When is an Anchor Chain like a Phone Cord?
By Jeff Keiser
** This article was published in the June 2020 Inlet Outlet Newsletter. To download copies of the Inlet/Outlet visit our Newsletter Page.
What do you do when you are hunkered down for the Corona Virus? Our solution for sanity was to anchor out on Saturday nights and relax. This special weekend retreat was heaven sent every time we went out – almost. It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon. We spent the morning doing yoga and relaxing. Because we have the weekend overnight theme down, we only spent an hour or less prepping the boat.
On this particular Saturday we decided to fix our anchor rode before anchoring for the overnight. We have an all chain rode and over the course of time it had become twisted around and around and would no longer function well on the windlass. We were planning to take the anchor ashore and try to untwist it as this seemed the logical way to do this, even though it would be very labor intensive and possibly back breaking . However, a conversation with a friend taught us a better way to do this. He compared the anchor chain to a telephone cord. He explained that when you want to untangle a phone cord you just let the phone dangle. The idea was that we could just go out into the ocean, let the anchor out and it would unravel by itself. Wow, what a great time saver! This should be easy! We were told to go out where the ocean was about 400 feet deep and let it out. However, I knew that the anchor chain would get jammed coming out of the hawsehole at about 90 feet so I figured we only needed to go out until it was approximately 110 feet deep. When we reached the 110 foot depth we were approximately one mile off shore and just south of the Hillsborough Inlet. We let out our chain and as predicted it got stuck coming out of the anchor locker when 90 feet was played out. We thought it best to just drift for a few minutes in the slight current to make sure that it was fully unraveled. Everything was working like a charm! It is nice to know friends who know more about boating than you do. On the horizon we could see a squall approaching. The boat that was nearest to us pulled up their fishing lines and flew back towards the inlet. We were about to pull up the 90 feet of anchor chain along with our 45 pound Delta anchor using our trusty Maxwell windlass when there was a sudden “clunk.” The boat stopped moving - we had just hooked into something very solid. We had zero scope because the anchor had been dangling straight down.
To make matters worse, the chain was still stuck at the hawsehole and could not be fed out any more. We now realized that we were completely and utterly fixed to the bottom of the ocean in 110 feet of water, one mile off shore, and unable to move. We tried to go beyond the anchor to free it. We tried to go to the left and the right (in small increments because there was absolutely no slack between the boat and the bottom). No luck. The squall brought the rain in horizontally and there was no time for raincoats. With the 8 cold rain came the wind. With the wind came the waves. My wife Judy was at the helm so I could give her our hand signals to maneuver the boat in different directions to free the anchor. Nothing would free that anchor. Did I mention that the storm brought waves? What happens when the bow of the boat goes up from a wave but the anchor is solidly fixed straight down to the bottom. We all know that the anchor will free itself, right?
“Wham!” It was the heavy-duty bow roller flying downward into the water and taking pieces of the bow pulpit with it. OMG, this is getting bad. Another big wave came and the bow went up again. There was a shushing sound coming from the chain and I could see that the chain had just sawed off an inch of bow pulpit. At this point I was doing all the hand motions in the book to make sure that Judy could keep the boat positioned so that the chain would be as close to vertical (max slack) as possible. I yelled to her that maybe we should call the Coast Guard but she did not hear me over the wind. Oops, another big wave and another inch of bow pulpit sawed off. The rain finally stopped but … there goes another inch. The chain was just slicing the pulpit like a hot knife through warm butter.
I was getting worried (actually panicked but I did not want to admit it). We kept losing inches of the pulpit and at some point I knew it would include the bow of the boat. After a few more minutes we had some good news. The storm was passing and the wave action was lessening. I was soaked from the cold rain, I was stuck on the bow, the chain was super taut and the boat was in trouble. I kept working the windlass in and out. I was hand tightening the clutch as much as possible. The poor windlass was shrieking but the chain would not budge.
The wind had stopped and the ocean had calmed and I kept working the windlass in and out. Whoa, did I just see it budge? YES, it moved out a quarter inch. I worked the windlass in then out and I got an entire inch. After 10 minutes I got the rest of the chain out, ran below to the anchor locker with my Victorinox Pen knife and, because there was so much tension on the line, I sliced the three-strand heavy duty nylon rope like it was a single thread of silk.
I was so happy to give my 150 feet of anchor chain, my trusty anchor and the $300 swivel (so the chain would never tangle ) to Davy Jones. I was shaking at the end of this ordeal. At Judy’s suggestion, we did not go straight home (forget anchoring for the night without our number one anchor) but instead took a nice ride down to Port Everglades and cooled off on the way back up the ICW. But how did this happen? My wife was sure that we hooked on to a chest of gold doubloons. However, I was certain that we had hooked a sunken World War II submarine. There was no way of knowing.
Can you believe that someone asked if we did a video during this episode? ARE YOU KIDDING? We were busy trying to save the boat. Another asked if we had marked the position with our GPS. No - at the time we were considering spending the rest of our lives anchored one mile out in the ocean (talk about social distancing). One friend asked if our GPS does tracking. Could this be possible? I went out to the boat, turned on the GPS and we found the exact coordinates of where we got stuck. I gave the coordinates to a diver friend and he told me what we had snagged. Apparently, divers know where all the wrecks are and, as it turned out, we were in Wreck 9 Alley. We had attached ourselves to … (drum roll) an 80 foot tugboat that was sunk as an artificial reef in 110 feet of water in the 1990’s. He also told me that he would go and retrieve it for us - maybe if Davy Jones will be generous.
1. Be aware of the tremendous lifting force of the bow of the boat against the downward pull of a trapped anchor. When trying to free an anchor keep your fingers, hands, arms and feet clear and safe from the moving parts of the bow chain and windlass.
2. Follow directions. Go out to 400 feet of depths when instructed – not 110.
P.S. When my diver friend found the tugboat wreck he also found the anchor. It was completely wedged into the steel side of the tugboat. It you are interested he took a video at 110 feet.
The video can be found at: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1ruHJyVYDVP2mh04oiV3SuRzlVsJtgcbi/view