(Originally published in the July 2019 issue of Ski-Boat magazine)
By Anton Gets
HAVE you ever experienced fear? No, I’m not talking of the fear you feel in the pit of your stomach when you arrive home a week after telling your wife you were going out for a couple of drinks with your fishing buddies. I’m talking about REAL fear. Yes, the fear you feel when a novice skipper with whom you are fishing attempts to try and pull anchor.
Most skippers think they know how to “pull the pick” and don’t want to listen to advice — they all want to learn the hard way, but in so doing they risk not only their own lives, but also those of their crew.
Pulling an anchor, especially when there is a strong current and a rough sea is, without a doubt, the most dangerous aspect of ski-boating. One little mistake — a few seconds of lost concentration or basically not knowing what to do — can result in the anchor rope becoming wound around one or both motors. That’s when you need to start praying, because unless you are very lucky, the transom will be pulled underwater and the craft will flip.
There are a number of basic rules a skipper needs to strictly adhere to when it comes to retrieving a set anchor. Obey these and pulling an anchor in future should not only become easier, but also a lot safer.
First and foremost, don’t sit it out until the waves are breaking over the bow of your boat and your anchor rope is making the noise of an over tight guitar string. Regardless of the quantity of fish you are catching, when the wind and current start increasing, pull anchor and head for port!
Before you commence pulling the anchor make sure all the lines have been removed from the water and the rods and traces are stowed out of the way. A bottom trace skimming behind the boat while you are trying to pull the anchor will do one of the following — snag the rope, get around the props, or snag an angler who is desperately trying to pull it aboard.
Ensure that the crew — experienced or novices — are told and understand that the craft could suddenly spin around and lunge forward while this operation is underway. Make sure they are seated or holding on in a position that offers the greatest stability to the craft.
The deck area must be cleared and a substantial, sharp knife must be near at hand to cut the rope if necessary. Do not wait for the anchor rope to become entangled in the props before searching for a knife — under these circumstances knives mysteriously hide themselves and can never be found.
Always pull anchor with a long anchor rope. If you are not sure of the amount of slack line you are working with, let out another five to ten metres of rope and make sure it is properly attached to the front anchor bollard and over the anchor roller.
Never, never, never pull an anchor from a bollard on the transom of a ski-boat.
The skipper must ensure that when he is pulling the rope it is on his side of the boat. He will then be able to clearly see not only where the rope is, but also be able to determine the effect of the boat’s position on the rope. Do not rely on your crew to tell you what is happening with the rope — if you can’t see it yourself, stop and start the procedure again.
Both motors must be used in this exercise for three reasons. Firstly, if one motor should cut out the skipper can use the other to avoid the boat from turning around and entangling the loose rope in the motors. Secondly, two motors are better than one to exert an even and strong pull on the anchor. Thirdly, it is extremely important that you be able to steer properly throughout this exercise and there’s no doubt that using two motors will give you that advantage.
I repeat what I said previously — never pull the anchor over the transom, nor over the side of the craft. Always ensure the rope runs from the anchor bollard over the front bow anchor pulley. In the case of a twin hulled craft, never pull the rope so that it runs through the craft’s tunnel.
Another no-no is attaching the anchor buoy to the anchor rope before commencing the pull. Only attach the anchor buoy after the anchor has been pulled clear of the reef. The buoy acts as a shock absorber and reduces the amount of pull you can exert to free the anchor.
Do not pull the anchor by running with the swell and/or wind. Even pulling with the wind or swell on the craft’s beam is not a good idea.
Finally, never pay attention to Mister Wise Guy crew member who is trying to distract you with remarks or advice. Chances are he knows nothing and probably never will.
Once you have these golden rules committed to your mind in such a way that you will never forget them, then and only then can you attempt to pull an anchor on a small boat.
Now for the practical. To start with get both motors running and warmed up and your crew properly positioned. Engage the gears and, using only a fair amount of throttle, turn the boat to port and continue along that course until you can clearly see the rope. After that, slowly increase power and run on a course approximately 45° to the line at which the craft was lying at anchor.
With the rope in sight, bring the bow around so that it is facing the swell and or wind, ensuring that the rope is still angled away from the motors. Under no circumstances must you allow the rope to disappear under the craft’s hull or motors.
After the boat has taken up the slack and you can feel the tension in the rope, accelerate a bit but do not just push the throttles to sunset. This acceleration is used to try and break the weak link. It is also the time to be very careful as the weak link may not break and the anchor could be very firmly held in the reef.
If the link does not break the craft will start to be pulled or start sliding sideways. If this happens, immediately decrease power and swing hard to starboard. The anchor rope should be a lot less tight and you can continue to circle the rope and commence the pull again. During this exercise make sure you always keep your eye on both the anchor rope and any oncoming swell.
Should you still not break the weak link and/or free the anchor by straightening one of its tines, repeat the procedure a number of times, lengthening the rope if necessary, but never shortening the anchor rope.
If the anchor is completely stuck and the rope does not part during the pulling process, either attach a buoy to the anchor rope to enable you to try again when the weather is less inclement, or merely take up as much slack as is practically possible and cut the rope at or below the water level. I would much rather lose a rope and anchor than put the entire boat and crew at risk.
Normally the weak link will break or a tine will straighten and one can carry on steaming until the anchor rope starts trailing a short way off one’s starboard gunnel.
Once the anchor is freed, continue at the same speed into the wind and sea and get a crew member to pull the rope to the side of the boat using a gaff. Thereafter slip the stainless steel ring clip of the anchor buoy over the anchor rope and let the anchor buoy go.
Water resistance will retard the anchor buoy’s progress, and the rope, followed by the chain, will be pulled through the buoy’s ring. The anchor will then hook up in the ring. One can actually feel the vibration as the chain is pulled through the ring, and if not you will see the buoy increase speed as it is pulled across the surface of the water at the same speed as the boat.
After that the recovering of the line is easily achieved by slowly backtracking to the buoy while the crew pull in the rope.
One more tip: When connecting the anchor rope to the chain, it’s a good idea to splice the rope onto the chain, thus avoiding a knot. If a knot stops the buoy ring from passing onto the chain, by the time the boat gets back to the buoy the anchor will be almost on the bottom again.
If you study these rules and stick to them, there should be no further need for your crew and passengers to start quaking with fear when it’s time to pull the pick.