There is a man living in my chain locker. His name is Marcel and he’s a second-row forward for the French national rugby team.

Marcel is a big lad – just over 20stone (that’s 130kg to the French –  286lbs if you’re American). But stocky: Marcel has very short legs. Second-row forwards don’t have to run.

I am fantasizing, of course – but the weight is real enough.

It’s all to do with replacing the anchor chain. The last time I wrote about this was in March 2021 – when I was enthusing at getting it re-galvanised for a fraction of the cost of a new one.

Well, now I’ve got a new one.

Periodically, I was supposed to take the stainless steel swivel off the end and measure the last link. This was 10mm chain and one day the last link would rust away to 8mm – at which point it would need cutting off so the swivel could get on with sacrificing the next link. However, the corrosion seemed to have stopped at a fraction below 9mm – and a 32ft boat doesn’t need even that much.

Like many things about Samsara, the chain is somewhat unusual: When she was built 51 years ago, it seems she started off with 30metres, and then one of the succession of previous owners decided to add another twenty. It was the last link of this 20metres that I had been measuring so conscientiously.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, on a whim, I decided to measure some of the links at the other end – the older end – the end that was (not to put too fine a point on it) fifty years old…

I found one that was down to 6mm.

Not 10mm chain – and there’s a link somewhere even thinner than this!

And you know what they say about the weakest link…

So, a new chain was called for – and what did I say about a 32ft boat and 10mm chain?

The worst part is the way it gets jammed in the chain locker by its own weight. So, the new chain would be 8mm.

But then there is this thing called catenary – the weight of the chain providing a shock-absorbing effect. This would be reduced with a lighter chain, meaning that I would need a bigger scope. Up to now, I’ve worked on 3:1, which is very old-fashioned. Modern anchor manufacturers all seem to recommend 4:1 as a minimum.

Well, that was OK, because 50m of 8mm weighs only 70kg, compared to 115kg for 10mm.

Or I could get another 32 of length for the same weight. I would be able to anchor in 20metres – and still have 4:1 scope!

But who walks into a chandlery and asks for 82m of chain? I rounded it up to 85m – it was only another 4kg.

And this is where Marcel and his short legs came in. Instead of measuring all 85m, he cleverly paced out the remaining 15 to leave in the tub. In fact, he paced out 14, to be on the safe side – at least, that’s what he said he was doing. I was over on the other side, working out how many more chain markers I was going to need.

It turned out I didn’t buy enough.

When I loaded the new chain into the dinghy to row the half-mile back to the boat – and then, when I laid it out between two pieces of plastic tape stuck to the deck exactly five metres apart, it transpired that Marcel’s little legs hadn’t measured out 14metres to leave in the tub… but only seven.

Either that, or he’d forgotten to double it.

Either way, I’ve now got 93metres of 8mm chain, weighing a colossal 130kg or, as I say, just over 20stone (or 286lbs).

I could just cut off the excess – but who throws away brand new Vigouroux chain? Also, the extra eight metres only adds another 15kg…

But when you add it all up – with another 20kg for the anchor – that’s an awful lot of weight up front. It’s a whopping 150kg!

As I say, that’s the same as having a rugby player in your chain locker (instead of where he should be, on the weather rail.)

I can only hope that the Rival’s famously fat and buoyant bow will be able to cope…

10 Responses to Chain

  • Forgive me if I’m wrong, but I was under the impression that the length and weight of the chain added to the holding power of the anchor. I’d like to know if that is so.?

    • Oh dear, I fear you will have started another anchor war (or, in this case a chain war). Heavier is better obviously, but it’s all a trade off – the heavier your chain, the less length you can carry … and I would suggest that (providing you have the room) the more length, the better. Geoff Crowley (who is an anchor specialist) suggests that in a strong wind, heavier chain will go straight fairly soon anyway – which means the only benefit of it being heavier is that it is less likely to break – and how often do you hear of chain breaking? The anchor will pull out long before that happens.

  • Isn’t it just wonderful how the topic of anchor & chain keeps us pondering for years and years and never fails to fascinate. There must have been hundreds of thousands of words written on the subject yet it still finds us wanting more! Thanks John. Keep ‘em coming.
    Best wishes, Nick.

