Mud in the Morning

By Tom Neale, 5/31/2007


Tom Neale's logs have a new name and home on BoatUS Magazine. We know Tom has a loyal and devoted readership, so we wanted to share his tips and insights with an even bigger audience! For the latest articles, click here for Onboard With Tom Neale.

I stumble of bed at 5:30 in the morning. I look out the porthole and see that the green of the marshes around “Chez Nous” is just becoming visible. I climb the companionway to get a better look. Is that morning mist rising from the warm mud or is fog settling in? If it’s the latter our departure may be delayed for hours. But there is no fog and the sun, already showing signs of burning a hot day, will easily dry the mist. It’s time to get going. I stoop into the engine room and huddle over the diesel, checking the water, tranny fluid and oil. A smear of grease here, a drop of lube oil there, my body is already beginning to take on a film of dirt and grease. But the best is to come.

We start the engine, always breathing a sigh of relief when it starts—an old habit from years of old engines and from years of being in the ocean or the marshes where we’re on our own. We flip on the navigation instruments. It all seems so clean and, well, picture perfect—like in the magazines. The radar targets the shoreline, the GPS takes away any guessing about where we are (that used to be kind of fun), the autopilot signals that it’s ready to take over and the depth finder confirms that we didn’t drag anchor in the night. It’s nice for that reassurance, but we really didn’t expect to drag. Because we know what’s down there.

I was in a movie rental store not too long ago and couldn’t help but notice all the flicks about horrors from the deep. Every DVD cover said something like “evil of the deep,” and “it’s lurking below,” and “it’s insidiously waiting to rise to the surface.” There’s usually a pretty girl standing on a dock or wading in the water, looking down into the depths with an expression of horror on her face. I go up to the bow pulpit and stare down the length of my chain into the depths. There’s a look of horror on my face too, although that’s where my resemblance to the pretty girl abruptly ends. It’s all about why we knew the anchor wouldn’t drag.

We know what’s down there. And we know it’s going to rise. It’s mud. It’s thick, viscous and tenacious. It’s gray and we can smell it in the morning breeze blowing over the marsh flats. And on top of that gray mud is black mud. This is not viscous at all. It is slimy. And if your anchor doesn’t find its way through this layer of even smellier mud it’ll drag all night long. Your boat will wander around the creek like a sleep walker until it finally fetches up on some bank somewhere, waiting for the tide to abandon it, leaving it to settle over on its side.

All of this mud is going to rise from the deep. First on my chain as the windlass clanks it in and then on the anchor itself, dripping and dropping large chunks into the water and splattering slime all over the bow as the anchor climbs onto the roller. I sigh in resignation, look around at the clean deck, and push the button to begin the process. It doesn’t take long to see the links of chain break surface, clogged with the thick mud inside the holes and coated overall with the slimy mud on the outside.

More intelligent people have wash down hoses rigged for this. A dedicated pump down inside the bow sucks up sea water and squirts it with some pressure through the nozzle in a deck hose. I said, “More intelligent people.” I don’t have a wash down hose rigged for this. This is partly because I don’t arise to that threshold requirement, but also because I’ve used them before and found that usually they don’t have enough pressure to get the thick mud out of the holes. Also, I don’t want one more pump to buy and then to take care of. I have another method of cleaning the mud from the chain. It’s also far from perfect but it’s much simpler and it solves the mosquito problem.

Cleaning Anchor and Chain

1. The better the mud for holding, the harder it’ll be to clear from your gear. Be glad that your problem is cleaning it up, not trying to deal with a collision or grounding from dragging anchor.

2. If you install a wash down pump buy one that’s designed for the purpose and that has high pressure and volume. Use sea water, not the fresh water from your tanks. You’ll deplete that soon. Install it well and properly. It may be living in a wet and unfriendly environment.

The mosquito problem begins just as the dawn grows serious. They arise from the marsh in hordes, swarming in to any red meat they can find. If you’re sweating, they like you more. And I’m sweating, because of my mud simple cleaning method and because I know what it’s going to feel like when they start their landings on every exposed inch of my flesh.

My mud cleaning method is simple and dirty. As the first mud coated links near the surface, I stop pulling in the chain with the windlass and lean over it and grab the chain with both hands. Then I pull it up with my arms and drop it back into the water. I do this over and over again, at least six or seven times. Sometimes I have to go through the process as much as a dozen times, depending on how much chain I had put out, which depends, of course, on the depth of the water. Each six or seven raising and droppings takes care of the mud on the chain between the water’s surface and the bottom. The swishing in the water and the swaying of the links as they rise from the water and splash back usually removes most of the mud from the chain. Note, I said “most of the mud.”

There’s always enough left to quickly turn my hands into slimy black muddy globs. And when the first mosquito lands I’ve got no choice but to slap at it. And the next. And the next. Soon I’m covered with mud, from top to bottom. Thick gray mud, soft slimy mud, it doesn’t matter. It’s all mud. It’s all muck. It all has that forever lingering aroma. And it’s all over me.

There’s one redeeming feature to this evil from the deep. It soon covers my skin so deeply that the mosquitoes stop landing. I’ve never had the opportunity to talk to a mosquito about it, but I guess they stop landing because they figure they’ll never penetrate the slime or maybe because they don’t like the smell. In any event, by the time they stop landing and I can stop slapping, the damage is done.

I secure the anchor, slipping and sliding around the muddy deck, and start back to the cockpit where Mel, my wife, sits tight lipped trying to decide whether maybe I should just live in one of the deck boxes for the day (and night) rather than track all that stuff below.

Now you don’t read about this in the pretty magazines, but it’s one of the things that makes cruising what it is. Glamorous? No, not quite. Sensible? Some would say that not much about cruising is sensible. Fun? Well, didn’t you have fun playing in mud when you were a child? And I do have the last laugh. The few mosquitoes that do land on me get stuck and can’t take off. They’re buried alive. With me.

Copyright 2004-2008 Tom Neale