Staying Power

New ideas to ensure your anchor holds firm.

When it comes to boats, I like the tried and proven. If the gull guano hits the bilge blower, I feel liberated knowing the equipment or techniques I’m employing have had their bugs worked out by generations before me. It frees me to concentrate on what’s important, particularly in a safety situation. So it is with anchoring.

You need more than one anchor. You need a second as a spare, for sure, and for tight anchorages where double anchoring is required. But you also need a second anchor to handle different situations and variables in bottom type, called “holding ground” by the crustier salts among us.

For most boaters, the primary hook will be the lightweight, stockless type with hinged flukes. These catch quickly, hold fast in most bottoms, are light for their holding power and stow easily. I wouldn’t be without mine. But it has its drawbacks.

These hinged-fluke, stockless designs aren’t worth much on a grassy bottom. The fronds prevent the flukes from dropping and biting, so the anchor just skates along in the weeds. If it does catch, it’s not to be trusted, as it rarely punches through the roots into the actual bottom.

This type of anchor also can’t be trusted to hold through a 180-degree swing in wind or current. While it may reset itself, you need the sea room to allow for the boat to drop back on the new lie. That’s fine in open water but not so cool when anchored close to shore or in the company of other boats.

An interesting characteristic of these lightweight, stockless anchors is that they dig deeper the longer they remain set. I had one go so deep after lying in hard sand for nine days that I had to cut the rode in order to leave. I later returned with fins, snorkel and camp shovel. Using the cut-off line as a guide, I started digging. After an hour’s steady shoveling, I gave up hope of retrieval. It’s in Beijing, I’d bet. In muddy ground, it would have gone deeper sooner. The moral? This badgerlike ability might be a comforting feature during a long weekend, but it can be a problem if you plan to spend a week in the same spot.

So make sure your second anchor is a type other than a stockless, hinged-fluke model. I carry a plow anchor in addition to the stockless, but a claw-type anchor will also prove more reliable for scenarios in which the stockless double-fluker is lacking. The only drawback to these is that they are clumsy to stow if you don’t have a pulpit or bow roller. While I carry a separate rode for my second anchor, and recommend you do the same, 99 percent of the time I deploy either anchor from one rode. Here’s how:

Purchase a carabiner with an opening large enough to hook up to each anchor’s chain and shank. It’s then a simple matter to switch either anchor to either rode. Make sure it’s a high-quality carabiner meant for rigging sailboats or mountaineering, not a cheapo key-ring holder. Good ones are stainless steel and have their capacity stamped on them. This setup is secure for day anchoring or any time a watch is being maintained. If all aboard are going to sleep, replace the snap with a proper shackle, securing (also called “mousing”) the shackle’s pin with a tie-wrap or wire to ensure it won’t back out.

Plenty has been written on anchoring technique and selecting the right size anchor. It’s all good, but after 30 years of handling and caring for boats, my own and those of others, I’ll close with this: Go up a size in anchor from what is recommended and construct your rode with at least 10 feet of chain — more is better. Doing so allows for a quicker set on a shorter scope than is typically recommended.