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If you hang around boaters for very long, you are sure to get plenty of anchoring advice. These usually unsolicited words of wisdom will likely include plenty of absolutes.
"You should NEVER anchor in a mooring field."
"We ALWAYS use a whatchamacallit anchor."
"We've NEVER dragged and we ALWAYS only use one anchor."
"It's safest to ALWAYS take a mooring if it's an option."
While we are admittedly opinionated, one area where we try to avoid such absolutes is in anchoring. There are simply too many variables to be considered and there is no hard and fast rule to ALWAYS keep you and your boat safe. The best advice that can be given about anchoring is that you should consider every element of the present situation and make a judgment based on experience, both yours and what you have learned from research and studying. Know your boat, know your anchoring system, be aware of your surroundings and predicted weather and err on the side of caution.
Your anchoring decisions start before you even leave to go cruising. We spent a considerable percentage of our outfitting time and money on preparing to anchor, seeing this as paying our dockage in advance. Now, when anchoring conditions are less than ideal, we don't have to pick up a mooring or go to a marina; we have an anchoring package set up to handle just about any situation. We started by installing a manual windlass. As the anchor-picker-upper I am eternally grateful for my 13th wedding anniversary present, though I must admit that I was a little surprised at the time. When you're preparing to go cruising, however, every birthday, anniversary and Christmas present is something for the boat. Dave reinforced the bow pulpit that was on Eurisko and covered the pipe with teak slats to make it easier to walk on. He added two anchor rollers so that we always have a secondary rigged and ready to throw off the bow if necessary. There is a third anchor on the stern rail and a fourth in the aft cabin. Our anchor locker is divided so that the two rodes do not get tangled: 300 feet of chain on the primary, 50 feet of chain and 300 feet of nylon on the secondary. Chain and nylon for the other two anchors are stored in low lockers below decks.
Once you have adequate anchors and rodes, you need to consider all variables before deciding how to best use them. Prevailing winds, predicted weather, current, proximity of other boats and how they are anchored or moored, lee shores, underwater obstacles, night lees, local knowledge and water depth are only a few of the conditions to consider before anchoring.
Know the local weather patterns as much as possible before anchoring. In the trades it is usually obvious, the prevailing winds are easterly, but of course in many places the land diverts the trades close to shore. Mt. Pelée in St. Pierre, Martinique is a classic example. Coming into the anchorage at a relaxed 3 knots, we were hit by the wind coming down the mountain just as I was about to drop the anchor. Not comfortable trying to stop the boat with an anchor while headed toward shore at 6 knots, we rounded up and came in again under shortened sail. Now we have the local knowledge to know that the wind speed increases close to shore in that bay and can prepare accordingly.
Local knowledge comes into play in Beaufort, NC where tide and shrimp boats dictate where and how you can anchor. Luckily for those who have never been to Beaufort, this is well-documented and described in various cruising guides of the area. We anchor with two anchors off the bow, one in either direction with the tiller tied to one side or the other to ensure that we always spin a specific direction when the tide turns. Which way we put the tiller depends on where we had to anchor and our proximity to shore and the channel. We make it so the boat spins away from whichever we are closest to. But local knowledge isn't always so well-documented. Sometimes you have to use some common sense. As we were sailing toward McClellanville, SC one evening, we saw shrimp boats headed toward the ocean from town. We had planned to anchor in one of the tributaries off the east side of the ICW, but common sense told us that, if these shrimp boats were like others we had anchored near, there was a good chance they would be coming or going through these channels in the dark. Since we were in our Sharpie at the time with 13 inches of draft, we could anchor where no one ever does, meaning the shrimpers were not going to be on the lookout for a boat in the middle of "their" channel. Rather than relying on their being observant after hours of shrimping, we took Walküre to a deadend to anchor her, where we knew no shrimp boats would be traveling. Of course, we were in such a narrow creek that we had to set two anchors on short scope to keep her off either shore.
Using two anchors is neither ALWAYS better nor NEVER a good idea. Again, consider the situation. It has been said that you can NEVER anchor among moored boats. That's simply ridiculous. If you put out two anchors with similar scope to the mooring pendants, you can safely anchor among many moored boats. Our preferred method, however, is to anchor just downwind of all boats, moored or anchored. I would rather be hit by another boat (and we have been, several times) than to hit another boat, which we have never done.
