No, it’s not a pretty sight. But this is what I found in the chain locker after I had emptied all the sails out of the forepeak – and the big ball fender – and wrestled with the fastenings of the access hatch … while drifting around outside the anchorage at two o’clock in the morning.
Admittedly, I was drifting around in the middle of Falmouth Harbour so there was plenty of room – especially at two o’clock in the morning.
As you can imagine, I felt pretty smug about being prepared. I knew there was a chance this would happen. I had just crossed Biscay on the coat-tails of Storm Ellen and it was one of the roughest passages I can remember. Despite having the wind on the tail right up until the last five miles, the boat got chucked around so much that the Bluetooth speaker jumped out of the deepest fiddle on the lee-side and hurled itself uphill onto what was supposed to be the windward berth. Then the autopilot hopped out of its supposedly secure stowage and made its way via the navigator’s seat to the floor (it still works).
So, I knew what the chain would be up to. Actually, I could hear what the chain was up to. The best description I can come up with is the sound you get from shooting a load of gravel out of a tipper truck. That is the sound 50metres of 10mm chain makes when it is thrown into the air, turns a slow-motion somersault and lands upside down. Given that it weighs over 100kg, you now have some idea of just how rough a crossing this was. I thought I was riding on Ellen’s coat-tails. Clearly, I was sitting on her handlebars.
Whenever I suspect acrobatics have taken place in the chain locker, I make a point of hauling all the chain I’m going to need out on deck well before I get into the anchorage. On this occasion, it took the usual jiggling at ten metres, a good yank or two at 20… but at 30 metres, the chain would not budge at all. No wonder, when you look at the knot it had got itself into. Normally the solution is just a matter of taking the weight off and giving it a good shake. This time I had to pick it apart as if it was a shoelace.
So, perhaps now is a good time to recant all my previous advice on how to stop the chain piling up in a pyramid so that as soon as the boat heels, it falls over and jams itself.
That is not a chain jam. A chain jam is the result of the normal laws of physics in action. All the same, I did once buy a traffic cone (no, I did not steal one off the road, I went to Toolstation and bought one). The idea was to cut the top off it and bond that into the floor of the locker so that the chain would be disposed around it.
This did not make the slightest difference.
The next idea was to create a slope for the chain to slide down in an orderly fashion. I painted a plank and wedged it in place – and, I must say, this worked very well for a year or so. Once the paint wore off, the chain stopped sliding and started its pyramid on the board – meaning that the top reached the deckhead and blocked the hawsehole so the last few metres wouldn’t go down at all.
Anyway, neither option defied the effects of a really rough sea. I imagine nothing will. This is just something we are going to have to live with – like foul-weather clothing that becomes porous after two seasons and fishing boats that turn off their AIS.