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Old 01-09-2016, 08:27   #1
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Lowering anchor using windlass or free fall?

I have a basic Lewmar windlass that has served me well enough over the years. In the early days I found myself lowering the anchor manually in free fall mode by loosening the capstan with a winch handle. And many times I manually retrieved the 20' of chain and nylon rode (I was lake sailing), never using the windlass. This was basically laziness on my part not wanting to connect and disconnect the remote control and I really didn't need it (35' sloop). Now that I am on the coast and using 100' of chain I am more likely to get the control unit out to retrieve the anchor. Using the windlass to lower the anchor certainly works but is much slower than free fall.

Is it a bad practice to use the free fall mode to get the anchor down faster? I can't see any harm but figured someone more experienced might know better.
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Old 01-09-2016, 08:30   #2
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Re: Lowering anchor using windlass or free fall?

The danger in just dropping everything down is that the chain could pile up on the anchor and foul it. Of course, you can do that while powering down if you want to.


I begin lowering my anchor (with the windlass) while drifting or backing away. This avoids the problem and lays the chain out on the bottom (I assume).
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Old 01-09-2016, 08:31   #3
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Re: Lowering anchor using windlass or free fall?

Your chain can end up in a tangled mess around your anchor
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Old 01-09-2016, 08:45   #4
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Re: Lowering anchor using windlass or free fall?

No problem with cracking off the clutch and letting it fall, but do so in a controlled manner, don’t just dump it. Many people do that. Almost all manual windlass users do the free fall method.






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Old 01-09-2016, 08:55   #5
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Re: Lowering anchor using windlass or free fall?

When you let it free fall there is some wear on the gypsy and the cones. At some point they might wear out but it would take a while.
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Old 01-09-2016, 08:58   #6
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Re: Lowering anchor using windlass or free fall?

On our old boat, 30' Catalina with all nylon rode we were a fan of club hauling. Get a moderate speed (just fast enough), drop the anchor to the side, throw it in neutral and when it grabs wrap it around the cleat. The boat swings around and the force buried the anchor. If needed reverse and pay out more line. People would always look at us sideways but anchoring took seconds.

Obviously I would advise against this for a overnight hook or all chain. We were only on a lake so it worked for us.

Was a lot of fun though
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Old 02-09-2016, 08:43   #7
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Re: Lowering anchor using windlass or free fall?

There are numerous advantages to free-falling.

1. Doesn't use any electrical power. Especially important if anchoring under sail.
2. If backing more quickly than chain powers down (technique error but I see I all the time) the anchor may be dragged, pick up weeds, and never set in a million years.
3. Exercises the clutch so it doesn't seize from lack of use.

The only real drawback is that as others have mentioned, it may be easier to pile chain on the anchor from lack of backward movement (again a technique error).

Clutch and cone wear is a non issue if the windlass is lubricated properly every now and again.
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Old 02-09-2016, 09:22   #8
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Re: Lowering anchor using windlass or free fall?

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Originally Posted by ramblinrod View Post
There are numerous advantages to free-falling.

1. Doesn't use any electrical power. Especially important if anchoring under sail.
2. If backing more quickly than chain powers down (technique error but I see I all the time) the anchor may be dragged, pick up weeds, and never set in a million years.
3. Exercises the clutch so it doesn't seize from lack of use.

The only real drawback is that as others have mentioned, it may be easier to pile chain on the anchor from lack of backward movement (again a technique error).

Clutch and cone wear is a non issue if the windlass is lubricated properly every now and again.
Unless it's very rolly, flake out the chain/rope rode over the deck and drift back. Lower by hand or manually if your hook is too heavy. Once the hook's down, lower the rode by hand as you drift back to avoid piling up.
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Old 02-09-2016, 09:28   #9
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Re: Lowering anchor using windlass or free fall?

