A Look At Anchor Lockers

PSs dockside inspections and offshore insights.

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At first glance, having an on-deck anchor locker looks as practical as having a trunk in an automobile. It appears to be a great place to stow the rode, hide the windlass, pack up the deck brush and a bucket, and perhaps even tuck away a few bulky fenders. Coastal and inshore sailors love the locker, but offshore cruisers and racers have mixed feelings about them, especially when it comes to poorly thought-out wells that have been cleaved into a boats foredeck.

For years, we have wandered the Annapolis and Miami boat shows, peeking into anchor lockers and recording the good, the bad, and the just plain poorly designed. This photo essay comes from the scrapbook of photos weve accumulated during these dockside tours and our adventures on various boats; the accompanying commentary is gleaned from lessons learned during bluewater voyages, coastal cruises, and inshore passages.

As with all things boat-design related, choosing between an anchor setup with an on-deck locker or one with a deck spill pipe and a belowdecks chain well comes down to weighing the pros and cons based on your needs and what type of sailing the boat will be doing. Whatever your situation-whether youre buying a boat or looking to get yours properly set up-here are a few points to consider in regards to the sensible anchor locker:

  • All points of access should be able to be made watertight.
  • The lead angle of the anchor chain to the windlass expedites rodehandling rather than being set to accommodate keeping the windlass undercover.
  • There’s enough room for chain to castle (pile up as it is stripped from the windlass) and still provide a clear fall.
  • Cleat leads and opening the locker do not conflict.
  • The bitter end of the chain has a length of nylon rode connecting it to a hard point on the boat so that the rode can be untied or cut in an emergency.
  • The windlass was chosen to fit the task at hand, not just to fit the locker.
Anchor Lockers
Many anchor lockers incorporate on-deck openings that are hard to keep watertight at sea. A jerry-rigged locker plug can easily be forced out of place when a plunging bow immerses the foredeck, and locker drains near the waterline can act as water intakes during a hard slog to weather. Fabricating a well-flanged deck opening plug and drain closures are a must if you’re headed to sea.

A Dry Locker

In the chain pipe versus anchor locker debate, one of the main arguments is that a contemporary on-deck anchor locker is much more difficult-often impossible-to make watertight. The International Sailing Federations (ISAF) Offshore Special Regulations treat anchor wells as cockpit volume. This is a clear indication that watertight status is not always in the cards, and in heavy weather, inundation may involve more than the drip from a wet anchor rode.

In heavy seas, even the lockers drains can become floodwater inlets, as PS Technical Editor Ralph Naranjo discovered on a lumpy passage from Bermuda. The boats crew learned the hard way what an anchor well full of water could do to decrease buoyancy and increase the pitching moment of a Swan 48 MKII. It took the repeated efforts of crew wedged in the forepeak to pump the locker dry using a permanently installed manual bilge pump.

Sparkman & Stephens
This sea-going 60-foot custom Sparkman & Stephens forgoes an on-deck anchor locker for chain stowage in a conventional forepeak. The anchor chain’s long fall helps to strip links from the windlass gypsy. It also moves weight aft, lessening its detrimental effect on the pitching moment. Note the substantial “dogs” on the locking door to the watertight bulkhead—all-in-all a superior means of handling ground tackle for an offshore cruiser.

Inspection found that the culprits were the two relatively small drain holes located just above the boats resting waterline. Through these, water gushed into the locker each time the bow plunged into a wave face.

While these drains were welcome features dockside and during coastal passages-they help keep the decks clear of anchor mud and other detritus from the depths-the euphemism locker drain takes on a whole new meaning at sea.

Lesson learned: Before going to sea, close off the anchor locker penetrations regardless of whether they’re on deck or in the hull, and regardless of whether they’re intended inlets or outlets.

Locker Design

Not all anchor lockers are created equal, as was evident during our boat-show walkabouts. Some had forward-facing anchor rode exits that were more spout-like entrances begging waves to enter; others were built in trench-like recesses that also invite water to follow a path of least resistance. Some were so shallow that only a few feet of chain rode would fit the chain box. A few doubled as a location for bow thruster relays and anchor windlass electrical accoutrements.

Placing a windlass in the recess of a well is walking the fine line of compromise. The upside is an uncluttered deck; the downside includes limited chain fall-the distance between the chain gypsy and the locker bottom-which can lead to problems with chain castling and links jamming in the gypsy.

Perhaps the biggest drawback is that in the event the locker floods during a passage, the windlass, solenoid, and junction box may be submerged for hours or days at a time. If the anchor windlass breaker has been left on, the stray current corrosion can be a very big deal, especially aboard aluminum boats.

