Ever wondering about catching Captain Ahab's anchor in some remote place and what to do? In this story we catch a giant anchor and show you how we had to deal with it....right before doing a two day passage.

Tulum and our buddy boat (Descanso) were safely anchored in Mazatlan’s Old Harbor for more than a week, waiting on a good weather window to do the crossing from mainland Mexico to the Sea of Cortez.  The eight day stay had been mostly routine….we provisioned, took on water and fuel, hiked the lighthouse again and went into Old Town Mazatlan with it’s gorgeous colonial architecture.  Having a like-minded buddy boat with kids is awesome, so we didn’t mind the wait enroute back to Baja.  The last couple days of March showed a good crossing window so we prepped Tulum, getting us back into passage mindset before an early morning start, agreed to be 0530.

As 0530 rolled around and the sun wasn’t up yet, we delayed for a few minutes while the HelmsMistress made her coffee and started the iron genny at 0545, ready to get the hook up and make a clean break from the Old Harbor.  Descanso began pulling their hook, so we started the process of getting the boat ready to roll.  Getting Tulum’s anchor up always takes a few minutes because I use plenty of scope, in this case we had been anchored over a mud bottom in 25 feet of water, having sat through several small northerlies during this stay in Mazatlan.  After getting most of the chain up, the windlass stopped and refused to budge.  Giving it a bit of a rest, it started again but didn’t feel right…and I soon saw why.  Coming out of the water it looked like an iron monster but it was obvious that we had something large and very heavy caught in our chain.  After lifting the wreckage just a bit more, it was apparent that we had caught our chain in an ancient fisherman style anchor and we had brought it to the surface upside down, with our chain wrapped around it and our anchor nowhere in sight.  We were still anchored, so there was tension on the chain hanging from the boat and tension on the chain below the boat.  Having read Cap’n Fatty Goodlanders book, Creative Anchoring, I knew the only way we were getting the chain to release was to relieve the pressure from the chain and uncoil it from around the ancient anchor’s flukes.  In order to do this, I pulled the whole mess up further and found a spare line I could get around one of the flukes, then let pressure off the chain by lowering slack from the windlass, allowing the windless to get weight off it.  This was not a seamless or quick process….there was cursing, yelling…etc.  The HelmsMistress communicated with Descanso, who already had their anchor up but were still with us in the harbor…their assistance became crucial.  At this point I needed to get down to the huge anchor and see what was going on.  It was obvious after taking down the dinghy and going forward that the chain was wrapped several times and it was not going to be an easy process to get the whole mess separated.  As I came back on the boat and our friend Craig showed up in his own dinghy and helped, he was able to get the chain unwrapped from around the anchor as I fed more chain slack back out of the windlass. Eventually we had the wraps off the old fishermans anchor and were ready to drop it back into the harbor bottom, we didn’t have another choice.  With Craig out of the way…I cut the line and the huge fishermans anchor slid back into the gloomy murk.

The giant fishermans anchor with our chain wrapped around it. The arrow shows you the wrapped chain.
Me (the author) working on getting the second line on the old anchor so we could relieve more tension so the first rope doesn’t break and shock load the windlass.  The chain is still wrapped. 

I was stoked, Tulum was free and it was time to bring up our 66-pound Spade and get under way.  But as I started to bring the chain up again it didn’t feel right.  When we had cut the line and the huge fishermans anchor had fallen back into the briny deep, it had apparently gone straight down our chain and ended up on top of our anchor.  Our anchor was caught it and my windlass was bringing up both the fisherman’s anchor and our own anchor at the same time….and Tulum was no longer stationary, we had started to drift.  Getting Tulum away from the small fishing boats on moorings and into water where we could maneuver became the priority, so dragging both anchors just out of the water, we moved the boat into deeper water (inside the anchorage).  Secondly we grabbed the line we had just cut, securing it and put another line around the other huge anchor fluke to secure the contraption while we worked on it.  Just like before, I went back on Tulum and let out scope slowly while our buddy Craig worked on getting our anchor out from under the rusted old fishermans anchor.  This time we managed the process a bit quicker and were able to get our anchor and chain back safely, letting the old anchor fall into deeper water where another cruiser should not catch it.  All in all, the process took about an hour and forty-five minutes to finish and we were underway by 0730, which includes getting secured for sea again.  I hope throughout this story you can read the appreciation we have for the help from our buddy boat, because we could have done this alone, but it went so much smoother, safer and faster with their help.  Thanks guys!

Craig working to get the second line on the fluke so we could put tension on the rope instead of the chain, to get our anchor out from under the giant fishermans anchor.  At this point, there’s still tension on the anchor chain but the two ropes take the strain as soon as he’s done with the knot.  Then we go to work freeing the anchor. 

* After reviewing Cap’n Fatty’s book, I can tell you now in hindsight that I was not prepared to divorce my anchor and complete chain rode back then.  Had that huge anchor not come up both times like it did, I’m not sure what we would have done to retrieve it.  We were in 25 feet of ugly Old Harbor Mazatlan water at 0600 in the morning (cold) and there is no visibility in that wake ster.  Neither Tulum or Descanso had tanks or hookah rigs for diving the anchor, but I’m not sure it was enough of an emergency for us to justify letting all our chain out and leaving the entire rode.  I think we may have told Descanso to take off and found a local diver to help us out with that specific situation, but it could really justify a hookah rig or tanks for us in the future.  Perhaps a lesson here to think about?

*Taking a cue from Cap’n Fatty’s book, Creative Anchoring, we quickly rigged lines and took the strain off the windlass.  This is right out of page 162 of Cap’n Fatty’s book in the Fouled Anchor portion and I highly recommend this technique to anyone else who has the same situation we did.  If you’re not 100% sure, buy Fatty’s book and you can read all this stuff yourself.


The LF2SF crew lives on a 51-ft cruising catch with a Great Dane while we contemplate slowly moving south while waiting on the parts for our exhaust system to come in.  If you are new to our site, the best thing you could do to support us is FOLLOW our site.  Second best thing you could do is to buy us beers on our Patreon Site….just click the link.

*Read my book review of one of Capn Fatty’s other books here:  Book Review: Chasing the Horizon, The Life and Times of a Modern Sea Gypsy by Fatty Goodlander

*We had stayed in Old Harbor Mazatlan before and loved it.  Read that story here: Places We’ve Been: Mazatlan (Old Harbor)

 

 

 

 

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