Anchor As If It’ll Blow 50

By Carolyn Shearlock © 2016 • all rights reserved

If you always anchor your boat as if you know it's going to blow 50, you won't be surprised when it does.

Dave and I strongly believe in anchoring as if we know it’s going to blow 50 . . . because sometimes it does. It’s not usually entirely unforeseen, typically a squall, but it’s rare that the initial blast was forecast to be that strong.

We’ve probably had about one 50-knot blast from a squall each year we’ve been cruising, and numerous ones over 40, some sustained. I’m not counting tropical storms and hurricanes, just “normal” weather in places not known for extreme conditions.

Our anchoring technique and ground tackle are our number-one form of insurance (we only carry liability insurance, but even if you have hull insurance I doubt you want to drag into another boat, go on the rocks or even “just” go aground on sand). It’s also how we sleep well . . .

EQUIPMENT

When we began preparing for our first hurricane anchoring, one of the books that we were referring to made an excellent point that has stayed with us: anchoring isn’t one piece of equipment, it’s a whole system. And if there’s a weak spot, it doesn’t matter how good all your other gear is, the system is going to fail.

So we start with a good anchor. For us, that’s a Mantus (disclosure: I do earn a bit on Mantus sales through links here, but we chose Mantus for our own anchor before we had that relationship; my life may depend on my anchor choice and no amount of money will encourage me to use one I think is inferior). Mantus has a great reputation for setting, with a very sharply pointed weighted tip and a roll bar to assure that it is right side up so it can dig in – we have never had it fail to set first time, even in light grass (we haven’t encountered an area with only heavy grass).

Many older anchors just don’t set as well (or at all in challenging conditions) or don’t reset if the wind or current changes. We did ride out a hurricane on a Bruce anchor, but ever since then we’ve had a “new generation” anchor (first a Spade with our previous boat, now a Mantus . . . Rocna are good too). Fortress and Danforth are good in certain conditions but do very poorly at resetting when wind or current changes the direction of pull.

Then comes the rode and snubbers/bridle – we use 125 feet of chain followed by 150 feet of Brait on our primary anchor. We got it new last winter – what had come with the boat from the previous owner was woefully short, particularly on the chain. We are somewhat regretting not going with all chain – when we have more than 125 feet of rode out, our chain hook bridle (also from Mantus) won’t work and we have to use two dock lines attached to the rode with rolling hitches as our bridle (this is harder to remove in an emergency). While the rope rode alone would provide the needed shock absorption, it would quickly chafe through on the bow roller, hence the need for a bridle or snubbers (they provide a smoother ride on a catamaran, too). Read more about our bridle here – note that a bridle or snubbers are crucial for shock absorption and must be sized properly to provide a certain amount of stretch. This is one case where bigger isn’t necessarily better!

Attachment points on the boat are next. Beefy cleats with solid backing plates are best, as are hawse holes for the snubbers to pass through to reduce chafe. This is the weak point on Barefoot Gal – the cleats are good sized but the backing plates could be better.

Additionally, we consider a properly sized electric windlass to be vital safely gear.

  • With an electric windlass, we’re willing to anchor and re-anchor as many times as necessary to get a good set and in a location where we are both comfortable. We have a rule that if we are not both comfortable where and how we’re anchored, we do it again . . . it’s no good if one of us is worried!
  • It also has allowed us to up anchor when the wind direction suddenly changed and we needed to leave in a hurry.
  • Finally, since we are not worried about how much chain we’ll have to pull by hand, we are willing to anchor in slightly deeper water, which usually gives us a much greater safety margin from shore in the event that we do drag. It also lets us use a heavier (larger) anchor as our everyday anchor.

We use “My Team Talks” Bluetooth headsets (available from Cruising Solutions and Sea Dog Boating Solutions) in normal anchoring situations to talk things over. On our previous boat, we used hand signals and occasional cockpit huddles to discuss what we wanted to do; we much prefer headsets. We do not use them when anchoring in rain . . . there, we fall back on hand signals and years of anchoring together so that we know what the other is likely thinking. Here in the Bahamas where we are often trying to drop the anchor in a small sandy spot in the middle of grass, being able to talk is especially helpful as Dave often has just a 5-foot circle to drop the anchor and verbal directions are much more precise than hand signals.

Finally, we use a smartphone anchor alarm to let us know if the anchor drags. There are many available for both iPhones and Android, as well as on many GPS/chartplotter units. We actually set the range to be slightly smaller than our distance from the anchor so that it goes off in a major wind shift, not just if we are dragging (a major wind shift usually precedes a squall . . . and we’d like to know in any case with a big shift). Different alarms have different sounds and some let you choose between several. Be sure to choose one that will wake you!

