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Although we have had boats drag into us on a few different occasions, we have managed to escape without injury to person or property. One particular bit of drama that we have fortunately been able to avoid is having another vessel get their anchor caught up in our rode. That situation particularly complicates dragging, as it runs the risk of setting both boats adrift. It is, as a matter of fact, the exact scenario that we got to witness yesterday, and in my opinion, the whole thing happened a bit too close to our boat for comfort.

I’m not sure why I popped up on deck yesterday morning. There wasn’t any loud yelling that I could make out, nor did I hear the sound of chain dropping, the noise that tends to draw cruisers around the world up from below (visualize a gopher popping his head out of his hole). Regardless of why I was lured outside, when I got to the cockpit, I was greeted by the sight of a catamaran that was far closer to us than it should have been.

Not what you want to see when you come up on deck!

I could see a woman on the bow of the cat, and a man at the port-aft helm. When he glanced in my direction, I extended my arms out to the sides in my best WTF gesture. He promptly started the boat moving forward, rapidly I should add, drawing in anchor chain as he went. I initially assumed that he’d simply lost his mind and had attempted to anchor where there wasn’t space. The situation turned out to be nowhere near that easy to remedy.

Apparently something is wrong.

With the cat moving away from us, I was then free to take in more of the big picture. I could see that the monohull that had been anchored off our port bow was now significantly closer to us than it had been when we’d gone to bed. I could also see the captain of that boat, in his dinghy, alongside his bow, fiddling with his anchor chain. With the catamaran now motoring directly at that boat, once again, rapidly, it became apparent what was going on. I wasn’t, at the time, sure how it had all unfolded, but it was obvious then that the two boats had their chains caught around one another. Not good, especially if they started dragging into us, or got their anchors wrapped up in our chain!

To judge the speed of the cat, take note of the prop wash.

Slow is Pro!

By this time Rebecca was aware of the drama, and she was beside me in the cockpit. Anticipating that we might have to fend off one or both of the boats, and also to get a better view of the situation as it unfolded, we moved forward to Frost’s bow. At my request, Rebecca popped back down below to retrieve our camera, and when she returned, I started recording the situation (pics and video are as good for insurance claims as they are for blog posts).

Not a situation you want to find yourself in!

Given the chance, we might have tried to raise our anchor and remove ourselves from the situation. Unfortunately, at the time most of the craziness was going on, the boats were right overtop of where we believed our anchor to be. We also would have been the first ones there in our dinghy to lend a hand if there hadn’t been the risk of both of those boats dragging down into us. With no ability to raise our anchor, and unwilling to leave our boat in case we were needed there, we sat there watching the crew of the monohull do their best to free the cat’s anchor from their chain.

The danger is that the monohull’s anchor could become dislodged, setting both boats adrift.

I can appreciate that situations like this are very tough, so I don’t want to be too judgmental of what went on, having only observed it from the relative safety of our bow. That said, the crew of the cat were not making things easy! There is a saying in boating, “Slow is Pro.” Apparently the captain had never heard that phrase before. I was actually quite concerned for the safety of the guys in the dinghies at a few times as the chain kept being drawn up tight by the super-fast reversing of the cat (a second person had, by then, shown up on scene to help). When the cat wasn’t going backwards abruptly, it was going forward too quickly, one time actually T-boning the monohull. I won’t say any more. You can watch the video to decide if what I wrote is fair.

Tips: 

  1. Slow is Pro! While some degree of speed is necessary to maintain directional control, mind your throttles when maneuvering around other people’s expensive boats!
  2. When in a similar situation, if you need to lift the chain or anchor to take weight off of it in order to free the tangle, avoid tying a line directly to it. Instead, run a bight of line under the chain (one end could be made fast to a bow cleat and the other led to a winch if necessary). In this way, when you have completed what you set out to do, you can simply release one end of the line and it will fall away. If you do need to tie the line, use a round turn and two half hitches instead of the venerable bowline as it can be more easily untied when loaded.

