Three-strand or plait anchor rode? And which windlass?

Gizmo needs a new anchor rode and windlass, and in my experience replacing boat gear is a lot more satisfying if it’s also an improvement. That’s how I got interested in the somewhat new plaited 8-strand rodes that seem to offer multiple advantages over the 3-strand nylon line I’ve used all of my boating life. But, wait, does plait have its own problems, as suggested by my research? Are some windlass gypsy designs more compatible with than others? Let’s discuss.

But first, please consider the back story, as it motivated me both to search out a new anchoring system and to treat it better than what you see below.

So picture a lovely Maine island hideaway on a bluebird early July afternoon and we’ve almost anchored Gizmo for the first time in nearly two years. As usual, I’ve been able to position the boat just so from my perch on the flybridge, and also have windlass controls at the lower helm and bow for further adjustments.

Moreover, the rare Danforth Deepset plow anchor about to hit bottom has serious sentimental value — a gift from the designer, no less — and is also very good at its job. Now imagine the mood shift when the remaining chain and a few feet of 3-strand rode rapidly disappeared over the bow roller. Expletive deleted!

I did manage to mark the lost anchor’s approximate location on Gizmo’s TimeZero plotter system, and to get the boat settled on a small spare anchor (with the cabin-top-mounted Fortress FX-55 in reserve). But all the while I was kicking myself about how brutally I’d managed the windlass when the rode seemed to jam under the deck.

Working the Up/Down buttons on the flybridge in quick succession, I’d figured that the presumed kink in the 3-strand would work itself out as it was jerked around in Gizmo’s relatively tall rode locker, a technique that had worked fine in the past. But if I’d taken the time to visit the forward cabin and look into that locker, I could have undone the hockled old rode that had actually clove hitched itself around the windlass motor.

Frankly, I had also not realized that the 22-year-old SL Sprint 1000 windlass had enough moxie to tear the 9/16-inch 3-strand apart. And only after the fact did I learn that some windlass manufacturers recommend regularly treating 3-strand rodes with fabric softener to minimize such embarrassments.

Unavoidable conclusion? This was some pretty dang dumb seamanship for a guy who’s been anchoring all sorts of boats for over fifty years.

Gizmo's SL windlass suffered for my sins
Gizmo’s Simpson Lawrence windlass suffered for my sins

My bullish windlass management broke more than the 3-strand anchor rode. The violence also mangled that plastic part in the right foreground above, which is known as a chain splitter or fleming. Note too how the machine screw that fastens it to the windlass body sheered off. Expletive deleted!

Repairing this old windlass would be the greener and thriftier way to go, and that’s quite possible even though it’s been out of production for years. In fact, I replaced the motor in 2014 thanks to P2 Marine’s inventory of SL 1000 parts, and I’ve heard good things about specialist SL Spares in the UK.

But with my own advancing age comes more and more concern about boat system reliability. Plus I suspect that more modern windlass designs work a bit better, especially with the “new fangled” but attractive plaited rodes.

Why 8-strand plait rode

One obvious benefit of limp 8-strand plaited line is that it piles up much more compactly than 3-strand. So deep anchoring fishermen can fit a lot more rode in their locker. And for the same reason, plait is less likely to jam under the deck pipe of a windlass — let alone take a wrap around its motor — and that appeals to me big time.

Plait is different in other ways, though not always positive. In their 3-strand vs 8-plait YouTube, for instance, the anchor rode experts at Dark Horse Marine say that they almost never recommend plait for use with an older windlass because their chain wheels — also called gypsies — tend to abrade the softer line and/or let it slip.

Then again, plaited rode is very good at what is technically known as “horizontal energy absorption.”

While all the major rope manufacturers claim that their nylon plait is more elastic than comparable 3-strand, Yale Cordage — whose 8-strand plait is branded Brait — produced the Anchoring Technology (PDF) white paper containing the illustrations above. The key conclusion applicable to most nylon plait: While more expensive Brait only has about 10% greater breaking strength than same-size 3-strand, it can absorb 69% more horizontal energy.

