Anchors…..heresy, holding and handling.

It’s a long one Steve…..maybe a 2 mug job !

This post is about my 3rd main project/experiment this spring after fitting the boat heater and the sprits modification of the rig and that is altering my anchoring arrangement such that i can deploy and retrieve my anchor from the cockpit.

My boat, a Hunter Liberty, is a small, light and quite dynamic little craft.  It’s a difficult boat to move forward on out of the cockpit to say, go forward and anchor or up-anchor. I have talked about this recently in other posts in relation to sail handling where i am also trying once again to do most of my sail handling from aft.  A valid secondary aim of mine was to get all that weight off the bow as it’s my practice with anchors to be over ,rather than under anchored,

My anchor set-up with WABI”’ has evolved a bit over the years i have owned her.  At first, when i bought her, she only had an inadequately small CQR anchor, some 6mm chain and a near solid coil of work hardened 3 strand nylon warp.  Straight away i put an 8kg Delta anchor that i had laying around on as my main anchor and used my spare ‘long’ 8 plait nylon warp that i kept back from the Frances 26.   Later on i discovered very high quality 7mm chain and when the money became available bought first, a Rocna 6kg anchor and then a 7kg Manson ‘supreme’ anchor.  Those 2 anchors , 7mm chain and either nylon 8 plait warp or some weighted warp now form my bower anchor and second or kedge anchors.

I have covered the 2 new anchors in posts before and i’m still very happy with both of them, ‘Marilyn’ as below i borrowed from WABI”‘ for my voyage with Inanda and it was Marilyn that got totally buried that time in Chichester.


Normally either ‘Marilyn’ or ‘Rocky’ are set up with 15 metres of 7mm chain and the 40 metre weighted warp in the bow well and ready to deploy.  I tend to keep both chain and warp in a rope bag.  The second anchor then lives in the cockpit locker or sometimes down below and attached to the 75 metre long warp.  None of it is spliced together, rather everything is shackled and moused so i can swap things around as i need to.  One small trick i use is to ‘mouse’ my anchor shackles (and chain to warp shackle) together with cable ties.

What that all means is that i always have the weight of anchor, chain and warp in the worst place possible ie right in the bow.  On longer trips, like my cross-channel passages, i take the whole lot off the bow and stow it below just as sailing ships used to do and just as i did with maxi yachts on long passages.  While seemingly not a great amount of weight, 7 kg for the anchor and 15 kg for the chain (plus the weighted warp) that’s more anchor and chain than many badly set up 30 footers use and is, i reckon, too much metal on the bow.

I have rarely had to use the kedge anchor although it was useful in Jersey a couple of years back when we were anchored on the beach just outside the drying harbour in St Aubyn bay.  It was good firm sand and lovely to go for a walk on but i knew that the boat would ‘bump and grind’ a bit when the tide came up and the small waves would be breaking a bit.  On that day i walked the kedge anchor out to it’s full 75 metres and planted the Rocna in the hard sand dead to windward, then as the tide made and she just started to float i heaved her off before she could really start to thump on her bilge keels.


Last year i messed around with a different fitting at the bow….essentially a pilot boat/lifeboat style closed anchor fairlead which i made out of plywood, kevlar and epoxy.  The posh/real ones on pilot boats and lifeboats are cast alu-bronze i presume and i did look at having one cast from my pattern.  There is a foundry locally that cast high-end keels and suchlike.  They said they would have a go at casting from my pattern but couldn’t guarantee the result because the shape was quite complex.  I looked into that problem myself over the winter as i fancied having a go at casting one myself but in aluminium so i had to work out different ways of making the plug and the mould. It’s one thing i would still like to have a go at.

Just as an aside here….when i first met Chris the boss down at Calstock boatyard we got talking about something similar to this and he told me about someone down there who had enthusiastically but incompetently tried to cast a keel in the ground, by digging a casting  pit, and had nearly set the yard on fire !

Anyway, just as a reminder here’s the lightweight ply/kevlar version and it’s now done a couple of seasons use….in fact i have all-but had to destroy it when i took it off again last week.   This worked very well except that the friction over the bow was slightly too great and really needed a bow roller as well.  As it is it’s now off again because i am going to try a different approach at the bow.


Ok so, let me just talk a bit about WABI”’ , the problems with anchoring and up-anchoring and her bad behaviour at anchor.

I have mentioned the difficulty i have going forward and then having to work in the small anchor well.  I often end up standing on part of the chain or warp when i am trying to set the anchor and as i have said i don’t like having that much weight on the bow.

One of the main ‘bad’ points about the Liberty with the cat-ketch rig is that they sheer about wildly at anchor in any combination of wind and tide.   That i think is due to 2 things : the wind acting on the main mast which is also right in the bow and added to by the huge area of the mainsail stack-pack added by her previous owner.  The mainsail in it’s bag is mounted high as original (the boom is high) and it’s area significant.  I know of one anecdotal story of a Liberty breaking it’s anchor out in a Scottish sea-loch and going a wander.  I think my boat did something similar once when i used the old CQR anchor just for fun and woke up not where i had anchored !

Having tried different warp and chain combinations i’m not much convinced by the idea that more chain is best as a solution to wandering around.  I think, but can’t prove that additional pressure or weight at the bow from additional chain might make the boat more susceptible to tidal flow even by a fractional extra amount although the greater problem does seem to be the mast/sail area windage right forward.

In one local anchorage, cellar beach in the Yealm, i almost always have to set the reefed mizzen as a riding sail.  On a busy afternoon when i have anchored there, and anchored properly i may add, when another dozen boats turn up and try to take up every inch of space i need the boat to lay quietly and head to wind and not dance all over the place.  Last year i had to clear out when a moron and his family in a MOBO anchored only a few feet away from me leaving only a young teenage girl on board to mind things.  There was no point in having words with the young girl as she wouldn’t have been able to do anything about it anyway but certainly had a major panic when i pulled out and we got very close.


In this year’s spring refit project i intend to achieve 3 things with my anchoring .

  1. Take the weight of anchoring gear off the bow permanently.
  2. Improve the boat’s behaviour at anchor….make her sheer less.
  3. Design an anchoring system that will allow me to anchor and raise anchor while working aft.

‘Marilyn’ (Manson) and the warp bag currently in the back of the pit.  One of this spring’s projects is to make a spiffy new cover for the outboard motor and if the new system works, a nice rope bag for the long warp.  This was the first, extremely simple experiment with all-warp anchoring and deploying the anchor from the cockpit, in practice the bitter end of the anchor warp goes along the side deck to the bow fairlead and comes back to the anchor in the pit…..i’m also working on a new and neater, and more secure aft anchor stowage.


Having made 3 points about what i want to achieve i would like to take this forward with first, a show and tell of what i have messed around with so far, and then a couple of stories from experience and one from sailing literature.

First then my experiments with aft stowage and aft deployment/recovery.

Iv’e just spent a couple of days and nights out on WABI”’ as i really needed to get out of the yard, get away from work and kind-of have a ‘reset’ time.  Also having made some significant changes to the rig i really had to go and do some basic sea trials.  I thought about getting quickly down the river and maybe running down to the west and catching up with Mark in Fowey.  That didn’t happen and mainly because i didn’t like the look of the seas breaking over the western end of Plymouth breakwater despite there being hardly any wind.

What i did do is what i often do when i am cruising locally and that is to move on as many useful tides as i can and that means raising and handing sail often and anchoring/de-anchoring several times a day.  That process quickly taught me a lot about working with the sprit-booms and gave me a chance to play around with deploying and retrieving my anchor directly from the cockpit.

The way i set my anchoring gear up was to use the heavier anchor (Marilyn) shackled directly to the 75 meter (14mm) nylon 8 plait warp.  Obviously the 14mm warp was way over-spec for the Liberty but i still have it from my Frances where it was my ‘storm’ warp.  The anchor and warp i stowed in the back of the cockpit with the bitter end tied off to the mizzen mast.  Before tying off the warp and stowing it though i led the bitter end forward to the bow fairlead and then back to the cockpit such that most of the warp was pulled through.  That gave me one end of the warp (essentially the standing part) shackled to the anchor and most of the warp then flaked down ready to deploy.  With the standing part outside everything although cleated at the stern, and the running end cleated on the side deck i would have the anchor instantly ready to chuck over the side from the cockpit.

It works, in fact it works well except that the first time i decided to anchor ended up as being a messy and incompetent farce on my part.  That afternoon i’d been messing about with the sailing and decided to run past Sandacre bay and Jupiter narrows and anchor in the useful area just to the west and south of Jupiter point.

Just before i anchored i had been playing around with the boat hove-to and deliberately making a stern-board.  When i ‘deployed’ (chucked over the side) the anchor i hadn’t really noticed that there was quite a tide running and that the boat was moving sideways over the ground.  What happened is that instead of the anchor biting and the boat turning into the stream she stayed pinned across the stream…..what had happened is that the anchor warp got caught behind the centerboard and i couldn’t get the boat off it.   After several attempts to get the warp aft and re-deploy i had to buoy the warp outside the bow, let all 75 meters of warp go and motor back to retrieve it.  That’s the second time only that i have had to buoy and retrieve an anchor : the first time being a stern anchor when i anchored the Frances fore and aft at Dandy hole…..just a couple of miles upriver.