29 Comments

  1. Isn’t the rolling hitch the standard way to make fast a line to chain? It’s very easy to shake out again and release.

    • Yes, and no. IMO, a rolling hitch is best used when you want to pull in a line parallel to an object (chain, line), not perpendicular to it. And as someone who has used a rolling hitch to attach a bridle/snubber hundreds of times, I will also argue that it is not always that easy to untie. If you’re trying to simply lift a chain straight up (which is what I was getting at), not pull the chain in line with the anchor, I think that the rolling hitch is a better knot for the application. Both are better than the bowline though. With a bowline, you’re almost guaranteed to have to cut the line to release it. Your milage may vary.

    • Are you on a Rassy 35?

  2. Mike How did the cat and the mono untangle their anchors? could they see what needed to be done? could the cat tie onto the mono or come alongside and then work the lines?

    • I could only see from a distance, but it looked to me as if the cat’s anchor ended up getting pulled right out of the water, and then dropped back down, a couple of times. I was told they even freed it once, only to have the cat get it caught a second time (I think that was when the boats ended up bow to bow).

      Could they have rafted up? I guess so. That might have been a good solution. The wind was gusting between 20-25 at the time all this was going on, which was no doubt making everyone involved a bit antsy.

  3. Everyone involved was having a bad day – including you guys.

    My job basically consists of troubleshooting for live TV and when I train new guys to do what I do, the first thing I teach them is to take an extra minute to access the situation. Often, just taking an action can lead to the wrong thing. Ruling out the thing NOT to do is extremely important.

    As you can imagine, there is great pressure with LIVE tv to get it done quickly and there is even lots of yelling by producers and directors – so the situation is similar to the one in your post.

    That being said-‘ a fire is a fire’- so some things require no thought as to the next step. In most situations a moment to evaluate will go a long way.

  4. Last year I had to anchor in a place that had questionable holding. The mangroves were full of boats blown there in a recent storm. I went to bed thinking that someone might drag, or I might drag. Woke up to a bright light light that looked to be almost on top of me. In my sleepy state I thought it was someone’s mast light. Hustled out on deck only to discover it was the full moon overhead. Had not dragged an inch. Felt silly, but you never know. Glad to take care of my business there and move on to safer harbors.

  5. Mike,

    Good morning from my armchair …

    Did you consider paying out more anchor chain to temporarily remove yourselves from the potential action, or did you not have room behind you? Or perhaps you were worried that if your anchor chain was out of sight and out of mind, it might also become snagged?

  6. We started using an anchor float this fall. It helps us know where our anchor is, and encourages others to leave a clear space ahead of us. In a dragging situation I suppose one of those boats may have ended up on top of it, but it’s a floating nylon line and bleach bottle so can easily be cut loose.
    Glad you guys were only spectators to the drama, and your video might help if there is any damage.
    Now get out there and stock up on yummy French cheese and bread! Wendy SY OverStreet

    • Hi Wendy. I know at east one other couple that routinely deploy an anchor float. As you noted, it’s a double-edge sword. In high traffic areas it can get caught up in people’s props (not that it would be much different than the hundreds of lobster traps here). In Georgetown, Exuma they even make it a point to instruct boaters NOT to deploy anchor floats, for that very reason. Of course, people can do what they choose, but “they” don’t like it there. 🙂

  7. In looking at the video for a second time, I can see some things that are kinda obvious (that you and others have stated):

    1 – Aft port helm is really a poor location for these type maneuvers. In part this is because the helmsperson can’t have a clear view of the person operating the windlass. This eliminates the ability to have clear hand-signaled communications.
    2 – The corollary is the windlass location is poor for the same reasons. Having the ability to control the windlass from a remote location might be helpful here. I had a set of windlass controls at the helm station on my cat, which enabled the forward person to be on the bow.
    3 – 20 – 25 gusting (probably actually 12ish – 30ish) is an enemy of the “slow is pro” concept, especially when you have a short bit of chain to deal with. You can find yourself slowly powering forward like a pro only to have a gust send you backwards, snapping the chain taut, while if you power up, you can suddenly rocket forward when you have a brief lull. When you add poor visibility and communication you can get into trouble pretty quickly (as shown in your video – good job, BTW).
    4 – This leads to the need for those wireless headsets (marriage savers?) and the hope that they will stay on in the gusts.
    5 – Most importantly is to be able to calmly discuss what happened later and develop strategies and tactics to have a better result in the future. Experience can be a great teacher if you’re willing to explore the lesson being taught.

