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2009-06-23

Tackling anchor opinions



Here is a reasonably clear photo of Alchemy's anchors and the bowsprit rollers from which they are deployed and on which they are stowed. Basically, I'm on land this year (see previous posts), so they aren't deployed for any reason other than I don't want them on deck and I am clearing out the forepeak "workshop" for painting and modifications. They are currently a 33 lbs. CQR and a 45 lbs. CQR, appropriate for Lake Ontario and the ground conditions here. I carry some 200 feet of 3/8" chain and 300 feet of 1 inch nylon rode at the moment, but will go "all chain" before we leave, and after I install our Lofrans Tigre manual/electrical windlass.

Anchoring as a technique and anchors as devices are among the most divisive topics in cruising. Advocacy of one anchor type over another is quasi-religious, and the manufacturers of new styles of anchors, such as the Rocna, the Manson Supreme, the XYZ, the Raya, the Bulwagga and so on, make fairly aggressive claims, probably in an effort to overcome the generally conservative mindset of sailors for whom the Bruce anchor was a goddamn newfangled devil's hook back in the 1970s. Given that the 1930s-era CQR and Danforth anchors are still in the majority of cruisers (or so it seems), change comes hard to the world of recreational boating.

Those of us who see the current "star" anchors, the Rocna and the Manson Supreme, as functionally equivalent are learning a lot about the "special conditions", such as mud bottoms, that may be a factor in deciding to buy it. Now, we may never anchor in in the Chesapeake, but I can certainly see anchoring up river deltas, and this information is good to have. Also, there is a lot of auxiliary information about rode twist, the use of swivels and snubbers and bridles and kellets and floats, etc. that is great and essential information. I recommend, if I haven't already, Earl Hinz's The Complete Book of Anchoring and Mooring (http://www.amazon.com/Complete-Book-Anchoring-Mooring/dp/0870335391) as a great reference. Next to going out in heavy weather and seeing what holds you, mind.



To my mind, a coastal cruiser, unless mainly on the hook as a matter of course, is liable to have one main anchor and one "lunch hook", like a 20 lb. Danforth, say, on a 35 foot sailboat, unless local bottom condtions or powerful tides and currents dictate going "big" all the time. Such sailors must decide for themselves if the newer generation of anchors is appropriate, or worth the pretty steep cost or the sometimes onerous task of stowage (the newer anchors all seem quite large and awkward, if frequently less heavy than their older equivalents).

For me, readying for a circ, the situation is more ambiguous. I will carry perhaps five anchors in total, with two on the bowsprit and one at the stern "deployable" at any given time, and two in reserve for unusual conditions, like rocks or weeds, and as spares. Obviously, I will tend to have a "main" and it will tend to be larger, as the boat is going to be 34,000 lbs or so fully loaded, and I will tend to favour "one size up". So I am very much in the category of wanting both superior holding power and quick resetting. One way or another, I am likely to buy a largish, and quite likely a newer design. I will also use a bridle, snubbers and adequate, all-chain rode. Because I will have the capacity to carry it, I will have the tendency to deploy any and all means to aid whatever anchor I use to the best of my ability to accomplish the task of keeping the boat where I want it to be.

But I sure as hell won't be chucking my CQR or my Bruce. I know they work, and I can see in a protected or a calm situation just chucking them over with a rope rode because it will halve the time I spend retrieving and stowing them later. It's called a "main" anchor (formerly "best bower", I suppose!), but that doesn't necessarily mean it's the ground tackle most commonly deployed, at least aboard a passagemaker.

Anchor tests, of which I have read quite a few to this point, are a different beast. The "modern" anchors always seem to shine here, because they dig in so well that they don't break free until some truly awesome force (as measured by dynamometer) is applied.

I suppose if you are anchored in a wind tunnel, this is a meaningful test. But straight line pull tests are as limited as "gas mileage" tests...they never replicate the real, dynamic world!

Is the "best" anchor the one that holds fast in a situation that never occurs, such as a straight line reversal?

Or is an anchor that perhaps breaks free sooner in a straight line, but holds (and resets) quickly in a dynamic situation better?

Most anchoring most of the time is of the casual type. When an anchor fails this test, it's news. The sort of anchoring that is critical, such as during a prolonged squall with a wind shift, is less common, and one would hope that the anchor choice, if not the absolute best available, is picked at a weight, scope and known ability to reset after undergoing a jerking, shearing load such as a squall or a gusting wind shift combined with a confused sea state can produce.

All anchors can hold under the right conditions, and all anchors can fail under severe conditions. Certain anchors on certain bottoms are known to skip or otherwise fail to reset if broken free. This is why I don't know why I see really large Danforths, because I associate them closely with the "calm water/lunch hook" concept, but presumably in some bottoms they hold well enough and the folding aspect is attractive.

But there are still no shortcuts and no magic bullets.

