I just finished reading about some folks who were new to chartering on their first big charter. It wasn’t clear where they were chartering, but the water wasn’t very deep and was murky. They were feeling rather accomplished, anchored for the night in a cove and some big weather blew in.
Now, let me say right here that I sail in deep clear water on the West Coast. The weather here is pretty reliable and predictable. I know, I’m spoiled, but so what? After all, I’m an only child and can see no reason why I shouldn’t sail in a great place. I have had the opportunity to sail in lots of other places while cruising and delivering boats, so I know what thin brown water is about. Just between you and me, it gives me the creeps. I don’t like not being able to see at least a few feet underwater, and you’re sure not going to see me swimming in that stuff. Yuck!
So back to the charterers. They survived a big blow during the night but try as they might, couldn’t get the anchor free the next morning. It seemed to be fouled on some creepy dark mass on the bottom. EEuuuwwww! (that’s the creepy part!) Long story short, they chafed the nylon rode through and it parted while they were trying to pull it up, leaving the anchor and chain on the bottom. Then there was the big check made out to the charter company to replace the gear. The whole time I was reading the story, I was wishing those folks knew about my ‘Unfouler’ trick.
Here where I sail, you can usually see your anchor either on the bottom or at least on the way up when hoisting it. I paint mine white at the beginning of the season every year so they are even more visible. It really works well! The few times one of them has fouled, it’s usually easy to see what the problem is so you have a chance to decide what to do about it
Fouling kelp wads usually requires a steady pull and letting the boat slowly free itself, with maybe a little machete action. It’s not very exciting, but patience and taking in any slack usually works – just don’t be in a hurry, and don’t cut the rode with the machete! Rocks, cables and other anchors are another matter. I suppose sunken logs and tree snags fall into this category too (I’m starting to feel a little clammy. That kind of stuff really does give me the creeps). So here’s my trick.
Find a piece of line on board that’s at least as long as the water is deep. You marked your rode right? Now dig around and find a 2 to 3 foot piece of chain at least 5/16”. You can also make up a 10” stainless steel loop out of ¼” rod with some eyes in the ends, or buy one at the chandlery. See the photos if you are totally lost.
Pull your anchor rode (chain or line) as tight as you can and secure it. Be careful if you are in choppy water, you don’t want to tear out a cleat or your anchor roller. Loop the chain around the anchor rode and tie the ends together with the extra piece of line you found, or loop the stainless ring around the rode and tie the ends closed. With the rode as tight as you can make it, and the boat directly above the rode, lower the Unfouler all the way down as far as it will slide. The next part takes a bit of team work.
Slack off the rode a few feet as you slowly power forward over the anchor, keeping the Unfouler line tight. The goal is to slide the chain over the shank of the anchor and pull it out from the other direction. Dump maybe 15 to 20 feet of rode on the bottom and keep pulling with the Unfouler. Most of the time, the anchor will come loose from the snag and you will be able to hoist it up after you’ve dragged it a few feet away from the problem. You’ll have to deal with the extra line and chain as you hoist, but it’s a small price to pay for getting your anchor back. Just don’t drive over it and foul the prop!
In the photos, I’m using a small Danfoth anchor, but this trick works on plow types as well. Be sure your chain or stainless loop is big enough to slide over any shackles and down the shank of the anchor.
If the waves and weather are bad and everything is going to heck, buoy your rode and let it go till things settle down. You have three or four anchors all rigged and ready to go right? Good! Retrieve the rode and try again when things are calm.
Keep a few lengths of chain handy for docking in rough conditions too. You can loop them around the base of cleats so your dock lines won’t chafe on the cleats. This trick is very popular in some of the more exposed marinas in Ensenada, Mexico. There’s nothing like learning the hard way in the middle of a storm… even when you know it’s coming!
So, next time you or somebody else fouls the hook, grab your Unfouler and unhook it!