  • This is the perfect post – for my 36 footer, I am going through the same arguments. Today planning to put big tub of water (150kg) on bow to see what the chain weight will do to the trim!

  • I have been considering doing all chain on my 27ft boat. After reading this I am more convinced it is a good idea. I can shorten my scope in busier anchorage’s around here with less worry.

  • I ‘chaperoned’ a friend’s Rival 34 for over a decade, which had something close to 300′ of 10mm galv chain, in two chunks – one in the chain locker with the notoriously delinquent navel pipe, and t’other in the port cockpit locker. “You can never have too much chain,” he would intone. The boat had a permanent list to port, and the spare length didn’t see daylight in a decade.
    Nowadays, I’m fettling a similar-shaped boat, but 55% of the weight of the Rival. It came with 10mm chain. That’s now adorning a pallet, and I have >50m/160′ of Grade 8 high-test galv chain – in 6mm.
    That’s less than 40% of the weight, and bulk, of the hefty stuff, and is as strong.
    Sure, there’s a trade-off. On the balance of advantage, I’ll live with that.

  • Catenary only exists when you don’t need it. High rode force means an almost straight chain, from bow to anchor. No shock absorbing in that. Snubbers however (10m of stretchy nylon rope) do absorb shock loading on anchors.

  • Did you consider a mix of 2/3 chain and 1/3 rope to reduce the weight. It would probably still provide the catenary effect. Anyhow, brave on you to row all that weight back in your dinghy.

    • Rope is too liable to chafe.

      • I sailed along time with 8 mm chain and CQR on an Ohlson 38 and it pretty much always ripped when I needed it most regardless of healthy scope.What’s on he bottom is also a massive concern.Sold the Ohlson (a pig of a boat to hand steer in a breeze) and am now happily throwing in the Rocna and 10mm .
        Incidentally bought your books for my island hopping in the Med. this summer. Now 68 ex marine reading your stuff is very inspiring.Keep it coming John.

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I’m still rowing.

Apparently, I’m the only one.

In the vast anchorages of the Caribbean, this is so unusual as to be considered truly eccentric.

Currently, I am in Le Marin in Martinique. I pulled in here on the way to Antigua because the Starlink only connects one time in five and if it’s the inverter that’s the trouble, I’ll have to take it back to Trinidad. Also, I’ve been trying everywhere to get an 8mm gipsy for the anchor windless. Sometimes I think cruising is nothing more than an exotic shopping expedition.

But it meant that yesterday, I made four trips between the anchorage and the dinghy dock – a total, according to my track on Navionics of more than three miles.

On my second trip – with only 50 yards to go, someone in a RIB with 15 horsepower on the back offered me a tow. I really must check my schoolboy French for: “It’s all right. If I don’t do this, I have to go to the gym.”

And it’s true. My son the doctor informs me that over the age of 60, you don’t make any more muscle – so, at 75, it’s really important to hang onto what you’ve got left.

Which, as I say, is why I am not buying an outboard after all.

I came very close to it.

Here was my problem: When I found Samsara seven years ago, it was as if the clock had spun backwards. I owned a Rival 32 in the 1980s – that was Largo. Suddenly, I could go back to the way things were. I could be 35 again!

Nobody had RIBS and davits in the 80s, so I looked up the smallest, lightest two-man dinghy – and came up with the 3D Twin-Air at just 2.3m and 13.8kg.

I knew which outboard I would put on it: The Suzuki 2hp. I could pick that up in one hand and swing myself over the guardrails and into the dinghy.

Well, that’s what I could do 40 years ago. Strange how the new one had to be laid on the side deck and then sort of shuffled into place. Also, it wasn’t really “new” at all and had acquired many of the cantankerous habits which come to us all in middle age. When it failed to start on the way home for Christmas and had I to wait for the tide the next day, I decided to give myself a present of an electric one.

Just think of it: No carburettor, no choke – no petrol. Not even any maintenance…

The little Haswing Osapian 40 weighed just 7kg (and only cost £150). Admittedly I had to add a 60ah battery which weighed as much as the Suzuki – but at least it was smaller to manhandle.

For a season, I glided silently about the anchorages of the south coast and the Channel Islands and, eventually, The Canaries.

