Gypsy Lore

Everyone on board takes a deep breath when we lower the anchor with the windlass, because that's when things often go bad.

New gypsy

This is our 3/8-inch proof coil chain resting securely in the pockets of our new gypsy, a huge improvement. Michael Robertson

Before kids, Windy and I cruised aboard the first Del Viento for seven months through nine countries without once using a windlass to manage our ground tackle. This makes sense, as we didn’t have a windlass. We spent 95 percent of our nights at anchor and I routinely lowered and retrieved our 22-pound Bruce attached to 125 feet of quarter-inch chain and 200 feet of half-inch three-strand. I would open the anchor locker on deck, don gloves, and sit with my feet braced against the pulpit bases. Sometimes Windy assumed this role. It was a simple, straightforward approach that worked every time.

Aboard the new Del Viento, things aren’t the same. Our Bruce is three times as heavy and instead of being attached to 91 pounds of chain, it is attached to 465 pounds of chain. We rely on our windlass and it is usually Windy who operates it.

Her work begins before we reach an anchorage, removing the retaining bolt that secures our 66-pound Bruce on the starboard roller. As we get closer, she turns on the windlass breaker down below. She doesn’t bother with gloves. When we agree on a suitable spot, I report the depth. She pulls a foot of chain up from the locker to create slack and then coaxes the anchor halfway off the end of the roller so it is ready to fall.


Then everyone on board takes a deep breath because shortly after she begins to lower the anchor, things often go bad.

The first time the chain jumped the gypsy, 30 feet or so ran out over the top before it caught, jerking the windlass so violently we both thought the next time may result in a giant hole on deck and a windlass on the bottom.

Three-eighth-inch chain pulled out-of-control over the top of a gypsy by a falling 66-pound anchor is loud and unsettling, and potentially dangerous. Until the anchor hits bottom, the forces multiply as more chain runs out, speeding everything up.


The chain appeared sized correctly to the gypsy, but the anchor roller was proud relative to the gypsy and we weren’t getting the recommended 90 degrees of contact. I had a carpenter in Puerto Vallarta make a 5-inch-tall base of hardwood on which I mounted our windlass on deck. We were still not getting the contact we needed, so I had a stainless guy in La Cruz make a second anchor roller that drops the chain four inches. These modifications put a lot more chain on the gypsy and were sure to solve our problem.

Nope. Whether we lowered the anchor with the windlass, or eased the clutch to let it fall, it would usually jump at some point. Fortunately, we weren’t anchoring often at this time.

Never having owned or used a windlass before, we talked to the former owners of Del Viento. They were familiar with the problem, but always kept a foot pressed down over the top of the gypsy to prevent the chain from jumping. Windy started wearing shoes, but was uneasy with this solution. Restraining the chain with a part of her body didn’t feel safe.


And the chain didn’t jump every time or under specific circumstances. Sometimes Windy would raise and lower the anchor three times in a row without incident and her comfort level would begin to rise…until it would happen again.

The night before we sailed into La Paz was the worst. There was a lot of chop in the anchorage and the wind was up. Windy went forward and began her routine. The anchor went down but didn’t set. She’d nearly raised it to try again when the chain jumped and ran over the top of the gypsy. Then, for the first time, the runaway chain left the gypsy. We both thought the sound of chain running over the top of the gypsy was bad; now we knew it could get much worse. This time the runaway chain ground a chain-sized gash into the corner of the hardwood block onto which our windlass is mounted. Fortunately, the chain stayed on the roller.

In La Paz, I added a larger, three-quarter-inch polyethylene windlass backing plate below decks to mitigate the damage we feared may happen. And we again asked several folks their opinion:


“Does this gypsy look sized correctly to this chain?”
“Could our chain be stretched?”
“Does our gypsy look worn to you?”

Our windlass is at least 20 years old, a Lofrans Cayman. The folks at Imtra are helpful, and they know windlasses, but they know nothing about our old model. They said they have no drawing, specs, parts references, nothing. We emailed back and forth, trying to troubleshoot. I sent pictures and descriptions. The Imtra consensus was that our bronze gypsy was worn. They had replacements, but they were for newer models and they couldn’t assure me they would fit. With tax and shipping, we were looking at $300 for a new gypsy.

I took our unreliable gypsy off the boat and put it in our rental car. Out and about, I began asking everyone in San Diego their opinion. The old salt who runs a chandlery and sells windlasses opined that my gypsy was fine. A self-professed windlass expert at Downwind Marine said mine looked worn. A couple yard workers weighed in with varying opinions. The customer service desk at Trader Joes said they’d never seen a gypsy nor a windlass.
I took the $300 plunge.

The new gypsy fits our old Cayman, but is different. The shoulders that border the chain link pockets are broader and taller, forming a much narrower channel for the link that rests vertically, I think mostly by design and partly because of lack of wear. Windy conducted testing here in the slip and she’s elated with the results. Once we even saw the chain emerge from the locker with a twist, yet it seated itself perfectly in the new gypsy.

Here is the same chain sitting in our old gypsy. Note the red arrow pointing at the shoulder for the vertically oriented link. The cutaway angle you see begins lower in the pocket than _on the new gypsy and creates a much wider gap between __links, leading to the jumping. Some of these shoulders_ _were a bit more worn than others, resulting in the_ _inconsistency._

This episode is especially gratifying because the windlass (along with booms and winches) is a piece of equipment on board with the potential to be the source of severe injury to crew. Now that anchoring will be safer aboard Del Viento, I may give Windy a break and take my turn on the foredeck.


_I__n our twenties, we traded our boat for a house and our freedom for careers. In our thirties, we slumbered through the American dream. In our forties, we woke and traded our house for a boat and our careers for freedom. And here we are. Follow along at _