Our anchor bridle broke around 3.30 am yesterday morning. For the uninitiated, the anchor bridle is generally a length of nylon or polyester line that is attached to the chain hook, thereby creating a triangle between the bows and the anchor chain, taking all of the load off the windlass (which is the winch that we use to lower/raise the anchor) to keep the boat pointed into wind.
Our anchor bridle is made of 3-strand twisted rode ( aka line or rope) which is the marine industries most recommended because it is simply most suited to this purpose – meaning it has some ‘stretch’; it is a shock-resistant, durable, flexible type of line that sinks in the water. Clearly, our bridle line was under considerable stress and tension when it snapped in huge winds. Even the stainless steel bridle hook had been bent under the force.
The Captain and I were both up anxious and wide-eyed, all senses on hyper-alert, sitting and listening in the saloon. You certainly don’t sleep when the weather is life-threatening in sound and potential impact. We always use Anchor Pro to run our anchor alarm system and due to the high winds, we’d set a wind alarm on another device for winds over Beaufort 8. We topped out at 53.8 knots of wind which is 100 km (or 62 miles) an hour.
We felt the jerk of the boat on a gust of wind. And then a moment of what sounded like steel scratching on the hull. Perhaps it was a wave, we thought. So we waited another minute and heard the sound of steel again – which is most definitely a sound you don’t want to hear. Immediately the Captain gingerly ventured forward with his trusty torch to return directly to the helm and immediately start both of the engines. That was a clear indication that something was very wrong.
He re-entered the saloon to inform me that the anchor bridle had broken. It was broken on the port side as far as he could tell, and we ran the potential risk of getting a hole in our hull. And we have rocky land immediatey to our port side. We immediately responded by putting on our life jackets, lifelines, and head torches. We grabbed our marriage savers (our Expand Sena Bluetooth headphones) so we could talk between the front and the helm because as you all well know, your voice gets carried away on the wind.
Our challenging tasks: I was to drive the boat forward on to the anchor to get some slack in the line and to maintain a heading into the wind, which was continually shifting and the boat was being tossed from side to side. He was going forward to deal with the break by bringing up the anchor chain with the snapped bridle line. We used the windlass to raise the line and the starboard side of the bridle was still seemingly attached. He jacked up some 3 strand mooring lines that we had onboard, and using his sailors skills he tied a rolling hitch knot onto the anchor chain and tied this off around the port forward cleat.
We had to work together and communicate clearly to make certain this port line was equidistant to the line that remained in-situ on the starboard side of the bridle. We lowered the jimmied line back into the boiling sea and prepared another 3 strandline on the starboard side just in case that side snapped too. During this drama, the turbulence of the wind never abated. The Captain’s beanie was blown off his head into the brine and his headtorch nearly went the same way.
Emergency response complete. We turned off the engines. And then we waited for dawn for a clearer view. Daylight arrived and after an evaluation, we decided to totally remove the bridle and set up the starboard side the same as the port side also with a rolling hitch and tied off on the cleat – so again, it was the engine’s on, driving forward trying to hold Waiata’s heading directly into the wind, and the Captain doing the tough work out front removing the bridle from the eyes at the front of each hull and sorting out the lines in front of the boat. In the space of 15 minutes, he was snowed on, hailed on, and then rained on … in that order. It’s just as well we made that decision as we found that the line had almost worn through on the shackle in any case.
One thing about sailing is you’ve got to think ahead. Always discuss a plan for ‘what if’. And you’ve got to perpetually think about redundancy and a variety of potential states of emergency. There is no chandlery store here. Our closest ship chandler appears to be in Athens. As we already had a better 3 strand nylon line than the one that had broken, we decided to make a new bridle. The Captain has splicing skills and all the tools needed to make a new bridle. We checked out the ‘best practice’ and it seems that the bridle that was supplied when we bought Waiata was only 5 metres long on each side. We know that the length on each side should be about the width of the boat, and so Captain Greg made a longer, stronger bridle with each length being 7.5 metres. Of course, we then had to go through the entire heart-racing process again … motor forward on the anchor, bring up the jacked up bridle lines, routing and attaching the new bridle before lowering it into place, and then remove and sort out the interim lines process too. During all of this raising and lowering of the anchor chain and the days of wind we have endured, our 40 kg Rocna anchor that we lovingly call ‘Bertha’ has never budged an inch.
This all happened in Batsi, on the Greek Island of Andros. It has been a long story so thank you for reading. It has been cathartic to write down the process of what we went through. But the words don’t convey the feelings of utter fear that make the adrenalin course through the body. It was a very long day, both mentally and physically exhausting. And as I write this the wind is still howling and already this morning we have again exceeded Beaufort 9 on several occasions. The forecasts all show that the wicked wind is not going anywhere till Friday. But we do feel safer on our newly minted bridle. And so to end the day that started so rudely early and stressfully, last night we fired up the generator and wound up the heat in order to luxuriate in 20 degrees. Exhale! We feel like we earned it. And bloody well deserved it.
“Anchors Aweigh, my boys,
Farewell to foreign shores,
We sail at break of day-ay-ay-ay.
Through our last night ashore,
Drink to the foam,
Until we meet once more.
Here’s wishing you a happy voyage home.”