Our Anchoring ProcessWe might be the slowest anchorers ever. I bet 20% of the hours on our engine are from driving around an anchorage at 1200RPM scratching our chins and pointing. At some point we figure out where we want to drop and it goes a little like this:
- Christy is usually driving and I'm usually on the foredeck. We have a set of hand signals we use to indicate steering and engine commands. Christy steers us slowly up into the wind and when we like where we're at, I give Christy the hand signal to bring the boat to a stop.
- Christy tells me the depth and I calculate how much chain to let out based on current depth, height of our bowsprit off the water, and the range in tides for the coming evening and morning. We always try to set the anchor at 5:1 scope* although many anchorages, that's not really possible. Often, we will set the anchor at 5:1 and when we're happy with where it's at, we'll bring in some chain so we're lying at 4:1 or even 3.5:1. I don't like 3:1 scope and need a pretty good reason to sleep on 3:1. Mostly, if we're stern tied (see below) and in a protected spot with good holding, 3:1 will do OK.
- I release the anchor and let out enough chain so the anchor can lie flat on the bottom with the chain mostly straight up and down.
- I give Christy the signal for "back slow" (which means to idle the engine in reverse). As the boat begins to move back I pay out chain so it's laying in mostly a straight line on the bottom.
- As we near the end of the chain we're laying out, I'll give the signal for "neutral" so the momentum of the boat slows down when we reach the end of the chain. I don't want to jerk the anchor, I want to set it slow and evenly.
- On the foredeck, I have a nylon cam strap with a chain hook attached to it running from the aluminum toe rail that I use to secure the anchor hard up against the bow roller when we're underway so pressure is not on the windlass. At this point in the process, I attach that chain hook on to the chain and take up slack so it's carrying the force of the chain.
- I give Christy the signal for "back slow" again just to stretch the chain out. Once the chain is stretched out as far as idling will take it, I give the signal for "slow to back one thirds" (which means bring us to 1200RPM in reverse over a period of about five seconds).
- While we're bringing the engine RPMs up, I stand on the chain so I can feel any vibration. If we're really dragging, I can hear it too, but it's good to feel what's going on. If we don't drag at one third engine power, I give the signal "slow to two thirds" and Christy slowly brings the engine power up to 2200RPM. As she doing that, I keep one foot on the chain to feel for vibration. I then find something off our beam that I can use to take a sight. If there's another boat, I'll use their mast and compare it with the scenery behind them to determine if we're staying in one place. We usually let the engine run in reverse at 2200 RPMs for about 60 seconds. The force on the anchor at that engine speed is in the neighboorhood of the kind of force the anchor would get from a 25 to 30 knot wind.
- After getting the anchor set, I run a nylon snubber line from our deck cleat to the chain. I attach the snubber onto the chain by tieing a rolling hitch. I tried using chain hooks but they have a nasty habit of coming off if you don't mouse them. And if you do mouse them, they have a nasty habit of not coming off very quickly (which can be a real problem if you need to be free of your anchor but quick). I like the rolling hitch better. We have two snubbers, one is 15 feet long, the other is 35 feet long. Mostly, I use the 15 foot snubber unless we're anchored in deep water or have a lot of chain out. The snubber acts like a shock absorber in the system. Chain has no stretch to it so if the boat fetches up hard on the chain, the nylon provides elasticity before transferring that force down into the chain. The snubber also takes the force of the boat pulling on the chain rather than transferring that force into the windlass which is not designed to take those kinds of loads.
- When we're happy with the set and holding, we kill the engine and keep an eye on how the boat settles. Sometimes you swing differently at anchor than other boats around you. Often times, we misjudge how far away we are from other boats, shore, rocks, etc. If that's the case, we haul up the anchor and do it all over again. We have had a few times where we set the anchor three or four times and never got it to bite so we moved on to a different anchorage.
Stern TiesSterns ties are a necessity in the Pacific Northwest. They take advantage of deep water right up to shore (as I write this, our stern is lying about 20 feet away from shore tied to a tree in Waddington Bay in 30 feet of water) and gives you the ability to stack a few boats into otherwise narrow and small anchorages. People who spend alot of time up here keep spools of polypropolene line on their sterns just for stern ties. We use 200 feet of MFP line (which floats like polypropolene but doesn't tangle and kink like poly and is quite a bit stronger) that we keep flaked in an elastic net pouch on the starboard stern rail. We drop the anchor and set it in the direction of the stern tie. Then I hop in the dinghy and take the bitter end of the stern line, tie it to the dinghy and row ashore. I then climb ashore which is usually interesting and entertaining for other folks in the anchorage because at low water, I'm climbing up a rock wall covered in mussels and barnacles holding on to the stern line and the dinghy line in wet flip flops trying to tie it around a tree without falling down the wall and/or letting go of the dinghy. It's easier to run the stern line around the tree (or rock or steel pin set in rock for stern ties) and back to the boat if you have enough line. Then when you go to leave, you can just release the stern line from the boat. But if we're tying around a tree, I usually just loop around the tree and make a bowline. I feel like running it back to the boat causes the line to saw into the tree. Maybe not but I'd rather not scar the tree if we don't have to.
HoldingWe pay close attention to what the charts, guidebooks and locals say about the makings of the sea floor. Rock sucks. We've dragged our anchor through miles of rock trying to get it to set and it never does. Mud and sand are your friends. Every time we get a good hard quick set on the anchor, I know tomorrow morning I'm going to be hauling up a truckload of mud with our anchor. I don't mind - mud holds great. We don't make much effort to anchor in kelp and grass bottoms. As we head more towards the tropics we might need to but for now we've avoided those anchorages.
ShiftingWe've had the wind and currents shift on us plenty of times leaving us 180° from the direction we set the anchor. Our anchor seems to do really well as long as the holding is good to begin with. We've heard tell - but don't know first hand because we never use ours - that Danforth and Danforth-esque anchors don't handle shifting well. Your mileage may vary.
* 5:1 scope means that for every foot of height off the sea floor, we let out 5 feet of chain. For example, if we are in 20' of water, we add an additional 4' because of the height of the deck off the water so that brings us to 24'. 24' x 5 = 120' of chain to lay out. We also factor in the tidal range and may have to pay out more chain as the tide comes in, or snug up some chain as the tide goes out.