When I was new to boating, many years ago, it didn’t take long for me 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 stop 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 attempts to anchor. The main worry is always that the anchor will uproot, for whatever reason, and the boat will drag its anchor, sometimes with catastrophic results.
The best assurance to avoid dragging is to lay a good length of rode, about five or six times the anchoring depth, (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 weather conditions—most people soon learn to do it right the first time.
A primary objective is to get the chain and anchor to lie flat along the bottom, 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, with a chance that the anchor will break free of the bottom. An age-old method to minimize this is to weight the chain about halfway along its length with what is generically called a kellet. A kellet is a heavy weight with a pulley attached that enables it to slide down a chain and line thereby helping to keep the rode flat on the bottom. Such a device has no actual gripping capability, so even if it touches the bottom it will not add to the actual holding ability of the anchor. 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 would help the main anchor, provided it could dig itself into the bottom as well. But how to achieve this idyllic state…?
After much trial and error I devised a simple method, using a second 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 anchor should be as heavy as the anchor man, or woman, can reasonably handle, irrespective of the boat size—within reason of course. It is possible that the spate of different shaped anchors which have appeared over 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. Another factor which can cause dragging is windage. The main thing that causes most boats to drag their anchor is the wind and my schooner Britannia has above-average windage, with two masts, three roller-furled sails, a squaresail yard, (Britannia is a brigantine), and a large cockpit Bimini. She also weighs about 22 tons.
The boat has two CQR anchors on rollers, one either side of the bowsprit. The main bower is a 60 pounder and the other weighs 35 pounds. I actually wish I had two 60 pounders, this being the heaviest I can handle safely. The 60-pounder is on 250' feet of 3/8” chain with a further 200' feet of 5/8" 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.
The equipment needed is simplicity itself, a short length of strong rope, two thimbles and a couple of shackles.
I first made a strong rope bridle, using a 5/8” inch diameter line, with stainless thimbles spliced and whipped on each end. One end remains permanently shackled to the stock of the 35-pound 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. The bridle is seven 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 sprit and only 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 drive it back with the engine, until it feels as though the anchor has begun to hold. I then shackle the rope bridle to the chain; the other end still being attached to the shank of the second anchor. I then attach 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 released from its roller, where it hangs by the bridle on the chain. I back the boat and pay out more chain, usually about two or three times the depth. When this lot is settled on the bottom a hefty burst on the engine will drag both anchors along and hopefully bed them both. At the same time the rope attached to the second anchor can also be used to gently snub this anchor in.
I now have the heavy main anchor dug-in at the head of a good length of chain with the second anchor attached to it and hopefully also bedded in with another length of chain and line up to the boat. This gives a total of 95 pounds 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 with two anchors—and who does not have two anchors on their boat??
There are definitely benefits in making the effort: