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Old 01-19-2003
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Liza Copeland is on a distinguished road
Choosing Anchors, Rodes, and Windlasses

 
You never know when a perfect day in an anchorage abroad will turn into a test of anchoring gear.
 
It had been a perfect day on Tioman, an enchanting Malasian island with jagged hills, lush vegetation, and white sand beaches. We were diving in the azure waters, admiring the colored corals when Andy spotted some huge, deep blue-green parrot fish. The fish let us swim among them and it was an amazing sight since, at five feet long, they completely dwarfed six-year-old Jamie.

The strong current whisked us back to Bagheera none too soon. Just as we arrived on board and the frigate birds came home to roost, a storm began to brew. In no time we were surrounded by flashes of lightning. By contrast to our day in paradise, we experienced a horrific night, with Bagheera tossing violently in the heavy squalls, bucking furiously at the constraints of anchor and chain while teeming rain hammered the deck. Andy bounced through the forward hatch like a Jack-in-a-box, checking our position to make sure we were holding fast and in no danger from other boats. Their anchor lights at times were completely obscured by the rain.

There was a tense moment as a boat drifted past us. A man staggered on deck, shouting at us hysterically, "You are dragging! You are dragging! Check your anchor quickly. I don't want you running into me." The vessel soon disappeared astern.

 
Your neighbors in a windy anchorage will also be among those who appreciate stout ground tackle.
 
The next morning we could see his boat far downwind at the end of the bay. The owner came over by dinghy. "Sorry about last night," he apologized. "I woke suddenly and was a little disoriented, but the real problem is that last week I lost my main anchor." With no good backup anchor, this experience convinced him that he must return to Singapore for a replacement.

Good anchors and rodes are essential insurance for a safe boat and successful cruising. Lack of confidence and worry over the set of the anchor are not only guaranteed to spoil the next day's cruising and sightseeing, they will also cause disenchantment with the cruising lifestyle.

Anchors  Long-distance cruisers generally carry a minimum of three anchors—at least one main, everyday anchor that is carried at the bow and used in normal conditions, a storm anchor, and a kedge, or lighter anchor for maneuvering. When choosing anchors, keep in mind that all types have their strengths and weaknesses and that no single anchor yet devised is good in all bottoms and in all conditions.

There are dozens of patented anchors available that have their merits. Virtually all cruisers, however, stick to proven anchors that have stood the test of time. The Bruce anchor and CQR plow, both of which achieve their holding power with broad penetrating flukes, are overwhelmingly the most popular main anchors used by offshore cruisers. We carry one of each on our 40-foot, 17,000-pound Bagheera—a 45-pound CQR and a 33-pound Bruce.

The Bruce is known for setting quickly and remaining buried when the boat turns with the current or wind. It also holds well if a short scope is necessary and has proved a strong anchor by use on North Sea oil rigs. An occasional problem can occur if a rock or other object gets caught in its 'scoop,' preventing penetration.

The genuine CQR also performs well in many bottom types, digs deeper the harder the pull, and continues to hold if the boat turns.

The Delta is gathering many enthusiasts and seems to combine the best attributes of the Bruce and CQR.

The Danforth and other fluke-style anchors such as the Fortress are comparatively light and hold well in a soft bottom of mud or sand with a straight pull, which happens to be the weakest point of both the Bruce and the CQR. Where these conditions are the norm, fluke style anchors can be used as a main anchor, which is why they are so popular in North America. But they are not good in rock, coral, or sea grass. They may also fail to re-bury if the boat turns, or reset if the anchor has dragged. They are particularly prone to damage if force is required to dislodge them from the bottom and can even be distorted by a change in direction of pull. Because they are relatively light, and therefore easy to set from a dinghy, they are popular and effective as kedges. They are also the anchor of choice to attach in series to a main anchor, for vastly increased holding power.

 
The Delta seeks to combine the best of both worlds and is gaining proponents rapidly.
 
Many cruisers use a Fisherman (sometimes called Yachtsman or Herreschoff) as a storm anchor. These old fashioned anchors rely on weight, and require twice the poundage of a Bruce or a CQR. Although Fisherman anchors are awkward to stow, carry, and use, they hold like a rock once they are set. They work well in a variety of bottoms, and unlike many other anchors, they will cut through heavy weed and catch where there is only a shallow layer of mud or sand over rock. Some fisherman anchors come apart in three pieces and thus are more easily stowed.