TECHNIQUE

In an ideal situation, we come into an anchorage and motor around a bit while discussing where we might anchor. Things are not always ideal, however.

First, it is unlikely that where the chart has the little anchor symbol is the only place to anchor . . . but it is likely that there are a cluster of boats there! We prefer to anchor a little bit away from other boats, where we have full 360-degree swinging room if possible. And we consider the forecast wind direction, swell direction, where other boats may transit the anchorage (say local fishermen when anchored off a village) and anything else that may be pertinent.

Dave is almost always on the bow doing the anchor work and I am at the helm. When we decide where we want to drop the hook, I go in neutral and coast up to the spot and Dave drops the anchor and plays out the rode as we drift backwards (in very light winds, I’ll put the boat briefly in reverse to get it moving slowly astern). We use at least 5:1 scope (high tide water + free board) and usually closer to 7:1.

We do not pull on the anchor at all at this time above what the wind might do.

Dave puts the bridle on. This gives the anchor a bit of time to settle in. Once the bridle is on, I slowly (idle speed) reverse the boat to stretch out the chain . . . Dave is always convinced that the chain is fully extended before the GPS shows 0.0 as the speed; I always continue the slow reverse until the GPS shows 0.0 knots.

I then slowly increase the RPMs (still in reverse) until we reach our typical cruising RPMs and hold it there until the GPS again shows 0.0 knots. As I raise the RPMs, I usually see a little movement at first as the anchor really digs in, all the catenary is taken out of the chain and the snubbers are stretched. The GPS may show 0.4 or 0.6 knots, then will fall back to 0.0. We’re set!

I return  the engine to neutral, confirm that we’re both happy with where we’re anchored, turn the engine off  and set the anchor alarm.

Of course, if the GPS does not go to 0.0, we don’t have a good set . . . so it’s time to raise the anchor and do it again in a slightly different spot.

Yes, I’ve heard people say they don’t want to back down hard on their anchor because they might break it out. I’m not quite sure of the reasoning, to be honest. Part of backing down hard is to set the anchor, but it’s also to see if it will break out in a severe gust. I’d much prefer to know if we have a good set right then rather than at 2 AM in a squall!

If you always anchor your boat as if you know it's going to blow 50, you won't be surprised when it does.

Many thanks to Cyndi Shields on Pablo’s Girl for this photo of Barefoot Gal at anchor in the Berries.

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Comments

  1. Always give yourself plenty of swing room or find another spot. There are “anchor nazi’s” in most anchorages who will give you the stink eye or just row over to tell you they are not comfortable with your position. Blows can and will come up in the middle of the night causing you to scramble if your anchor breaks loose.

    • Defending one’s boat from “anchor rubes” is not being an anchor nazi. It’s being a responsible captain in a world of folks who figure insurance relieves them of the need for training or skill.

      Having had two scary near misses from dragging heavy displacement cruisers and having been hit by a 44 foot cat whose crew let out 2:1 scope and left for town…not to mention days we have had to stay aboard to fend off improperly anchored charter boats, we heartily endorse Carolyn’s recommendation and know that the arrogant and/or stupid cruisers out there will keep on “throwing” out the anchor.

  2. You too? Yes us too!

  3. Paul (Changes in L'Attitudes, soon) says:

    Are you able to set a anchor swing circle alarm in your GPS/NAV system that will alert you if you drag? While I learned old school with paper charts and shooting bearings on anchor watch, I’d hope today’s electronics would help aid in this important safety skill.

    • Most will — depends on age of the equipment. We prefer to use the one on the phone as mentioned in the post (I should have said WHY we prefer it) so we don’t have to keep the instruments on all the time (power consumption) and the one on the phone is MUCH louder than the one on our chartplotter.

  4. Mary Roth says:

    We would like to hear comments on people anchoring too close. If you feel another boat is anchoring too close to you, you politely tell them so, but they come back saying that are ok and drop their anchor anyway, do you accept it, discuss it further, or move your boat?

    • We will “discuss” it with them first. If they still don’t move, and we think it’s an unsafe distance, we will move. I will not accept someone else’s assessment of what is safe for my boat so no, we won’t just say “oh, okay.”

    • Don Stewart - sy Glen Farr says:

      We have found that an effective way to discourage “too close” is to stand on our bow and take pictures, or at least pretend. A chap we met in the Carib 18 years ago used a shoe box and toilet paper tubes painted black. Worked just as well as a camera.

