A Better Alternative to a Trip Line

Chapter 14 of 15 in the Online Book Anchoring Made Easy—Vol 1, Gear

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A couple of years ago, inventor and AAC reader Antoni Campins was kind enough to send us one of his AnchorWitch fouled anchor retrieval devices.

Sceptical Tester

I have to admit that I was sceptical. There are several devices around that purport to allow you to retrieve a fouled anchor but I have always thought that they were solutions looking for a problem.

After all, in some fifty years of  anchoring (I started early) I have never lost an anchor due to fouling. Sure I have had anchors foul on several occasions, but I have always managed to get them free, and that without use of a trip line.

However, we have undoubtedly been lucky in this regard. Luck that is probably augmented by our propensity to cruise remote places where manmade junk on the bottom—the most common thing to foul an anchor—is rare.

Severe Penalty

Having said all that, I have often thought about what a bummer it would be to lose our best bower (main anchor) to a snag, and probably a good chunk of chain with it—probably a cruise ender.

Trip Lines

Therefore we have, when we thought the risk of fouling was substantial, rigged a trip line. A less than perfect answer since trip lines are a pain in the neck to use and because of that, we rarely rig one. And, of course, this rare use reduces the chances that we will  have one rigged when we really need it, probably to near zero.

The Ideal Solution

So, given the above, it does not take a genius to figure out that the best solution is one that is so easy to use that we will always do so.

And Antoni has come pretty close to this ideal with his AnchorWitch.

How It Works

I could burden you with a multi-paragraph description of the device. But let’s not. The video below does a much better job of explaining it than I would.

Build Quality

This is a nicely built piece of kit. And despite the fact that Morgan’s Cloud and her gear are at the high end of what the AnchorWitch is designed to deal with, I am confident that it could withstand the loads that we would exert on it in a real fouling situation.

Living With AnchorWitch

I made clear to Antoni, right from the start, that we would not tolerate a piece of gear that obstructed anchor deployment or retrieval, or that required us to baby it to avoid damage. And the first iteration failed this test because the hook that attached the wire to the chain quickly got bent by being crushed between the chain and roller.

However, instead of blaming us, as many manufacturers would, Antoni went back to the drawing board and, at the beginning of the 2012 season, sent us a much more beefy and simpler attachment device that seems to be holding up well, although I would still recommend carrying a spare.

We do have to be a careful to make sure that the wire and float are properly positioned on the roller before deployment.

In summary, we had the AnchorWitch installed for five months and some 40 anchoring and retrievals this year, with only a little aggravation.

Test Retrieval

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We only did one test retrieval, but we made it a hard one by experimenting in 70-feet of water.  Like most things in this life, getting the device to slide down the chain and engage the retrieval wire wasn’t as easy as the video makes it look.

But, then again, after a bit of messing about, and three failures in which the device fell off the chain without engaging the retrieval wire, we were finally rewarded with success and up came our 120-pound SPADE with the retrieval device securely attached to the crown via the wire that had been successfully disengaged from the chain.

Tips

We learned a few things during this process:

  • Don’t pull the chain up hard so it is near vertical, as you logically would if fouled, prior to deployment of the retrieval device. It seems to work better with the chain making about a 60-degree angle with the bottom.
  • We also found that engaging the engine at idle in reverse, to pull some of the catenary out of the chain, helped.
  • Make sure you use a good strong retrieval line since in a real-world retrieval situation you could end up loading it pretty heavily.
  • Adding a light wire-tie to hold the retrieval device together, as shown in the instructions, would probably have been a good idea, particularly since we were operating in such deep water.

