What Anchoring Equipment Do we Use? – Material & Basic Maneuvers

... the only times the hook gets a break is during passages as safe moorings or marinas are rare in remote areas
Gusting to 60 knots with good holding and no neighbors to worry about. Photography by Birgit Hackl
Gusting to 60 knots with good holding and no neighbors to worry about. Photography by Birgit Hackl

Reliable anchoring equipment and the knowledge of how to use it is essential for cruisers because we encounter a wide spectrum of anchoring conditions and situations along our routes. Voyagers like us, who enjoy cruising at a slow pace off the beaten track, spend the majority of the year in anchorages—the only times the hook gets a break is during passages as safe moorings or marinas are rare in remote areas.

A perfect anchorage with a sandy bottom and plenty of swinging room. Photography by Birgit Hackl
A perfect anchorage with a sandy bottom and plenty of swinging room. Photography by Birgit Hackl

What Anchoring Equipment Do we Use?  Chain / Rope?

We cannot praise our ‘Bügelanker’ (a design similar to a Rocna) enough. It is amazing how 55 pounds of anchor keeps our 13 ton yacht Pitufa in place in sand, mud or sludge. Its main strength is its ability to set quickly and to reset reliably after a wind shift. We try not to anchor in rocks, but when there is no alternative the ‘Bügelanker’ manages to wedge a fluke into some crevice after a few attempts.

With strong winds predicted many cruisers deploy two anchors, but they could foul each other when the wind shifts. We rather move to a protected bay with good holding and (ideally) few neighbors, pay out extra scope and trust our anchor. 

A heavy chain adds safety, so we carry 210 feet of 3/8 inch chain followed by 90 feet of rope. We prefer galvanized chain, even though it gets rusty, to shiny stainless steel that can become brittle and snap without previous signs of fatigue. No matter the material, the main point is to attach the bitter end firmly to the boat—we’ll never forget the expression on the face of a skipper who let out all the chain in a deep anchorage in Rikitea (Gambier Islands, French Polynesia), only to watch the whole lot disappear over the bow never to be seen again.

In addition to our main anchor we carry a 22-pound Danforth lashed to the rail within easy reach. We use this as a stern anchor with 33 feet of chain followed by line. Our third anchor is stored on the second bow roller. We carry this old CQR anchor as a spare, which we use in combination with 33 feet of chain and rope whenever we do not want to risk losing our main gear—for example when anchoring in exposed locations like on outer reefs of atolls where we might have to leave the anchor behind in an emergency.

What Anchoring Equipment Do we Use? Two anchors fit snuggly on Pitufa’s bow roller where they are ready for instant use. Photography by Birgit Hackl
Two anchors fit snuggly on Pitufa’s bow roller where they are ready for instant use. Photography by Birgit Hackl

What Anchoring Techniques do we Recommend 

Before anchoring in a new place we always do a few reconnaissance runs searching for large sandy patches. In deep and/or murky water where it’s impossible to see the bottom, we try to assess the topography by keeping an eye on the depth sounder. Jumping numbers indicate lurking rocks or coral heads, a steady display indicates a sandy or muddy basin. In areas that are generally rocky and difficult a look ashore sometimes helps. Off beaches and river outlets the chances for a sandy bottom are better. 

With the bow facing the wind we drop the hook by releasing the clutch on the winch. Gently reversing, we pay out chain until we achieve twice the water depth, then we set the anchor with reverse thrust (in sludge we wait a few minutes before gently setting it). Once the hook is firmly set we pay out more chain. Watching varieties of that simple procedure can be interesting: some crews pay out chain in full forward speed and plow half the bay, others drop a spaghetti-like heap of chain right on top of the anchor. Another common mistake is to go in full reverse just after dropping the hook. In Isabela (Galapagos, sandy bottom with some coral in between, crowded anchorage) we watched about ten failed anchoring attempts of an American crew, always following the same procedure. First the skipper gave full throttle reverse, then motioned the crew to drop the hook and almost hit another boat before the anchor even touched ground. The skipper then cursed the bad holding and told the crew to lift the anchor again—by hand.

When a squall blows through a crowded anchorage, you hope your neighbors have decent anchoring gear and that it’s set right. Photography by Birgit Hackl
When a squall blows through a crowded anchorage, you hope your neighbors have decent anchoring gear and that it’s set right. Photography by Birgit Hackl

Some crews rely on toy-like little anchors or simply do not pay out enough chain; drag even in light gusts and endanger others along their path. In Cartagena de Indias (anchorage in the town harbor, muddy bottom) a steel ketch drifted by several times with the chain pointing down vertically—a strong indicator for a scope misjudgment. We buzzed after them by dinghy, woke the crew before they could hit anything and secretly renamed their boat Dragging Fly instead of Dragonfly. In Arue (Tahiti, sludge) a Canadian family anchored next to us and invited us for a sundowner. We never got that drink: when mild gusts set in (15 to 20 knots), their catamaran dragged so often that they finally gave up and moved into a nearby marina. Later we met them in town and on inquiring politely about their ground tackle were told that they were the proud and happy owners of a patent anchor design that was always kept upright by a little float on top. 

… Maybe pretty, but certainly not very useful.

Don’t Miss Part II: Anchoring Games: Techniques for Special Conditions

Birgit Hackl
Birgit Hackl, Christian Feldbauer and ship’s cat Leeloo have been exploring the world on their yacht Pitufa since 2011. Visit their blog: www.pitufa.at