When I was new to boating, many, many years ago, it didn’t take long to learn it was far better to anchor securely than to stumble about on deck at 3 a.m. on a blustery, rainy, dead-black night, trying to haul in and reset a dragging anchor. I soon devised a drag-proof method of anchoring. Years later I still use the same system on BRITANNIA.
The normal method to avoid dragging is to lay out a good length of rode—about 5 or 6 times the depth—but this doesn’t guarantee that a single anchor won’t drag. If you have to haul in about 6 times a 40-foot depth in order to re-set the anchor (especially in the above mentioned conditions), that’s an awful lot of effort.
The main concept with any anchor is to keep it flat on the bottom where it has the best chance of digging in, even if it was not doing so when first layed. An age-old method was to weight the chain about halfway along the rode with what is generically called a kellet. One commercially available kellet is made in New Zealand. Called an Anchor Buddy, this is a heavy casting with a roller in the middle that is slid down the chain or line, but it offers no actual holding power by itself. Kellets work by keeping the rode low and allowing it to bounce so tugs on the rode can’t as easily pull the anchor out. A special snatch-block chain roller was available at one time. This rolled down the chain to the bottom with a heavy weight attached, but I haven’t seen those in years.
I devised my own, dare I say, more sophisticated method using a second anchor. I’ve found this to be drag-proof even in the most severe conditions. I firmly believe a main bower anchor should be as heavy as the anchorman can reasonably handle, irrespective of boat size—within reason of course. It is possible that the modern anchors we have seen over recent years don’t need to be as heavy as the old styles, but for me heavier is better.
I have two CQRs on twin rollers either side of my bowsprit. One is a 65-pounder; the other weighs in at a mere 35 pounds. I wish I had two 65-pounders, this being the heaviest I can manage. The 65-pound bower is on 325 feet of 3/8-inch chain. The “small anchor” has no chain or rope attached to it at all.
I made up a strong rope bridle, with stainless thimbles and spliced and whipped each end. This bridle is permanently shackled to the stock of the 35-pound CQR even when it rests in its roller. The bridle then passes around the end of the bowsprit and up the roller of the main anchor. On my boat this bridle is 5 feet long, but the idea is to make it as short as possible so the length will vary according to different bow setups. If you only have one bow roller, a second anchor can be shacked directly to the chain with a very short bridle. I keep the bridle permanently in place ready for use, the end shackled to an eye on the bowsprit.
THE METHOD OF ANCHORING.
After letting go the main anchor and paying out about one of two times the depth, I then let the boat fall back with the wind or drive it backwards until the chain comes up and it feels as though the anchor has snubbed. I then shackle the rope bridle through a link in the chain, the other end already being attached to the shank of the 35-pound (tandem) anchor. At the same time I bend a good length of strong submersable line to this anchor. This needs to be at least as long as the second length of chain I intend to let out. I then push this tandem anchor overboard, where it hangs by the bridle on the chain. Then I let out more chain along with the rope attached to the second anchor, then snub in the tandem using the rope attached to its shank.
I now have the main anchor dug into the bottom, a length of chain and the second anchor attached to it (a total of 100 pounds of anchors), followed by a good length of chain and a rope up to the boat.
All this might sound like a bit of a rigmarole, but it really isn’t if you organize it properly. I can anchor with this method almost as quickly as any boat with a single anchor, but with a lot more peace of mind when the wind pipes up. My boat is more than 20 tons with above-average windage, as it has three roller-furled sails, a squaresail yard, and a large cockpit enclosure as well.. The system can be adapted to any boat with two anchors—and who does not have two anchors? If you use a chain and rope rode, the bridle should be shacked to the last few links of the chain
If for any reason, whether wind or tide, the strain on the boat becomes strong enough (always at around 3 a.m. of course), the rode will straighten out until the bridle becomes tight and tries to lift the second anchor.(Fig 1) If this anchor is well bedded, it will resist the pull of the chain that’s trying to lift it off the bottom. It acts instead as a spring, dampening the effect of the tightening rode and ensuring that the chain to the first anchor will remain flat on the bottom.
If the wind shifts or the tide turns, the boat will initially lie to the second anchor. (Fig 2) If the pull of the wind or sea is sufficient, it will drag the chain around and the second anchor with it. When that happens the second anchor will bed in once again. If the second anchor should fail to grip, the whole rode will straighten out in the new direction. This has never happened to us because the second anchor always beds in long before this occures.
Weighing anchor is only a bit more trouble than you would normally have with or without a windlass. To retrieve the anchors, the rode, along with the line on the second anchor, is wound in until the second anchor can be brought on deck by hand or in my case hauled through its bow roller with the rope. The bridle is then unshackled from the main chain. At this point the boat is still anchored by the first anchor and I can take a breather if I like. The main anchor is then brought up in the normal way.
For me, the main point of doing all this is that the system has never dragged on any boat I have ever anchored. I wonder how many people can say that? I have adopted a policy of always—and I mean always—anchoring with this method overnight.
In rough conditions it’s very comforting to know we are lying to two anchors on two separate rodes. Who has not worried just a little, on a wild night, if the chain will break or the single anchor let go?
I would much sooner have the trouble of laying and recovering this lot when I am ready, than the worry of dragging and all the associated problems and dangers.
This system is easier and quicker than trying to lay two separate anchors, say at 90 degrees to each other. There is no maneuvering to be done, as in laying two anchors in different positions, and no chance of rodes tangling up if the boat swings.
Like most things in boating, there is no hard and fast rule. One thing to be aware of is the swinging circle of your boat, relative to others who might be anchored within your radius. If the anchorage is busy or likely to be, it might be prudent to attach the tandem anchor nearer the first, but far enough apart so it still acts as a weight, but which makes your boat’s swing about the same as others with similar scope. Although, unless anchors are buoyed, which is rare nowadays, it is impossible to know what lengths have been laid by any boat, so it’s still a guessing game. The main objective is not to drag, when others are flying merrily past.
We were once anchored by this method in Cala Portinatx, a beautiful cove in northern Ibiza, Balearic Islands, in the Mediterranean. A mistral had been forecast, but it came in the night much stronger than anticipated and the bay was soon awash with boats dragging their anchors and heading for the rocky shore along with the associated mayhem—but not us. My only concern was keeping watch in case other boats crashed into us.
One boat did come toward us, the terrified occupants unable to re-set their anchor or motor against the wind. I heaved them a line and attached it to our aft cleats and they drifted astern. Then a second boat scudded by and we did the same. All three of us remained like this during a very blustery night during which a substantial motor cruiser was driven up a sandy beach by the frantic occupants. Two boats were completely wrecked on rocks and one person lost his life.
It is certainly worth anchoring well, even in a flat calm and a good forecast, because old Neptune might change his mind.