Anchor Size  Seasoned sailors always choose a larger size of anchor, including shackles, swivels, chain, and anchor windlasses than is recommended for the size of the boat, particularly if the boat has high windage or 'sails' at anchor. But keep in mind that you may have to pull the anchor up by hand before going too far for your everyday anchor. Marine stores and manufacturers have reference tables to help choose a size, usually based on boat length, displacement, or freeboard. A Bruce, a CQR, or a Delta that is oversized for your boat will also be effective as a storm anchor.

Anchor Rodes  These should be all chain, or a combination of rope and chain. On our Bruce main anchor we have 300 feet of 5/16-inch, high-test chain. Our storm rode is 80 feet of 3/8-inch BBB chain and 300 feet of octoplait rope. We carry additional lengths of rope and chain in case it is needed. Although ideal scope using chain and rope is generally considered to be 7:1 in normal conditions, in storm conditions we would put out as much scope as possible considering the size of anchorage, vicinity of other boats, wind direction, tide height, and currents.

 
Not pictured are the components that keeps this vessel from moving out of the picture.
 
An all-chain rode for the main anchor is considered a 'must' in the South Pacific and Indian Oceans to avoid coral chafe on the rope. This is increasingly popular in the Caribbean. The chain should be marked with color coded paint or Dacron thread to gauge the scope let out. If weight in the bow is a concern, one can go down a size by using high-test chain, which gives increased strength and much reduced weight. After a few years the chain will need to be re-galvanized to protect it from corrosion. On a long trip this is a job to plan in advance, since good galvanizing facilities can only be found in major first-world cities.

When anchors are set, a 1/2-inch nylon strop clipped onto the chain about 6 feet down from the bow roller and fastened to a bow cleat is commonly used. This takes the load, reduces jerking of the chain, and minimizes noise. A rubber-snubber may also be used on this strop to increase its elasticity. For a storm anchor, a heavy chain combined with good quality nylon rode eases the shock loads, but the rope must be kept clear of coral and the bow fairlead to guard against chafe.

We found many bottoms in the Mediterranean littered with ancient chains and old wrecks. With such foul conditions it is prudent to attach an anchor buoy to the crown of the main anchor to locate and retrieve it if it is lost or stuck. A plastic bleach bottle works well.

Bow Rollers  Cruisers commonly have two bow rollers and ideally have a self-stowing system for the rode and an anchor locker or chain pipe, which can be sealed when underway. Both the Bruce and CQR anchors stow well on bow rollers, but must always be lashed or pinned securely on passages. Many cruisers also have a system for a stern anchor, particularly useful in the Mediterranean as it allows one to Med Moor bow-in.

"Our electric windlass not only saves our backs in deep anchorages, it also takes Andy aloft in the bosun's chair to complete regular rig inspections—he is not light enough to pull up the mast! "
Anchor Windlasses  Pulling up the anchor by hand in the heat of the tropics can be grueling; in colder climates the driving rain is even less pleasant.

Either manual or electric windlasses are almost essential in the many areas where anchoring depths regularly exceed 30 feet. Manual models are powerful but very slow, and electric windlasses are becoming increasingly popular. We changed to an all chain-rode aboard Bagheera to cruise the Pacific, and were fortunate that on arrival in Fiji in 1987 after the second military coup, we met a chandler who was happy to sell his stock at bargain prices. Thus we became the proud owners of a Maxwell electric windlass, although we had to wait until Australia to find chain to fit the gypsy. The correct combination of anchor size, chain, and windlass is important—most cruiser tend to err on the heavy side.

When buying an electric windlass consider the advantages of the vertical varieties over the horizontal. Although the horizontal ones are easy to install, the vertical designs are more efficient as more of the chain is in contact with gypsy. They can also take leads from different angles and have the motor below deck where it is protected from the elements and is less likely to corrode. Always purchase a unit that has a capstan or drum for rope as well as the chain gypsy so that it can be used as a power winch.

Our electric windlass not only saves our backs in deep anchorages, it also takes Andy aloft in the bosun's chair to complete regular rig inspections—he is not lightweight to pull up the mast! It is also used to hoist the inflatable dinghy on deck whether for security at night or for stowing before passages. Most significant of all, the electric windlass makes it no chore to shift anchorages at a whim when conditions change. Previously the heavy work involved with the manual windlass made us reluctant to move except when absolutely necessary.

Dinghy Anchor  A small anchor is needed for the dinghy. Small folding grapnels, Bruces, or Fishermen anchors are commonly used.

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