Anchor wars

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New anchor designs do not replace skills

The recent proliferation of new anchor designs has some boaters proclaiming the death of older designs. Some of these “next generation” anchors have performed exceptionally in several well-publicized anchor tests (published in other magazines) leading many to proclaim older anchors obsolete. Leaving aside the often-flawed methodology used in many of these tests, even the testers must admit that they are not very representative of real-world situations. Yet some cruisers go so far as to claim that you can just toss one of these new anchors over the side with minimal scope, preferably all chain, and then back down and you’re ready for a hurricane.

However, some of us with a few miles under our keels are disturbed by this trend to replace skills, experience, and judgment with technology. In the accompanying photograph you can see some friends of mine carefully selecting an anchoring spot in the San Blas Islands of the Caribbean and then carefully lowering the anchor in the perfect location. This was in an area surrounded by coral reefs where a midnight dragging episode might mean the loss of your boat. A few miles from this location a singlehander did just that–anchored in a very exposed spot, dragged up on the reefs in the middle of the night, and was lucky to escape with his life. His boat sunk and was totalled. It wasn’t his anchor that was at fault–it was his choice of anchoring location.

Many of us with older anchors have survived numerous gales, storms, hurricanes, and even tornados with those old anchors, so the idea that they were deficient in holding power doesn’t hold water. But some argue that they were harder to use, which may have some validity if using care and good seamanship means “harder.” 

I am not against using the latest design once it has been shown to be superior to what has come before, but that product will only work better when used with the same skill we used the older products. In other words, choose your anchoring spot well for good holding and protection, have a proper anchor rode, lower the anchor carefully, pay out plenty of scope carefully, back down on the anchor to test its hold, and consider using two anchors for safety when the wind and current may change your swing, or when extra holding power is needed in a storm.

This has been demonstrated to me over and over when watching various vessels try to anchor in the notoriously crowded confines of one of our favorite summer haunts, Cuttyhunk. One regular comes in under sail and anchors with nothing but an old Herreshoff-pattern anchor and the next comes in with the latest next-gen trendy anchor. The wind picks up and the first boat has no problem because he put out plenty of scope, but the second boat on short scope drags and has a scary time trying to avoid other boats and the shallows. In fact, the most significant error I see time and time again is putting out short scope, which may work fine in the amount of wind you anchored in but doesn’t cut it when a thunderstorm hits after dark. It doesn’t matter how great your equipment is if you don’t use it wisely.

Categories: Ocean Voyaging