Chain locker

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.

Update 8th March 2014

After seven years of trial and error, I have given up all hope of trying to stop the chain getting itself into a tangle. No matter what you do, all the boat has to do is jump off a wave and the whole contents of the chain locker will turn a somersault. There’s nothing you can do to stop it.

So, now what I do is, while approaching the anchorage, I let the autopilot steer while I go up and pull at least 15 metres of chain out on deck – and then feed it back again (in an orderly fashion).

The only problem with this is that it can be very hard work getting the first metre out. The solution to this is keeping a handful on deck so you’ve got something to get hold of and a bit of slack to yank.

Good luck!

5 Responses to Chain locker

  • John, what a journey! Maybe something to consider is dividing the locker horizontally as it seems to be deep. It needs two to work out. A glue gun and some plywood. See if this works and then a more permanent fix. This may create layers of chain storage. The reason for two is one below and one above bringing in the chain.
    You might put the question to the apprentices at Pendennis shipyard.

  • Your chain needs regalvanizing. I know who can do that!

  • I used various pieces of wood, metal & strong plastic shapes to achieve an orderly arranging of downward flowing chain. Yeh, each worked fine for a few times then ‘back to the pyramids’ ! I think An an anchor well accessible from above, with drain out holes, worked much better on my baby Rassy.

  • Blimey John, now I know I haven’t encountered anything really bad! BTW, reading your book ‘Trident’. Very good. Well done.

  • Your descriptive writing is delightful! “I thought I was riding on Ellen’s coat-tails. Clearly, I was sitting on her handlebars.” I could feel the precarious, balancing act you were in, flying into the stormy seas – face first. I was a bit disappointed that there was no magic solution to the chain-piling problem at the end of the post. The struggle continues.