We have had people tell us that our habit of anchoring with excessive scope is unsafe to those around us. These naysayers have never seen us anchor. If we are in the back of the field, we are not affecting anyone with our excessive scope. And if we want to hang from 200 feet of chain in 12 feet of water in St. Pierre, who are we hurting? Few people ever anchor there and extra chain does no good on the boat. Would Eurisko have been fine if we had anchored with 3 to 1 scope? Probably. Would we have worried more about her while we were 12 miles away up a 4,500-foot volcano? Definitely. Our excessive scope affects no one but me when I have to raise it, and I'll gladly build a bit of muscle to not have to worry about dragging.
In the trades especially it is important to anchor to prevailing winds. We sailed into Luperon, Dominican Republic one bright morning after heaving-to for most of the night because we don't enter harbors in the dark. The trades were still shut down because of the night lee and we anchored in a secluded cove in order to avoid the boats in the main anchorage who were scrambled because of the lack of wind. After we dropped our anchor the self-proclaimed harbormaster motored by in his dinghy to tell us to anchor to the prevailing easterlies, not to the current slight west wind. The trades may not have been blowing yet, but when they returned the heaviest winds would be from the east. Because we had anchored in a tight spot, we rowed out a secondary and set it to the east. For three weeks we simply spun in the little circle that having two anchors allows. If we had tried to hang from only one anchor we would not have been able to get adequate scope to keep from dragging without bouncing off the shoreline.
A quick word of warning about hanging from two anchors. Elementary physics tells us that if you increase the angle between the two anchors to over 90 degrees, you are actually putting MORE strain on each anchor than you would if you were only hanging from one. By decreasing the angle between the two anchors to less than 90 degrees, you help both anchors carry the load of your boat, thereby increasing their effectiveness.
The proximity and location of reefs to an anchorage can also have a surprising effect on how you set your anchor(s). In Christiansted Harbor on St. Croix Long Reef protects the harbor from most of the Caribbean swell. However, when the waves are larger than the reef can break up, the swell jumps the reef that is to the north of the island and causes a current in the harbor. No longer are the boats pointed into the easterly trades; now they point to the northerly swell with the wind on the beam. When anchoring in this harbor you have to judge your distance from those around you when you're pointed north as well as east.
There is no such thing as the "best" anchor any more than there are steadfast rules for the best anchoring technique. In Isla Mujeres, Mexico we set our primary anchor (44 Bruce) with 180 feet of chain and plenty of dragging room. Proximity to other boats prevented more scope and we were not comfortable hanging from so "little" chain in 15 feet of water with a gale forecasted, so Dave rowed out our secondary (35 CQR) on 50 feet of chain and most of the 300 feet of nylon. By the next morning the predicted gale had arrived. For days we removed windage (water jugs were put in the cockpit, weather clothes removed, even boat brushes and boat hooks were removed from deck) in an effort to decrease the effect of the wind on our little boat, but we could tell we were oozing backwards. Out went the tertiary (Fortress FX 23) with 30 feet of chain and hundreds of feet of rode. By this time the entire crew was seasick and the gale had been going on for three days. At no point were we all off the boat at the same time. Usually one of us was on deck looking at our ranges on shore to see if we were dragging. When I became fairly sure that our position was slowly changing, Dave dragged out the "baby Bruce" (33 Bruce) from the aft cabin and all the line he could find. When he rowed out our last chance anchor I swear he was in another time zone. I've rarely seen an anchor so far from the boat. But finally, after all our work, Eurisko stopped and we rode out the next few days of the gale without moving. (In case you're wondering, yes, boats were dragging all over the place. So many moved to marinas that they were all unseasonably full for May.)
Notice that proximity to the dinghy dock was NOT on my list of things to consider. Anchor where your boat will be safest; your comfort getting to shore is a secondary consideration. We row, yet we are still usually the farthest back in the field. We like it back there. We can put out enough scope to be comfortable which lessens the likelihood of our dragging. And we can put out as many anchors as we find necessary without having to worry about how those around us are anchored or moored. What we NEVER do is anchor with short scope on a lee shore just because it's convenient. And that's an absolute you can live with.
Many cruisers claim that they don't allow glass on their boats. MONDAY we'll discuss why we are slowly making a change back to glass.
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