I haven’t perfected the method of retrieving the anchor from the cockpit fully yet.  I tried a couple of things : first walking a bight of the warp aft and secondly using a line and maillon clipped over the warp as a retrieval line.  I have some more ideas about better ways of doing it so i will slip out again and just mess about with some different techniques.    A technique i have heard of , that might work well is to have either 2 warps shackled to the chain or one of them (a light retrieval line) shackled to the crown or into the sliding groove in the anchor.  The second line doesn’t come under load but is led aft and is used to lift the anchor by it’s crown or to allow retrieval of the chain.

Anchoring on warp only ?, it didn’t seem to be a problem and i anchored in a strong enough stream to at least make sure that the Manson would set and hold with just nylon warp and no chain.  I will come back to other sailors experiences with all-warp anchoring a bit later on.

At anchor, Jennycliff bay, Plymouth sound.


So, that’s my experience so far of all-warp anchoring and doing the work from the cockpit, now it’s time to move the post on to a couple of stories and some anecdotal stuff i have floating around in my memory.

This post will get a follow up post quite soon as the more observant of my readers will already have seen that WABI”’ now has a petit-prod sur le front bit which is already set up for anchoring off…….next time.

Sea stories time.

The first story today relates to a mate of mine and his boat : ‘Big’ Al and his boat ‘Little boat’…actually ‘their’ boat because i guess it’s both Al’s and his partner Nina’s boat.  I featured Al and Little boat early on in the blog because i liked it and thought that it was an excellent example of a neat little boat that lives at home on a trailer.  It was also a very good rebuild project by Al and Nina.

Just to remind you all that ‘Little boat’, that is actually it’s name, is a Jim Young designed plywood trailer sailer and it’s a quick little boat.  Al says he has had it planing and i don’t disbelieve him.  I don’t often get to see and sail other peoples boats which is one way in which i feel my blog is limited because i really only like to write from experience.  In this case i actually got to sail Little boat with Al and Nina when we were out in NZ for our 3rd trip and seriously thinking about moving out there.

As i remember it we had an energetic and gusty thrash somewhere off Whangarei on a breezy day when the wind was difficult , gusty and unstable around the headland there. At some point Al decided to run into a little bay near the take out point and stop for a brew and their excellent home made biscuits.  When we anchored i remember that Nina had to clamber over the cabin top, onto an almost non existent foredeck : little boat being very much like a small mini-tonner with a sharp bow .  Nina deployed the anchor, a little Danforth if i remember it correctly and we settled down in the relatively big cockpit for a brew.  Shortly after that the boat turned across the wind, obviously dragging in the gusts, Al did the usual thing : let more warp out and the boat settled again.

Al just sent me a couple of pictures of Little boat at anchor in the Bay of Islands….

Photo credit to TC.  Taken by drone camera apparently.

created by dji camera

created by dji camera

The Bay of Islands is a lovely place by the way, iv’e only sailed in there twice : once when we were circumnavigating on CN and then once when we were out there on holiday and went for a jolly on a square rigged charter boat.

Back to Little boat….

I remember thinking that Al and Nina had done a great job in rebuilding the boat, Al is a very neat craftsman in just about any material up to and including unobtanium and i think it was Nina who did the 2-pack spray job in a friend’s shed.

Little boat is a bit like an old mini-tonner in concept except quicker off the wind, she has, as i noted above almost no foredeck and no sidedecks.  Going forward means climbing over the cabin.  She has, i seem to remember, a small anchor stowage well right forward over a fine, sharp bow, again a bit like many IOR boats.  That combination means that she can’t really afford to carry weight forward which is why, i think, Al and Nina have had to go for very light anchoring gear.

That isn’t an unusual problem, in fact it’s common to nearly all IOR influenced small boats that have fine bows, they just can’t afford to have a lot of weight there.

When i had that day sail on Little boat it was in major contrast to my own boat : the Frances 26.  The Frances was a very moderate boat although a very good long distance sailing boat.  I had set her up as a minimal offshore/ocean cruising boat but with very good sails, an effective wind-vane gear and at the time what i thought were the best anchors i could get.  One huge difference that i enjoyed with the Frances was her big/wide foredeck well which is where i stowed 2 of my 3 anchors.  Both were ready to go although neither were right out on the bow, i kept both stowed on custom made chocks a few feet back from the bow.  My 2 anchors were both Delta type as i thought that was a reliable design even to the extent that our own RNLI used them.  One of them, the lighter of the 2 had it’s warp and chain in a deck bag also stowed in the bow well.  The longer and heavier warp/chain for the bower anchor lived almost directly below that point although was also not up in the bow space.


