Wilson: The Story of an Anchor Buoy
By Jennifer and James Hamilton
Rattle. Rattle. Rattle. I stood on the bow near the head of Indian Arm, counting off the rode markers as the windlass pulled up the chain: 175 … 150 … 125 … Calump! The bow jerked down suddenly as the chain pulled tight. I let a little out and tried again with the same result. We eventually got more serious and tried letting more out and then pulling Dirona this way and that, but it was no use—in 70 feet of water we were pinned hard with 125' of chain out. The only two choices at this point were to dive for it (we carry scuba gear) or slip the anchor. 70 feet is not very deep for a recreational dive, but not having been diving recently, it seemed too risky to descend into the dark, cold water with poor visibility to work on a heavy anchor and chain likely entangled in cables that could pose a similar hazard to divers. So we decided to cut off our 44lb Bruce, which regrettably included the 200 feet of chain to which it was attached. Fortunately, we carry a spare anchor, unused until now, so I spliced its chain onto the remaining 300 feet of line and we finished our trip without event.
Once home, with some modifications to our bow pulpit, we armed ourselves with a brand new 66lb Bruce and another 200 feet of chain. We had actually been considering getting a larger anchor anyway, but this was not exactly how we had envisioned the process. The next step was to avoid a reoccurrence by rigging a trip line system, which allows the anchor to be retrieved by its crown rather than its shank, hopefully releasing it should the flukes be fouled in a cable or something similar. After much trial and error, we have come up with a system that works quite well for us and has become a standard part of our anchoring regime. Hopefully, as does carrying an umbrella mean that it will never rain, we will not foul another anchor.
We wanted a system that would be flexible, easily managed, and work in waters ranging from roughly 10 to 100 feet. The resulting setup consists of an 8-inch orange buoy and 100' of leaded line, marked every 10' with colored wire ties, with a carabiner attached to one end. At the 10 and 20-foot marks, we have attached very small fishing buoys which keep the line above the seabed so that it will not be pinned under the anchor while setting. Since we rarely moor in more than 50 feet, we keep the last 40 feet of line coiled and securely tied with a short length of 1/8-inch line. (We also carry a spare 100 feet of leaded line with a carabiner on one end and a permanent loop in the other. Should we need to anchor in depths greater than 100 feet, we can hook the spare line between the anchor and the rest of the kit.)
To raise anchor, we aim the bow down-current so that the buoy streams away from the vessel to avoid running over it when powering forward to release the anchor. Once the anchor is back on deck, the carabiner is detached and the buoy removed from the trip line, which is recoiled and stored for next time. When the anchor is back on deck, the carabiner is detached and the buoy removed from the trip line, which is recoiled and stored for next time.
Besides allowing us to retrieve the anchor should it become fouled, the buoy also marks where the anchor is, making it less likely that someone will foul our tackle with their own. We actually saw this occur the day after we had slipped our anchor—as one boat in the anchorage weighed anchor, another boat shadowed its every move. The departing vessel had entangled its anchor in the other's rode by mooring too closely, and quite a long time was spent getting them separated.
The first few times that we had deployed it, knowing the buoy's location became a bit of a game, and it is still one of the first things we check upon rising in the morning. The little buoy floating out there alone reminded us of the volleyball from the movie Cast Away, so we soon dubbed it Wilson, as in "Where's Wilson?", "How much line should we give Wilson?", "Boy, Wilson is a long way off!"
This article originally appeared in Nor'westing June, 2003.
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Copyright 2012 Jennifer and James Hamilton