snubber giving it a nice shock absorber.  The other end of the snubber is run up over our bow pulpit through chaffing gear and tied off on a bow cleat.

Keep in mind that any time we are using more than our 150 feet of chain we are already swinging now on 5/8 rode which itself acts as a snubber so there is no need to use an actual snubber in this case.

The Windlass:

For years we only had a manual windlass and anchoring or moving the anchor was a real chore.  I found as I got older this actually became a safety concern.  In 25 feet or 30 feet of water it was super slow and difficult for me to bring up the anchor, and simply impossible for Rebecca or one of the kids to do it.  It is my firm belief that every person on the boat should be able to retrieve the anchor in any situation and, lets face it, that means you need an electric windlass!  I have been in many situations where I needed to reset my anchor but was actually unable to physically do it!  This is unsafe and actually puts other boats around you at risk as well. 

When selecting a windlass make sure it is rated for the size of chain and gear you will be retrieving.  We were lucky our windlass was recovered from a sunken boat, rebuilt from the ground up and it works great.  On a side note, make sure the windlass gypsy is the right size for your chain.
Wandering Dolphin at the bow.

Well this might have been a little to technical for those of you on land but I hope it helps some of you new cruisers who are going about the process of selecting your ground tackle and anchor system!

Hold Fast!
Captain Tofer

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Pink Dolphin!

     Wandering Dolphin is back in Trinidad for her yearly spa treatment.  Jimmy and I sailed her from St Thomas to Trinidad.  We had a really beautiful passage and I enjoyed the feel of our boat heeling over to the wind.

     After only four days we sailed into the “Dragon’s Mouth,” the narrow current filled cut into the bay where all of the boatyards are.  Jimmy had been a little bummed out because he had been hoping to see some dolphins this summer and the failed to appear but we were truly blessed as we came into the cut when a little family of bottlenose dolphins swam up and started playing around the bow of the boat.  They would swim on their sides looking up at us with those wet intelligent eyes and the constant smile on their faces.  Then suddenly I looked over to port and saw a HUGE white shape swimming toward the boat, it was at least 1/3 larger than the others and as it surfaced it took my breath away!  It was what we thought was an albino PINK dolphin!  She had two little calves with her one of them no larger than an American football!  We thought she was pink in all of the areas of her body that received a lot of blood supply and pure white in the other areas.  Surprisingly her dorsal fin was a beautiful pail pink.  She swam around the boat a couple of times, Jimmy ran to get his 
camera because I was at the helm steering the boat through the narrow cut.

When we arrived in Trinidad I looked up these creatures and found out that this was an endangered Pink Dolphin which is a freshwater dolphin found in the Amazon and Orinoco rivers in South America.  Trinidad is just north of the Orinoco so I can only guess that she must have been lost and hooked up with some bottle nose dolphins!

     I have been a lot of places.  I have hiked mountain ranges, including the Himalayas. I have backpacked almost all of the Grand Canyon. I have kayaked swollen spring rivers and ocean places in the Pacific Northwest where the mountains meet the sea. I have ridden a bicycle from Wyoming to Alaska.  I have sailed thousands of miles offshore in the Atlantic and Caribbean.  I have seen a LOT of beautiful things and that pink dolphin ranks right up there at the top five things I have ever personally seen!

      I am only a little more superstitious than any other offshore sailor, I didn’t change our boat name, I don’t leave port on a Friday, and Bananas have no place on my boat for a passage, and I always wear my lucky found hat on passages.  I couldn’t help feeling like God sent this pretty pink Dolphin to welcome WANDERING DOLPHIN back to Trinidad for the final session in her refit before we set sail on a Long offshore sail to “somewhere.”

Captain Tofer