Limitations and Drawbacks

There are a few limitations with the AnchorWitch:

  • Although this has not happened to us, the wire and float, which are designed to be permanently attached to the anchor and chain, could foul something on deck during an emergency deployment of the anchor, thereby making an already bad situation worse.
  • We tried using the AnchorWitch in Greenland in 2011, but quickly removed it because it became fouled with the kelp that is common in the high latitudes, both making it harder to clear the anchor and unlikely that it would have worked anyway.
  • If your chain gets fouled under something, more common than you might think, the AnchorWitch is probably not going to help you. This is about the only situation I can think of where a trip line wins out.
  • If you have a very short distance between the attachment point of your anchor and your windlass wildcat—less than 12-inches (30 cm)—AnchorWitch won’t work; and the longer that distance, the better.

Is the AnchorWitch Worth Buying?

On balance, I would say that an AnchorWitch is a worthwhile device to spend your hard earned cash on, particularly if you often anchor in places with a lot of man-made junk on the bottom.

And that is high praise indeed coming from me, a person who is not big on gadgets and who values simplicity, particularly around mission critical systems like the anchor, above all else.

Disclosure

Antoni provided our AnchorWitch free of charge and we get to keep it after testing and he is a sponsor of this site.

Further Reading

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{ 12 comments… add one }

  • Dick Stevenson November 16, 2012, 5:21 am

    Dear John,
    Interesting report. Thanks for your experimentation. We have been similarly fortunate in not having an anchor be ir-retrievable. I urge skippers to not pre-maturely give up on stuck anchors as it has sometimes taken us up to 60 or more minutes of dancing around on the surface (and some trial and error guess work) to position the chain to drag the anchor out backwards.
    We also find anchor balls quite un-neighbourly in crowded anchorages and prone to mishaps in any anchorage some of which can be serious. As with so many other things in life, we will likely find we want an anchor ball only when it is too late. We use an anchor ball maybe once every year or so when conditions or reports indicate it wise.
    So we plan for the anchor to get stuck sometime. This leads us to fix, on our bower, a 1 meter line (with a loop on the end) off the end of the anchor with a float on it (basically a short trip line). The idea is that the float will help keep the loop accessible on an adverse sea bottom or anchor deeply dug in. The loop is there as, when free diving, tying knots below water is not a happening thing for me, so I want to just quickly clip onto the short trip line with one brought from deck.
    If the anchor is too deep, I have a tank (air bottle) with full dive gear to go after the anchor.
    I wish Antoni great good luck with his endeavour. It is quite creative and looks well executed. Those who are committed to employ anchor balls will, with an Anchor Witch, protect themselves (and be better neighbours) in a number of ways. Most benignly perhaps is to protect yourself from having your anchor ball (even well marked) picked up and used as a mooring float. More serious is the prematurely raising of your anchor when (not “if” if you anchor frequently) it catches on yours or a neighbour’s propeller or rudder in a rising wind situation. (To help people’s imagination: picture a rising wind situation from calm- not unlikely for a squally night-always happens at night. Your boat (or a neighbours) has floated over your anchor ball in the calm. The rising wind catches your vessel and trips your anchor. You go to turn on your engine. You know you are dragging and moving through the anchorage. You put the boat in gear and the engine stalls as the anchor ball rode wraps around the prop. It does not get much more challenging than that scenario.) So plans that do not include an anchor ball are, to me, good seamanship. The Anchor Witch contributes to that end.
    My best to all, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

    Reply
  • richard s. November 16, 2012, 9:05 am

    during my recently concluded power cruiser years (thankfully now back under sail) i once found my danforth seemingly irretrievable…after circling it numerous times back and forth and frequently loading up the nylon rode with the engine without success, i resorted to calling for assistance from boat u.s., but before they could arrive i noticed we were drifting through the anchorage, went back to the bow to find the danforth totally free albeit with a noticably bent stock…my point is to reiterate alchemy’s message above not to give up too quickly on a fouled anchor, and even when you think you are whipped there is still room for hope…just a little more effort may succeed…then there was the time my oversized danforth was not fouled but came up with the stock bent to nearly 90 degrees…i’ll never know how that happened even though there were sustained 15-20 knot winds overnight (the anchorage was fairly well sheltered from this…blow torch heat and a large vise straightened the stock)…lastly, i once saw a nuclear-powered carrier riding on its anchor in bermuda’s great sound…quite a sight…bet they had quite an anchor watch mounted for that and doubtful they were concerned about fouling that anchor…richard in tampa bay, s/v lakota

