If Your Anchor Could Talk
By Tom Neale, 9/16/2010
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Dragging is a drag. A few weeks ago we put the CQR anchor down in an area where we’d anchored many times before. We knew that the bottom was perfect. We were ready for a nice evening, not for hassle. Hassle we got. The anchor dragged along the bottom like it had wheels. I pulled it up so that we could move over to a different spot, a few yards away. When it broke the surface I saw the ancient long dead remnants of a huge oyster shell stuck on the point. I had to knock it off with a boathook. I wanted to know if this was an anomaly or the norm in this, one of our favorite spots in the area. It could be that an old oyster ground had left many such carcasses, but I didn’t think so. I dove in and swam to the bottom about 15 feet down. As I expected, the river’s bottom was smooth, unobstructed, with a shallow layer of sand over a deep layer of good thick mud. Not another shell in sight. We’d just hit the bad luck of the draw.
Chez Nous two favorite anchors
One evening as we were migrating down the Georgia ICW we put into a good protected creek, which we knew had excellent holding. A very strong cold front was going to roar through that night. Winds had already begun to build. We lowered the anchor, fell back on the wind, and something strange happened. At first we dragged a little. This isn’t unusual as the anchor digs in, but this dragging didn’t feel right and it lasted a little too long for the type of bottom which I knew was down there. Then, as a gust caught us, the chain suddenly tightened like a steel bar and our bow jerked around like we were hooked onto a sunken battle ship. Being hooked onto a sunken battle ship may have its advantages, but I’d just as soon be dug into good mud. You never know what rusty part of that battle ship will break off in the night. So we commenced to pull in the anchor to see what was going on. I said “commenced” because the anchor didn’t want to come. We spent around an hour carefully working the windlass and the engine, utilizing the bobbing from the wind gusts, slowly inching in our chain. The battle ship turned out to be a thick steel cable. Coils and coils of it disappeared into the water. I had no idea how much was there, but it was a lot. Nearby was a dock used by a commercial shrimping fleet. Sometimes they anchor in this creek for storms or simply to make an early start in the night. They often use steel cable for their anchor rode. We just happened to have lowered our anchor into a pile of cable that had probably broken in a hurricane, or perhaps been accidently allowed to run overboard by a broken piece of machinery or an untrained crew. We couldn’t begin to recover this cable. It was far too heavy. We worked for well over a half hour more, precariously close to the shoal to clear if from our anchor. It may have held us during the blow that night, or it may well have straightened and slipped off our hook. Worse, it may have remained on the hook, making it impossible to bite into the mud, but straightened enough to allow us to drag into the bank. Or, another boat may have started dragging down on us and we wouldn’t have been able to pull our anchor in time to escape.
In clear Bahamas water you can usually see what you get when anchoring
On our first trip to Nassau, having learned about the sand patches at Gun Cay, we were glad to look down through the water and see that there were similar patches in the very thick grass covering the bottom where we wanted to anchor. We carefully lowered our gear. It landed perfectly in the sand. We began backing down and it didn’t hold not even for the briefest pause. I dove down to the bottom and found that the white sand was very coarse—so coarse that it could hardly be called sand. And so coarse that it would never make good holding, except by use of another type of anchor—which we had aboard and deployed. (It was a Fortress.)
I could tell maybe a hundred more stories of being surprised by what is or isn’t on the bottom. If you anchor enough, you’re going to get these surprises. Usually you’ll be in waters where you can’t see the bottom from your deck, and frequently diving will be out of the question and very unsafe. If you have question as to what’s going on down there, feel and watch your rode, feel how your anchor sets, if it does, and feel how it’s dragging if it is. Always have more than one type of anchor to work different types of bottoms and circumstances. Our favorites are the original patented CQR and the Fortress. Others may have their favorites. If something’s unusual, generally the best course of action is to pull it up and check for what may be on the anchor. If you can’t figure out what’s happening, move over a bit. You may have lowered it down on the one and only prehistoric oyster shell for miles around.
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Copyright 2004-2010 Tom Neale
Copyright 2004-2010 Tom Neale