Anchoring Can Be A Drag
February 12, 2004
The main point behind anchoring is to keep your boat reasonably fixed within a chosen expanse of water. Something has gone wrong when your boat and its anchor begins moving; this is called dragging. When your boat drags at anchor and you end up on something hard, like the shore or another boat, something has REALLY gone wrong. Most boaters don't like to admit they have dragged at anchor. It's sort of like confessing you just got released on parole after a serial murder conviction. While we don't drag too often, we don't hide the fact that we HAVE dragged on the odd occasion. When we arrive at an anchorage and glibly announce to our immediate neighbours, "Boy, the last time we were here we dragged halfway across the bay," we generally find everyone gives us lots of room.
After we have admitted to the occasional anchoring debacle, we've noticed other boaters will often confess that they, too, have dragged. It's almost as if they have been carrying a tremendous load of guilt and are relieved to unburden themselves of its weight. Having heard a number of these confessions, we've come to the conclusion that just about every cruiser has dragged at some point in his or her life. Those who claim they haven't either haven't been cruising for very long or are suffering from some delusional disorder.
This is not to say we like dragging. We don't. Eileen in particular HATES dragging and will do everything humanly possible to avoid it. David also hates dragging, but he is lazier (or a sounder sleeper) than Eileen; when the wind pipes up in the middle of the night, it's Eileen who is up on deck peering nervously into the darkness while David slumbers peacefully down below. Eileen still has bad memories of a VERY squally night last year when we dragged off Stocking Island near George Town in the Bahamas. As it turned out, we had two anchors down and the second one stopped us before we hit anything. Several other boats weren't so lucky and DID end up hitting things. Although we came out of it unscathed, Eileen swore we would not repeat the experience.
Last week we moved the boat from Kidd's Cove -- in front of George Town -- across Elizabeth Harbour to Stocking Island. Eileen looked warily at the cluster of boats anchored in front of Volleyball Beach, the scene of last year's humiliation. David said, "Let's try our new oversized Fortress anchor this time; maybe it will work better than our old CQR." Eileen wasn't to be easily mollified. "Let's just make sure we're not near anyone else."
Now one of the difficulties in correctly spacing one's boat in a crowded anchorage is foreseeing what will happen when the wind changes direction. When we dropped the anchor in front of Volleyball Beach, it was blowing gently from the southeast. We sought out a big patch of fine sand and let out lots of chain. David donned his snorkelling gear and dove on the anchor. It was nicely buried. We seemed to be equidistant from our immediate neighbours, but we didn't know exactly where THEIR anchors were because, under the light air conditions, their anchor rodes may not have been stretched out.
Last Friday, the morning weather report predicted a cold front would move through George Town early Sunday, bringing with it, first, a shift in wind direction, and then an increase in wind strength. Saturday afternoon, the sailboat off our port side upped anchor and relocated a few boat lengths further away. Perhaps they had heard about our anchoring record. Eileen suggested, "Maybe we should move over as well. Now we seem too close to 'Early Out'."
"Early Out" was the Gulfstar 44 parked off our starboard side. It looked really solid; in a contest with "Little Gidding", it seemed pretty clear who would lose. Still, David resisted, "We don't know where we'll each lie when the wind clocks; we could re-anchor now and then discover that we have to move again later because someone else is too close." Eileen was not appeased. She made it clear that she was not going to be the only one to miss a night of sleep. David sighed and got in the dinghy and went over to have a man-to-man talk with John on "Early Out".
It seems that John and his wife Rachel had probably just had a very similar discussion. He told David, "I have no problem with how close we are at the moment, but I don't know what will happen when the wind shifts. It seems premature to re-anchor now, especially when our anchors have settled in really well." David immediately decided he liked John. The two compared scopes. "Early Out" had 80 feet of chain out; we had 140 feet. John said he would let out another 20 or 30 feet and David agreed to take in the same. After that, we'd play it by ear.
When we woke up Sunday morning, the wind had reversed direction, but was still very light. "Early Out" was now directly behind us and closer than before. Our respective anchor chains were beginning to realign themselves. We took our breakfast up to the cockpit and listened to the morning news on the external speakers. The wind gradually got stronger and "Early Out" gradually got closer. We had a very nice view of its massive bow structure. Finally Eileen said, "Well, we might as well offer John and Rachel some coffee since we can pretty well hand it over to them."
"Early Out" had preceded our arrival at Volleyball Beach so we decided it was our responsibility to re-anchor. Afterwards, David dove on the anchor and determined it was buried as before. The wind continued to build and by mid-afternoon it was blowing over 20 knots from the northeast. A sailboat a couple of hundred yards away began to drag. As the crew on board struggled to avoid other boats and get re-anchored, several people called them on the radio offering helpful advice like, "that anchor you've got isn't any good" and "that spot you picked has the lousiest holding in the entire harbour". We didn't say anything. We've been there.