    Reply
  • Nick Hallam November 16, 2012, 9:12 am

    Another idea is now on the market: a normal braid line, of whatever diameter you choose as being strong enough for your retrieval load, with a small (and incredibly powerful) neodymium magnet buried within the rope core at regular intervals. This is a tripping-line, but instead of floating free and requiring a buoy, the line is attached to the anchor crown eye as usual, then as the anchor chain is paid out over the bow roller, the line is allowed to run out with it. As both chain and tripping-line pass over the roller, the line ‘sticks’ onto the chain. To use the tripping-line, just yank it free of the chain and haul away.

    This seems to me to be a seriously good idea, especially for all-chain anchor rodes. Even rope/chain set ups will probably find it workable, as the braid line and anchor warp can probably be made to adopt a similar catenary from the point where chain gives way to rope.

    The down-sides might be a) the presence on board of very strong magnets and b) the unsustainable nature of rare-earth magnet manufacturing. As long as the ‘sticky trip line’ is stowed well up forward, I don’t see much problem with the magnetism (but beware taking hand bearings on the foredeck?!?!).

    Keep it simple…..

    Reply
    • Ben November 16, 2012, 11:18 am

      the magnet line sounds good in principle… hadn’t heard of that solution before. But I have some experience with these magnets – and I bet they’d disappear very quickly in seawater. We’ve used them on production equipment, food processing equipment and in a myriad of other applications, and they are very strong and good – but they corrode very quickly.

      Would be interesting to handle that line on a steel boat too…

      have you got a link to the supplier of these lines? I’m interested…

      Reply
      • Nick Hallam November 16, 2012, 7:06 pm

        Look at http://www.coastlinetechnology.com to see more, plus a web search should produce plenty of reviews and comments: quite a mixed response. I foolishly hadn’t thought about corrosion, but I suspect for most practical sailors, the temptation will be to buy a bag of magnets via eBay (lots available in every shape and size) and insert them into rope of one’s own choosing, to suit anchor weight. That route allows you to protect the magnets with a coating, or heat shrink, or combination of methods. Shame for the ‘inventor’ of this system, but it may well be famous more in the imitation than the sales figures….

        Reply
    • John November 17, 2012, 3:08 am

      Hi Nick,

      I have to say that I really can’t see the magnetized trip line as a practical solution in the real world of anchoring. The reason being that my experience has taught me that it is vital to be able to let the rode go with a run when anchoring and this precludes sticking the line to the rode.

      In fact I fear that any attempt to use this method would be dangerous as the crew messed with a couple of hundred feet of magnetized trip line and coped with all the other challenges of anchoring well at the same time. Add in a good breeze and a bunch of other boats…well you get the idea.

      I would prefer the traditional trip line (which would be 3 to 5 times shorter) even with all its drawbacks, to this and, in my opinion, the AnchorWitch is a far better solution than the magnetized trip line.

      Reply
  • Martin November 17, 2012, 12:19 am

    Magnetic trip line has a nice simplicity factor, if corrosion can be countered.

    Thinking aloud, suppose after a few anchoring cycles the trip line gets one or two full 360 degree wraps around the anchor chain.

    Now, when you tension the trip line, the wraps may grip the anchor chain in such a way that it tensions the chain pulling on the anchor shank before you can get any tension on the crown.
    That would defeat the purpose, because you want to tension the crown first.

    However, if the trip line can be made slick enough to not get any real grip on the anchor chain despite a wrap or two, it could possibly still work. Any comments?