Now is a good moment to address readers who are happily using all chain rodes with a nylon snubber. Yes, sometimes I’m jealous. But Gizmo would not like that extra weight way forward, and I’ve long valued the quiet and simplicity of a combination nylon and chain rode. Plus, with the increased elasticity of a plaited rode, I may be able to use less scope and still sleep well on the hook (with Vesper Cortex anchor watch continuing to be a big help).

But the improvement planning got a little sticky when I began searching for a new windlass.

Why Maxwell windlass

My first call went to Imtra, a company with product knowledge and customer support I deeply respect. Heck, just check out their 52-page Anchoring Systems catalog for a sense of how thorough they are. But then note that plaited anchor rodes aren’t even listed for sale, a fact I did not realize until an affable customer service person told me that Imtra highly recommends 3-strand rodes for reliability and durability. Yikes.

I took that recommendation seriously, but now think it’s mainly based on the particular windlass brands Imtra distributes, with perhaps a dash of Yankee conservatism on top.

Muir is notably emphatic about using a 3-strand rode
Muir is notably emphatic about using a 3-strand rode

For example, the Muir Storm 1250 was especially appealing to me because parts like the fleming and line tensioning finger are stainless instead of plastic. But the manual section above strongly corresponds to Imtra’s 3-strand recommendation. And when I called Ana, the knowledgable “Knotty Professor” at Dark Horse Marine, she named Imtra’s other windlass brand Lofren along with Muir and Quick as designs that don’t always work well with plait according to some of their customers.

According to Anna, Lewmar and Maxwell make windlasses that seem to work particularly well with plait, and when I contacted the latter’s customer service, it was pleasing to hear that while a Maxwell windlass “can use 3-strand, we suggest that customers use the 8-strand as it is so much better.”

In fact, Maxwell’s own plait/chain rodes pair Yale Cordage Brait with Peerless Acco G43 chain — which sounds great — and they claim that while roughly cast gypsies can catch on 8-strand plait the Maxwell chain wheel is highly polished and also “provides better grip using our patented Wave rope handling” (shown below).

I think I’m sold.

Actually, as the spreadsheet above suggests, I got a little obsessed with this system upgrade. And while I’m feeling comfortable with where the project is headed, I didn’t research every option and certainly welcome suggestions.

I’ve got a little time to make the final windlass decision too, as the first task is to solidly fill the hole in Gizmo’s teak bowsprit and cored foredeck once occupied by the SL windlass so I can properly mount the new one. But when the boat relaunches next spring, I’m hoping for an anchoring system that works better than ever.

PS: Max’s Deepset Plow

Remember the anchor with “serious sentimental value” mentioned early in this entry? I was honored when my old friend Max Scholz gifted it to me in the spring of 2020, though helping Rule Industries with its design is only one of Max’s minor accomplishments and I’ll admit to never even having heard of the model.

But that summer the 33-pound Deepset Plow P-1800 worked quite well, nicely replacing the heavier Kingston plow that had been Gizmo’s satisfactory working anchor since I purchased her in 2009. I also found the patent Max drafted, and think that you too may enjoy the legalese involved in describing how a particular design can “facilitate passage of said anchor through a bottom surface to burrow into said bottom” and so forth.

An even better online discovery was late 80’s marketing about Rule’s anchor testing and the Danforth Challenge. It turned out our Danforth Deepset Plow P-1800 is so named because it tested at 1,800 pounds of holding power while a 60-pound CQR had only 600 “under equivalent conditions and average bottom consistency.”

Moreover, Max participated in that testing and says it was quite fair. And while the CQR design is much belittled these days, the Danforth Challenge (described upper right) offered a significant award to any company that could prove that their plow anchor design had only half the holding power. And that challenge was never accepted, though Rule soon discontinued the design for business reasons unknown.