I think that some of the newer designs have great promise and are continuing to build reputation based on real life use, not marketing and frankly not nearly useless tests of high artificiality. The suitability of the newer designs, however, does not render the older, proven models (Bruce, CQR, etc.) useless, ineffectual junk. There are cases for carrying them, I still think, and I am as yet unpersuaded that there is "one" do it all anchor. There may be one "do most of better, most of the time, in most of the bottom conditions, when sized up and bridled"... and we have two years to make that determination.

Speaking of anchors, I read a fascinating pictorial set in Antarctica in which the inventor of the Rocna anchor went for a pretty impressive cruise: http://www.petersmith.net.nz/photos/antarctica-1.php

His boat's about 10 feet bigger than ours and is aluminum. It looks pretty bloody capable and I'm going to steal some ideas!

Adventures in the Gulf Stream and the Repair Bay

The Ontario 32 Veleda IV at anchor. Photo (c) http://www.veledaiv.ca

You know, I've read that while hundreds of thousands of people cruise coastal waters and live aboard at dock or mooring, the number of people actively on passage (or preparing to do so) from a given area at any one time is quite low.

The Millards on Veleda IV ran into Ken and Lynn on Silverheels III (friends of ours who went a-Bahama-ing last September) as they were preparing to head to Chesapeake for the hurricane season. Ken and Lynn forwarded the Millards' call for crew to myself and Mrs. Alchemy, knowing we were looking for "real" sea hours for both the experience and to qualify for stuff like the RYA. As I've followed the Millard's blog on and off for years, and as Judy was once my dentist (more small worldliness), they were a semi-known quantity. They were also quite involved in the local Power Squadron, and Aubrey's ex-Navy, so they can be reasonably assumed to have a high degree of seamanship skills. It turns out that Judy damaged her knee falling off a Caribbean scooter, and while she got back to Toronto and a summer of healing all right, her husband needed crew to get their boat back to Canadian waters.

So it was a good fit. I would've gone myself had I not been working and had the delivery been a week later. But I understand that "a week later" at the beginning of hurricane season is a throw of the dice, and so my wife left May 31 in the dark for a somewhat haphazard series of increasingly "island time" flights to Eleuthera, Bahamas.

I think what can be learned from this for anyone seeking to be delivery crew is that crewing opportunities can arise quite quickly (particularly the juicy downwind ones with the Gulf Stream adding a few knots in the right direction!). One has to be flexible and should have a bag packed and one's papers/travel documents/inocculations must be in order. When the call came, my wife was unemployed at everything but being a mother and renovating the house for tenants (not minor in terms of work, mind you!), and I work from home, so we had the option with only minor adjustments to seize at these opportunities.

Others would have to schedule crewing during holidays or unpaid leave...this is less attractive, naturally. For us, it means the floors won't be redone until July...but that was well worth a thousand sea miles of experience in the Atlantic.

Well, it didn't quite turn out to be a due-north dash in the Gulf Stream for New York City, but such, it appears, are the ways of the sea.

After (eventually) getting to the boat in one piece, my wife awoke the next day to the beauty of the Bahamas, a place she's never been (nor have I):

What is it? Dunno, but it's a nice shade of blue.

Now, S/V Veleda had been out for 11 years, and some of her bits and pieces are original (over 30 years). This becomes important later on. Just before the boat was going to jump off into the Atlantic, the boom broke due to corrosion at the boom bail. Undaunted, the skipper set course for Florida (and a new boom) under an assy spinnaker and a poled-out genny.

Crap to windward, but acceptable aft of it.

The three-day passage gave Becky (aka Mrs. Alchemy) plenty of watch-standing experience and the chance to see some of the typical Floridian summertime weather.

I've seen a single waterspiut. Apparently, they are a near-daily thing in this part of the sea.
After time spent in Florida waiting for the repair gods to smile upon their enterprise, they had the new boom "professionally" installed by a rigger who, finding their gooseneck slightly narrow, broke the casting.

So down went the uninstalled boom, lashed on deck, and up went the two headsails again for a trip north.

After that, the one-year-old fridge quit, and the bilge pump failed (turned out it was just clogged). Then the propshaft (a mere six years old) broke, killing all forward propulsion.
Chart capture (c) Wally Moran

Then the freighter came when they were engineless and becalmed...in the rather difficult approach to Charleston Harbour.

We're renaming this vessel "Bob".

But everyone (after a pricey "Sea-Tow") eventually made it into Charleston safe and sound. There Veleda sits, on the hard and awaiting some further repairs before heading for NYC and the Erie Canal in about a month's time.

I think the skipper needs some R and R from his "retirement"! He's back in Toronto now, but will get the boat back in the South Carolina waters shortly.

Becky learned a lot despite (or because of) some of the equipment mishaps, and found the whole experience of great benefit looking forward to our own trip. She also had few problems with crew rotation or standing watches (the lightning at night helped to keep her awake) and having seen some fairly swampy parts of Florida, the flashy montages of CSI: Miami are no longer persuasive.

So I encourage prospective world cruisers to crew, because your education will come in many forms, all of which will likely bear fruit in your own adventures.