Silently and slowly. If I wanted the battery to last any time at all, I had to limit myself to 2kts.

Well, I can row at 2kts.

Moreover, if I was rowing, I was getting some exercise. Also, I didn’t have to faff about putting it all in the dinghy and taking it all out again.

And here’s another thing: Nobody’s going to steal a dinghy without an outboard: The dinghy thieves of the Caribbean regularly abandon their purloined RIBs on the beach. The outboards, however, are never seen again.

So, I put the electric outboard on eBay and took to rowing. I might take longer to get where I’m going, but I have all the time in the world – and while I may get a bit wet going to windward in a blow, I have never yet failed to arrive.

And this was all fine and dandy – until one of the rowlocks broke.

These, I discovered, were made of plastic in moulded rubber housings glued to the tubes. Never mind, Sunny of Sunny Yacht Services in Gran Canaria made me stainless steel copies.

And all was good for another year – until, one evening in Falmouth, the moulded rubber split.

There was no fixing this – but on the other hand, the dinghy was five years old. Also, I had the wrong oars: I had lost one in Alderney and bought a new pair in Weymouth – longer and with curved blades just like the Oxford and Cambridge boats. It turned out the rowlocks weren’t designed for that kind of power.

In the end, I gave it away to someone who had an outboard and ordered a new one (promising myself that I would use only the oars which came with it.)

And everything was fine for another year – until, last week, the moulded rubber split in exactly the same place.

Was I going to buy a third new dinghy? I had written to the makers and pointed out their design flaw, but it seemed they didn’t understand the concept of rowing. Anyway, they never wrote back.

The solution was to buy yet another (and this time, heavier) dinghy. I could haul it aboard with the staysail halyard.

Or maybe I could repair the old one well enough for emergencies and get a really reliable outboard. Four-strokes are reliable – and the lightest is the Honda 2.3. But that still weighs 13kg – and that’s without the fuel and oil. Also, you mustn’t turn a 4-stroke upside down (which can happen if it weighs 13kg and there’s any chop in the harbour…)

Alternatively, there is the ePropulsion electric outboard which comes in two parts – neither of them weighing more than 11kg.

As if to compensate for this, it costs twice as much as a petrol one. Also, it has to be fed with electricity – a commodity not always available aboard Samsara.

But first, I had to manage a repair of the rowlock.

There wasn’t room to get a bolt through it. But I do have a 1½mm drill bit – and any amount of sailmaker’s thread.

Invisible mending

…and preventative measures on the other side.

I’ve tested it – all that rowing yesterday. There is no sign of the thread pulling through the rubber. In fact, I have a reel of black thread for some reason, so you wouldn’t know it’s been repaired at all. On the first trip to the dinghy dock (when I didn’t know where it was and ended up rowing 0.8 miles) it took me just 25 minutes – that’s 3kts.

And when I found the dinghy dock jam-packed with RIBs, I just pulled mine over the top of them all, upended it onto my head and went and tied it to a tree.

10 Responses to Rowing

  • I’d love to have one of those pram dingys sawn in two with a little rig to sail in the mooring.

  • Having some physical strength is so important. I read so many articles about pulling your self back on board if you fall over the guard rail (with lifeline) No one seems to mention being strong and exercising. I’m 60 and 5′ 10″ 97kg and I can still do a couple of chin-ups. Of course it takes some effort, a bit like rowing does.

  • I bought a little Chinese 2 stroke outboard. It makes an utter din going just over rowing speed. Can’t wait to ditch it!

  • Another great post John. I’m 64 now, and I was wondering why I couldn’t add more muscle ! And there was me thinking it was because I don’t train . Stick with the oars. Fair winds to you.

  • Great! I also row, and love removing complexity.

  • Hi John,
    Glad to see you’re still getting about…yes, exercise + rowing = totally alien concepts to many. However, I’m from teenager of the sixties when outboards were similarly considered.
    It’s great exercise…why else would people buy rowing machines? You’ve got the real thing…bravo…p.s. I don’t think Arnie’s much worried!!

  • Tobago to Martinique… Is this the start of The Voyage II? Fair winds to you!

  • Love reading your posts. Hope you are keeping well
    Keep going sir

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