I always lower free-fall with the clutch out but controlled. I would never just let it fall out fast and pile up on the bottom. That's not a good idea. Some windlass makers recommend not lowering with power as I recall, even if the windlass has the capability. Even if you do power it down it is a good idea to make sure the clutch can be loosened every once in a while to keep it from freezing. If it were me and I was installing a new one, I would not even put in the capability - another switch and solenoid to take fix/replace.
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Old 02-09-2016, 09:39   #10
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Re: Lowering anchor using windlass or free fall?

My wife usually drops the anchor and I would not want her down on the deck operating such a dangerous machine by hand. Using a foot switch lets you hold onto the bow railing.
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Old 02-09-2016, 10:10   #11
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Re: Lowering anchor using windlass or free fall?

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My wife usually drops the anchor and I would not want her down on the deck operating such a dangerous machine by hand. Using a foot switch lets you hold onto the bow railing.
My wife runs the boat and I handle the anchor, but like you, I use the foot switches. The windlass was made to power up and down so I don't see any advantage in making things more complicated than they need to be.
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Old 02-09-2016, 10:12   #12
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Re: Lowering anchor using windlass or free fall?

We have been free falling for 18 years.
Piling up chain is a technique error.
Powering down always makes you miss the spot, and sometimes the spot is small.

With our Bruce, it is in fact better to let it hit bottom while still carrying some way on. This allows the Bruce to "screw" in to the bottom, and is the preferred method with a Bruce. If you lay it straight while going astern, it takes longer to set, however if it lies with the shank 180 degrees out, ie pointing ahead, and then you back down, it rotates and screws down. I have observed this many times while diving, or in shallow clear waters.

As for the wives doing the anchoring, this is one of my pet hates. Its got to be some male testosterone power play, where the "Capt" has to stand there behind his array of instruments, shouting orders at his dear long-suffering wife who has to go up on the foredeck, and battle with a couple of hundred pounds of stinky stuff, while he totally cocks-up the maneuver and then barks at her like some junkyard dog, laying all the blame on her.

My wife drives the boat, she does it better, a soft touch and accurate. I go up, spot the exact place, loose the already cocked anchor, after signalling her to idle. She immediately lets the head off the wind, and starts reversing slowly. I let out the chain in small bursts, finally locking the chain stopper, and placing the claw, by now the aft momentum has pulled the chain, and I signal to go harder astern, and we lift the chain to the angle it would be in a 70 knot blow, and were set.

If we anchor downwind, the procedure is similar, but the helm is put hard to a side as the anchor hits bottom, chain is let out freely all the way to final amount, locked off, and the boat will set it with forward momentum, and swing around smartly as the chain snubs up. No reversing required.

Put up anchor ball, rinse deck, and head for the beer that is waiting...

Freefall is better.
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Old 02-09-2016, 10:24   #13
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Re: Lowering anchor using windlass or free fall?

[QUOTE=sy_gilana;2203928] clear waters.

As for the wives doing the anchoring, this is one of my pet hates. Its got to be some male testosterone power play, where the "Capt" has to stand there behind his array of instruments, shouting orders at his dear long-suffering wife who has to go up on the foredeck, and battle with a couple of hundred pounds of stinky stuff, while he totally cocks-up the maneuver and then barks at her like some junkyard dog, laying all the blame on her.

Sounds like you need a shrink or your "long suffering wife"does.
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Old 02-09-2016, 10:57   #14
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Re: Lowering anchor using windlass or free fall?

We learned to back down while dropping anchor so the rode pays out in a line; regardless whether you are just throwing the stuff overboard or lowering it slowly. Best way to set the anchor to stay put.
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Old 02-09-2016, 12:48   #15
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Re: Lowering anchor using windlass or free fall?

With free fall and if your chain rode in the locker calcifies together some where in the chain locker as it tends to do, you can run the risk of breaking the deck or some part of the chain pathway, as happened to me once.

As a single hander, I had consider a gift from the Lord that the damage was minimal but I now try and control the fall as much as possible.

This does remind me of the fool that would speed sail to the anchor site, free fall the anchor and set the anchor under sail until he pulled his bow sprit off.

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