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2011-03-05

And to the bottom bind them!



Sometimes, the difference between thinking you know nothing and knowing you know something is marketing.

In a previous employment iteration, I worked as a marketer. Chomsky's notion of the manufacturing of desire and consent was in full effect. The key to selling most of the unnecessary crap in our society is based on the accessing of that nagging feeling of self-doubt in the prospective customer...the idea that they have a knowledge deficit.

When it comes to something as relatively faddish in boating as "what's the best anchor?", this feeling is rampant and tied to the fear of making a faulty choice, leading directly to a fatal mistake.

Anchors hold boats to the sea floor, but actually, they enact the same sort of physics as a spring. Energy of the wind and waves on the available areas of the boat load the spring (the rode, made of chain or rope or a combination) which pulls irregularly at the anchor, buried in the best case in the (hopefully) firm bottom material and resistant (again, hopefully) to various angles jerks, pulls and strains.

A lot of variables there, aren't there? One constant is the length of the rode. More rode equals a greater length along which the sharp tugs at the bow (modified of course via the use of bridles and snubbers) can be distributed and modified before they manifest as a wrenching yank at the shaft of the anchor. Recall that a wrenching yank is how the thing's going to be pulled off the bottom during retrieval (yet again, in hope), and it's clear how much of anchoring is about the selective balancing of forces.

That nagging feeling can come about when years of successful anchoring with some "traditional" anchor, like the Bruce or the CQR, seem to fade into a cruel joke when the new, lighter, flukier (in a good way), roll-bar-equipped, lead-tipped Wonder Anchors of the Rocna, Manson, Bulwagga, Fortress or Spade types manifest. (There are others, of course...every tenth sailor seems to forge a new type of world's best anchor).

These new anchors offer better holding, at shorter scope, in harsher conditions, on a greater variety of bottoms (not weeds, though...keep an old fisherman's/Yachtsman's disassembled in the forepeak for that) than all their venerable predecessors.

It has led, in my experience, to hearing sailors with long and unblemished years of successful anchoring (as in "we didn't drag the anchor and we always got it back and we didn't swing into a more expensive boat, either) feel like they were anchoring know-nothings; that they were missing the boat, so to speak, by not relegating the "old hook" to the bilges in favour of some orchid-shaped, two-grand chunk of Big Scientific Anchoring, yo.

If you have successfully anchored without dragging in a variety of conditions, then I submit it to you that you do in fact know something. Possibly more than is justified for the outlay of The Holy Hook.



A lot of these arguments about "which anchor" seem to me to dead-end at a couple of points. The first is the marketing-driven contention or, less dogmatically, the suggestion, that there is, or could be, a single "do it all" anchor. Car drivers have (at least where I live) the habit of switching from "summer" to "winter" tires, and benefit thereby, even given the greater friction and lower gas mileage when running on winter tires. That's the price we pay for greater stopping power on slick, icy or slushy roads.

All drivers (except those who work for tire manufacturers) appear to largely agree that "all-weather radials" are a compromise best left to people who get two weeks of cold weather a year. The Quixotic quest for "the one anchor to hold them all/And to the bottom bind them" is equally a compromise. Even our colleagues and fellow-sailors from Fortress, Spade and Rocna will admit, grudgingly, that their products won't do any better (and perhaps a lot worse) in weeds and rocks and certain other sub-surfaces.

The second point is that some old salts (or just new salts who've been paying attention to old salts) seemingly "get by" with feeble, discredited older anchor designs, such as the Bruce, popular on the Great Lakes still, because they a) never anchor in bottoms where the Bruce's deficiencies will manifest, or b) possess proper anchoring technique of knowing correct rode length, the use of chain, the use of kellets, snubbers and bridles and even diving on the anchor to ensure it has set firmly.

In other words, how much of the vaunted superiority of the new style of anchors can be attributed to the fact that they are forgiving of inadequate scope, inadequate chain, generally lax technique and so on?

Could it be that sailors who know how to anchor properly and to the conditions can make any well-made and time-tested anchor work? Could it be that those who regularly drag, break free, fail to reset or drift down on their fellow sailors lack the experience or the initiative to lay out sufficient scope, to rig bridles or even to know that the anchorage is not safe and that they should run to sea?

Speaking of which: How often does "running to sea" get listed under "anchor strategies of known success". And yet it is an important part of seamanship, knowing when to bug out in the face of gear-destroying conditions. It's very much in the same realm of seamanship as "reefing early and often", as it is focused on reducing forces destructive to the boat or unsafe to the crew.



