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Anchoring According to Weather Part 1

February 1, 2016

Anchoring a boat is not like parking a car. Some boaters enter an area, look around, and say, "Oh, there's a good spot over there" and drop their tiny hook tied onto a bit of string, expecting their boat to stay put, as if it were not in a parking space. Etiquette aside, there is a lot more to anchoring a boat than finding a good "spot." Even if you find somewhere to drop your hook that doesn't put you in someone else's backyard, there are other factors to consider.

ANCHOR TO THE WEATHER

While we were in the North Palm Beach, Florida, anchorage, a sailboat anchored directly behind us in a spot that only allowed him to let out a minimal amount of scope. We watched him drop his wee anchor overboard and let out a few feet of string. The wind was light out of the east, we were tucked up near shore, so I'm sure to this singlehander it seemed like a fine idea. Dave was not impressed. "If he's still here tomorrow he's going to be in a for a surprise. I wonder if he knows it's supposed to honk out of the west. He'll never hold with that setup and that scope." But there was a chance our new neighbor was aware of the forecast and planned to leave before he was directly upwind of us, so we kept our opinion to ourselves.


North Palm Anchorage on a calmer day

A decade earlier, in Islamorada, Florida, Dave wasn't as quiet. A catamaran anchored behind us the night before a forecasted cold front. Dave watched the anchor and string go over the bow, fretted for a while, checked the forecast again and rowed over.
"Hey, Cap, when this wind shifts around tonight you're going to be right on top of me. And you're not going to hold with that scope. Would you mind moving?"
"I'm BEHIND you! How could I possibly hit you?"
"The wind shifts tonight. You'll be in front of me, trust me."
"I didn't hear anything about a blow."
"Be that as it may, I'd like for you to move."
"You want me to move so I'm not BEHIND you?"
"Exactly."
The catamaran shared his displeasure loudly and rudely, but Dave would not back down. Finally, he re-anchored his boat directly in front of us, perhaps thinking this would annoy us. Instead, we were thrilled. As predicted, the wind shifted and then blew like stink, and the holding being what it is in that basin, the catamaran dragged. When we poked our heads out during the worst of it that night, we couldn't see the cat. We figured he must not be burning an anchor light. Instead, in the morning, we saw the cat was gone. Searching the horizon, we found him about a half mile from where he had dropped his hook. Not only had he dragged, he was nearly in another zip code.

But this time, we were more confident in the holding in North Palm than we should have been. We had sat through some horrendous (40 knot plus) blows out of the south where there is no protection, so we figured the holding may be our neighbor's saving grace. No such luck. The wind shifted and it started to rain and blow. Dave was on deck quieting a halyard when I heard, "Our neighbor's dragging." He said it so nonchalantly that I assumed he was using "neighbor" to refer to any of the dozens of boats anchored nearby. We had watched 2 boats drag earlier in the day. He started whistling and yelling, and I heard another neighbor blow their horn and shine a spot light nearby. I still didn't join him in the rain until I heard "Can you come grab a fender while I get the boat hook? He's going to hit us."

Sure enough, with his tiny anchor oozing through the mud, held on by his clothesline-sized rode, his dinghy in davits bounced into our bow sprit and wedged itself between our two bow rollers. Now our anchor was holding not only us off the lee shore, but we had to hold him and his oxygen-tent-induced windage, too. We tried to push him off our bow, but he was wedged too tightly and the wind was too much for us to fight. Finally, the dragger came out of his boat and said, "What's happening?"
"You're dragging."
"I am dragging?"
"Yes, sir. YOU are dragging, and we could use a little help, before our anchor lets go because you're hanging from it."
We finally got the retiree to realize what was happening and that it was indeed HE that was the issue. By then the neighbor with the spot light had come in his dinghy to help. He climbed aboard and coordinated raising the anchor with the owner. Between the two of them, they got the offending boat unstuck from our bow pulpit and re-anchored far enough away from the crowd to use a bit more scope. Boats drag, I get that. But one of the things that offended me the most about this encounter is that during the entire ordeal, while Dave and I were out in the freezing deluge trying to keep our AND his boat safe, while the other neighbor was getting soaked in his dinghy and then aboard the dragger's boat, raising and lowering his anchor, NEVER did the dragger leave his oxygen tent. The man never even donned rain gear. His shirt, hair, pants, and underwear were not clinging to him as he shivered, trying to correct his error in judgment. And at no point during or afterward, did he ask if he had done any damage. This entire encounter cost him NOTHING in pain, cold, agony, money, or work. Therefore, he probably learned nothing.

What the rest of us can learn, however, is that you anchor according to where the next bit of strong winds are forecasted to be from, NOT the current conditions. Set your anchor and pay out scope as if the boats around you are laying from that predicted wind. That way, when it does come, you're not caught in someone's anchor rollers.

MONDAY we'll continue our discussion of ways to keep your boat where you put it.

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