Almost all of Karen’s sailing experience has been on our Amel 53 Harmonie, and the rest of it was on my former boat. Now that we have spent time in places where there are a LOT of other boats, she has been amazed to see how difficult some people can make anchoring look. It is easy to blame the vacation warriors on the charter boats, but some of the worst anchoring techniques actually have been demonstrated by other long range cruising boats.
Our procedure is really simple, and has served us flawlessly almost every day for the past two years. None of the steps in our process are complex or require a lot of skill. The only part that really gets easier with practice is picking a good spot. Everything else is pretty much just rote. In fact, a lot of the “steps” consist of doing nothing but waiting.
Before you even think about anchoring, get a good anchor. Anchor technology has come a very long way in the last 15 or 20 years. Take advantage of it! It is the cheapest insurance you can buy. If you have an old CQR plow, or Bruce, sell them to somebody else. Get a Rocna or Mantus of a size suitable for your boat. If you put a gun to my head and made me pick, I’d go with the Mantus, but not by a huge margin. There might be others that are as good, but these I have extensive experience with and I trust them. Consider anything written about anchor selection that was drafted before 2000 to be out of date and just plain wrong. Of course some stuff more recently written can be wrong too…
If you can’t decide what size anchor to get, get the bigger one. I promise, you will never wake up in the middle of a stormy night and worry that the anchor keeping your boat safe is too heavy. You know you have an anchor big enough for a long range cruising boat when people walking down the dock point at it and laugh. Size matters.
Now: How to get attached to the bottom.
- RELAX. Slow down. Take your time. Rushing has no part in this game. The beer will still be cold when you are done.
- Pick your spot.
- Come into the wind or current and let the boat drift to a full stop with the bow over where you want your anchor to sit on the bottom.
- When the boat stops, and begins to drift backward in the wind, lower the anchor to the bottom, straight down.
- Let out your rode as the boat blows away. It will blow off sideways to the wind–let it. Do NOT drop chain in a pile on top of the anchor. Do NOT back up with the engine–yet. Let the wind and/or current move the boat away from the anchor, even if it takes a while. Yes, there MIGHT be days when it is SO calm that you need to put the boat in reverse to get it to move away from the anchor. That has not yet happened to us. There are not many days when a boat will not drift 100 feet in 20 minutes. If you feel the boat is moving too slowly to wait, please see Step 1.
- Let out AT LEAST 6, maybe 7, times as much chain as the water will be at its deepest over the tide cycle. None of the chain you leave in the anchor locker will do you a bit of good.
- Tie the snubber line to the chain with a rolling hitch. If you don’t know it, learn it. It is easy.
- Let out 20 to 40 feet of snubber line, and enough chain so the load is taken by the snubber and the chain hangs loose.
- Sit. Wait. Why? You want to give the anchor a chance to dig down into the seabed without jerking on it. When the load comes on one of these modern anchors it is very unusual that you move much, if at all. If you should move, let out more line and chain. If you get to 8 or 9 times the water depth and still are moving, pull every thing up and try again, you picked a bad spot. We have had to do that once in the last two years.
- Have you been waiting for a while? Long enough to have a cup of coffee? Or a beer? NOW you can put the engine in reverse–at idle–and pull. Wait some more while pulling. Still looks good? Push the throttle up to 1/2 or so. Pull a bit harder. Wait some more. Still stuck? You are done!
- Sleep well.
There are lots of things we have seen other boats do as we have cruised around that make us wonder and shake our heads. Here are some thoughts about things to NOT do
- If your boat has a bow thruster, forget about it. It has nothing to add to the process, and the amount of damage that an anchor rode can do tied up in a thruster’s prop is scary to contemplate.
- I have read many people suggesting that when you have half the rode out, you snub the line to start setting the anchor. There is NO advantage to pulling on the anchor with a short scope. If anything, a smart approach would be to let out MORE than the final amount of line, and then pull some in after setting the anchor on a really long scope.
- Some people seem to feel it is important to keep the bow pointed into the wind while you drift back. It is not. Anything done to keep the bow pointed into the wind is additional complexity for no benefit. Let the boat fall off and drift back as it will.
- Do not back down hard on the anchor without giving it a chance to get oriented to the bottom and start to dig in.
- Do not drive around with the anchor hanging down off the bow. Just a small wave or boat wake can set it to swinging and taking divots out of your boat’s topsides.
- Do not be ambiguous about who is in charge. On the biggest of boats, the person at the bow should be calling the shots because they have the best situational awareness. On the typical cruising boat, either the cockpit or the bow can run the show, but not both. On our boat, we set the anchor with the cockpit in charge, and weigh anchor with the bow calling the shots.
- For routine anchoring, we never use a chainhook to attach the snubber. We tie it on with a rolling hitch. It has never slipped or failed. My experience with traditional chainhooks is all bad. The least little bit of slack and they fall off. For our very heaviest storm snubber we do have a Mantus chainhook that locks on the chain and can not fall off.
- Be sure the snubber is long enough to stretch and do its job of absorbing shock loads. We see a lot of boats with snubbers three or four feet in length. NOT enough. There really is not a length that is too long. We usually use 25 to 40 feet of nylon three strand, or 12 plait line.
- There are times in crowded anchorages where you just can not use as much scope as you would like. If you need to end up on a short scope, set your anchor with a full 7:1 and then after digging it in well, pull in excess line to reduce your swing circle.
I had been using the technique described above for a very long time before I came across this description of “How to Set an Anchor” by the designer of the Rocna anchor we used. Pretty much exactly the same as written above, with some added logic about WHY the steps need to be done as described…
Reemphasizing the importance of not rushing the process.