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While we’re off the boat, I thought I’d post about a minor boat issue and see if any of our bright readers have some solutions. We have noticed that both our anchor chain and our main sheet develop a twist in them over time. Let’s deal with the anchor chain/rode first.

Regardless of how many times we remove the anchor and undo the twist in our anchor chain, it returns in short order. People may assume that the chain develops a twist in it due to the boat swinging at anchor. This is not the case as it is very rare that we swing a full 360 degrees. They may also think that a swivel attached in between the anchor and the rode would solve the problem. Although I’ve never had one installed, this, I don’t believe to be true either. A friend of ours in Grenada, who experienced the same issue, hypothesized that because we are anchoring with a length of chain spliced onto 3-strand line, it is the twist built into the line which, when it is run through the windlass, causes the chain to rotate. Our experience with our main sheet almost leads me to believe that this is true.

You can see the twist that has developed in our main sheet.

Our main sheet, even though it runs through a block which can swivel, will also develop a twist in it. This is not simply a twist which can be removed by turning the block though. To fix the issue, we actually have to unfasten the end of the line from where it terminates on the boom and by hand, rotate it multiple times until it is straight as it was meant to be. This line, by the way, is braided Dyneema, not 3-strand as the anchor rode is. A different friend, Kirk, told me that he believes this twist is caused by the line being run around a winch. He based this on the fact that on his boat, he has two lines on his davits to raise his dinghy and only the one which is run around a winch develops a twist while the one which is trimmed by hand does not.

Thoughts? Solutions? Let’s have em!

58 Comments

  1. A twist in a cord can be kept at bay by alternating the direction in which you wind it. For instance: if I wind the cord on my hair dryer around the handle ( in a figure 8 ) in the same direction every time, it twists. If I alternate, it doesn’t.

    I don’t know if this can be applied in any way to your issue but I thought it worth a mention.

  2. Our main sheets are on the beds… 😉

  3. Ha! The head rigging guy at Greneda Marine (Turbulence) said he never heard of such a thing. Maybe it is just our imagination?
    Lucky you only having to disconnect at the boom. We have the same problem with our 2:1 main halyard which is connected at the masthead. A real pain to untwist.
    Hope your query-post generates some bright ideas from your readers.
    BTW I believe that trying to operate the salt soaked twisted lines is not only more difficult but the imparted friction must surely wear the line down faster and “fuzzes” them up making them more difficult to pass thru the rope clutches. Best to untwisted them as often as possible.

    • Yeah. You can see how operating our main sheet would be a lot more difficult twisted the way that it is and also, it obviously chafes the line using it like that.

  4. The rope tows that used to be used in early days to transport people up ski hills had this twisting problem if they used “regular” rope. This was uncomfortable when holding on to the rope for long ascents. Tow operators solved the problem by using a rope (expensive) with a special weave to prevent the twisting. Rebecca might remember this when using the rope tow at the Double Dip.

    • The do sell a 12-strand anchor braid which might not have the issue. I am surprised that our main sheet would develop a twist though because it is not constructed like 3 strand. I assume it must still have a twist in it.

  5. I use an 8 plait anchor rode, well for the rope part that is. No windlass but use a main jib sheet wench to haul it up. No twists. 8 plait has alternating ply directions so twist is not really an issue. Plus it stores in a smaller area.

  6. I had the same problem on my main sheet and my problem was the same as you just described…the swivel on the bottom block. I was able to disassemble the swivel and solder it together…no more swivel.
    Maybe you could check it out when you return to your boat and if that is not possible…buy a replacement block with the same lead that doesn’t swivel.

    • I am pretty sure that the swiveling block is not the problem. It is not that kind of twist. Swivel or not I suspect it would be the same.

      • Get rid of the swivel. I did. No more twist. If you have a swivel on the self tacker tack, get rid of that too.

        Although they try to balance the line, they never succed 100%. The twist causes wear and increases friction (quite noticable in light air).

        There is no reason for swivles on most blocks, they are fitted because it is a lazy habit (alignment is simpler), and you’ll be happier with them gone.

