The Hassles of Hockles

Tips for preventing anchor-chain jams in windlasses.

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Taking the advice of a PS review, I installed a Lewmar V2 windlass on my boat in 2008. I went with the installers recommendation of 100 feet of galvanized chain and 100 feet of eight-part braid, connected with a rope-to-chain splice, and I have a Delta 35 anchor.

I found that a chain hockle (a twist in the chain that jams the windlass) will terribly mangle the vertical windlass. I have just completed my second mangling and ordered replacement parts-but these parts will not save me from the next mangling. The Lewmar distributor told me to install a chain swivel, but PS has warned about this (PS Advisor, May 2010). Is an all-chain rode a dumb idea? Is there some solution?

Scott Rimmer

Freedom, 1982 Sea Sprite 34

Tampa Bay, Fla.

In our experience, compact vertical windlasses are a compromise and do not strip chain as well as horizontal windlasses. However, an all-chain rode is never a bad idea. Using three-strand rope rode on a windlass is actually more likely to cause hockles, because of the way the line is twisted during manufacturing.

The Hassles of Hockles

Ralph Naranjo

Chain hockles can be the result of a too-shallow anchor locker or the chain having low-quality, rough galvanizing or weld splatter, which prevents the links from untangling themselves. Lewmar recommends windlass owners use stainless chain because of its smoother finish. However, we do not recommend ever using stainless anchor chain; instead, stick with good-quality galvanized, and try these troubleshooting tips. First, ensure that your anchor locker has good depth under the windlass. The rode stows by gravity, and when the hawse pipe opening is at a lower level than the center of the windlasss chain wildcat, the chain twists as it goes into the locker and causes a problem when it comes out. Having a strong hawse-pipe helps too: It can take the brunt of hockle jams.

We also recommend pulling all of your anchor rode out of your chain locker at least once a season, laying it out straight or in very long bights on the deck or the dock, and then feeding it back into the anchor locker in good order. This should help prevent chain hockling in most circumstances.

The Hassles of Hockles

Scott Rimmer

You can also try using your diesel to take the load off the anchor rode as you retrieve the scope. When you get to a 1:1 scope, power forward to free the anchor. As the freed anchor hangs from the stem roller, the chain will spin, clearing hockles from the tackle.

Now, should you install a swivel? This has been a topic of longstanding debate, and we are decidedly with the anti-swivel camp. Lewmar, however, recommends using anchor swivels.

Swivels are notorious weak points (PS Advisor, May 2010, and Mailport, January 2011). Our disdain for them-especially stainless ones- stems from frequent inconsistencies in the materials and manufacturing processes and the fact that stainless can fail without warning. But if you often anchor where your boat is turned around by current, traffic, and/or wind changes, then a galvanized swivel might help the chain untwist when hauling it in. But before making the leap to an anchor swivel, try the tips we mentioned.

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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