Can I Sit on Your Anchor?

By Tom Neale, 12/1/2005


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What do you do when somebody anchors too close? I’ll never admit to anything I’ve done, but I’ve seen some people do some pretty interesting things over the years. One couple would strip down to bare skin and run around deck yelling at each other like they were having a life and death fight. (Unfortunately this attracted more boats than it drove off.) Once a lady washed her husband’s underpants on deck in plain sight of the people in the cockpit of the offending boat, poured the dirty water out into the wind, and then reached over and hung them to dry on the other boat’s life line. One guy deposited his garbage on the offending boat as it swung back and forth within inches of his hull. Another guy had a noisy gasoline deck generator (never a good idea) and he would put a bad spark plug in it, start it up, and turn a heavy load on and off, causing it to backfire. One guy would play a very loud recording of a feverishly pitched sermon punctuated with very loud admonitions about HELL and SIN and DAMNATION and being SAVED.

One guy, on a flat calm night, turned on his diesel (he said to charge the batteries), slept on deck, and left it running. The force of the exhaust coming out on one side of the stern of his very small boat pushed the boat in slow circles all night long, at the scope of the anchor rode. It barely brushed every boat nearby every 45 minutes or so until finally the wind came up and held it in place. Another boat let out the line on his old aluminum dinghy until it was within inches of the brightly waxed hull of a staid old New England weekender yachtsman who, I’m sure, was fond of looking at his stately face every morning in the glistening sides of his fine yacht. One guy would jump into the water with mask and flippers and swim down to the anchor of the offending boat, pull it out of the bottom, and reset it elsewhere. Of course, this guy was so tough most people would do anything he asked them to do without a second thought anyway. I’ve seen some people hang out fenders in silent resignation; I’ve seen other people hang out spinnaker poles with buckets of water (or something else maybe) in them. One old salt would hang out fender boards with long spikes driven through them, the pointed ends sticking out toward the offending boats wanting to kiss.

About Anchoring Too Close

1. It takes seamanship to anchor as well as to be underway. Following are examples of things oft misunderstood when positioning to anchor.

2. When we drop the hook we need to let out at least 5 to one scope, and when we do, our boat isn’t going to be over the spot where we dropped the anchor. Maybe it’s going to be over the spot where another boat is already floating.

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Many of us yell across the water separating (hopefully) our boats and say something like, “Excuse me, but I’m pretty uncomfortable with how close we are. I’m afraid we might bump in the night.” The problem with this is that the human species often interprets any yelling as being somewhat hostile so that what was intended to be a friendly communication is perceived as the opposite. If it’s calm and there isn’t much wind and wave noise, and if the other guy has anchored so close that you don’t have to raise your voice, this misinterpretation probably won’t occur. But when the guy has anchored that close and hasn’t figured it out himself, probably he’s so out of it or so callous that nothing you can say will matter anyway. I’ve found that the best thing to do is to get into my dinghy, mosey over toward the side of the other boat, (I don’t hang on unless I’ve been invited) and strike up a friendly conversation. “Hey, you’ve really got a pretty boat. How long have you had her?” and things like that. You know, just one friendly cruiser chatting with another, saying all the nice things—particularly complimentary things. Then I gradually work into my concerns about his having anchored too close. I don’t say “Move your butt before I call the marine police,” but I talk about how I’m worried about bumping when we’re sleeping and how ugly my boat is and how I wouldn’t want it to scar up his.

Responses to this approach are often something like, “Sure, I’ll move, I wouldn’t want to cause you to loose sleep,” (The beauty of this approach is that he doesn’t have to admit that he screwed up, he’s just being a nice guy to me—the anchorage wimp). But sometimes you get various other responses that indicate, among other things, that maybe he should be in an RV camp instead of anchored in a boat. These responses are along the lines of, “Oh, the wind’s not going to come up tonight,” or “Oh no, the wind’s not going to shift,” or “Well if something happens I’ll go ahead and move.” Like what does he think that something will be? It’ll be a bump and probably some damage to one or both boats. And in the meantime you’re afraid to get off your boat or go to sleep because you really don’t want any damage. What do you do then? Usually I get a little more persistent, but still remain very friendly, and say that I’m personally very worried and that you really can’t rely on the wind and weather doing what you want it to do or think it will do. Most folks finally get it—some don’t.

It’s easy to say, “Well you should just re-anchor and leave this guy to his own folly.” But sometimes it’s too late in the evening to re-anchor, and sometimes there’s no other place nearby that’ll suit a boat of your size and/or draft. And if you do re-anchor, suppose someone else does the same thing? How many times do you have to re-anchor because there are a few people who are clueless?

We’ve considered things like cruising in New England in the winter (I understand that Block Island has plenty of room then). We’ve considered stopping at marinas every night (all we need to do is win the lottery). We’ve considered making the trip offshore and therefore not stopping to anchor at all. (We do this often, and it’s really great out there until the weather kicks you in the butt.) We’ve considered anchoring out in relatively open waters where it’ll be rolly and nobody else will want to anchor. (We do this. It’s a good reason for having a fat heavy boat.) We do other things too. Coming down the coast we try to avoid problems by avoiding popular anchorages. If some anchoring guide says to go there, we don’t, even though we first started anchoring there 25 or 30 years ago. We also try to avoid traveling during the times of peak travel. We also plan to stop in areas where we have more than one anchoring option if the first is too crowded. We never anchor in an already crowded area unless there’s absolutely no choice, and then we ask the boats around where their anchors are, how much and what type of rode they have out, and other questions to be sure that we’re not going to be interfering with them.

The important thing about this is that people out cruising on boats are generally some of the greatest people in the world. Most of our closest friends are people who’re really into boats. And there are few things nicer than sharing the camaraderie in an anchorage with other cruisers. I guess I could be going south in a Winnebago (if I could afford the fuel). When you park them they just sit there in one place. But I’d really miss seeing old friends and making new ones in the anchorages. And watching that naked couple chasing each other around with rolling pins.


Copyright 2004-2008 Tom Neale