Anchors, evolution.

In this post i am going to talk about my slowly developing knowledge of anchors and anchoring with particular reference to the anchor set-ups i have used on my last 3 boats. I left the last post at about the point where i realised that i didn’t trust the Bruce (claw) anchors that i had bought for my Frances 26 and i had a complete re-think about my anchor gear.

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When i did the major refit of my Frances 26 my primary focus was on her qualities as a long distance and short-handed cruising boat and secondarily on making her a comfortable and ‘homely’ boat.  She got all new rigging, a new sailplan and a high quality windvane self-steering gear.   I paid less attention at first to the engineering and electrics but then had to attend to those things when she flooded on her winter mooring….but that’s a story all of it’s own.   I didn’t give much attention to my anchoring gear except that i had a primary anchor and a second , reserve or kedge anchor.  Most of the anchoring that i did at first with the Frances tended to be in sheltered conditions and on the local mud, which is usually a very good surface to anchor in as most anchor types will set and hold.

WABI” in full ocean-going rig, anchored in the Fleuve-Odet.

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After my own dragging incidents i felt i had to re-think my anchoring set-up and my anchoring knowledge so it was at that time i did the bulk of the reading and research which led to my new set-up then and which carries through to what i do now.  At the time i made a few notes about the problems that i thought i had with anchoring…..one really useful aspect of running a problems and defects page in the logbook.   In brief i noted that i had dragged twice with one anchor and that my second anchor was of the same type, that sometimes the Frances would ‘dance around’ a bit on her anchor, that sometimes my anchors were difficult to handle and stow and sometimes difficult to retrieve.     The basic anchoring knowledge i had came from a slightly unusual source, not actually the anchoring i had done during the circumnavigation, which i didn’t think applicable, but rather referred back to my boatyard days.  As a young rigger at Dickies of Bangor i had a small involvement with the refits of RNLI lifeboats.  From memory they were the older and heavier inshore/offshore boats, some i think were the ‘Watson’ class. I do remember looking at and asking questions about the anchoring gear on those boats because it was nothing like what i saw aboard the yachts that i sailed. Obviously i was sailing lightly built and thinly-equipped race boats but it was clear that there were major differences in the thinking.   Sadly i don’t have any surviving photographs of that time but what i remember visually were large admiralty-pattern anchors, large smooth bronze bow fairleads, hydraulic capstans, an anchor davit, not much chain but lots of heavy nylon warp.   I do remember asking an old lifeboat hand about the anchoring gear and he told me several things that stayed with me….why for instance that they still used the over-heavy looking admiralty pattern anchor, why the chain and warp combination and why the fairlead worked as it did.  Little of that i could apply at the time but it made me look again at the pathetically inadequate anchoring gear on nearly every other sailing boat in the yard except a few of the long distance cruising boats.  The obvious split seemed to be between those boats that either never anchored, that would include nearly all the race boats, those that anchored for a few hours on a nice weekend….and those that anchored for days on end on longer cruises.  It was obvious that the boats that really did anchor a lot all had better and heavier anchors, usually more and heavier chain and much better anchor gear up front.

Not my photograph but i think an admiralty pattern anchor still used aboard more modern offshore lifeboats although not set up as the primary anchor.

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Solid anchoring gear and the short heavy bowsprit on ‘Springtide’.

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Years later i had a re-think of my re-think because by that time i was less sure about the applicability of lifeboat knowledge, gear and techniques to smaller and lighter sailing boats that also had much less powerful anchors.  For sure i was heavily influenced by the lifeboatmen because they were the most experienced seamen i knew and many of them were fishermen that would be out there in hard conditions.  What made me re-thing this avenue of knowledge though is that lifeboats don’t anchor very much or very often and they can usually rely on lots of horsepower to get them out of difficult situations….not so with for example an engineless cruising boat.    At about the same time i also noted that the RNLI had also transitioned onto more modern anchor types with many newer boats being equipped with Delta type anchors.  In just one conversation with a chatty and friendly lifeboatman at a Cornish station he talked to me about the newer RNLI standard set-up which if i remember correctly was the Delta anchor, about twice the boatlength of chain and then lots of nylon 8 strand warp……sound familiar ?, possibly because that became the basis of my own anchoring for at least the next 10 years.

