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Are anchoring techniques different for cruising?

By The Ithaka - Published November 29, 1999 - Viewed 993 times

Are anchoring techniques different for cruising?

“Millie K. from Sausalito, California, wrote “Is anchoring when you’re cruising any different than anchoring in your home waters? Do you take any special precautions?”

From Bernadette :   No matter where you are, home or away, the technique for anchoring securely is more or less the same. The only difference is that, when you’re cruising, you almost always use all chain and, to accommodate the varied bottom conditions, you carry several different anchors. Mostly we use a 45-pound CQR, but we also carry a 44-pound Bruce, and a Fortress anchor large enough for the QEII.

At home, most boats use a combination of some chain, and mostly rode, because it might make the anchoring procedure easier not to have to man-handle too much chain. However, among coral heads, or hard bottoms, rode is a big problem; you want all chain along that ragged bottom so that no chafe or abrasion compromises your connection. Also, rode is light and boats tend to sway back and forth too much. With the weight of all chain, unless the wind changes direction, you tend to rest still at anchor. (Our second anchor, the Bruce, is on 100 feet of chain attached to 600 feet of rode, and we only use that for emergencies.)

When we come into an anchorage, we motor around and check different depths and bottom contours. We also take a good look at the boats already there. If any are on rode, we avoid anchoring anywhere near them, knowing that they’ll kite back and forth more than we will, and that may bring them too close to us, despite that they may have out the appropriate amount of scope. We also may chose to avoid anchoring near a boat that has out two anchors because this, too, will change the radius of their swing, and could likely land us too close together when the wind shifts.

When we must anchor in the vicinity of another boat, we ALWAYS ask them how much scope they have out. The sacred rule of thumb is to multiply the depth of the water by five, and that’s how much chain you put out AS A MINIMUM. It’s important that everyone adhere religiously to this golden anchoring rule so that when the wind shifts, everyone will swing around on about the same radius, thus keeping the same safe distance from one another in any direction the wind might chose to blow. If a boat has out less than that, when the wind shifts, they will end up closer to other boats than is safe or comfortable. Not cool.

Before you drop the hook, do a big circle completely around the radius of the drop point, and check the depths all along that circle. This will give you the peace of mind that no matter which way the wind blows you while you’re anchored in that center spot, there will be enough depth to accommodate you, and you’ll never be too close to obstructions. Now, turn into the wind and drop the hook in the middle of that circle.

After you pay out at least half of the total scope, begin to very gently back down on the anchor with low RPMs, and then pay out more chain as you do, until you have out the sufficient scope. When it’s all out, put on a snubber line (which takes the pressure off the windlass) then back down hard with high RPMs to make sure the anchor is set, and to confirm that you’re not dragging. Douglas usually is at the bow for this procedure. When he’s done, we change places, I go to the bow, he goes to the wheel, he backs the boat down, and I check the set.

The best way to check the set on your anchor is to stand on the snubber line and, as the boat backs up and the chain goes taut, if the anchor is firmly set, the snubber line will stretch out under your feet and raise you up with it. If the snubber line feels like it’s vibrating under your feet, and never raises you up, well, you’re dragging baby. Very often, it’s when we’re doing our “double check” that we find that the hold is not good enough, and we need to raise up the anchor and try again. (Douglas claims I’m better at determining whether we’re well set because I have more sensitive feet; I think I’m just more observant. Whatever.) This double check is worth the extra 15 minutes, especially when the wind picks up after dark, and you know what efforts you’ve expended to get that hook in really deep. It’s also good from the marital-relations point of view; there’s no finger pointing later if something goes amiss. Once the anchor is well set, over the next few hours it will continue to set itself and a good long line of the chain even deeper. If the set wasn’t good in the first place, the first good gust of wind will send your anchor skittering across the bottom.

When we’re in the tropics, and the water is clear and warm, we always check the anchor set by snorkeling down and looking at it. If the set looks unacceptable (the ears of the anchor aren’t buried), often Douglas will scout around underwater, choose a new place nearby, I’ll bring up the anchor with the windlass, maneuver the boat over to the new place he’s found, and drop the anchor where he indicates. With a strong windlass (we just installed a new Lewmar V3), this is easy to do by yourself.

Nothing, repeat NOTHING, beats a visual anchor check. It’s so important that if someone anchors near us in the tropics, and we notice they haven’t jumped in to check their set, one of us will jump in later, perhaps before we take our showers, and wander over there with our snorkel and mask, just to protect ourselves.

So yes, in some ways anchoring when you’re cruising is a bit different. It’s a more careful procedure. But, when you think about it, that’s probably the way we should’ve been anchoring all the time anyway – like our boats and personal safety depend on it; no matter whether we’re near or far from home, it does.


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