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On our most recent shopping trip to Budget Marine, I found that they had a bin of inexpensive knives for sale on their counter. As each was less than 6 bucks, I decided to pick up two of them to place in a couple of key locations on the boat. No, my intention was not to use the knives to fend off pirates but rather to deal with something far more likely, a line that needs to be cut, quickly! This morning I ended up putting one of those knives to good use.

As I sat in our berth editing photos from yesterday’s hiking excursion, I took note of the monohull beside us raising anchor. Or at least, attempting to. When the anchor breached the surface of the water, I could see that it had a chain looped over it. As there were no other boats in close proximity, I guessed that he had hooked some old, unused mooring chain. Not good.

I came up on deck to watch what was going on and saw that the male half of the couple had jumped in his dinghy to see if he could better deal with the problem from the water. Once at the bow, I could see him struggling with the weight of the chain. It was obviously not going to be an easy fix for him. I watched as he tied his dinghy painter to the chain, apparently thinking that if he secured the chain in position, he could lower the anchor and unhook it from the chain. He didn’t seem to be having a lot of luck so we quickly launched our dinghy to see if we could give him a hand.

As it turns out, the chain was big. And heavy! With Rebecca securing the dinghies in place and both of us men lifting the chain, we were able to create just enough space for the woman on the boat to lower the anchor from under the chain. It was at that point that we made the mistake of letting go of the heavy chain, not that we had a lot of choice. Remember how I said that he had tied it to the dinghy painter? When the chain dropped it was still attached! Oops.

We struggled once more to raise the chain, only to find that we could not untie the knots with all that pressure on it. We’d have to cut the rope but unfortunately, neither of us had a knife. By this point his boat had drifted away from us so we couldn’t get one there. As his dinghy certainly wasn’t going anywhere, I told him that we’d quickly acquire one and be right back. Sixty seconds or so later we returned with one of our brand new knifes, grabbing it from the helm station where I had left it. With all the pressure on the line we barely had to touch the knife to it for it to part, dropping the chain back to the bottom of the harbor and setting our neighbor free. Problem solved. That knife will now permanently reside in the tender and I’ll acquire a couple more the next time I visit the chandlery.

Note: While the idea of tying the line to the chain was good, in hindsight it would have been far better to use a piece of line secured to the boat itself as opposed to the tender. Lesson learned.


  1. I try to always have a knife in my pocket on a lanyard. You never know when you’ll need it. I also buy knifes that can be opened with one hand. Can’t tell you how many times I have pulled it out of my pocket and opened with one hand.

  2. I could see the weight of the chain causing the dinghy to capsize..

  3. Like you said: Leave a line secured to the boat, and hold the chain with just a loop, securing the other end of the line back to the boat instead of tying a knot at the chain. This way they could release one of the ends secured to the boat and drop the chain without losing the line.

  4. I agree with Dave W. Some 50+ years ago I had the same problem when single-handed in Milford Haven. The bow of the boat was forced right down into the water by the weight of the chain as I tried to raise it enough. It then turned out to be an big heavy under-sea telecoms cable, not chain. I just about got it sorted out when an enormous super-tanker tug swung alongside to offer help. Now that was impressive!

    Well done for going to help. I bet he was grateful.


  5. Typically in this situation, you make a line fast to the boat, pass the free end under the chain, and then make that end fast to the boat. Now the offending mooring chain is supported from the boat and the anchor can be lowered/untangled. Once the anchor is free, just undo one end of the support line and let it go…

    It’s a technique we’ve used – you don’t even need to put the dinghy in the water.

    s/v Eolian

    • I frequently have a knife too. That said, it is unlikely that were you in my shoes yesterday, you would have grabbed your knife. I barely put on a pair of shorts!

  6. Hi Mike, I just got caught up on your blog. I started reading at the beginning after hearing about a cruising couple buying an ex-charter boat and refitting it. As it turns out your whole story was of great interest to me. I have thoughts of semi retirement on a sailboat in the Caribbean and your blog has been educational as well as inspirational. For a farmer in Iowa it would be a change of pace. It is currently -5* F. here, it’s suppose to be -23* F. Monday night. The good news for my wife and I is we’ll be in the BVI in a couple of weeks for a couple of weeks. We have a cabin charter out of Hodges bay booked for a week. We were in Tortola for 2 weeks last year so we are familiar with the area, I’ll be keeping an eye out for One Love and if I see you I’ll stop and say Hi.

  7. Never dealt with that, so I might have the wrong pic formed in the old gray matter, but one could tie (appropriate knot called for here) a line to the alien chain, winch it up until the anchor is free, or lower it to get it freed? Lazy me, don’t want to do any heavy lifting 🙂

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