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An Anchor Drags and Puts Boaters in Peril

A first-person account of a harrowing boating experience.

March 16, 2020
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A harrowing tale of dragging anchor
A boatbuilder’s harrowing tale. Tim Bower

After a weekend cruising Kentucky Lake, my wife and I prepared to anchor our wooden 29-foot outboard-powered sedan trawler, which I had recently built.

The evening forecast called for southerly winds from 10 to 15 mph, so I chose a cove that offered protection from that direction but was exposed to the west. I dropped the hook in 8 feet of water and settled in for the night.

Around 1:30 a.m, the wind began howling out of the west. We were sideways to the wind and dragging anchor. There was no time to react, no time to correct—we were going ashore.

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The starboard-side landing was gentler than I expected. The high water placed us against growth that would normally be several feet ashore. A tree about 12 inches in diameter kissed the rub rail about a foot forward of the transom, and brush along the waterline seemed to cushion the remaining hull.

Without them, the wind would have blown the boat hard aground.

I managed to slip the eye of a line over the amidships cleat. I then ran it around the tree, and I wrapped the bitter end back around the cleat. But with the tree continuing to move forward, I did not have time to secure it. I needed to stop the rearward slide, so with a tight grip, I held the line. The aft motion stopped. But waves had built from the west, and the cabin roof’s overhang began to slam into the tree. I passed the line to my wife and held a fender between the roof and the tree to stop the damage.

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Finally, our arms aching, the wind subsided. Though the anchor dragged, the anchor rode hadn’t parted, so I used the windlass to pull our bow seaward. The outboard was free of underbrush, so I applied reverse thrust and began a coordinated side slip from the shore until, finally, we could reanchor at a safe distance.

Two errors were classic. I failed to pay out enough rode to meet the preferred scope of 7 to 1, and failed to properly set the anchor by powering back hard and digging it in. Also, I should have acknowledged that most storms in our area approach from the south and west, so allowing a large, open western exposure proved to be a serious mistake. At times, this situation cannot be prevented, and a properly set anchor should prevail. In this case, I had other options but chose to follow the path of convenience rather than caution.

Read Next: More From the “I Learned About Boating From This” Series

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My wife insisted I add a final detail. I went to bed wearing nothing but a smile. And during the entire experience, the only thing that changed was I took off the smile.

Ray Macke

Marissa, Illinois

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