I normally don’t submit a blog post concerned with night time events. That might clue you in that something unusual happened this night:
When is the right time to reef your sails? Every sailor knows as soon as you even think about it. You don’t want to try to reef when the wind is blowing 30 knots. It is better to do so before the wind kicks up to an uncomfortable level. Well, I have a new one. When is the right time to increase the scope of your anchor rode? Preferably, put out enough when you anchor. If not, as soon as you think about it!
[Definitions and Explanations for Non-Sailors: You may skip this if uninterested. Anchor rode is the rope and/or chain which attaches your anchor to your boat. Scope, in reference to anchoring refers to the ratio of the length of your anchor rode which has been let out to the depth of the water where you are anchored plus the distance from the top of the water to where your anchor rode comes off the boat (approximately 4 feet on Beatitude). So, if we are in 6 feet of water, the second half of the scope ratio is 10 feet. If we let out 70 feet of chain in this 6 feet of water we have a scope of 70:10, or 7:1. The higher your scope, the more securely your anchor holds because of the decreased angle of the rode relatively to the sea bottom. You must also take other factors into account such as tides and how much swinging room you have when figuring scope.]
The wind started gusting to 30+ knots just before bedtime. I had been aware that the wind was forecast to be strong overnight and to shift to a more northerly direction. Early on, I thought that perhaps I should let out a little more anchor chain to increase our scope so that I’ll sleep better through the night. We had about 4-5:1 which had served us fine the previous night and probably would have served us fine this night. But, around 11 pm, I heard the blustery wind and felt Beatitude sway and creak and thought that perhaps I should increase our scope. So, I started up the engine so that I could operate our electric windlass. Cindy brought in the anchor chain to the point where I could release the snubber/bridle. So far, so good.
Then, I instructed Cindy to let out more chain. When we had let out another 20 feet I would attach the bridle to the chain and that would be that. Suddenly, Beatitude began to lurch left and right in the wind when the tension from the anchor rode was released. When she swung to the left the anchor chain suddenly became taut. It was then, that we watched our bow roller bend, our gelcoat snap beneath it, and the anchor chain pop out of the roller and drape over our starboard trampoline. My wife awoke Tracy for assistance as I attached the bridle to the chain. I, then, returned to the helm and eased the boat forward as Tracy carefully returned the chain to the bow roller. The chaos was over and we returned to the salon.
Back inside, Cindy and I discussed what we did wrong which resulted in damage to the boat. First of all, we need to let out the proper scope before the bad weather arrives. In retrospect, I would have been better off leaving the 4-5:1 scope, which probably would have been sufficient since the rode is all chain and we have the massive 85 lb Mantus anchor. In fact, this was a pretty good test for the holding power of our new anchor. By pulling in the chain to release the snubber, I probably had a scope of 3:1 at that point. If the sudden jerk of 18 tons of boat could not uproot the anchor at such a low scope, we are probably pretty good from an anchor standpoint. Looking back, I wish my anchor would have given way and not my bow roller.
If I was, in fact, going to increase the scope, I should have done it earlier. Regarding our actual technique, at first, we could not come up with anything we did wrong. Now that I’ve had a little more time to think about it, perhaps I should not have had Cindy let out the chain as rapidly as we did. At the time, I thought this would keep pressure off the bow roller and that I could attach the bridle before the chain tensioned on the windlass. This gave the chain enough slack to suddenly straighten up and violently jerk the bow roller to the right. Perhaps, we should have let it out more slowly, given the conditions. Mainly, what we did right was not to panic (too much) and to work together to resolve the problem without injuries or more significant damage.
After these few moments of adrenaline-pumping madness, we went to bed and slept pretty well during the windy night. We awoke the next morning to discover that our anchor held fine and we had no further problems, including when it was time to weigh anchor.