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Old 07-06-2004
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The Second Anchor


When the wind is up or there are neighbors too nearby, setting a second anchor is often the best option.
You've been standing on the foredeck watching the boat settle on the hook that splashed down a few minutes ago. It's gusting a little harder than you had originally thought, and you managed to get a little closer than you wanted to the boat off to starboard. Your mate is sitting at the wheel with the engine still idling, waiting for your next hand signal. The good news is that your transit is holding, which means that your anchor is too.

No—not a surveyor's transit—but a visual alignment of two objects, like a pair of range markers, as close to athwartships as possible. A tree that lines up with the corner of a building behind it, a conspicuous boulder on the beach in front of a clump of sea oats farther back, or the pilings of a bridge. Obviously, it is preferable to avoid using an item that can move, such as another boat, but sometimes this is unavoidable in a featureless anchorage. If the relationship between the two objects changes, your anchor isn't holding.

You make a command decision—put out the second anchor. The puffy gusts might mean stronger weather ahead, and putting the port anchor out on a 45 degree angle from the main anchor will pull you away from the neighbor whose space you appear to be violating. So, flashing the helmsperson a two-fingered, V signal to indicate your intentions, you begin getting the second anchor unlashed and the rode ready to run.


Using hand signals to communicate with the crew on the helm can really enhance the anchor setting process.

After you give the OK signal to indicate that you're ready, you point out to a watery space to port and ahead in the vicinity that you have chosen for the second hook. Since you are in 16 feet of water with a four-foot bow height, and you've chosen a seven-to-one scope for the first rode, you are looking at a spot some 140 feet out in front. For your 35-foot boat, this amounts to an easily-visualized four boatlengths ahead of your present position, and two boatlengths to the left of the first anchor.

As the boat powers slowly forward and out to port, the first rode goes slack, presenting both a problem and an opportunity. The problem is that there's a remote chance that it will foul the spinning propeller, creating a mess that you really don't want to deal with. Dragging the first rode across the seabed also makes the helmsperson's job more difficult and is also a good way to pick up a snag. The opportunity is that you can pull this slack in as the boat moves ahead, keeping the rode out of the egg-beater, and use the rode markers and angle of the rode to calculate your progress.

Since you want to be 70 feet left of the first anchor, you keep pulling in until you reach the 70-foot marker on the primary rode. Signaling the mate to keep a port turn dialed into the wheel, you wait for the first rode to come taught. When you estimate that the original rode is lying the full 70 feet straight along your desired baseline (usually between 100 and 135 degrees off the bow), you signal a stop to the mate and drop the second piece of iron.

"If you have an all-chain rode, use extreme caution and ease the windlass clutch gently."

Wind and current will drift the boat down slowly at first, and this is a good time to dump the primary rode back into the water—if you have an all-chain rode, use extreme caution, easing the windlass clutch gently. Begin feeding the second rode as the boat drifts back. When the 140-foot mark is reached, cleat both of them off and begin your observations again. You are now about 35 feet to port and slightly ahead of your previous position, giving your neighbor an extra boatlength of breathing room. Your old transit will certainly have changed and you might have to select another range.

Once you're sure you are not moving (and since the first anchor should still be dug in, chances of that are small), it's time to observe the relationship of the rodes. The odds that you hit your mathematically exact spot with the second anchor are remote, and since both rodes are cleated at the same 140-foot length, you will be able to tell within a few moments which one needs adjustment. As the boat swings back and forth, it should pull an equal amount of time on each rode, putting equal tension on the two just as it comes through the wind. You can choose to let off on the rode that is monopolizing all the strain, or take in on the one that is slack too often.


Aboard larger boats or in crowded harbors, it can often pay to deploy the dinghy for setting the second anchor.

The Dinghy Set    Once in a while, hopefully not very often, it is necessary to set an anchor using the dinghy. With two anchors out, for instance, it is very difficult to set a third for an expected storm. There may be a shallow patch, an obstruction, or you may need to kedge off from a grounding. Whatever the cause, every sailor needs some experience getting a hook out with the dink—the time will come when you may have to perform the exercise in heavy weather.

There are two common errors made in attempting a dinghy set. First, many sailors try to put just the anchor in the dink and then tow the rode out to the desired spot. The friction from the full length of the rode dragging through the water and across the bottom with this method makes the operation much more difficult than necessary. The proper way is to load the anchor into the bottom of the dink, flaking all the rode you need on top of it in such a way that the rode will feed without fouling. Drive the dinghy to where the anchor will splash down, guiding the rode as it feeds out behind the dinghy.

The second error is not using enough rode. A dinghy set is inherently inefficient, because the rode never seems to lay straight, the catenary of the rode pulls the anchor back toward the boat when the hook is let go, and the anchor always drags a bit before it bites the bottom. So there's usually a great deal of slack rode pulled back into the boat by the time the hook is actually set. A figure of between 20 and 25 percent additional rode seems to work, depending on the depth of the water. So, to get 140 feet of finished rode out in our example above, you should load about 170 feet of rode into the dinghy. That extra 30 feet will undoubtedly end up back in the locker by the time you're through.

So far, all this dinghy talk sounds easy. In practice, however, this is a difficult task waiting to snare the unsuspecting sailor. If the boat, and therefore the anchor and rode, are small and lightweight, it isn't much of a chore. But with a 50 or 60 pound anchor and lots of heavy chain and wet rope, it can be a true test of "sailorly" language skills.

Getting the hunk of steel into the dinghy is the first hurdle—it most certainly cannot be simply tossed in. If it is the second anchor off the bow roller, it is reasonably easy for two people. A stern anchor, or one from the cockpit, however, requires strength, balance, and teamwork. Small, hard dinghies are easily swamped during this procedure.


Once your hook (or hooks) is securely set, you can sit back and enjoy mother nature's daily display.

When feeding the rode out of the dinghy, the tension and friction on the rode tries to steer the dinghy all over the map. This is grossly enhanced in an inflatable in a high wind. Go slowly, keep correcting your course, and be prepared to power up in order to keep the rode straightened out. Be very wary of the rode—especially if it is chain! It will try to snag any obstruction, including the outboard controls, the outboard gas tank, and your hands and feet. A stainless rub strip on top of the dinghy's transom is a good idea, and a rubber doormat to protect an inflatable's tender skin is often helpful. Lastly, be aware that more than one sailor has gone into the briny either with or without the anchor, so exercise caution with the actual drop.

Getting it Set    A good way to start an argument at the marina picnic is to bring up the topic of backing down on the engine to set the anchors. Some sailors do and others don't—and in my view, both of them are right half of the time.

When the wind or current are strong, they can pull nearly as hard as full thrust from the prop, so revving up in reverse is redundant and may actually tear the anchor out of the bottom. A very soft bottom,such as powdered sand or mushy silt, needs to have the anchor bury down from its own weight for a while—pulling on it too soon simply plows a furrow through the slime.

Conversely, when there is no wind or current to tug on the hook, adding a little power to test the anchor's holding makes good sense. Getting a bite into firm bottoms, even hard ones, often means putting a pretty good strain on the ground tackle. Besides, if the anchor isn't going to hold, now is the time to find out. So when a neighbor starts a conversation at the marina picnic with, "You do back down on your anchor, don't you?" Just respond by saying, "It depends," and take another bite of your hot dog.

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