Anchoring is often likened to a black art, but we have learnt that there is some science to it, a bit of commonsense and a whole lot of luck!
I know plenty of weekend sailors and racers who loath it, even the old sea dog that took me through my RYA Coastal Skipper qualification didn’t enjoy it. Thing is, when you cruise you need to anchor and to really enjoy your time visiting new places you need to be happy with not just anchoring but sometimes leaving your boat and heading off to explore. Getting this comfortable requires the time and experience that allows good judgment to develop.
We have been sailing as a family now for over 5 years. Over that time we have had our fair share of anchoring experience and having set the anchor hundreds of times we have become relatively skilled at it…but as always, it didn’t start out easy and there is still more to learn!
So what have we learnt so far?
- Make sure your anchor is well attached to the chain. You think I’m joking, well, sadly, no. I was once chartering on a Bavaria 44 in Croatia and after a flat calm night we upped anchor….only there was no anchor. Just chain. We managed to relocate the anchor on the seabed, dove down and retrieved it. We were lucky. Had there been the slightest breeze things could have ended differently. Check your shackles. Better still seize them with stainless wire to prevent them coming undone.
- The above example illustrates the importance of chain and anchor and how it works in combination to stop you moving. The anchor digs in but the weight of the chain and how it works with the anchor is fundamentally important to successful anchoring. It is really important that as the yacht moves about the chain pulls the anchor along the seabed and not up and out of the seabed. To achieve this you need a sufficient amount of chain (scope) out to always ensure the first few metres from the anchor are lying on the seabed. The amount of chain you put out is governed by a number of things including your anchor type, max depth of water you will be anchoring in, how rough it is and how windy it is. With our 25kg Rocna, and a 10mm chain rode we try and achieve the following:
3 times depth in light conditions
5 times depth in moderate conditions
8 times depth or more in challenging conditions.
- Choose your anchorage well. Look at the forecast, think about the wind and the swell direction. Will the bay you have chosen offer the protection you need. If there is some swell or wave action about, ideally you want to have the bow of the yacht facing into the waves. Occasionally we have chosen a bay where we thought the wind and waves would be aligned, but the waves have wrapped around a headland or other local feature putting them on the beam. This makes for a miserable night’s sleep as the boat rocks from side to side with every item in every cupboard clattering about with each roll. Being beam on to even small swell is nerve shattering and, in my view, to be avoided.
- It is prudent, for obvious reasons, not to anchor on a lee shore, but sticking to this rule can be hard and sometimes you are stuck having to accept it. Its always worthwhile making extra sure you are well dug in and that you have plenty of scope out. If on a lee shore then setting up an anchor watch could be a good decision.
- If a wind shift is expected in the night it may be worthwhile sticking out an exposed anchorage for a few hours before the change in order to get a good nights sleep once the wind and wave patterns change.
- In tidal areas clearly you need to understand the tide and calculate your scope accordingly. You also need to be aware of how the lower tide may affect things such as breaking waves. Heather was sailing across Bass Straight with her family and they pulled into Flinders Island for a night after a day of 45knots and big waves. When they anchored at high tide they were well behind the breakers, but by low tide the waves were breaking much further out and were almost underneath them…it made for an interesting morning. The ocean is dynamic. Think how could things change.
- It pays to dig your anchor in well, we will back up on ours with around 1500RPM of reverse thrust in light conditions. If we are expecting a blow we will go 2000RPM +. This isn’t a short sharp blast, but a prolonged steadily increasing application of the throttle as we watch the anchor chain pull tight and make sure we aren’t dragging. If you have a Rocna they can did in quickly and if you are going backwards too quickly, it can seriously load up your windlass, so be careful.
- In some conditions you can get large katabatic winds, which can gust at up to 40-50 knots and more. Making an otherwise tranquil anchorage total chaos for an hour or so in the early evening as the air high on a mountain is cooled and descends to lower levels. We have had friends who have experienced this first hand near the Corinth canal in Greece and it wasn’t pretty.
