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