        Anchor lines? I have NEVER like swivles on 3-strand. They are a disaster on crane whip lines, where load causes the cable to rotate and then unlay. And you are correct; the gypsy will slowly spin a 3-strand line. I ran some tests on that. With all chain rode, I’ve never noticed it. I don’t see how it is possible, as each link is held.

        • I am pretty sure that the block can be locked to prevent it from swiveling and if so, I think I did that to try to fix the issue. Obviously it didn’t work. I’ll check again when I get back to the boat.

          • Oh, I still have to take the line of and “relax” it once in a while, but it’s much less. This is one reason never to splice the ends of a tackle; a bowline is easy and strong enough.

            Rock climbing ropes are actually constructed with an even number (about 12) of inner ropes, 50% right hand and 50% left hand, to eliminate twist under load.

  7. Pretty sure it’s the coriolis effect. Only solution is to travel south of the equator for a time and see if things wind themselves the opposite direction.

  8. I had the same issue with my mainsheet, but it had a swivel at the traveler so all I had to do was unwind it every so often. This is a good question, I hope the mystery gets solved. The chain must have something to do with the windlass I’d imagine. If you go with a swivel, might I suggest a very high quality one. They have been known to be the weak link.

    • Re: swivel being the weak link… that is why we don’t have one. It may help a bit but I am sure it won’t fix the problem entirely.

      Re: the main sheet… I am pretty sure it has nothing to do with the swivel. If you took the end of the line in your hand and rotated it over and over, that is how it is twisting, not the way that a rotating swivel would do it.

    • Let’s see if I can add some clarification without making things worse. As I see it, there are 2 twists involved. First the sheet:
      1. The line (rope) itself is twisting linearly, believed to be caused by continuously turning around the winch. On a 1:1 setup, not much problem.

      2, the line twisting per 1 above causes block and tackle arrangements (ie. 2:1, 3:1, 4:1) to twist as a group. 2 seems to be a result of 1 so 1 needs to be solved in order to solve both. Immobilizing the swivels at both ends will stop 2 to some extent but not 1.

      Regarding the rode, we suspect our all chain rode is twisted in similar fashion to your combination rode, but it is difficult to tell visually. The main problem for us is that the chain tends to “stack up” when retracting into the locker causing it to jam against the underside and back up into the windlass and fouling the works. Curiously, when we reached deep water in the BVI we tried letting out 90% of the chain to see if it would untwist. Don’t know what success we might have had as it still stacks.

      • Good post. We have also let out all of our chain and a portion of the rode when in deep water in the hopes that it would untwist. It didn’t make offer any long-term appreciable benefit.

        • Maybe it’s when we coil and stow the mainsheet after sailing. The next time you sail and let the boom out, whatever twist you had in the sheet will get into the tackle. On “Caprifol” I had 50′ chain shackled to a rode and no windlass, I can’t remember ever having a twist problem and I always coiled and stowed that on deck lashed to a railing.

          • Because of the way our lines are lead, the area with the twist is pretty far from the section which remains in the cockpit. I can’t see that coiling or not coiling the line in the cockpit would have any affect on where it is twisting.

  9. you are so hard core. Some of us still want baby scoop.

  10. Eolian has all-chain rode. And we have a swivel mounted at the anchor.

    We’ve NEVER had any twist in the chain.

    bob

    • At the time when we had more chain and anchored only with it, not using any line, we still occasionally developed a twist. I think it only occurred when we really swung around at anchor. Here that seldom happens though, and we don’t have all chain. 🙁

  11. Here’s an additional data point…

    Our anchor rode is all chain. After a year of anchoring, it starts to twist up too requiring it to be let out on a dock and manually unwrapped. I generally can’t go more than 2 years without doing this or it starts jamming the chain drop after the windlass.

    Because of our bow height (10′), we generally put out 125 – 175′ of chain every time we anchor. I would have thought the extra length would have taken up the twist but it doesn’t. Because of that I sort of think the twisting has to do with the chain rolling on the sea floor as you move back and forth. Imagine it rolling in one direction horizontally over one type of load and dragging back in place over another type of load. Do that over some time and it’ll twist up.

    I personally think that swivels are dangerous.

    • I don’t see how that dragging scenario could twist the chain if both the anchor and the end at the bow remain fixed in place. If it did develop the twist, one would think it would come out as soon as it was raised. A mystery!