And then theres the anchor lid. Boat designers often wrestle with how it should open and how it will function in concert with lines and cleats. The importance of a well thought-out design was highlighted during one PS editors recent charter aboard a 40-some footer.

The boat was anchored using a chain/rope rode secured to a twin set of cleats just aft of the anchor locker. When a formidable 0300 squall rolled in and the crew needed to get out a second anchor, they soon realized it was stowed in the on-deck locker, and the primary anchors rode ran straight across the locker lid, barring access. The rope rode, tight as a guitar string in the gale, would have to be rerun before the crew could extract the second anchor. In order to simply open the locker, the crew had to attach a line to the primary rode, put a block on the rail, and as the rode was slipped from the cleat, another crew transferred the tension to a cockpit winch.

When money is no object, naval architects can create some amazing ways to hide ground tackle and bow thruster appendages. The upside of this custom 120-foot Vision’s underbody anchor well is a lowering of the center of gravity, and the anchor chain has a great lead angle. But the complexity of this trap-door anchor deployment is akin to that of a submarine escape hatch, a project with a maintenance regime ill-suited for most boat owners.

Lesson learned: Be sure theres no conflict between cleat leads and the lockers opening; if there is, store essential gear elsewhere.

Construction Inspection

A peek into an anchor locker can give you a good idea of the boats construction quality. A boats stem area is usually free of laminate-hiding liners, and the curious consumer can see how well controlled the layup was, how the hull-to-deck joint was made, and what efforts were made to spread the loads linked to attached hardware. So while you scrutinize the line locker, also take a look at how the boat was built.

This quick inspection could save you from big headaches down the road, as one delivery skipper discovered. He learned the hard way how some production boatbuilders cope with putting a lid (the deck) on a very big box (a boat). The better the builder, the tighter the fit. More hurried builders over-trim bulkheads and some even allow them to float. And that is exactly what made life miserable for the delivery skipper and his crew.

Anchor Locker
It doesn’t take much to clog an anchor locker drain, and flooded lockers aren’t just a worry at sea. This Bristol 29.9’s anchor well filled with rainwater in short order when its overboard drain became clogged with a perfectly sized bung-plug that had escaped from the toerail. .

As they beat to windward and their anchor locker filled, the water discovered the bad hull-to-deck fit and the builders less-than-careful tabbing. In effect, it was the exact opposite of how a collision or watertight bulkhead should be constructed, and the result was a leak that was nearly as threatening as a crack in the hull.

Lesson learned: If the boat you own-or the one you are about to buy-has an anchor well, check carefully and see how its sealed off from the rest of the boat. Also check sealed wire-run leads and all bulkhead penetrations.

Anchor Locker
The added water weight was enough to lift the transom 6 inches out of the water.

Conclusion

By no means is this a condemnation of the concept of an anchor well. For coastal cruisers and offshore sailors, it can work, but its important to consider the points we’ve covered here. Every builder varies in their approach to locker design and construction, so give any boat you’re potentially buying close scrutiny to be sure the anchor locker has been well thought-out and well built. If you already own a boat, be sure it is up to the task at hand.

Weighing the Pros & Cons Part I

The contemporary anchor locker setup favors clear-deck convenience. This compromise can have some serious disadvantages. As with most things on sailboats, boat owners/buyers have to weigh the pros and cons and find a balance that meets their needs.

