More than just a convenient tool for holding your powerboat or sailboat overnight, an anchor has lots of other uses, too.
In the old days, when there were no engines, sailors used anchors in all sorts of ways to stop or maneuver their vessels. But these days it's nearly a forgotten art, and it could be something that's worth adding to your arsenal of, "ideas worth trying when things start to go wrong."
Here are four tips that are good to learn and can get you out of a difficult situation. Although primarily intended for sailboats, they could come in handy with powerboats. Good planning and practice is important for all of these tips. As with many maneuvering techniques, poor execution could cause injury and damage.
Using A Kedge To Stop The Boat
An anchor deployed from the stern is the obvious choice if we have to come alongside under sail with the wind or tide behind us and can't slow or stop the boat by any other means. Provided the anchor is big enough to dig in easily and the bottom will provide adequate holding, just drop it a couple of boat lengths from the dock, and surge out the line until you come to a stop beside the dock. Take care to control the line safely around your bollard or cleat and to avoid rope burns and hands and limbs becoming caught in the line.
Use The Main Anchor To Turn The Boat Around
If you don't carry a kedge, you'll have to use the primary anchor from the bow, but the technique is a little more complicated. After dropping the anchor, give a quick bust of forward power if needed, then put the engine in neutral so you don't foul the prop with the anchor rode. As the boat continues forward you'll continue sailing over it until the cable snubs to swing the boat around, assisted by a touch on the helm — hopefully she should end up lying gently against the wall or dock if this tactic is well executed. An old sailing barge skipper told me how he did this on a regular basis, but he had years of experience and the barge had massive hull timbers to absorb the occasional bump.
But I have seen a modern boat do the same trick when a very experienced captain turned the boat around in its own length. The water was quite shallow, so he took the main anchor aft, secured it there, and ran the cable outside everything before securing the anchor rode at the bow. The length of the boat gave him the correct scope for the chain, so when he kicked the anchor off the stern, it went down, bit in, and the boat slowly turned around and lay alongside. It was a beautiful bit of seamanship. But if you don't quite get alongside and there's enough tide running, you can often sheer across the current by putting the helm over.
A Bucket Makes A Good Brake
Another way to bring a modestly sized boat to a stop alongside is to chuck a bucket over the back to act as a drogue. Make sure the bucket has a robust handle; otherwise it will just be ripped off as it's dragged through the water. But getting a bucket over at just at the right moment can be fraught with problems. A neat trick is to stream the bucket astern on a long line, but keep the bucket hanging vertically in the water by adding a floating fender to the handle. Then they'll bob along quite nicely and when you need the brake, just yank the line, so the fender comes forward, the bucket tips up and drags the boat to a stop. Too much boat speed can make the bucket tip anyway even with the fender tied to the handle, but usually this works well, so practice in your own boat – just in case you need it someday.
Boating Can Be A Drudge Sometimes!
Old sailors often used the current by "drudging" into harbor when there was no wind. They drifted in but kept the bow into the current by dragging the anchor from the bow on a very short scope. Provided the boat moved slower than the current, there was enough water flow over the rudder to maintain limited steerage. Modern sailors do the same thing, although some use a big bight of chain as a drag weight instead of an anchor.
Even modern ships can drudge. In small harbors, where the channel is not wide enough to turn around, they often need a tug to tow them out backward. But in windy weather, they can lower their bower anchor on a short scope so it drags along the bottom to resist any tendency to get swept sideways.
This technique influenced an old friend of mine who had a large lump of pig iron on a line that he used to stop his bow blowing off when he reversed into his tight marina berth. His old long-keeled boat didn't like going backward at the best of times, and turning a corner in a crosswind made it all a bit hairy. So his wife simply dropped the weight in up forward as he swung the boat back into her berth, and it worked like a charm.