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From Bruce (claw) type anchors i switched over to Lewmar’s ‘ Delta’ type and went up a size  (15 kg)  for what i considered would be my heavy conditions anchor.  I then had a second Delta (10 kg) anchor set up as my everyday cruising anchor. After a short period of experimenting i changed that set-up such that my 15 kg Delta anchor became my primary, everyday anchor because i found it easy enough to handle and then had much more confidence in the heavier and more reliable anchor.  My anchor rode also got changed back towards more chain ( 2 x boatlength of 8mm chain) on 100 metres of 8 plait nylon. Both anchors were stowed on deck in the forward anchor ‘well’ on custom made chocks.  The primary anchor chain and warp actually lived on deck during local cruising and only went below when cruising offshore, it did also have a larger hawse which was a ‘pipe’ type but more like a miniature hatch, that was because i didn’t use rope to chain splices but rather an eye splice in the warp…that allowed me to swap each component of the rode.  I did also have a much stronger and smoother anchor roller frame made up but never did go to the stage of having a manual or powered windlass which would have been the next stage.  As it is the Frances foredeck is so good that i could always get in a good position for a steady heave.  What i should have fitted i think is a clapper plate….my current boat might get one.

The second anchor stayed on deck on the opposite side to the usual stowage position of the primary anchor but only had a short chain leader and a weighted nyoln warp of 40 meters.  I did later buy a ‘rock-hook’ for the boat which stowed below and i never actually used although i did set it up once for a bottom (in Brittanny) that i thought would be kelp but where i managed to find a nice patch of clean sand.  I have just recently bought a similar folding admiralty pattern anchor as my second anchor for Inanda as i needed a second anchor anyway.       My experience with the Lewmar Delta anchors has always been good except for one time when the anchor just didn’t want to bite and once again that was on a very soft silty bottom, aside from that i have found that the Delta sets on hard and soft mud, which we have lots of , sand, shingle and mixed bottoms….i always used to try to keep a record in my logbook.

The final stage in my evolution of anchors and anchoring came with my last boat, the much lighter Hunter Liberty, and the changeover to ‘next-generation’ anchors….the Rocna and Manson types which i use now.  My anchor set-up for the liberty could obviously all be much lighter than with the Frances but equally i could afford to slightly over-spec the gear .  In fact that was a necasary feature because the liberty can be a little sod at anchor !

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4 Comments

  1. Good stuff Steve. I was rather spoilt with the big boat 2 ship type anchors and several shackles of 19 mm stud link chain each side.

    We usually did a running type set ie at 90 deg to the intended spot drop one anchor continue along drop the second and lay back on the 2.

    Turkey can be a challenge as its really deep close in and we used to run to lines ashore to a convenient rock but a couple of sets the “your nearly out of chain marks” came up (can’t remember how much we had) and I could also tell as the brake on the gypsy would be getting hot by then !

    Only drag I remember was in Cooks bay Morea when it went very light wind and we swung round and round winding up the chains and eventually lifting the anchors up now that was interesting to unwind the boat at 136 ft did not have a bow thruster.

    Little boat is much easier 🙂

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    1. Where i fall down on anchor posts is that i have zero experience of big-boat anchoring and ship type anchoring systems. I did start a photo file on really poor anchor set-ups on modern cruising boats. Some recent ones i have seen don’t seem to have any bow gear at all or if anything very flimsy thin steel roller supports. A lot of boats i look at in marina’s seem to have very undersized anchors and gear all stuffed in a bow-well just where its weight doesn’t need to be. I guess that’s part of the problem too as most designers won’t even try to design storage space below. I don’t know if you remember this but i once had to do a zero visibility dive in Antigua with an air bag to recover CN’s pick after it was fouled by a bigger boat. Horrible job…couldn’t see a thing….all done by feel.

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