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Voyager weighs in on changing anchors

Jan 1, 2003

To the editor: To avoid unpleasantness, it is wise not to discuss anchors or anchoring. Like religion and politics, this is a subject upon which voyagers tend to disagree, often forcefully. I thought some out there would enjoy new fodder for their next "discussion."

I needed a new anchor for my Finnsailer 38 ketch. I had a 45-pound CQR, but in recent years I have become less enamored of the old plow's performance. Just as its name implies, the plow tends to gradually dig a trench along the bottom when excess force is applied. This is particularly true when weeds or a hard bottom prevent deep initial penetration. Also, CQRs tend to require careful setting in order to get the rather blunt point to penetrate the bottom properly. Having said that, I've used CQRs successfully for decades, relying on careful sets and plenty of heavy chain.

I was intrigued by the claims of the newer anchors on the block. One of the oddest looking, and oddest named, beasts is the Bulwagga anchor. I soon discovered the name refers to a bay on Lake Champlain in New York State, where a particularly weedy bottom thwarts most anchors. The Bull's sharp flukes were designed to penetrate the weeds, and then dig in to solid bottom. As a bonus, the overall holding power of the anchor was exceptional, as reported by several testing authorities.

The clincher came when a good friend tried a Bull on his Manta catamaran. Having owned a cat in the past, I know that cats tend to pull hard on their anchors due to high windage. My friend reported the Bull bit in immediately every time and never dragged.

So I purchased a 45-pound Bull direct from the manufacturer. The anchor arrived nicely boxed. When I removed it from the container, I immediately noticed one disadvantage of the design. The shank of the anchor is free to move about within a triangle of metal supports, creating a dangerous trap for fingers placed in the wrong location. Once the anchor is on a bow roller, this is less of a problem, but it must always be kept in mind. I advise everyone onboard to approach the Bull as one would approach a loaded bear trap. It is also a good idea to wear gloves when handling the anchor.

The shank is rather short and completely straight. It happens to fit well on my boat, and the rounded shank tends to come in over the roller more easily than some other anchors. I backed up my Bull with 5/16-inch hi-tensile chain, providing additional holding power.

When the anchor is lowered and tips over it always lands in such a way that two flukes are angled into the bottom. With their rather sharp edges, the flukes do bite in quickly and hold instantly. If we've let out adequate scope, the Bull rarely moves after we drop it.

However, we have found that you can't just let the Bull go with the chain rattling out freely on top. It is possible to foul the Bull by wrapping loops of chain around one of the flukes. This has only happened to us once, and it may have been due to a very hard bottom and a reversing current. When we pulled the anchor up, it was tangled in the chain and not providing much in the way of holding.

The best technique is to lower the anchor to the bottom, then hold the chain for a moment until the boat settles back and pulls the Bull over into its natural position. We then drift back with the wind, slowly paying out chain and periodically snubbing the anchor to force it into the bottom. When we've let out proper scope, we secure the chain with a snubber and back down on the anchor using the engine. We usually use about 5:1 scope.

This is where the Bull really shines. We rarely move backward more than a few feet when backing down. The few times the anchor didn't bite immediately were probably due to us not having adequate scope. Once the Bull is securely dug in, scope can be shortened up considerably (down to 3:1) if the wind is likely to remain steady.

Per the manufacturer's claims, we have found that the Bull does penetrate thick weeds. It seems equally at home in mud, and it penetrates well when the bottom is clay. I suspect, but have not yet confirmed, that its one weak area may be a very hard bottom with a reversing current, which is frequently encountered in the Bahamas. On a hard bottom there will be one fluke sticking up somewhat, just waiting to snag the chain when the current reverses the boat over the anchor. The chain can wedge between the shank and one of the flukes, making it possible to pull the anchor out backwards. However, when anchoring in such conditions, it is generally best to use two anchors set in a Bahamian moor (one anchor upstream and one downstream).

When it comes time to haul in the anchor, the Bull comes up relatively easily, at least compared to a Danforth- or Fortress-type anchor. That's not to say that it pulls out instantly. One has to bring the boat directly over the anchor, gradually working it up vertically. When doing this, it is rare that the boat doesn't come to a complete halt for a few minutes while the windlass operator gradually works the anchor out. It doesn't do much good to power over the anchor, as it just resets itself - unless there is almost no scope.

On our boat, the Bull pulls onto the roller fairly easily, but usually requires a little jockeying by hand in order to get the three flukes arranged properly. This is a disadvantage over plow- or spade-type anchors, which tend to self-stow readily.

So far we have never dragged the Bull in winds up to the mid-30-knot range with some higher gusts. The galvanized finish appears to be very good and has held up well in eight months of near continuous use. We love the Bull's quick and reliable sets, and we sleep well.


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