I realize that several good anchor designs have come along since, and that skippers tend to feel strongly about the one that works well for them. But if you ever see a Deepset Plow at a yard sale — which is how Max found the one we almost lost — I believe it deserves your serious consideration.

PS Jan 10, 2023: The Maxwell RC-10 bench tested well and I’m at least halfway through the install, which is to say that the old windlass hole is solidly filled and the new holes drilled. I’m documenting the whole process and am optimistic that the new system will work great.

Ben Ellison

Ben Ellison

Panbo editor, publisher & chief bottlewasher from 4/2005 until 8/2018, and now pleased to have Ben Stein as a very able publisher, webmaster, and editing colleague. Please don't regard him as an "expert"; he's getting quite old and thinks that "fadiddling fumble-putz" is a more accurate description.

21 Responses

  1. Peter Geise says:

    Such good boating things to know; we all depend on our anchors! And information presented like this is why I smile with anticipation of each Panbo in my email box. I grin again today because you left us with a cliffhanger. And it just happens to be the anniversary of when we found out who shot JR on Dallas tv series. Would love to know the end-of-the-story for why this obviously superior anchor design was discontinued.

  2. Try a Spade anchor. There is no comparison to all the anchors you mentioned. Please see SV Panope Anchor Test Videos.

  3. Good Morning Ben! I’m glad to hear you managed to recover your faithful anchor – I know it was aggravating you when we saw you last. I can’t comment on the use of plait vs. 3-strand as a rode (though we’ve had a 10′ piece of plait attaching our chain to the boat for a long time) but the advantages of easy stowage and handling seem manifest.

    Years ago I bought a piece of 3/4″ 8-plait and cut it up for dock lines. Splicing it was slightly trickier than 3-strand, but not difficult and used the same fid. While these dock lines were indeed easy to handle and stow, they did not do well as dock lines wherever we encountered wooden pilings or planking, as the softer surface caught on every splinter and rough edge. 3-strand, with its harder/tighter surface, has stood up to the challenge of rough wooden docks much better, so that’s what we use now.

    But I do think I would be attracted to the use of either 8-plait or 12-strand if I were going to use it as a rode – the ease of stowage alone is attractive, and the lack of twist sensitivity is a good thing IMHO – 3-strand is very sensitive to twist, and twist is something you just can’t avoid in an anchor rode, either deployed or being stowed. As an ancient mountaineer, I well remember the joys(?) of coiling and securing 3-strand climbing ropes, and how the advent of double-braid ropes was such a boon πŸ™‚
    S/V Atsa

  4. Evan says:

    Great Article Ben!

    People are advised to avoid talk of politics, religion & anchor types in polite social circles.

    I might suggest taking a bit of time to watch some of Steve Goodwin’s SV Panope video anchor tests on YouTube. Very enlightening and instructive it is to see how anchors behave and fail underwater. They are definitely not all created equal.

    Happy upgrades this winter!

    • Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

      Thanks, Evan; Steve Goodwin’s anchor testing work is super impressive. In fact, I encourage readers to join me in supporting his SV Panope Patreon site:

      That’s also where I found his latest ranking for 18 anchors in the 45lb class. Whereas the 50lb CQR is only at the lower middle of the list and my 33lb Deepset Plow claims to have 3x the holding power of a 60lb CQR, I’m feeling pretty good.

  5. Butch Davis says:

    Our boats have been too small and our boating range too shallow to consider a windlass. Having never had one I can’t comment on the devices.

    However, retrieving our anchors over the years by hand has taught me to use braid rode. Soft bottoms and strong winds sometimes require a lot of rode despite anchoring in relatively shallow water. Hand recovering a lot of rode against a strong wind is hard on the hands.

    When a winch malfunctions boaters having a braid rode will be delighted by their decision.

    • Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

      One of the things I like about a chain/nylon rode on a boat around Gizmo’s size — 37 fee, about 22,000 pounds — is that I can probably still hand haul the anchor if the windlass failed. Actually I did that for a few weeks in the Chesapeake and ICW, before I put the new motor in the SL Sprint 1500. I mostly hand-hauled this summer too, because using the vertical SL capstan is pretty awkward. Pretty sure plait would have been easier on my hands and less messy on deck.

  6. Joseph Pica says:

    Ben, we loved our 8 brait/plait and used it for all our dock lines(note we had chafe guard to use if needed. Our anchor rode was all chain however we had two 8 brait snubbers (one for each anchor 45′ 7/8′ and one 28′ 5/8′). these both were attached to our water level bow eye. Our primary anchor was a 33kg Rocna, secondary a Fortress FX-. 37 All was grossly oversized for our 37′ boat that displaced 48.000lbs. However we slept well on the system at anchor. I’m a brait/Plait fan boy.

  7. Rich Gano says:

    My 2005 MS 30 Pilot II came to me in 2015 with a Lewmar 700 windlass and 120 feet of braided line (probably Brait) attached to about 110 feet of G4 1/4″ chain (12,000 pound boat). The transition from nylon to chain NEVER went well, and I always had to go forward to manually assist. Because I needed more weight up there anyway, I added another hundred feet of 1/4″ chain and forgot about the nylon until one day I found that the ever-damp nylon was contributing to the rusting out of the last link of chain as well as any other links in direct contact – messy. I cut out that link, but in attempting to make a chain splice found the old nylon too stiff to use, even after soaking in fabric softener. Since I never intend to anchor using almost three hundred feet of rode, I just removed the nylon from the boat and store it with the rest of the long lines I have for webbing the boat in for hurricanes. This boat, using the all-chain rode and SuperMax 35-pound anchor with nylon snubbers in conjunction with a Fortress FX-37 stern anchor and cross canal side lines survived category five Hurricane Michael’s eye wall.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for this article. Like you I have a Duffy and we had the original CQR anchor, the original Nilsson H700 windlass, 24′ of chain and 200′ of 3-strand. We changed out everything last year with a Rocna Vulcan anchor, Lewmar H2 windlass, 80′ of 5/16 chain and 400′ of 5/8 Yale Cordage Brait (8 strand). now this might sound excessive, but consider anchoring Maine waters, tides and rock. I will always use the 80′ of chain when anchoring and some of the brait (unless its really blowing. The brait will act as my snubber with is elasticity and will more than likely not be in contact with the bottom (abrasion) . In any case this is my logic and your article tends to back up my thinking. Thank you.

  9. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Thanks to all for the comments, which encourage me to write more on Panbo. As did last week’s METS show, though I also caught a cold just after posting this entry, and that made the trip back from the Netherlands even more exhausting. But today I’m chipper, and wishing a Happy Thanksgiving to all who celebrate. Our turkey this year will go in the oven with three temperature probes sticking out πŸ˜‰

  10. Andrew says:

    Thanks for an interesting article. Did you consider a chain/rode counter? I am looking for an NMEA 2000 chain counter, but they don’t seem to exist. (The PGNs were created recently for this.) Has anyone got any chain/rode counter experience or recommendations?

    • Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

      Hi Andrew. I did get the Maxwell RC10 windlass — see new PS above — and it does support AutoAnchor chain and rode counters. But I can’t see the added expense and complexity, especially as I usually manage the anchor from the flybridge where I can see the scope angle quite well. It might be a different story if there was a black box N2K counter, but I don’t know of one either.

      I don’t think there’s even a NMEA 0183 counter, though it seemed like Garmin planned on one way back in 2013 — — but nothing came of it.

  11. SV Confianza says:

    We have used 8-plait for the past 7 years and it was definitely an upgrade. Not a *single* tangle under deck.

    Paired with a lewmar v5 windlass and a new Rocna Vulcan anchor.

  12. Anonymous says:

    I installed a Maxwell RC-8 with 90 feet of G43 chain and 200 feet of Yale 8-strand plait two years ago. It has been flawless. I think you will be happy with your choice.

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