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Old 12-05-2008
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Anchoring question - what went right, what went wrong?

Hi all,
Some of you may know that we're currently on our search for a "new to us" boat. Of course, the different boats we've looked at each have different types of ground tackle on board. This won't affect our purchase decision, but it brought to mind an anchoring experience last summer chartering on the Chesapeake--what went right, what went wrong, and what we could have done differently.

In June 2008, my wife and I chartered a Pearson 36-2 for a couple of weeks (it was actually our honeymoon). About 8 days into the charter, we sailed from St. Michaels, MD to the South River, where we ended up droping the hook in nice open acnhorage where we'd have good wave protection, but still a nice breeze in the hot summer night.

However, we listened to the weather on the VHF, and found that severe squalls were headed our way, and we felt our location was too open. So we picked up the anchor and motored up river to a well-protected, narrow, creek (it's sometimes used as a hurricane hole). It's a mud bottom.

The boat had a good-sized Danforth anchor on the bow with about 25 feet of chain and plenty of rode (though it was unmarked), and that's what we used to anchor. I believe the anchor was well-set. We're careful about not piling on the rode, gently backing to get it to grab, waiting a bit and then backing hard to dig in. We had at least 7:1 scope out.

As the squalls approached, we put on our foul-weather gear and waited under the dodger. The sky was black to the NW, but the wind was only about 5 knots out of the SE. We didn't have radar, but we could check the weather radar images from my phone. We kept refreshing the image to see how it was progressing--there was a lot of "yellow and red" headed our way.

As the storm got very close, the wind shifted 180 degrees almost instantaneously, still only at about 5 knots. It did not "clock around". The boat turned beam to the wind, and drifted right over our anchor as the wind began to pick up. Right about the time that the anchor line should have grabbed the bow, the squall hit. Winds jumped to over 40 knots out of the NW.

By this time, I had the engine running. I didn't want to be caught off-guard in this very small creek if we dragged. And that's exactly what happened. We dragged, I would estimate, about 100 feet before the Danforth grabbed again. That doesn't sound like much, but this was a very small creek. A tragedy? Of course not--not even that dramatic, although I almost needed to change my pants a few times while the squall was raging, and we were very close to shoal water. But afterwards it made me evaluate the situation...

What went right: My wife and I were unharmed, the boat was undamaged, and ultimately our anchor held. We had plenty of rode out, and were in a protected anchorage (not much wave action, just wind). We were "prepared" in that we had our foul weather gear on (good thing because we got soaked in the cockpit and very COLD even with the gear on. The engine was running in case we needed to motor very quickly, though I don't know if we could have maintained control in that wind. We were able to possibly take a little load off the anchor though.

What went wrong: Well, we dragged anchor! The downside to a small creek is that if you do drag, you cab be aground in short order. The Danforth held in mud when set, but it just could not cope with a 180 degree reverse pull without taking it's time resetting. This isn't surprising, but we had the trifecta of issues that caused a specific scenario that the Danforth has a problem with.

So this brought me to the question, what could I have done better? This wasn't my boat or my gear, so not much I could do there. Here are some things I was thinking:

I could have set a 2nd anchor before the squalls hit, also from the bow. I would have set them both "mid-stream", so neither would have let us hit shore. My thinking is that it would be unlikely for them both to experience that "reverse pull". The second anchor on the boat was another Danforth (I prefer anchors of different types, but that's another thread), and was available to use. I didn't think we needed it, because we had already been through a really nasty storm in a much more open anchorage earlier on this same trim and the anchor held rock solid. But I didn't anticipate the 180 degree reversal.

Is there anything else I could have done? If two different types of anchors had been available on the boat, what type should that second anchor have been (instead of Danforth), and should I have used that instead?

Please feel free to make suggestions, as I'd like to learn from the experience. I kept thinking--what if the squalls had come through at 3am, and we were sleeping, and the anchor had not grabbed again after it dragged?

I appreciate your advice (please be gentle). I hope you don't mind the long story...
-J
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