- I still find one of the hardest things is judging how close you are to other anchored yachts. As you enter a busy anchorage you always think it’s going to be impossible to find a spot, but there usually is one. For some reason, you always seem really close to the next yacht when viewed from the deck of your own boat, but when you get in the dinghy or go for a swim you get a different perspective and usually there is plenty of space. So, where to anchor? This part is really tough especially if it’s very crowded. It takes some judgement to find a spot with good depth that isn’t too close to other boats. In a crowded anchorage, your swing circles will all intersect and you need to rely on everyone moving with the wind in a similar way and swinging together, but in practise this is not the case, lighter boats react quicker and heavier boats slower to wind shifts. Stay away from boats on moorings since they don’t swing through a large circle like a boat at anchor will.If you’re on rope rode and the others around you are on chain, then you’ll need to give them a bit more room as you’ll tend to move about more in light winds and they’ll just rotate around where the chain touches the bottom instead of around their anchor.If you are in tight quarters, choose the largest gap you can and then drop your anchor inline with the stern of the boat upwind of the gap. This will take some practice in picturing where you’ll come to rest. Occasionally you get it wrong. Just up anchor and try again. It’s better anchoring so you are comfortable rather than sitting there worrying.
- Some of the older sailors in the med seem to think its cool to anchor with all their chain out even in a busy anchorage. Sure they are not going to drag, but their swing circle is huge and takes up the entire bay. They get agitated when “you” bang into them, but in reality they have far too much chain out for the conditions. This has happened to us a few times, most notably when anchored at Galexedi and a thunderstorm came through with an accompying wind shift. A trimaran that was anchored well behind us swung into us at 10pm. They accused us of dragging, we hadn’t, I asked how much chain they had out….”oh about 250 feet” came the ageing American’s voice. I said that’s a lot, its only 15 feet deep!! Still this kind of thing happens a lot…they were old and stressed, so we ended up moving.
- In storm conditions we make sure we take onshore reference points and transits so we can quickly assess whether or not we are dragging.
- Use a snubber. This prevents the windlass taking the full stress of the anchoring loads. Ideally use a snubber in a bridal arrangement fastened to the chain and securely anchored around the bow cleats. In strong or storm conditions regularly check the snubber for chaffing. You don’t want it to fail. It may be prudent to protect the windlass by also cleating the chain off too so if the snubber fails the windlass is protected. They can be pulled out of the deck in tough conditions.
- It sounds obvious, but understand what your depth sounder is telling you. It says “2.5m”, is that total depth of water or depth beneath the keel? This is particularly important on an unfamiliar yacht.
- The Mediterranean is great as you can usually see the seabed you are anchoring in and assess its suitability. But most charts will give you an indication of the seabed and material you will be anchoring in.
- If you have an electric windlass, that’s great. But electrical connections in the bow of the boat get a hard time. If it fails, check for corrosion of the terminals and the earth connection. If not located properly they can corrode quickly and get knocked by chain entering the anchor well. Ask us how we know …! If you have to pull in 60m of chain by hand then it’s a great work out. But an easier way can be to use a length of rope, one end fitted with a hook or shackle to attach to the chain and the other end led back to a mast winch, or if you don’t have them a cockpit winch. You may need a little ingenuity to get the angles right for the cockpit winch scenario.
- If your anchor is really well dug in, don’t strain the windlass pulling it up. Use the boat to pull it up…motor slowly over it helping to release it from the seabed. It may take a few goes.
- Hand signals can be important, especially if its windy and the person on the bow can’t hear the helmsman/woman. It doesn’t matter what they are as long as you both understand them but developing your own fool proof system can quickly eliminate shouting which reduces stress and anxiety.
- Always take a mental note of the bay you are in, so at night you know how to get out of it when it suddenly becomes untenable, or another yacht drags into you and you are forced to up anchor when half asleep.
- If you are reasonably experienced at anchoring, the biggest threat usually comes from other yachts. This is especially true in areas of Europe where there are significant charter fleets. This can be compounded by busy anchorages where boats can’t put out much scope. We have had 3 or 4 yachts drag into us and have had many more just miss us.
- Anchor type. We have a Rocna anchor and it has incredible holding power. Even so we still try to have a minimum of 3:1 all chain scope. In really gnarly conditions we would be looking for at least 8:1. We were once anchored in a small narrow channel in Sardinia and given the constraints we only had just over 3 to 1 of chain out. The wind was forecast to be strong and we didn’t know the area so we opted to stay put and ride it out. We were woken just after dawn with gusts of 36knots across the channel. This swung our stern within 3m of the sheer face of the gorge. I couldn’t let out more chain, nor could I take any in as we were already on our minimums. I put the engine on in neutral and was ready to evacuate if needed. Thanks to the holding power of our Rocna and a good dose of luck we stayed put despite almost every other yacht in the anchorage having difficulties. So far its been bullet proof and definitely recommended for a good nights sleep.