After I first started sailing, many years ago, it didn't take me long to realize that it was much better to anchor securely the first time, rather than to be stumbling on deck at 3 am on a blustery, rainy, pitch-black night, trying to haul-in, then re-set a dragging anchor. Anchoring is a very important part of boating skills. It's just as important to be able to anchor a boat, as it is to make it move, and whilst different boats react differently when anchored, there are still some common tenets that apply to all methods of anchoring.
The main worry is always that the anchor will drag or uproot completely and the boat will float away, sometimes with catastrophic results. The best assurance to avoid dragging is to lay a good length of rode, (the rode being the total length, from the boat to the anchor). But this in itself doesn't guarantee an anchor won't drag, and hauling in 200' or so feet of chain, when dragging in forty feet, all in the above-mentioned conditions, quickly makes most people want to learn to do it right the first time.
The primary objective is to get the anchor to lie flat along the sea bed, where it has the best chance of scooping its way into the bottom. This is the reason for using a heavy chain with a good catenary. In especially deep anchorages, even a long rode will tend to straighten out and lift if the boat is pushed backwards hard enough by wind or current, with a chance that the anchor will break free and drag. An age-old method to minimize this is to weight the chain along its length with what is generically called a kellet. It is a heavy weight, usually with a pulley attached, that enables it to slide down a line and chain thereby helping to keep the whole rode flat on the bottom. Such a device has no actual gripping capability, so even when it touches the bottom it will not add any actual holding ability of the anchor, but just help it stay level with the bottom. A kellet is also devilishly difficult to store on a small boat, being both heavy and unwieldy. However, using a second anchor instead of a simple weight will help the main anchor, provided it could dig itself into the bottom as well. But how best to achieve this idyllic situation?
After much trial and error, I devised a simple method of using my second bow anchor, attached to the main rode, which has proved to be drag-free, even in the most severe conditions.
Before explaining the method, I would like to say that I firmly believe any main bower anchor should be as heavy as the anchorman, or woman, can reasonably handle, irrespective of the boat size - within reason of course. Having said that, it is possible that the spate of different shaped anchors that have appeared in recent years don't need to be as heavy as the old styles, but for me, heavier will always be better. An all-chain rode is likewise better than a chain and line combination, if only because of the extra weight. The main cause of most boats dragging is the wind, and Britannia has above-average windage, with two masts, three roller-furled sails and the squares’l yard, and a large cockpit Bimini.
The boat has two CQR anchors on rollers, one on either side of the bowsprit. The main bower is a 60 pounder and the other weighs 35 Lbs. I actually wish I had two 60 pounders, this being the heaviest I can handle safely by myself. The 60-pounder is on 250' feet of 3/8" chain with a further 250' feet of 3/4" inch nylon line for deep anchorages. The "little anchor" has no chain or rope attached to it at all, and is used only in conjunction with the main bower. Of course, it can always be used separately, but the idea is to attach the second anchor to the rode, in such a way that it not only acts like a kellet, but actually digs into the bottom as well.
I first made a strong rope bridle using a 5/8" inch diameter nylon line, with stainless thimbles spliced and whipped each end. One end remains permanently shackled to the stock of the 35 Lb CQR, then passes around the underside of the bowsprit and bobstay and up the roller of the main anchor, on the other side of the bowsprit. This bridle is 7” feet long on my boat, but the idea is to make it as short as possible, so the length will vary with different bow configurations. Boats without a bowsprit and one easy to reach bow roller can have a very short bridle.
Having set up this simple arrangement, here's how I anchor, every single time for an overnight stay, without exception, irrespective of the weather forecast.
After letting go the main anchor and paying out about three times the depth, I then allow the boat to fall back with the wind or current, or drive it back with the engine, until it feels as though the anchor has begun to hold. I then attach the rope bridle to the chain with a shackle which goes through a link; the other end still being attached to the shank of the second anchor. I then tie a length of strong line to the shank of the second anchor, which of course needs to be at least as long as however much chain I finally intend to pay out.
The second anchor is then pushed off its roller, where it hangs by the bridle on the chain. I then let out more chain, and allow the boat to fall back. this is usually an extra two or three times the depth. When the second anchor touches bottom, (which you can feel with the line attached to it and the slackness of the chain), a hefty burst on the engine drags both anchors along, and hopefully beds them both in simultaneously.
I now have the heavy main anchor well bedded in at the head of a good length of chain, with the second anchor attached to it by the bridle, and also bedded in, then another length of chain up to the boat. This gives Britannia a total of 95 Lbs of anchors, complimented by a load of heavy chain. Is there any wonder we never drag?
All this might sound a bit of a rigmarole to deploy, but it's really quite easy when organized properly beforehand. I can anchor using this method almost as quickly as any boat using a single anchor, but with a good deal more peace of mind if the wind pipes up. This anchoring method can be adapted to any boat using two anchors, and who does not have two anchors on their boat??
The two sketches show what happens if wind or tide change. If for any reason the pull on the boat becomes strong enough, (always at around 3 am of course), the rode will straighten, until the bridle becomes tight and tries to lift the second anchor. If this was well bedded in it will resist the chain trying to lift it off the bottom and dampen the effect of whatever is causing the rode to tighten, while also ensuring the chain leading to the main anchor remains flat on the bottom.
The boat will initially swing to the second anchor, but if this is dislodged and drags it will pull the chain around, and invariably dig in again. If it refuses, the whole rode will eventually straighten out in the new direction, and the boat will lie to the first anchor, and most likely also the second. This scenario has never happened on Britannia, but we have often found ourselves in the morning lying to the second smaller anchor, yet with the confidence of knowing there is also a load of chain in advance of it, with another whopping great anchor also bedded in, but not actually doing anything at the moment.
Weighing anchor - with or without a windlass - is only slightly more effort than with a single anchor. The chain and rope, (on the second anchor), are hauled up until the second anchor appears on its bridle, where it can be cleaned and hauled over its bow roller using the line attached to its stock, then secured and the bridle unshackled from the chain. At this point, the boat is still anchored by the first anchor, and I usually take a breather. The main anchor is then brought up in a normal manner and off we go. A portable anchor wash system is shown here.
For me, the main point of doing all this is: the system has never dragged on Britannia, or any other boat on which I have ever employed it! I wonder how many people can say that about their anchoring successes. I have also adopted a policy of always, and I mean always, anchoring with this method overnight.
There are other benefits apart from a drag-proof moor.
In rough conditions, it is comforting to know you are lying to two anchors, and also have a sturdy rope attached to the second anchor, as a backup. Who has not worried, just a little, on a wild night, if the chain or line will hold or a single anchor will let go? It is also much easier and quicker to use my method, instead of laying two separate anchors, say at 45 degrees. There is no boat maneuvering to be done, and no chance of their rodes tangling if the boat swings.
Finally, if you normally anchor with a length of chain and rope, you simply shackle the bridle of the second anchor to the last link in your chain, to achieve almost the same degree of security.
By way of an epilogue, I will recount this true story:
We were once anchored by my method in Cala Portinatx, a beautiful rocky cove in northern Ibiza, the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean. A Mistral had been forecast from the north, but it arrived in the night much stronger than predicted and the cove was soon awash with boats dragging their anchors and heading for the rocky shore, along with the associated mayhem, but not my heavy 40’ foot ketch. My only concern was keeping watch, in case other boats crashed into us. One small boat drifted up to us, the exhausted occupants unable to re-set their tiny anchor or even motor against the wind. I heaved them a line and attached it to our aft cleats as they drifted astern. Then a second boat scudded by and I passed them a line likewise. 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 its frantic occupants, (which was certainly an effective way to stop the boat dragging). 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 is known to frequently change his mind