The anchor snubber

I’m not going to risk getting into a discourse on which brand of anchor is the best, that’s a very easy way to alienate a large chunk of the boating population. Besides, I’ve cruised far and wide with two CQRs and a Danforth in total safety, so I have no experience with the so-called new generation anchors, all smoothly fabricated, shiny and pointy and which get everyone so hot under the collar on boating forums. But I will stick my toe in the water on the subject of what to attach your anchor to and the use of that anchoring essential, the snubber.

I recommend that at least the primary anchor be deployed on an all-chain rode with a manual or electric windlass to handle it. It’s unequivocal – all chain is the only way to fly for long term cruising where anchoring is a way of life.

Many weekenders and some cruising boats use a rope rode with a chain leader. This introduces the spectre of a parting rope-to-chain splice and chafe or laceration on rocks, coral, or bow-roller. In Big Major’s Spot, Bahamas, during a hefty blow a neighbouring boat was nearly lost when his nylon rode chafed through in a frighteningly short time.

Chain self-stows, avoiding a snake’s honeymoon of soggy nylon on the foredeck which must then be coaxed down the naval pipe. An all-chain rode never leaves the windlass, giving complete control. Another point in favour of chain is the reduced scope required and the attendant smaller swinging circle.

So, what are the perceived advantages of rope/chain combinations? The most significant is weight. With chain it’s important to arrange stowage as low and as far aft as possible. Selecting the right chain for the job is important; high test chain is lighter and more flexible than proof coil for a given breaking strength.

Nylon rope is cheaper than chain. This is an important and undeniable advantage of nylon over chain. The second anchor on Adriana was carried on 30 feet of chain and 300 feet of nylon. This was a compromise born of the need to minimise weight in the anchor locker and maximise weight in my wallet. But I wouldn’t want to rely on rope for my main anchor, that’s an economy too far.

Nylon rode is quieter than chain; it doesn’t crash on the bow-roller in surging conditions. To gain this advantage for chain, a snubber is used. Ah-ha, I knew I’d get there in the end!

The snubber is a length of nylon or polyester three-strand line that takes the anchor load from the chain to a deck cleat or Samson post, absorbing the shocks and leaving the chain hanging in a loose bight, resting lightly and relatively noiselessly in the bow roller.

The snubber is attached to the chain by a chain hook of some sort – there are a range of proprietary variations available – or a rolling hitch. After a few months we dispensed with our clunky chain hook in favour of the rolling hitch – we found this more positive than the chain hook and more deck and toe friendly. The rolling hitch is particularly suited to this purpose, it doesn’t tighten under load and so won’t jam and become difficult to undo.

The snubber for a 35 to 40 foot cruising boat would be typically 12mm diameter and at least 12m long. If you choose a line that’s too heavy you won’t get enough of the beneficial stretch into the system, which is why old halyards and sheets aren’t really suitable for this purpose, they tend to be low stretch. The snubber is attached to the chain and a strong point on deck and then the chain is run out until the snubber comes up taught, then a few more feet to give a nice healthy loop of chain and you’re set. Should the snubber chafe through the chain retakes the load.

A snubber is also useful in anchorages where the swell comes from a different direction to the wind, curving around a headland, perhaps. The boat, lying to the wind, may take the swell on the beam and roll uncomfortably. In this case, lead the snubber line all the way aft to a cleat or sheet-winch on the side away from the swell. Then, as you let out more anchor chain, the boat will turn her head toward the swell as the anchor lead point moves aft. This bridle arrangement can mean a good night’s sleep in an otherwise impossibly rolly anchorage.

An essential thing is the snubber.