Saturday, June 29, 2013



Tuesday, I was volunteering for the yacht club setting up for the Laser Nationals, so I had my eye on the conditions as they developed through the day. It was not looking good. There was not a whisper of breeze all day and the rain made it even more depressing. Imagine hanging out with a bunch of teenage Laser sailors itching to go sailing without any cooperation from the elements. I resigned to go out anyway on Tuesday night, for a soggy floatfest.

I was somewhat surprised as I pulled over Murray Street bridge, to see wind on the water and the rain had also subsided. We headed out in clear conditions, but were soon engulfed in pretty heavy fog. Shortly after getting to the start mark, another sailboast appeared in the fog; it was the only other Catalina joining us that night. It was Joel on Tres Santos. We had 10 knots of wind and no rain. Since Joel had no GPS, we wanted to make sure he made it back to the harbor and stayed close by his boat. It was a great experience sailing in such mystical conditions. We went to the club and fired up the Barbecue for some burgers and Ahi, for a great end to the night.


Anchoring is something you never hear racing sailors talk about. Indeed, many excellent racers really have no clue about anchoring. Fortunately, I have been on my share of bareboat charters, where anchoring is often required. A well set anchor is essential if you want to sleep through the night peacefully.


When chartering, you are stuck with the equipment that comes on the boat. Even though you are not familiar with the equipment, you can almost be certain that charter boats have more than adequate anchor tackle, with a lot of chain and a windlass to help deploy and retrieve the anchor. I have never seen a charter boat with the rode marked off to show how much rode is out. If you are not familiar with a windlass, listen closely when the equipment is explained. Frequently chain will come around the windless and be fed through a ring to the anchor locker. If the locker is not deep enough, the chain will pile up. If this pile is not cleared by hand, it will cause the windlass to skip.

On your own boat, you can set up an ideal system, with your favorite anchor and rode (with your ideal amount of chain and line) and all marked off so you know how much rode you are deploying. The type of anchor to use depends a lot on the type of bottom you plan on anchoring in. Preferably, you want to anchor over sand, mud or fine gravel. For versatility, I like my Danforth, but some of the new anchors like Delta or CQR are also preferred by many cruisers. The purpose of the chain is to lower the angle of pull on the anchor to assist in setting the anchor. Obviously having an all chain rode is best if you have a windlass to pull all of that weight back on board. An all chain rode guarantees the the angle of pull on the anchor will always be low. This same effect can be achieved by using a kelet which is simply a weight that is lowered partially down the rode after the anchor is deployed.


You can have the best anchoring equipment money can buy, but if your technique is poor, it will all be worthless. Good, expensive equipment is no guarantee your anchor will hold. I think the most important consideration is the bottom conditions. Check your charts to see what the bottom is like, preferably sandy, mud or gravel bottom. Avoid anchoring over a reef, especially if you are leaving the boat or sleeping on the boat. I prefer to anchor in water that is 30 feet or less of water. If the water is deeper, it gets difficult to deploy enough rode for the proper scope.

Other considerations for your anchoring location are proximity of other boats. Are they on anchors or mooring balls. Mooring balls have very short scopes and boats on anchors swing completely different. Without vast experience, you would not set an anchor in a crowded mooring field, though I have seen it done very skillfully. Proper etiquette requires leaving enough space between you and other boats.

You must also consider how much tidal variation is expected and whether the winds and currents change direction. If wind or current changes, the anchor may come loose as the direction of pull is changed.

So you have picked your perfect spot over a perfect bottom and proper depth and the wind and current is not expected to change direction. Pull up to your spot preferably under engine power pointing the bow directly into the wind. With the last forward momentum of the boat, turn the boat so the boat is broadside to the wind. Wait until the boat is pushed sideways by the wind. As the boat starts to move, slowly deploy the anchor and rode. If you let the rode go too fast, all of the anchor chain ends up in a pile on top of the anchor, defeating the whole purpose. As the boat is moving sideways downwind and you have about 3:1 scope out, the anchor will hold and the boat will suddenly swing with the bow directly into the wind. At this point, you can but the engine in reverse and back down hard on the anchor. While backing down, look sideways toward shore setting up a range to see if the anchor is dragging. With an all chain rode, the person on the bow can touch the chain. Vibrations felt on the chain indicate the anchor is dragging. An anchor set in sand properly is nearly completely buried in the sand. Once the anchor is set properly, I would let out additional rode. I usually feel pretty safe with 5:1, some people recommend 7:1.

Things get very interesting when there is a lot of wind, because if the boat is moving quickly downwind and the anchor is not set, the anchor can skip over the bottom like a stone skipping over a lake surface. The secret is to deploy the rode slowly, to give the anchor a chance to settle in.


If you plan on sleeping on your anchor, or are leaving the boat for an extended time, you must confirm a proper set. In the tropics, I always dive on the anchor to verify the set. It is horrifying to see a bruce anchor with one of the claws on an outcropping of rock, just waiting to slip off. Regardless, always look around to get ranges set up to tell if you are drifting. At night use a puck compass to get bearings on lights or landmarks on land or other boats. Write these "LOP's" down to verify you are not drifting. Alas, it is always good to use your GPS anchor alarm.

With enough experience, you will learn your own favorite techniques and be able to sleep peacefully on your well set anchor.

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