  5. Good advise! Been doing that for years and have never been surprised.

  6. anchor as if some other boat will drift and snag your anchor chain, leaving both your boats on your anchor. (a thirty lb. XYZ held out 42′ and a 53 foot (jucker) for over an hour)…

  7. Yesterday was rough

  8. As usual, great advise. In addition to your tips, we use a minimum of 150′ feet of chain when anchoring Cream Puff. We have been teased by other cruisers who have watched us as we rode out the chain. However, we attend an anchoring class put on by a lifetime sailor with 60 years of experience where the sailor logically explained the forces on an anchor in high winds and how extra rode would lessen the anchor’s load. It makes sense to put out the chain for a big blow when setting the anchor rather than adjust it when the dark clouds form. We ALWAYS avoid tight anchorages where other boaters may be forced to use shorter rhodes due to space constrictions. And, we will move when we feel someone is to close to us. We sleep very well at night 🙂

    Mark and CIndy
    s/v Cream Puff
    http://www.creampuff.us

    • PS – We also use a float to mark the anchor whenever possible. There are several made today with self tethering so not to foul the anchor chain. They are easy to deploy and retrieve with our bow roller set up. These can be purchased for about
      $40.00 and allow other boaters to see the location of our anchor rather than guess.

      Mark and CIndy
      s/v Cream Puff
      http://www.creampuff.us

      • Capt. Ed says:

        I wouldn’t be so quick to identify my selves as boaters who mark their anchor, becoming a menace for any other boat passing within 100 feet of you and risking getting your float line tangled in their prop. Also in tight conditions, you are taking 2 anchorage spots. If you are not able to figure out where your anchor is, you should be out practicing rather than taking more anchorage space than needed. look around, how may boats do you see in any anchorage with an anchor float creating a prop hazard?

  9. Cap’n Fatty Goodlander self-published a Kindle book entirely devoted to anchoring. It is fun to read, a bit cranky at times, but full of good advice!

  10. really appreciate this article, gave me so much help,, ie line thickness on snubber saying bigger isn’t always better, i was gonna go bigger and the anchor alarm info.. nice work thanx

  11. We have found a good technique that works in the Chesapeake bay with modern anchors. The problem in the Chese is that there is often a somewhat deep and medium density mud layer on top of either a thick mud layer or a harder clay/mud layer. If you don’t let your anchor settle over an hour or two it will never make it down to the harder/thicker density layer and backing down on it before then just causes the anchor to drag. So, we learned to do the “two beer wait”. Basically, drop the anchor and let your scope out like you initially do but don’t back down hard. Let the anchor straighten and settle with the wind or current. Then after an hour or so, try backing down hard on the anchor. This seems to work better.

  12. This article really resonated with us! Poor anchoring techniques are the bane of our cruising life. We are in the Whitsundays in Northern Queensland, Australia. It is a magnificent cruising ground for our southern winter months and I recommend it to all of you if you are looking for new areas to explore. There are many charter yachts and they have no idea! However about 10 years ago we chartered a yacht in Croatia where we had to provide evidence, a day skipper’s certificate, of sailing competence. On our first night we were the first yacht into a large bay. Not long after we had anchored another yacht came in and nearly anchored on top of us and we shooed them away but in the end we had to give up. We eventually discovered that the accepted way to anchor was to put out fenders and drop anchor wherever you wanted. The amazing thing was that we never encountered a problem but it horrified us. We soon learned to be the last into an anchorage so that we could anchor clear of all other yachts. Have you ever noticed how yachts have a sort of herding instinct and all seem to want to anchor on top of each other?

    • We call it the “boat magnet” — in other words, other boats seem to want to go right where we are. A big one that we’ve learned is not to anchor where the chart (or Active Captain) shows the little anchor symbol. For some reason, boats think this is the ONLY place to anchor! (By the way, when we’re camping, the “tent magnet” seems to operate the same way . . . 10 open acres, and every tent clustered within 30 feet of each other!)

  13. [NOTE: The following is from a representative of Fortress Anchors. For the record, we have a Fortress as our stern anchor.]

    Hello Carolyn,

    It is our firm contention that a properly set and well-buried Fortress anchor, with its two massive precision-machined and sharpened flukes, is not more likely to break free from a sea bottom during a wind or tidal shift than other anchor types, particularly those with far less surface / resistance area, and with only a single narrow fluke.

    This contention is based upon the opinion of a 45+ year US Navy soil mechanics and anchor design expert, the 30 years of testimonials we have heard from Fortress owners all over the world, particularly from those in our hurricane region which encompasses the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and east coast USA, where the Fortress has long been the most popular storm anchor.

    And we all know that during horrific storm conditions, we cannot rely on the winds to only blow in one direction!

    In addition to real world testing, controlled independent test results (ex: Practical Sailor, Sailing Foundation) have proven the extraordinary capability of the Fortress to remain embedded into a sea bottom, no matter what the direction of pull.

    During the Sailing Foundation test they conducted straight, then 90°, and finally 180° pulls on the anchors tested. A Fortress model FX-37 held to the maximum of 4,000+ lbs in all three pull directions, and no other much heavier steel anchor was close to achieving that result.

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