I do in fact think that the newer, lighter, broader, roll-bar-equipped designs have merit, and probably enough to persuade me to whip out the wallet when the time comes to equip the steel boat with a "dedicated primary". But I also contend that it is not always the inadequacies of previous long-standing (and long-holding) designs that is to blame, but the sometimes considerable lack of experience of the person standing over the anchor locker.

As for me, I'm going to transfer a couple of anchors back to Valiente this year and do some more experiments. You can never have too much anchoring practice, and my back needs a work-out!

Addendum, March 19, 2011: Looks like I'm getting a Fortress to play with this season. This will allow me to put the 'venerable' CQR (very common here, as are the Danforth for "lunch hook" and even the old Bruce (every second boat) to the test, or rather, just to see if I can duplicate the results I've seen elsewhere that shows the CQR failing to set quickly. They are going to look at me funny off Hanlan's Point, where the phrase "sandy bottom" refers to the nudist sunbathers rather than what the snorkeller reports.

Meanwhile, in the blogosphere, the bars and the bull sessions, the debate rages on and the slagging is public and intense....and not particularly illuminating.

The line between anchor and wanchor is about 4 mm of Dyneema, it seems.

I would, for my own purposes, simply like to establish baselines which have largely (but not completely) eluded my notice in this nearly decade long (has it really been 10 years?) bunfight over "who has the better anchor?"

Baseline 1: That the various "newer style anchors", such as Manson, Rocna, Sarca, Bulwagga, Spade, XYZ and any I've missed, are, due to advances in design and metallurgy, better qualitatively than the "old school" CQRs, Bruces, Danforth styles.

Baseline 2: If Baseline 1 is accepted (a big but arguably provable "if"), then I want to know if the new style anchors merely allow for worse technique (short scope, no kellets, bridles, insufficient backing down), or work as well when all anchors are judged with the same accepted 7 to 1 scope, bridles, snubbers, kellets, etc. My impression is that the newer style reset quicker and this obscures the fact that proper scope would not have required a reset in most bottoms.

Baseline 3: I want to know which anchors fail or perform worse in what bottoms. The quest for "one anchor" for all situations is false, I think, otherwise who would still carry a Yachtsman/fisherman's...but people still find it's superior in heavy weed and sometimes rock bottoms. The fact that it largely sucks everywhere else doesn't apply. Me, I want an all-purpose primary. Then I want a stern/bower/secondary for insurance/flexibility (like Bahamian mooring in tidal streams, or to counter expected wind shifts). So I want the second anchor to do OK everywhere, but particularly in conditions where it is known the first anchor is sub-optimal or merely "average".

It is difficult to test for such conditions, and it appears to be even more challenging to find anchor makers willing to talk honestly about their products that allows that it might not be perfect in loose silt during a Cat 5 hurricane.

Me, I don't need perfect. That's unreasonable. But if a CQR is as good as a Rocna at 10:1 scope on all-chain, with waterline snubbers and a bridle off the deck and a kellet on a messenger line suspended five feet off the sea floor, then why would I buy a Rocna?

Isn't it cheaper just to learn how to anchor properly? Why buy a product that merely compensates for one's ignorance of the physics of a catenary? People who regularly anchor, such as my esteemed commentator below, have the habit of actually diving on the hook, looking at the state of the set, the composition of the bottom, the proximity of other debris nearby and so on. The biggest problem doesn't seem to be the type of hook, but other boaters who drag because they seem unclear (or indifferent) to some anchoring basics.

12 comments:

Silverheels III said...

After 2-1/2 years of anchoring nearly everywhere between Toronto and Grenada we've only had one instance of our primary 45# Delta failing to reset in hard coral marl after a 180 degree wind shift. It's held fast with a 5-7: 1 scope using all chain (250 ft available) in everything except very fine "ploof" mud which can be found in places such as Chesapeake and Falmouth Harbour Antigua. In those conditions the secondary 33# Bruce on 100 ft of chain and 225ft of available rope has bettered the Delta. Our 23# Fortress and 60# fisherman's anchor have not yet seen the bottom. Rochna and Manson Supreme are being snapped up down here and CQRs are being sold off by the pound to Brits.

Rhys said...

Then I think it's safe to say you fall into the "know how to anchor" group, because you've had so few problems and have not yet exhausted or even employed a couple of what you actually have aboard.

So in your opinion is it just a fad that so many "new style" anchors are being sold, or it is a way to paper over bad anchoring technique with the application of money?

And I guess the Brits know something the Rocna/Manson buyers don't: a good thing going cheaply.

Reminds me of when I rebuilt my Atomic 4 for Valiente and I was asked "why don't you just put in a diesel? They are much safer!"

I guess all those car drivers are heedless fools, then.

