Mustang Sally
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Anchoring Techniques



We avoid overnight docking at marina's.  Many American marina's have docking fees that are quite reasonable compared to our home areas,  but the cumulative dollar cost of always docking at marina's is a significant dent in the cruising budget - approaching $1,000 US per month. 

That will buy a lot of beer!

So we anchor as much as possible.  In good weather,  it is nearly always possible, even when charts and cruising guides don't show any anchorages.  Just look around for a good spot,  maybe check with harbour masters if appropriate.  Harbour masters will generally provide good advise,  but do consider the individual giving it.

Once we find a good spot we hook in.  And we hook in HARD. 

We have 150 feet of 5/8 chain, 150 feet of nylon rode and three anchors.  The main anchor is a 35 pound Bruce.  Two secondary anchors are 35 pounder's, a CQR and a Danforth.  We also have an additional 200 feet of nylon line.

Our hope is to never drag anchor.  That hope is of course a pipe dream,  sooner or later everyone drags.  But we try.  We take our time,  generally 2-3 times longer than other boats take to anchor.  Here is our basic technique: 

  1. We try to use a 5-1 rode to depth ratio in calm conditions.  As the wind strengthens our deployed rode lengthens.  We compute the amount of rode, then pick the spot where the anchor will go down.
  2. We circle the potential spot a couple of times at low speed.  For the last circle we try and inscribe the arc that boat will swing on when the anchor is down.  We use the length of the boat as a gauge.  If we need 120 feet of rode that is about 3 boat lengths.
  3. While circling we look for shallow spots or rocks using the depth sounder.  This helps insures the bottom is clear. 
  4. Circling also gives us a feel for where we will swing once anchored.  If there are other boats near, we ask how much rode they have out to know how they will swing.  We also look to see if they are stern anchored or on a mooring.  Boats on moorings swing in tighter circles than an anchored boat.
  5. We move to the center of the circle with the bows facing upwind letting the wind slow the boat to a stop.
  6. Next we lower the anchor to depth of the water then start backing up slowly as more chain is fed out. 
  7. We back up until the required amount of rode is out. 
  8. We continue backing up gently until the rode is tight.  If the chain stays tight, we back down hard spinning the engines at 2,000 RPM in reverse to sink the anchor in the mud or sand and hook in HARD.
  9. With engines still spinning, we watch nearby land marks for a few minutes to ensure the anchor is hooked and we are not dragging.
  10. If there is any movement,  we raise the anchor and try again.  Sometimes it takes two or three tries to get hooked in satisfactorily.  In difficult ground it may take 10 or more tries, and perhaps a change in anchor. 

    It can be hard to keep cool when this happens - bickering breaks out,  "Damn you -  lower the anchor properly", "you dick, you are backing up wrong!"  But we try to be cool and just keep at it,  perhaps moving to a different area to try again.

  11. It is often hard to hear the other person over the wind and/or engines, so we worked out a set of simple hand signals to communicate without screaming:
  • bow person points to the direction the helm is to move the boat;
  • Point up to indicate move the anchor up;
  • Point down to indicate move the anchor down;
  • Hold up the number of fingers to represent the amount of rode to let out;  eight fingers means 80 feet.
  • horizontal moves of the hand to indicate the anchor is above water;
  • index finger up to indicate the other person should .... seek sex and travel;
  1. Once hooked in, we put the engines to reverse idle position for a minute or two,  this keeps the boat from springing forward.
  2. Next we shut engines down and rig a bridle - two lines from the bows to the anchor chain or rode.
  3. Now it is boat clean up time, after which we drink one or two of those beers we just paid for.
  4. At night we set the GPS anchor alarm and the sonar depth instrument's anchor alarm if conditions warrant. 

When conditions are unsettled,  we sleep light and check our position hourly.



Anchoring in kelp should be avoided,  but if you really like the location and conditions are settled, it can be done.  We have a technique for it that we developed at Stillwater Cove out of necessity. 

The technique is to drag the anchor over the same kelpy area 1/2 a dozen times or more and rip the kelp out of the bottom.   Plough a clear spot through the kelp exposing the bottom,  then hook the anchor in the clear spot.