Done and Dusted

Done and Dusted

Sadly, frequent Cruising Anarchy contributor ‘Moonduster’ lost his beautiful 47′ S&S one-off to cyclone Mick in Fiji last week when two anchor snubbers parted as he and his girlfriend rode out the storm.  The Irish Admiral Cup team’s two-tonner in ’73 and ’75, Moonduster was singlehanded by a skilled skipper much of the way across the Pacific, only to end up stove-in on a beach in paradise.  She was uninsured. 

In the interest of passing along lessons so that others may learn from his misfortune, here’s Moonduster’s take on the incident. Thanks to all for the kind words. We’ve just gotten back to New Zealand after three hellish days.

Neither of the snubbers appeared to have died from chafe. Moonduster’s deck cleats were about 12 feet aft of the bow roller – just forward of the foredeck hatch. The first snubber simply failed under load as all three strands parted a few feet forward of the cleats – well aft of the bow roller and anything that might have abraded them.

We heard that line part around 9AM when the winds were steady in the 40s with gusts into the 60s. I quickly replaced it with the spare.

The second snubber appears to have failed at the chain hook – the line looks cut through by the metal of the hook at the splice. We never heard that part. By then, I’m guessing, the wind was well into the steady 60s and it was impossible to hear anything.

At that point, the last of the chain slowly backwound the windlass. The chain was terminated with a rope-to-chain splice to 300′ of nylon. That rode was flaked in figure 8s in the forepeak, but not ready to deploy. It bunched up and jammed in the hawse pipe, effectively holding the boat – but the rode chafed through at the bow roller.

Both chain hooks and the chain itself were spliced to 5/8" 3-strand nylon rope.

All the splices were of the chain-to-rope sort where one strand is unlaid for about a yard and two strands are run through the chain link or chain-hook-eye. I can provide more details if people are unfamiliar with that splice – it’s covered in Brian Toss’ Riggers Apprentice.

The first chain hook was a nicely finished cast stainless hook. The second was a lower quality (but more expensive) galvanized steel hook – the casting had a small raised edge running around the inside of the eye through which the splice was made. I have reason to believe that this edge may have sliced the splice.

Moonduster had a pretty nicely made dual bow roller that was integral to the stem fitting. Both sides were equipped with large rubber rollers – one with a notch for chain, the other designed for rope. The chain deployed from the windlass on one side and the snubbers were always run up over the other roller. The stem fitting was nicely flared where the rollers were through-bolted and chafe had never been a problem as there was no contact between the stainless and the snubber as long as the boat was within about 45 degrees of the direction of the anchor.

There was one thing that was a bit alarming about the anchoring setup given the strong winds and extremely high gusts. The rode was 300 feet (100 meters) of 5/16 inch (8mm) high-test chain weighing about 300 pounds (140kg). Even in 40 knots of steady wind, the chain had a relatively steep downward angle, indicating that the curve was steep and that the angle of the rode into the anchor was parallel to the bottom. All that sounds great.

The problem was with the gusts. Because the catenary was holding the boat relatively closer to the anchor, when a 60 knots gust hit, for example, the boat would fall well off the wind as it moved away from the anchor before the weight of the chain slowed the bow and the boat again lined up with the wind. In these conditions, the boat was sailing at anchor in much the same way it did when using a (nearly) all rope rode. That may have led to some of the problems.

Someone made a comment about single anchors – we were indeed anchored on a single hook. The reasons are three fold:

First, I have huge confidence in the 55 pound delta anchor and 300′ of chain. I’ve never dragged so much as an inch. During the storm we monitored our position on the GPS and although we sailed about a bit and moved back and forth as the catenary increased and decreased, even in 60 and 70 knots of wind the anchor didn’t budge.

Second, a significant part of our storm strategy was to move the boat 3.5 miles as the storm passed from west to east because the winds would change from east to south to west as that happened. Retreiving two rodes and anchors is always difficult and doing so in the forecast 40 knot winds didn’t seem prudent.

Finally, although I carried a spare anchor and rode, they simply aren’t sized for severe weather. The backup was 300′ of 5/8 nylon and 100′ of 5/16 chain on a 35 pound CQR. I’ve used it occasionally when I needed a stern anchor and primarily carry it in case the primary anchor and rode become fouled.

Had the second anchor been set, we may have sailed around a bit less and may have lasted another hour or so. I don’t believe, however, that we’d have saved the boat as the storm continued to build and the extreme conditions lasted another 4-5 hours.

Regarding insurance – not really a possibility for three reasons:

First, singlehanders are uninsurable. I wasn’t solo on this trip, but have been in the past and the process of getting insurance on a 37 year old wooden boat was just obscene.

Second, a 37 year old wooden boat has negligable insurable value. Regardless of the surveyed value, insurance companies look at the numbers and depreciate them. Even at 500K replacement cost, hull insurance targets were all sub-75K and pretty much useless.

Third, named storm damage is, to the best of my knowledge, never covered. We were in Fiji during the insurance industry’s self-proclaimed "Cyclone Season". Any policy would be null and void.

Check in on the discussion or offer your condolences on the loss of Moonduster here.