We spoke a bit, at the time, about anchors and although i had some ideas about a potential solution for boats like Little boat i couldn’t say that they would work until i’d at least tried them myself.  With the Frances i was going down a very different route anyway.

At the time i do remember thinking that conventional practice is the thing that maybe we have to escape from and conventional practice in this sense would be an under-performing anchor and it’s rode stowed on the bow of a boat where it was only harming the boat’s performance and was difficult to access anyway.

It seemed to me at the time that a viable solution might well be to do away with the idea of carrying the inadequate anchor in a difficult to get at place and instead carry it aft where the boat is designed to carry weight.  While we are at it why not design a neat anchor stowage system aft and work out a way of deploying and retrieving it from the back of the boat too.   At the time i was halfway to that idea in that i thought that the potential solution was a heavier anchor in a self-deploying set-up (like a Delta in custom designed self-stow) but with the warp leading back through fairleads to the cockpit. I drew a system like that for myself when i was working on the potential Waarschip project….the quarter-tonner that i bid on but didn’t win.

One little anecdotal story came my way at around the same time and i something i have never been able to verify or follow up on.  The story concerns the Dashew’s and their sled-like ULDB fast ocean cruising boats which Steve Dashew designed.  I found out somewhere that they had at least experimented with heavier, and better quality, primary anchors but on all warp rodes and in so doing had saved an enormous amount of weight but notably off the bow.  My example of this with my own gear is that i now also have very good anchors : a 6kg Rocna and a 7kg Manson.  The greater weight with either though is the 15 meters of chain which in my case weighs exactly 15kg and therefore twice the actual weight of the anchor itself.

Standard accepted dogma is that we need chain on our anchors and the mechanical theory is that of achieving the correct catenary curve so that the anchor attacks the sea bed at the right angle.  There are some practical reasons as well, mainly that chain is much more chafe resistant on the bottom than is warp.  However, also consider that up until very recently, say 1950 in at least one written account, it was normal to have heavier anchors and all warp rodes.  Sailing ships up until the 19th century always anchored on warp, and natural fibre rope too as neither nylon or polyester were around at that time.

Many cruising boats today, in my opinion, carry far too much weight in chain and often carry that also in the worst possible space ie right up in the bow.  The flip side of that is that my observation is that many marina based yachts have inadequate anchors as standard.   Putting IOR derived boats aside for a while i have heard many accounts of solid, moderate cruising boats sailing badly and pitching too much simply because of that weight of chain  in the bow.

The last part of todays long ramble through the lost world of anchoring comes from a book i reviewed recently : “The Compleat Cruiser’ by L. Francis Herreshoff.

In his story about cruising around the Cape Cod area L. Francis Herreshoff he has one of his characters perform an experiment with a new ‘stockless’ anchor.  The action takes place in harbour aboard the Rozinante on a usefully gusty day with the boat initially lying to anchor and presumably a ‘stocked’ anchor.  Now, i know that Herreshoff designed an anchor himself and i have to presume he is talking about his own design.  After a long search the nearest thing i can find on the Woodenboat blog, which goes into this, is the 3 part Paul Luke storm anchor.  Just as an aside they used to make a 25lb version and i’m sure i once saw one in a secondhand chandlery on the south coast. I can’t find any reference to a 25lb anchor of that design today although i have put in a form to the company to ask if they could still make one.

The action aboard Rozinante is to start with the boat’s usual anchor and to quickly swap to the new type and see if it will hold at the same scope.  Of course it doesn’t hold at all and the crew of the good ship Rozinante then sail upwind a ways and then try again, paying out more warp as they go.  Eventually they give up and go back to the conventional design.  Unfortunately there isn’t that much more detail except that the owner of the Rozinante (presumably Herreshoff himself acting as character) then chucks the new one over the side declaring it to be useless.

To get at what Herreshoff says about stocked and stockless anchors, and his own designs, i had to go to the other book i recently reviewed ‘Sensible Cruising Designs’ because he gives a lot more practical detail in that book.   For each design in the book he layed out an extensive list of notes about many aspects of the construction including, for example, a list lines for the standing and running rigging, a list of blocks, cleats and so on.  In each design there is a specification for the anchor warp which goes from manila in one design and nylon in a presumably later one.

