Safety

Dealing with a Snapped Anchor Cable

20 May 2021By Kate Lardy
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Written by

Kate Lardy

Based in Fort Lauderdale, freelance writer Kate Lardy got her start in the yachting industry working as crew. She spent five years cruising the Bahamas, Caribbean, New England, and Central America, then segued that experience into a career in marine journalism, which has included stints as editor of Dockwalk and ShowBoats International.

Capt. John Crupi shares how he navigated a worst-case scenario where the anchor cable snapped and left the yacht free floating...

When you've done as many sea miles as Capt. John Crupi has, you're bound to run into some trouble here and there. "I've had a lot of worst-case scenarios ... struck by lightning twice, caught on fire once, and rescued by the U.S. Navy ... " says the captain who has run the Dorothea program for two decades. The owner's ambitious agenda to fish the world had him logging 15 to 20 thousand nautical miles a year accompanied by a hefty sportfisher, which was first towed, and later run in tandem with the Dorothea mothership. Crupi recalls one such scenario on the first Dorothea, a 107-foot motor yacht built at Seattle's Vic Franck's Boat Company in 1967 in double planked Alaskan cedar. 

They were anchored inside a reef behind the Crown of Thorns rocks, just north of the Staniel Cay Yacht Club in The Bahamas' Exuma chain. The current rages here as the ocean squeezes between the islands and islets separating the Exuma Sound and the banks. It was the middle of the night — 1 a.m. — the time of day when things typically go pear-shaped, when the mate on watch heard something strange. (Crupi later theorized the odd sound was the chain portion of his anchor rode rubbing on rocks on the bottom during the change of the tide, which resonated up through the cable.) The mate woke up Crupi who went on deck and heard the funny noise at the bow. They had chain to cable connection and a setup where the spool was aft of the stem where the cable went out of the boat. "The way we would always check it for tightness was to put your foot on the cable and you can actually feel what was happening down the cable. I put my foot on the cable and my foot went all the way to the deck," says Crupi. "It had snapped." 

Often when something goes awry at sea, it's a chain of seemingly insignificant events that leads up to an accident or near miss; other times, like in this case, when new equipment fails in the middle of the night, it's just bad luck and it becomes a case of how well the captain handles the situation. 

Now Dorothea was free floating in a very precarious position; her fishing tender was tied to her side, and the two boats were destined for a rocky reef or sandbar in no time flat. 

With anchor cable, wear and tear is always an issue. Ajay Menon, writing for Marine Insight, describes it as "extremely common." 

"The biggest disadvantage of using anchor cables is that they are prone to chafing and can wear out easily," Menon writes. "Rubbing against underwater debris or friction generated between adjacent cable fibers are major causes of this form of degradation. Another common problem with this type of anchor rode is that it can split apart when the internal stresses exceed the permitted levels." 

Dorothea's cable/chain combination mitigates the underwater debris chafing issue, but more pertinent is the fact that her cable hadn't had time to wear out - it was brand new. 

"It was one of these things where no good deed goes unpunished," says Crupi, who had recently replaced the cable they had used for a while with a new one. "We were a month out of the shipyard when the cable snapped. It was a faulty cable; it just parted right in the center." 

Often when something goes awry at sea, it's a chain of seemingly insignificant events that leads up to an accident or near miss; other times, like in this case, when new equipment fails in the middle of the night, it's just bad luck and it becomes a case of how well the captain handles the situation.

"Rubbing against underwater debris or friction generated between adjacent cable fibers are major causes of this form of degradation. Another common problem with this type of anchor rode is that it can split apart when the internal stresses exceed the permitted levels."

Having an astute crewmember on anchor watch duty was certainly key to saving the yacht. Capt. Crupi then had to get everyone on deck and engines fired up as quickly as possible. "We ended up just going offshore with the fishing boat tied to our hip because there was no time to untie it," he says.

They ultimately ran 20 nautical miles north up to Warderick Wells where they could pick up a mooring buoy for the few days it would take to fly in a new cable. Meanwhile, their anchor was still lying on the bottom near Staniel Cay. "We had to get the cable from the airport - it's about 1,500 pounds of cable - and then get that into a tender and get that up to Warderick Wells, re-spool the spool, and once all of that is handled then bring the boat back and make a new connection with the boat overtop of the anchor while we're in the water.

"We called the (cable) manufacturer and said we almost destroyed a boat over this thing," says Crupi. "They said what most manufacturers say, 'You must have done something wrong."' But Crupi points out that there was no wind that night and they weren't riding out a storm. Moreover, this was a crew that was extremely experienced being on the hook. "We've always been a boat that spends at least a hundred days, if not more, a year at anchor, probably closer to two hundred days," he says.

Faulty cable notwithstanding, perhaps we can chalk up this near­miss to King Neptune stirring up trouble in the wee hours of darkness — something every yacht captain is undoubtedly too familiar with.

This article originally ran in the May 2021 issue of Dockwalk.

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