      Fixing it once every two years is not too much of a chore though I guess.

  12. Mike – While anchoring at Volleyball Beach for three months I would check the anchor chain (110′) each day. It was always tensioned w/ 3/8″ nylon 3 strand to both cleats. Never saw any twists in it. I dove to the bottom a few times to really look it over. However the Fortress (37) used in the Chesapeake w/ 50′ 3/8 chain spliced to 5/8″ – 3 strand always needed to use a good swivel ($300) so it would be easy to withdraw into the windless. I use double braid on the mainsheet (6 to1) and never saw a problem with this.

  13. I am admittedly speculating, however would bet the culprit lies in the line manufacturing (be it a defect or design intention). Once the line is loaded the twist “comes out”. I bet the phenomenon would display on a loaded line, even if not on a winch – say with a swivel on each end. Now I’m really curious! (cute baby pics though, too. Congrats)

  14. Sorry I can’t add anything Mike, but the only twists on Banyan are in the lemons and limes. 🙂

  15. If you coil the mainsheet, that is likely the issue. The line will retain the twist from coil; I remember from training that when taking line or wire off a spool it should be taken off as if the spool were on an axle and the line taken perpendicularly to the axle, as opposed to pulling it off over one side of the spool so it looks like a lasso and retains the twist.

    I see twist in my jibsheets after I don’t undo the coils as above and just throw the coil on the deck to run them through the blocks, I wind up having to take the twist out of the tail before taking it to the winch.

    I agree that the twist in the anchor chain is likely due to strain on the three strand, but I don’t think there is a rope to chain splice for octoplait or twelve strand that will work in a windlass.

    • There is such a splice and although I haven’t done it myself, I have watched someone do it. As I mentioned above, because of how our lines are lead, I’m not so sure my coiling or flaking of the sheet would cause the twist that I am experiencing. Maybe, but I think it’s doubtful.

  16. When at the Miami boat show I talked to a rigger about twist in my halyards. He told me to take them off and trail behind the boat while underway for about and hour. After doing as he said I have zero twist problems.
    Tom

  17. Mike,
    All chain w swivel. Yes it twists. Have to take it all out and untwist periodically or else gets hockled and jammed in the chain locker. Swivel appears useless and I am going to remove it for safety. This would be a good poll question on cruisers forum.

    • That is the real problem with the twist in the rode, of course, jamming in the windlass. That has happened to me a few times. I have always been able to fix it with only a bit of effort but it could end up being a big drama if it occurs at the wrong time.

  18. When ever I get a twist in my mainsheet, It usually involves a very pleasant wrestling match with my wife! wink wink, nudge nudge, know what I mean

    Murphy’s law of ropes/lines/string/cords/wires etc “If there is a way for them to tangle or catch on something, they will.”

    Your sheet issue also made me visaulize how a yo-yo spins and no matter how many times you lets the string relax, it twists up quickly.

  19. This question comes up frequently.

    Tom quotes the best effective cure for braided lines. Take them off and tow them for a while. Not mentioned so far is the rope manufacturer recommendation that we should NEVER coil a braided rope, it should be ‘flaked’ by which they mean not twisted as you bring it into your hand but just placed onto your hand so that each loop is a figure of eight, not a circle. There are several youtube videos about this. There is also a simple explanation here http://www.samsonrope.com/site_files/Rope_Handling.pdf

    You should be able to un-stress and therefore un-kink/twist your anchor cable/rope by towing that as well. However, as Drew points out, an anchor windlass will soon put a twist into it again.

    If you use octoplait for the anchor rope, it is a fiddle, but easy to splice onto the chain, just follow the instructions that they give you. It goes through the windlass fine. It does not twist or kink.

    Mike

  20. Try this for your main sheet and other braided ropes.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fa06oPNJBys

    Mike

  21. Very interesting, enjoying the comments

  22. You can fix your main, but making your turning block a non-swiveling kind. I had the same problem with my main traveler lines. um my er main sheet is a 6:1 gross with a 4:1 fine for a 23:1 – but boom is 17 ft long. You can make it no swiveling by looking for a locking screw on the block post – that ties to the shackle or get a new block..sorry 🙁

    Love reading your blog and have read all your entries..

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