    Reply
  • Antoni Campins November 17, 2012, 1:02 pm

    I am very grateful to Phyllis and John for running this website and for the time they have devoted to test the AnchorWitch (my invention) in real cruising conditions. However I would like to add some comments.

    In the retrieval test I think that they would probably have hooked the first time if they had closed the rig and added some weight to the end of the line. The rig is optimised for typical Mediterranean conditions -shallow depth and no current- but it is easy to adapt to more demanding conditions when needed by closing the rig -to prevent it from losing the chain- and adding a weight to counter the braking effect of a long line that can be dragged horizontally by the current, as advised in the user’s guide.

    They also report that they had some trouble retrieving the anchor when the chain was almost vertical. This probably happened because the anchor was not actually fouled and its shank was also almost vertical. In real retrieving conditions the anchor’s shank would be closer to the horizontal and the rig would easily hook the wire that would then be held horizontal by the buoy.

    I know that AnchorWitch is not perfect (is there anything perfect?) but it is an attempt to solve the fouled anchor’s problem by having a short wire and a small buoy permanently attached that allows retrieval when needed, and it will never be a concern for the safety because it does not affect your anchor and chain. There is not another piece added between anchor and chain that might be another worry.

    I have used a tripping line and a buoy in the past, but in my experience I have never fouled the anchor when the tripping line was in place, but I have had problems when I did not expect any.

    Reply
    • John November 17, 2012, 2:56 pm

      Hi Antoni,

      I think you are right. Had we followed the directions more closely, we would have had less trouble in our test. But then again, we were being the typical user who never reads the directions and it still worked on the third try, so all good.

      Reply
  • Nicolas November 17, 2012, 2:10 pm

    Worst scenario;
    With 4 anchors on board, a few bits of chain & lots of spare line, losing my main anchor & some chain is almost certainly not a game-killer in the NE Atlantic – no coral here. Just set up a new anchor & carry on.

    Reply
  • Jim Ferguson November 21, 2012, 10:13 pm

    Sorry I’m late to the party on this subject, but I wanted to pass along a concept I learned in the Med. We stopped on the Island of Trizonia and enjoyed the company of 9 Dutch boats wintering there, we spent a marvelous week waiting out a December blow in the unfinished marina before heading to the Corinthian Canal. I watched one of the boats rig a 50ft trip line by connecting the line to the chain every 5′ with light weight plastic cable ties. Since anchoring in the Med is fairly shallow, he felt this would allow him to get to trip line and the windless would easily snap each tie as pressure was applied.
    I have not tried this , and I’ve yet to see anyone use it, but it seems to have some merit and possible worth a try. I’ve used cable ties for years to mark my chain for anchoring at night and I do know the break eventually, but they are easy to replace.

    Any thoughts?

    As for the AnchorWitch, I think it would work well, unless your problem, as mentioned, is kelp. In Fermeuse Newfoundland after a 60kt blow we needed help retrieving our 88lb Rocna. I took 5′ length of 5/8 chain looped it around the rode, with 150′ of shackled line. After sliding it down the rode I asked a 50′ fish boat to break me loose. He eventually was able to drag us into shallow water where we eventually pruned the huge kelp ball down to a manageable size.
    I don’t see how the AnchorWitch would have work under those conditions. Since we are currently cruising in the Baltic I do think it has a lot of merit.

    Reply
    • John November 22, 2012, 11:00 am

      Hi Jim,

      We too use cable ties to mark the chain and have found them the best of the many things we have tried over the years.

      I guess I would have the same objections to cable tying a trip line to the chain as I have to the magnetic trip line idea: I just can’t see doing this while deploying the anchor, particularly if there is any breeze or other boats around.

      Yes, kelp can be a monster. We have never had it prevent us from retrieving our 120 lb SPADE, but then we have a massive windlass and I also think that the SPADE tends to pick up less kelp and shed it more quickly than the Rocna.

      Reply

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