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post #1 of Old 09-20-2002 Thread Starter
Tom Wood
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Anchoring in Small Spaces

This article was originally published on SailNet in July 2001.

Whether you're tying up to a palm tree or a glacier, getting the boat to stay put can put a priority on creative thinking when it comes to anchoring in the confines of a small cove, bay, or estuary.
Anchoring has become an increasingly demanding art. Veteran sailors are well aware that many anchorages which were wide open a few years ago are now dedicated almost completely to mooring fields. Some that were lined with lovely fields and mangroves are now surrounded by solid concrete bulkheads and high-rise condos. Places where a few cruising friends used to congregate are now filled to capacity with hundreds, if not thousands, of boats. Dock space is under siege in some areas, leaving boats to raft up or execute their version of a Med moor.

This situation often leaves all of us with two choices—bed down among the other boats, or move to a lesser-used spot some distance away. Both of these alternatives usually require using less space than we are accustomed to having. And using less space requires a better understanding of anchoring principles.

Most sailboats operate best in forward gear. Backing up for a Med mooring like this can test both crew and skipper, especially if there are rocks or other obstructions nearby.
Med Moor    As marinas continue to fill up, some have begun to adopt what most sailors refer to as a Med moor. The name is derived, of course, from a type of docking that has been used in parts of the Mediterranean for centuries, where numerous commercial and pleasure vessels often have to share very limited harbor space. A Med moor conserves space by having each boat use only a beam-width of dock, instead of the full length of the boat, thus allowing three boats access to the dock where only one would have fit if tied alongside.

In a Med moor, the boat sets an anchor out in front of the assigned space at the dock or seawall, then backs into the opening between two other boats to tie the stern to the dock cleats. This all sounds simple, but many sailboats simply do not back up very predictably, especially the heavy, full-keeled craft favored by many offshore cruisers. Confused wave action off a seawall, cross winds, or strong currents can also make this procedure a real heart pounder. Coordinated teamwork between the foredeck and helmsman is mandatory, and hand signals are essential if the dock is in a noisy urban area. Instructions can be easily garbled by the engine or blocked by the dodger. If you can find an empty slip or T-dock to practice the Med moor, by all means take advantage of the opportunity to perfect your communications, timing, and technique.

Sailboats are designed to go forward, and so most of us mount all of our extra "stuff" on, or hanging out over, the transom. When executing a Med moor, however, all systems are thrown in reverse, and care must be taken to keep delicate stern gear such as self steering, wind generators, solar panels, and dinghy davits from being reduced to dock rubble.

Note the bow ladder affixed to the pulpit. Such adaptations can help you get your boat secured in tight spots like this one.
Bahamian Moor    Many anchorages have a reversing current. Every boat reacts differently to various combinations of wind and tidal flow, and it is not unusual to see boats facing all points of the compass as the water ebbs and flows. In one extreme case, we once endured an evening with the wind dead astern and the anchor rode woven through the keel, shaft strut, and rudder on its passage directly aft. When the wind and current are opposed and of nearly equal strength, it isn't unusual to see full-keeled boats broadside to both, aimlessly wandering around the anchorage with the rode hanging slack off the bows.

If unlimited swing room exists, reversing currents present very little problem, even though the looks on the faces of sailors experiencing it for the first time can be entertaining. In small creeks, or deep cuts between islands or sandbars, or in crowded harbors, however, these reversing currents create a need to limit the boat's swing room. The other condition that sometimes calls for a Bahamian moor is if you are forced to anchor in a mooring field, where all the boats are literally anchored on a very short scope.

A Bahamian moor is nothing more than spreading the V on a traditional two-anchor set until the V has become a straight line with the anchors set 180 degrees apart. With one anchor set up-current and the second set down-current, the boat is effectively immobilized in one place, regardless of the actions of water flow or wind. When the tide changes and the current reverses, the boat simply pulls on the other rode.

With practice, patience, and experience, you should be able to get your vessel in to almost any tight anchorage.
The biggest problem with the Bahamian Moor is from the rodes chafing the stem of the boat and the bottom paint for the full length of the hull. Even if a little slack is left in both rodes, when the wind opposes the current, the boat may well sit on the aft anchor. Many experienced cruisers help overcome this difficulty by running sentinels, or heavy weights, down each rode to the bottom. These weights deflect the rode downward, effectively increasing the catenary and acting as an automatic retracting system on the slack rode. It isn't 100 percent effective, but it does help. Sentinels and riding gear should be a part of every cruiser's storm anchoring system in any event.

There are several ways to set a Bahamian moor. We normally anchor to the existing current, let out twice the required scope to let the boat fall back downstream, drop the second anchor, then haul our way back upstream to the desired position. If a strong cross wind makes this difficult, we will revert to the actual Bahamian practice of the "flying Bahamian moor" in which the secondary anchor is thrown (literally) off the bow while the boat is still moving forward up-current. When the double scope point is reached, power is taken off, the primary anchor is dropped, and the boat is allowed to settle back down-current while the slack is taken out of the secondary rode. This practice is fine when the locals perform it under sail, but every time we do it under power, we hold our breath for fear of catching the first rode in the prop. The third way is to take the second anchor out by dinghy—and I'd rather have a root canal.

Anchoring Fore-and-Aft    We used to hate small anchorages and avoided them like the plague. Over time, however, we've come to appreciate the little creeks and tiny coves, often choosing remote places in which we can barely turn the boat around. Here, a Bahamian moor is a necessity to avoid ending up with the keel in the mud, especially if there is a reversing current.

There is a way to alleviate the problems of rodes chafing the boat's hull, however, that also limits swing even more than the Bahamian moor—anchoring fore-and-aft. There is no secret to this. If a dedicated stern anchor is handy, that's the ideal approach, making the "flying fore-and-aft moor" a real possibility (since the rode is aft, you won't have to worry about running over it). Another possibility is to follow the procedure for a Bahamian moor, then removing one of the anchors from a bow cleat and taking it back to a stern cleat. But you must remember to add another boat length of rode to the stern anchor in order to maintain adequate scope if you do it by this method. The last way, of course is to anchor on the primary, then carry the stern anchor out in the dreaded dinghy maneuver. I've already mentioned how I feel about that.

Two stern lines can keep the boat's bow pointed to sea, which is the preferred method if you're not familiar with an area and you suspect the possibility of unannounced swells.
There are other reasons to use a stern, or even a breast, anchor. Holding the boat away from a dock or seawall or positioning the boat so that she lies head to an annoying swell are good uses of a stern anchor. We once encountered an anchorage so tight that we had to use a stern anchor to keep our boat from swinging out into a ferry channel (and the ferry roared by at full throttle every half-hour a few feet off our port side). Do remember, though, that sailboats do not like to be kept from swinging bow into the wind. A stern anchor used in moderate to strong winds or currents can exert many times more force on the ground tackle, boat, and her deck gear than if it was deployed off the bow.

You may not use the three specialty types of anchoring outlined above very often, but it is wise to have some knowledge of them and a little practice executing them. The time will come when they are essential to the safety of your boat, her crew, and your neighbors.

Suggested Reading:

Using Two Anchors by Tom Wood

The Second Anchor by Tom Wood

Mediterranean Mooring by John Kretschmer

SailNet Store Section: Anchors

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