Mailport November 2017 Issue

Stopping Anchor Chain Twist

anchor chain
Ensuring your chain is aligned in the locker makes it easier to prevent twist.

When an anchored boat spins, the anchor chain twists, and the anchor can come up backward. One solution is an anchor swivel, but failures with some poor designs are a concern—a lovely stainless swivel on one of our test boats had an interior crack that became visible only when disassembled. And as we found in our most recent test, many swivels aren’t very effective at reducing twist due to the inherent friction in the swivel.(see “How Well Do Swivels Reduce Twist,” Practical Sailor March 2016 online).

You can reduce twist by making sure your chain does not have any twist in it, and, once you have done this, you simply maintain the same alignment with the gypsy when deploying or retrieving your anchor. When your anchor is deployed and you are re-connecting the anchor chain to your windlass gypsy, there are four possible ways to orient it in the gypsy. There is also a 50-50 chance that your anchor lifts snugly into the anchor roller without adjusting the length.

Once you have the chain aligned as it should be, it should not rotate in the gypsy. The chain is straight, and the anchor will spin slowly on the way up and fit snugly on the roller onto the roller. But how ow do you know it is straight, and how do you maintain the same alignment?

One thing that has worked for me is to mark the “up” side of the chain at regular intervals with paint. By making sure that the “up” side of the chain inboard of the gypsy (on the locker side), is aligned with the next “up” side of the links on the other side of the gypsy, I know that the chain will come up straight and any twist in the chain will untwist as the anchor comes up.

The main problem, as I see it, is that many boaters have twisted chain in their locker, often without even realizing it. In many cases, they had replaced the windlass with the chain still in the locker. In the process of re-feeding the chain, they had introduced a twist that was not there with the old windlass.

The solution? Pull of the chain out into a box on the deck and then re-feed through the new windlass from the topside. Be sure to attach the bitter end to a padeye or u-bolt in the locker with line or lashing that can be quickly cut if you need to get underway in an emergency. By re-feeding the chain into the locker, it should now be aligned without any twist. Since the chain cannot spin in the gypsy, it should stay that way.

Comments (13)

I can' t believe. In your photo there is only one cleat and made of nylon.
And the rope has been secured with a knot which cannot be opened under charge.
All the discussion is useless under such premises

Posted by: albatrosbis | October 1, 2018 2:54 AM    Report this comment

I can' t believe. In your photo there is only one cleat and made of nylon.
And the rope has been secured with a knot which cannot be opened under charge.
All the discussion is useless under such premises

Posted by: albatrosbis | October 1, 2018 2:54 AM    Report this comment

Hi All
Great thread. One minor correction - there is no such thing as "Occum's law". There is "Occam's Razor", (with an 'a', not a 'u') which is also referred to as the "Law of Parsimony", which is the problem-solving principle that the simplest solution tends to be the right one. Occam is actually a misspelling of the name of William of Ockham. So, we don't need to misspell it again!
I have only seen this principle applied to scientific and medical questions previously, but I really like Piberman's application to the anchoring problem.

Posted by: lesliegb | September 23, 2018 8:11 PM    Report this comment

I have spliced rode onto chain....... basic splice as well as an elongated splice. Both go through windlass fine.


Posted by: NYSail | September 23, 2018 12:26 AM    Report this comment

Has anyone spliced rode onto the anchor chain? Experiences pro and con would be helpful. I find the shackles and swivels bind on my bow roller - I am the windlass.

Posted by: Katherine Ackerman | September 22, 2018 7:21 PM    Report this comment

As most know, we do a lot of writing about anchors and associated equipment. As a long time opponent of using swivels, having witnessed catastrophic failure on several occasions, we agreed to take the Ultra Flip Swivel out cruising. Having used it alot for three years now, i have to say that it does what it says 'on the tin'. The anchor always orientates itself correctly while coming over the bow roller. It is also very sturdily built, with no hidden parts, no threaded shanks, welds etc.

Posted by: Alex Blackwell - Happy Hooking | September 22, 2018 2:06 PM    Report this comment

I've yet to see any commercial craft use a "chain swivel" and I've been around the globe a few times. Savvy blue water sailor keep an anchor watch and set out a 2nd anchor to prevent boat movements that would twist the primary anchor. Blue water sailors always keep 2 anchors ready.

