Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Old guys rule...

We've recently stripped down, and put back together, our wonderful Simpson Lawrence windlass, a SL500 model no less and believed to date from the early 50's. It's a massively solid and comforting piece of kit with a cast iron case, two speeds, three pawls and five grease nipples. The handle we use to operate it is about a metre long and raises the chain on both the push and pull strokes. We've never bothered with the low gear, have no idea how many feet per minute we raise but love its simplicity, ruggedness and lack of frills.

Ahead of the windlass can be seen the swivel we inserted into the system to try to get the anchor to come up toward the roller in the correct orientation. Doesn't always work and we may not keep it there but you can see, in the photo below, that the swivel is NOT attached directly to the anchor. I've lost count of the number of boats I've seen where swivels are attached in that way; despite the numerous accounts of the damage done to the swivel when an anchor, buried deep or caught on a rock is unable to move sideways and the forces splay the swivel side walls. We use a short length of 12mm (1/2")chain to connect the swivel to the anchor.

We had an "altercation" with someone on line recently who accused us of being massively over the top in terms of the weight of anchor (33kg) we use for the size of boat. Well perhaps in his terms we are; but then, unlike him, we don't have the safety net of a home - Hannah represents everything we own and the only insurance we have is for 3rd Party i.e. if we wreck your boat our insurance will cover your damage but ours is down to us. On top of this of course, Hannah is very heavy, not because she is a ferro hull but simply because this is our home and we live aboard on a full time basis. The 700 books (no exaggeration) 1,000+ paper charts, cast iron wood stove and all the provisions etc add up to a lot of weight. Although our fuel tank is small at 60 litres we carry an additional 180 litres or so in jerry cans. Likewise water. I do remember when we were last pulled out in the UK, we'd stripped the boat of most things, no books or charts for instance and both masts, booms, gaffs and all sails had been removed and we still weighed over 16 ton (35,000lbs or well over 16000 kgs) Add to all that weight the windage of two masts, served rigging, baggy wrinkles and 1500 feet of running rigging and Hannah adds up to a wonderful target for wind and waves when we're at anchor. So we use what we feel is the best insurance possible - a heavy anchor with a rock solid manual windlass. It may not appeal to everyone and, it seems, nothing brings forth the arm chair pundits as much as anchoring threads on forums but this works for us.


  1. I thought anchoring was simply a matter of getting the biggest, most effective bit of ground tackle you can afford and digging in to the best spot you can find on the sea bed and then putting out a generous amount of scope bearing in mind tide / other boats. Although I have heard it said that dark grey / charcoal anchors set quicker than lighter / silvery ones but don't hold as well as green ones....

  2. I guess it's the "effective" bit that raises the hackles..

  3. Hi guys, I know this is an old post but I'm following a trail of bread crumbs and thought you might have some info. I also have an old sl500 windlass which love. As it happens its sitting on a double ended ferro gaffer as well. My girlfriend and I are just about to leave on our first extended cruise and I wanted to get a second anchor chain. The links seem to be 3/8" but are shorter than any chain I can find info on. Just wondering if you've bought and new chain or can shed any light on the issue?
    Thanks for the blog its helped me through a couple of winters now :)

    1. Morning (well it is here) - apologies for the delay in getting back but not sure I'm going to be of much use. I've just checked our chain (not new but s/h and not much used when bought)and the links are 48mm long x 35mm wide x 10mm. How does that compare with what you have?

      I have had a number of SL500 owners write since this was first published so perhaps they could chime in?

      Drop us a line with your boat, plans and possible destinations and we'll keep an eye out for you.



  4. We have an SL 500 manual windlass in pitch-black as well on our 26 ton gaffer, and it's the most reliable piece of kit we have on board, An old-school workhorse, but old-school works and gives me a good workout. But I have to admit that I am looking for an easier way to hoist the gaff main than by mere hands, rope pulling & body weight...