So what IS a swell bridle?

A few people have asked me about our swell bridle, so I thought I’d write a quick post describing what it is and how we set ours up.

Anchored boats point into the wind and typically rock at the bow and stern (hopefully gently, but if it’s really windy and wavy it can be quite the ride!).  We can typically fall asleep even when the anchorage is sporty, as long as the wind and the waves are coming from the same direction.

When the waves come from the side, however, the boat rolls from side to side due to the fact that it’s still pointed into the wind.  This can happen if the waves wrap around a point of land in the anchorage.  It can also occur when a strong wind changes direction because it takes some time for the direction of the waves to shift with the wind.  As you can imagine, rolling from side to side makes it extremely difficult – if not impossible – to sleep.

Some Googling introduced me to the concept of a swell bridle.  A swell bridle allows you to move the boat so that it’s pointed into the waves instead of into the wind.  With the boat once again rocking at the bow and stern, you can mercifully fall asleep again.

To rig our swell bridle we took an old halyard and attached it to the chain below the bow roller.  In our case we still had a shackle attached to the halyard, but if we didn’t we would have simply tied the halyard onto the chain.  We then determined which side the wind would be when the boat was pointed into the waves, and ran the halyard back to the cockpit winch on that future windward side, keeping the halyard on the outside of the stanchions.  After that we let out an additional 30 feet of chain (the length of Pegu Club) and then tightened the halyard until Pegu Club’s bow was pointed into the waves instead of the wind.  Letting out the additional chain (thereby giving you more scope) will help to make up for the increased windage from being beam to the wind.

As soon as we set it up the effect was immediate.  No longer rolling from side to side, we were now bobbing fore and aft and would be able to sleep again.  Hooray!  If you search “swell bridle” under Google images you can find some good pictures that illustrate what I’m describing.

As one final tip, make sure that you have enough space around you in the anchorage before doing this.  Letting out additional chain and turning the boat will change your position in the in the anchorage, and you won’t be pointed the same way as everyone else.  Not being sure how close we would end up to the boats around us is the primary reason why Jeff didn’t want to set it up for the first time in the middle of the night.  When daylight came we saw there was a trawler fairly close to us, so it turned out to be a good call.

We really don’t see people using a swell bridle in rolly anchorages which is surprising given how helpful it is.  I suspect that they aren’t aware of such a thing, just as we weren’t.  Hopefully someone will find this post to be useful when the time inevitably comes that you’re frustratingly rolling from side to side instead of bobbing to and fro.  Sleep well!

6 thoughts on “So what IS a swell bridle?

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