Chain foul-ups

This has never happened to me before – and, come to that, I’ve never heard of it happening to anyone else. But, it’s a bit alarming to say the least…

This evening, I went to drop the anchor. I know from experience to lay out a good bit of chain on the foredeck – the last thing you want is to be drifting all over the anchorage while you stand there, yanking at the chain trying to dislodge the knot it’s got itself into the chain locker…

And that’s what I did today – except that the tangle wouldn’t give. In the end I had to empty all the sails out of the fo’c’sle and dive headfirst into the forepeak to excavate it manually – which still took two attempts and a good ten minutes.

I know what happened, of course: The windlass deposited the chain in a nice tall pyramid which upended itself at the first sign of motion. Next (and this is where the trouble starts) when the boat jumped off a wave in a good blow, the bottom of the pyramid (which, being broader at the base and therefore more stable) now took flight and landed on the top half.

Now I know that we’re talking about 45-year-old chain here – galvanised but a bit rusty in places and 10mm just to make it more difficult to shift. However, in all my years (and I’m now and old man, remember) I have never been unable to free it by yanking and jiggling from the deck – which is why you need a hole rather than one of those silly swan-neck hawse pipe arrangements.

Of course, owners of modern boats who just pull up a hatch in the foredeck and it’s all there and accessible, are probably wondering what all the fuss is about – but don’t forget I’ve got the weight lower down where it belongs.

So, I’ve been wondering what I can do to ensure this never happens again – particularly not when I’m running into a tiny, overcrowded anchorage with a gale behind me.

First, I should say that the sides of the chain locker are already smooth with pieces of plywood bonded in to stop the chain sitting on the stringers.

Secondly, I know that stainless steel chain slithers nicely over itself and it probably wouldn’t do this – but isn’t stainless ground tackle the preserve of the gin palace brethren?

Any advice would be welcome.

Of course, I could comfort myself that this sort of thing happens once in a lifetime and now that it has and no harm was done, I can relax.

But that’s the sort of argument that leaves a niggling thought at the back of the mind: “What if it does happen again. What if it happens now, just when I can’t afford any foul-ups…”