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Will Your Anchor Hold? Basics of Anchoring Solved

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So, we drop the hook in the lagoon in St. George’s harbour in Grenada, do a cursory anchor watch, cast off the dinghy and take the ferry to Carriacou for a day of sun and fun.

Upon our return early that evening I note with interest (and considerable alarm) that my trusty vessel is no longer where I left it, neighboring boats have slung fenders along their hulls, and one skipper, ensconced on a boat that’s uncomfortably close, is scowling at me.

That’s when I am forced to answer that rhetorical question posed by a Victorian hymn loved by good Protestants the world over.

“Will your anchor hold?”

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Sadly, no …

And it was completely my fault. I’d failed to sufficiently establish one of the most important members of a quartet of must-dos when it comes to dropping the hook.

I had not ensured that the bottom quality was worthy of my ground tackle. The other three considerations include:

  • ensuring sufficient swing room
  • depth, and
  • shelter.

So begins the lesson.

First off, anchoring doesn’t have to be difficult. All it requires is proper equipment, good judgment and competent technique, which is simple and easy to learn.

Proper equipment means the right anchor of the proper size plus adequate rode, preferably with chain to help the anchor lay flat.

Judgment entails choosing a suitable anchoring area for the expected conditions, giving consideration to the bottom, the anchorage itself, current, weather and nearby boats.

Technique is the expeditious and wise application of the other factors in a real-world situation.

Different anchors work best in different ground. Danforth anchors, especially lightweight versions, are a poor choice for weedy or rocky bottoms, but superb in sand and mud. CQR and plow anchors can work well in weed; are excellent in clay, but poor in mud. Smart boaters carry more than one type of anchor on their boat to adapt to different conditions. Serious cruisers have three or more anchors. And make sure you have sufficient rode. Fifteen extra feet can make a world of difference.

Ever seen someone heave their anchor overboard, cleat off and dinghy away? That boat will soon be dragging.

Make sure you drop your anchor as opposed to throwing it. Otherwise you risk fouling the anchor in its own rode. Drift back until you have sufficient scope. Snub the anchor to set it and pull with gentle power in reverse.

Letting out enough rode is related to one of those afore-mentioned must-dos. In but one more application of that well-loved mantra, “when in doubt, let it out,” you need to decide how much scope is enough. Lunch stops require four-to-one (four times the distance from your boat’s bowsprit to the bottom), overnights even more. Much depends on whether your rode is part-chain, part-line or chain only. The greater the amount of chain, the less scope needed.

After my Grenada debacle I always erred on the side of lots of scope until one morning at Union Island in the Grenadines I found myself snuggled up to an excursion boat mere meters from my stern. I hadn’t factored in sufficient swing room. Thereafter I always compromised.

One time in the Abacos I pulled into harbor at Guana Cay and motored around looking for a place to overnight. Seeing a white ‘ball’ I decided to moor instead of anchor. Steered right for it, moving slowly until I wasn’t.

Not a mooring ball but a jury-rigged depth warning.

Luckily the tide was rising; I was in sand and off in ten minutes. But it reminded me of one of those other rules.

Ensure you have sufficient depth at both low and high tide.

Which brings us to must-do number four: sufficient shelter.

I call to mind two memorable nights when our boat at anchor felt like it was berthed in a washing machine gone berserk. On both nights we were last into the anchorage and had to drop much further out than I wanted to – once off Bequia, once off Jost Van Dyke.

And shelter’s not the only reason to achieve your anchorage early…….

First boat in sets the anchoring style (if they’ve set two anchors you probably should).

First boat in gets to pick depth and bottom quality, assuming there are choices to be made.

First boat in gets the best shelter and, of course, sufficient swing room.

First boat in gets to drop the hook without an audience.

Anchoring doesn’t have to be difficult though it requires the right equipment, technique and judgment.

Remember the four requirements of a good anchorage, establish a system of hand signals between bow and helm crew, avoid lee shores and snub your dinghy line (don’t get me started) and you’ll be able to answer that age-old question with confidence.

“Will your anchor hold?”

Indubitably …

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Mark Stevens is an award-winning travel writer whose specialties include Canada, the Caribbean and boating. Credits range from Sailing magazine and Canadian Yachting to the Washington Post.

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