    Sorry, Mike, no coffee EVER! I am a tea guy (said with nose in the air and pinky extended, of course!).

    Cheers!

    • I’m not a fan of windlass controls at the helm. For the reasons you stated, there is no way to see what’s going on, and a windlass is a powerful beast if used incorrectly. The location of the windlass is what it is. That is the normal spot for cats of that size, aft of the tramp. The best solution IMO is the wireless control that we installed on ZTC (Quick brand). It was the bomb!

      On the subject of the wind, my personal belief is that if you are dragging in 20-25 knots, you need to:
      a) getter a bigger, better anchor (Mantus, Rocna, Manson Supreme, Spade)
      b) learn how to anchor
      There is no excuse for dragging in those conditions!

      • Yes! A wireless windlass control would be the bomb!

        On my vessel (Maine Cat 41), I actually had great visibility from the helm of all parts of the boat. My then partner and I established procedures for communication and roles while anchoring and maneuvering in mooring fields/thin water , etc, plus we regularly and frequently switched roles. This kept us alert to falling into bad habits and let us see what anchoring looked like from both perspectives.

        • The wireless control rocks. I don’t know why more people don’t have them. The remote unit ran on a 9V battery which would last a year or more. It never failed us.

  8. We too have a anchor float that we can clip on or off from the end of the (sinking) trip line depending on the anchorage situation. We find it useful if we do have some clown try to drop anchor too close or on top of us then we can point at the float and say “that’s us there!” Nice too if we want to see where the anchor really is at anytime. To make sure we don’t have too much trip line floating about we have a loop in the trip line every metre and attach the float at high tide depth. Also mark the float with “ANCHOR MARKER” so people don’t mistake it for a fish/crab pot….

    We also put a waypoint on the chart plotter of where we drop anchor and also where we pull back to. Good for our piece of mind!

    • I have only once rigged a trip line, and only becuase we were anchoring in an area known to frequently foul anchors (the Alligator River). They are very uncommon here, and would have in no way prevented or aided the drama. If anything, it would have complicated things, becuase by the time the monohull dragged back (was pulled back), and then swung with the wind, he was overtop of our anchor, or near enough to be dangerous with his engine running. It does sounds like you have your system figured out though.

  9. Nancy and I have been in a very similar situation and pulled anchor and moved quickly upwind as the sh*t show was headed our way. BTW it is called “prairie doggin” when heads pop out of hatches and companionways at the sound of anchor windlass and raised voices. lol

  10. * Inexperience.
    * No understanding of twin engines. Even in that wind, without waves, he should have been able to park as needed.

    Obviously I don’t know the particulars, but the way that line was snapping tight, the fellow was a menace. More than anything, it’s fortunate no one was injured. I for one, would not have been in a dinghy anywhere near that guy.

    Slow is pro is one way to put it. Another way is to always avoid making things worse. I’ve seen quite a few collisions that resulted from people trying to do everything with the throttles and over correcting, when a few lines and a slow, reasoned approach would have been casual. I’m inclined to think a few fenders and some temporary rafting would have been safer. I might have requested the cat tie to my stern, I would untangle the anchors manually, and then hand it back to him.

    • In hindsight, yes, I think those would have been prudent choices. My guess is that the crew of the monohull figured it would have been easy to sort out. I am also glad no one was hurt. It could have been much worse!

      I like what you said: don’t make things worse! Do no harm!

  11. Over the years, I have found that the technique of ‘bumping’ transmissions into gear for a second or two, then back into neutral, works great for maneuvering and holding position in either current or wind. It takes some practice, but you can hold a position almost anywhere, anytime once you get good at it. Of course, I do it with powerboats, and don’t know if it would translate well to a much heavier, lower powered sailboats.

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