Setting up ‘Marilyn’ for ‘Inanda’


In only one design discussed in the book are anchors actually mentioned and that is the design for ‘H 28’….a 28 foot cruising ketch.  For that design Herreshoff specifies one anchor of 25 lbs and one of 15lbs, again presumably to his own design.  The nearest boat designs to my own boat don’t get any similar specifications for the actual anchors.  It does seem though that Herreshoff was always talking about an anchor similar to the British Admiralty pattern which i have seen at about 25 lbs although most are larger and always about all-warp anchoring .  The only boat that i can find in the book with a reference to chain as anchor rode is the 55 foot ‘Marco Polo’ which is a much bigger and heavier boat than the ones i have referred to so far.

It seems then that Herreshoff himself was happy with an anchor similar to the Admiralty pattern or Luke 3 piece anchor of today and with warp (manila or nylon) as the warp. He does make reference to the stocked anchor holding at a lot lower depth to rode ratio than is commonly accepted today.  Today for example we normally think about using a 4 : 1 ratio with all chain and 6 : 1 with all warp and modern anchors.  In one of the books he mentions stocked anchors routinely set at 2 to 2 and 1/2 depth/rode ratio’s which seems extraordinary.

I for one know very little about anchoring …..i was then going to add “with the admiralty pattern anchor” and maybe i should have just left it “know very little” but i always like to experiment and find out new, old things, about boats and sailing.  I do know that many sailors confuse the Admiralty pattern anchor with the Fisherman anchor which is nothing like as good or strong a hook.  Some say that the Admiralty pattern anchor is difficult to handle and stow and won’t set or bite on very soft bottoms (hmm….biting a soft bottom….oops ) and i would disagree.  I had an Admiralty pattern anchor as my rock hook aboard the Frances and still wish i’d kept it.  It lived just forward of the mast on chocks attached to the sole there and was never in the way.  At 25 lbs it was easy to handle and i note that Lynn Pardey says that she used to be able to handle Taliesin’s 60 lb Luke anchor because it comes in 3 parts.

Modern anchors are probably worse to handle, my least favourite being the old CQR with it’s stock flopping around and catching fingers.  My Rocna and Manson anchors won’t work with a conventional bowsprit which was a problem with Inanda and the Frances.  I do like both of them in terms of handling because the roll bar is so useful to grab hold of but then makes the anchor difficult to build custom chocks for.



I would like to find an Admiralty pattern at around 25 lbs if any of you guys hear of one. I am currently messing around with the aft stowage system in the form of a bag on slats for one of my anchors plus warp and working out a simpler way of running the warp to the bow fairled and back.  This week i have been messing about with bodging up a short bowsprit for the liberty and maybe using a larger cheek block out on a short bowsprit as the anchor roller.  My first attempt at building a bowsprit and its attachment to the boat was far too clunky but that’s the way i tend to learn.

I’m going to try anchoring in as many different settings as i can just on warp and with my 2 similar anchors on different bottoms.  I need to get the boat out into a strongly tidal and breezy anchorage just to see if taking weight and windage off the bow has helped with the sheering problem that the Liberty has.

Hopefully Luke and Co will come back to me about the 25 lb  piece anchor which i would love to have a play with and i will keep poking around in places like Marine Bazaar to see what else i can find.   I have an idea how to make weighted warp so that it sinks a bit more quickly to avoid the centerboard wrap problem but may end up back with a short chain leader just for that purpose.

Fun fun fun….


  1. Good piece again Steve, thanks for the mention of LB and us, yes Nina did the very fine paint job, 2 pack and me don’t go well anymore.
    One thing as shown in the pictures is that we normally only anchor in shallow waters and there is very little tidal flow to contend with. We have just changed our chain on the main Danforth to 10 m of 6 mm short link / 10 m 8 plait as an experiment we have the same shearing problem as you do which can be a pain. As you pointed out LB does not like weight up for’d, we where 4 people on board when we went to the BOI with camping gear and LB went better than I expected with all that weight, stacked it mid ships which helps.
    I have acquired a “16” fortress anchor we did some trials with it and where very impressed as to its performance on a firm sand / mud bottom.


    1. Great advantage of shallow/variable draft boats, i think i hardly ever need more than 10 metres of warp after the chain goes down. Second part of the post comes out on friday.


  2. Great read Steve, thanks — lot’s to learn as always. For example, I now know that a maillon is a like a big carabiner that you screw shut but without the spring gate. Looking forward to Part 2.


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