1. Hiding windlass foot controls under a locker lid, like these on the Catalina 375, keeps them from being accidentally engaged, but it also leaves the anchor handler in a precarious position, teetering over the open locker, as he weighs anchor.
2. The Hunter 306 has a well-placed anchor rode tie-off; having the terminal on top of the well makes an emergency castoff much easier.
3. This Hunter’s locker and windlass setup leaves the rode-handler totally dependent on the windlass’s enclosed chain gypsy. This does not allow for a chain connection using a thimbled eye-splice and shackle. There’s also no option to work a secondary rode on a warping drum or capstan.
4. This Beneteau 323 locker hides the windlass and its wired hand control, which doesn’t limit the anchor handler’s position as foot controls would.
5. An example of good gear in a bad place. Installing a furler in a locker adds unnecessary bends and twists—and potential fouling points—to the furling line, and unjamming a fouled drum becomes more of a challenge.
Weighing the Pros & Cons Part II
1. When a boat is floating at rest, an anchor locker drain should be able to shed
all water in the locker. Residual water evaporates, but it leaves the salt behind.
The brine combines with the sulfur-laden bottom residue, creating a galvanic
reaction and a puddle of rust. Even on this new boat, anchored only a few times,
water trapped in the anchor well has already becoming a chemistry experiment.
2. An anchor locker lid that is an alloy framed deck hatch has a better chance of
creating a watertight seal than the typical gasketed lids. In this case, however,
the chain fall is mere inches before the chain has to bend at a right angle as it
drops into the locker. Both chain stripping and castling will likely be an issue.
3. & 4. Loose- fitting hatches and mediocre gaskets invite moisture below. Some vessels (like the Tartan in picture 4) have a gutter around the perimeter of the hatch to lead water to a drain. This setup won’t keep leaks at bay during a heavy-weather beat to windward. Add wiring—like the setup on the Jenneau/Beneteau in picture 3—to the flood zone, and it’s a good idea to make sure that the windlass breaker is located elsewhere and is turned off.
3. & 4. Loose- fitting hatches and mediocre gaskets invite moisture below. Some vessels (like the Tartan in picture 4) have a gutter around the perimeter of the hatch to lead water to a drain. This setup won’t keep leaks at bay during a heavy-weather beat to windward. Add wiring—like the setup on the Jenneau/Beneteau in picture 3—to the flood zone, and it’s a good idea to make sure that the windlass breaker is located elsewhere and is turned off.
5. This cable-tied chain rode is a perfect example of how an all-chain rode should never be secured. In an emergency, the anchor rode could not be quickly or easily slipped. Attaching the chain to a shackle and 20 feet of rope secured by bowlines allows for a much quicker escape as crew can slip the knots or cutaway the line from the deck, rather than having to scramble around in a locker.
Sealing Anchor Chain Spill Pipes
Cruising boats, like the Pearson 41 above, often have an anchor well in the forepeak rather than an on deck locker. The setup is less likely to invite a large volume of water below during offshore travels, so long as the anchor chain pipe hole is plugged or capped in some fashion.

Anchor lockers are a convenience to coastal cruisers but no friend to offshore sailors. Passagemakers often forgo a deck-clearing locker for a belowdecks anchor-chain well. An angled spill pipe leads the anchor chain from the deck to the well, which often is under the forepeak and behind a watertight bulkhead. The setup not only eliminates the flooded-bow worries inherent with an on-deck locker, but it also moves the chain and anchors’ weight lower and further aft, where it should be to avoid hobby-horsing.

To keep water out of the belowdecks chain box, you first must keep water from pouring down the spill pipe. We have heard of numerous methods to seal the deck hole—from Silly Putty and duct tape to threaded brass caps and rags—and most of them work in most conditions. The holestopper methods PS contributors have found to be effective in even the heaviest of weather (when a boarding sea can create a fire-hose effect) include:

Teak plug: Sized to fit the deck hole and about 6 inches long, with an eye for attaching the chain to the bottom (after it’s removed from the anchor) and a fitting on top for pulling it out later (which may have to be done with a halyard). As the wood gets wet, it swells to seal the hole. PS contributors and circumnavigators Evans Starzinger and Beth Leonard use a Delrin plug in the same way, but they bed it with silicone before getting underway.

Closed-cell foam (from a cushion, Nerf ball, or the Forespar TruPlug): PS Technical Editor and bluewater sailor Ralph Naranjo suggests squeezing closed-cell foam “like a rubber rivet into the aperture.”

Other tried-and-proven methods include leaving the anchor on and spraying canned expanding foam insulation into the hole (this dislodges easily when the anchor is dropped); shoving a tennis ball into the chain-pipe (for a chain still attached to a bow anchor, split the ball half-way and pass the chain through it); cramming a rag into the hole and spraying foam insulation over it.

Darrell Nicholson, editor of Practical Sailor, grew up boating on Miami’s Biscayne Bay on everything from prams to Morgan ketches. Two years out of Emory University, after a brief stint as a sportswriter, he set out from Miami aboard a 60-year-old wooden William Atkin ketch named Tosca. For 10 years, he and writer-photographer Theresa Gibbons explored the Caribbean, crossed the Pacific, and cruised Southeast Asia aboard Tosca, working along the way as journalists and documenting their adventures for various travel and sailing publications, including Cruising World, Sail, Sailing, Cruising Helmsman, and Sailing World. Upon his return to land life, Darrell became the associate editor, then senior editor at Cruising World magazine, where he worked for five years. Before taking on the editor’s position at Practical Sailor, Darrell was the editor of Offshore magazine, a boating-lifestyle magazine serving the New England area. Darrell has won multiple awards from Boating Writer’s International, including the Monk Farnham award for editorial excellence. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license and has worked as a harbor pilot and skippered a variety of commercial charter boats.

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