Chain swivels defy "Occum's Law" and are just another potential "failure link". Just as chain links are rarely if ever used on commercial vessels. Of all things to master in blue water sailaing learning how to set anchors ought be the first skill learned. Seeing boats on the beach after a blow suggests it may be the last one ever learned. And some never learn.

Posted by: Piberman | September 22, 2018 1:01 PM    Report this comment

I had considered weight..... the h3 has a max pull of 1900lbs. My assumption was that it is rated to "lift" that weight..... best call lewmar regarding that. Or just use my manual retrieve......

Posted by: NYSail | September 22, 2018 11:08 AM    Report this comment

In reposnse to Greg of Souleil (who wrote: "One solution I would think would be to go out to deep water, deeper than your chain and lower the entire chain down...... maybe removing the anchor first to reduce weight and let the chain spin itself out..... viable solution?)

Be aware that anchor powered windlasses are generally do not have enough torque to lift the entire length of a chain anchor rode. The assumption when sizing a windlasses is generally that the windlass need only lift a fraction of the chain at any time, because most of the chain is resting on the bottom. If you drop, say, 300 feet of chain in 350 feet of water, you will probably find that the windlass cannot get the chain back in the vessel. Keep in mind that anchor rode ways a between one and two-and-a-half pounds per foot (so 300 feet of chain weighs 300 to 1,000 pounds, about as much as a grand piano). You will need a come-along (ratchet puller) with a chain hook to recover rode and anchor. If your vessel has a mechanical windlass, you might be able to use line with a chain hook (a/k/a a snubber) to haul in the anchor (hook anchor chain and wrap line on windlass); having no experience with such windlasses, I defer to others on the question of whether such a windlass would give you the mechanical advantage to exert the needed lifting force.

Posted by: Zach Shipley | September 22, 2018 10:44 AM    Report this comment

I had a pricey well-made swivel and the twist never went away. The swivel is usual the weak link in an anchor system so I removed the swivel.

Posted by: Ronbo | September 22, 2018 10:05 AM    Report this comment

My wife and I are anchoring now every opportunity we have since I got my new ground tackle.... last few times the anchor has come up backwards which takes some manual maneuvering to turn around and get up so it sounds like I have a slight twist in my chain. Chain comes up nicely on my Lewmar H3 until this point. One solution I would think would be to go out to deep water, deeper than your chain and lower the entire chain down...... maybe removing the anchor first to reduce weight and let the chain spin itself out..... viable solution?


Posted by: NYSail | September 22, 2018 9:57 AM    Report this comment

In fact, a swivel on the anchor just about guarantees twist, since it will turn every time the boat moves at anchor. The swivel then helps the twist come out again. Without the swivel, gravity does the job as soon as the anchor clears the bottom.

Another factor that is often ignored is motion. Typically we begin motoring forward, recover the chain and break the anchor free, and then continue forward as we recover the rest of the chain and anchor. However, modern anchors are designed to align with the flow of the water, so if we are motoring forward, the anchor will come up backwards most of the time. The solution is to stop or drift slowly backwards. Many times I've watched folks lower the anchor in an attempt to get it to turn around, but since they are motoring forward, it reverses the moment it touches the water.

If the chain is twisted in the well, either (a), the twist was there when it was installed, or (b) the chain is jumping on the gypsy, suggesting either wear or perhaps a horizontal windlass with insufficiency drop into the chain locker. The test boat also ran the chain out a few months ago, just to hose out the locker, and after 5 years there was no twist. The chain should not be twisting in the gypsy without some ugly noises.

Posted by: Drew Frye | October 23, 2017 11:33 PM    Report this comment

Six years after installing my electric windlass and a year before sailing to Hawaii I decided to reverse the chain (300'), end for end, and install new markers on it. While the boat was hauled I lowered the anchor and all the chain noticing the last dozen or so feet of chain, just before the bitter end shackled to the bulkhead, were badly twisted. I was somewhat surprised as I have both an anchor end swivel and a grooved anchor roller to combat twisting...maybe I need a swivel at the bitter end as well.

~ ~ _/) ~ ~ MJH

Posted by: MJH | October 23, 2017 11:35 AM    Report this comment

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