The rebuild cost $1,200 six years ago. I've put on maybe 130 hours in that time. Running a diesel that little, and usually just long enough to get head-to-wind, would of course damage it.

I should call it "Bruce".

Silverheels III said...

Hi Marc... the friends we have traveled with that have the Rocna or the less expensive Manson Supreme, have had fewer problems getting their hooks to hold in the same bottom conditions that we're experiencing, and so we are considering getting one too. I have had to resort to the hand deployed Bruce when there is a soft bottom while they just use their all- purpose hooks on their windlasses. They seem to be able to handle more types of bottoms with one anchor... from marl (as well as any can) to sand to soft mud. The Rocna was designed by a fellow during his circumnavigation. The "regular" draggers in the fleet seem to be on CQR's. They don't reset well, but prefer lying on their sides.

I suppose when the "new" anchors came out like the CQR's, the fisherman's anchor guys thought they were fads too. Paying for good ground tackle is your first round of insurance.

However, there is no substitute for proper scope and backing down to make sure your anchor is in. The chain doesn't do you any good in the anchor locker. We have other friends who will happily use a 10:1 if the space allows... and that is a caveat. If you are in a busy anchorage, you may not get the luxury of having a 7:1 or 10:1 scope, you will be lucky to get a 5:1 (we try to avoid those situations like the plague, but sometimes it can't be helped). That's when the anchor really has to do its' job.
Particular attention must be made to ensuring the shackle or swivel connecting chain to anchor is in good shape. We've found that galvanized shackles (even best quality) use pins which are merely painted to match the galvanizing....and they break.

Rhys said...

More good advice, Silverheels: thank you.

The point about scope is a good one, as we don't always have the ability to let out the desired ratio because of the popularity of the anchorage.

The question then, I guess, becomes "which anchor does better with sub-optimal scope?" This is the question I posed inverted. While one can set bridles, snubbers, etc., to compensate for reduced scope, I guess if 5:1 with a Rocna type equals 7:1 with a CQR, and the Rocna resets quicker, it's a marked advantage and probably worth the investment.

I guess the question then becomes "what do you do if it pipes up?". Because then maybe the only answer to 40 knots in a crowded anchorage with everybody at 5:1 scope is to head out to sea to avoid a great big game of "dodge'em".

Silverheels III said...

Ken here again. First of all we pay rapt attention to the Wx forcast thru Chris Parker and many other sources so we've not been surprised by boisterous weather. What we've been trying to say is that the venerable Scottish drop forged hinged anchor is CRAP and being dumped by many sailors. Have a look at the scuba analysis that Paul Shard has done in so many anchorages. He dives on his and his neighbours anchors as well. CQR's do not reset well and many will happily lie on their sides on the bottom.
One problem we've found is that French nationals whether on their own boats or chartering will happily anchor in close proximity to you with a 3:1 and not back down at all. We've asked one fellow who trained in France. Simple he said: 3:1 or 4:1 if windy....any more than that and we bail to a dock!

As far as clearing out of the anchorage and "Riding it out at sea" Only the navy does that in hurricanes. Never should a cruiser do that OMHO. We select each particular anchorage for the prevailing winds and near forecast winds. We like to be near the beach to reduce wave fetch and to place the anchor in shallow water.

Rhys said...

More good advice, Ken. Of course, knowing the Wx and particularly factoring in a potential wind shift in an anchorage is critical, and diving on other peoples' anchors is, I'm sure, instructional.

You'll understand my reluctance to do so in most situations in Lake Ontario, however.

I will keep an eye out for the tricoleur of doom. Yours is not the first criticism I've heard about French anchoring.

May I ask why you wouldn't consider clearing out to sea if you heard 50 knots with a 180 degree shift (and thus exposure to ocean waves, perhaps) *wouldn't* persuade you to clear out...even if you were surrounded by short-scope French yachties?

I am a little suspicious of "never" when I can think of half-a-dozen "OK, maybe" situations in which going to sea is the lesser evil.

Meanwhile, I am seeing 150 foot fishing trawlers making hull speed under Japanese highways today...puts the notion of "secure anchoring" into perspective. The footage is appalling.

Silverheels III said...

Faced with 40-50kt of wind and/or 180 degree wind shift we would move the boat to a more appropriate anchorage for protection and lay another anchor in tandem along with a kellet rather than flee to sea.
Bottom line here is that the ground tackle is your insurance. Don't skimp on it. Not many folks here have 250 ft of chain but we have used all of it at times. Some anchorages have depths of 30ft or more! We always try to seek anchorages with 360 degree protection from land masses or reefs etc.

Silverheels III said...

OK Marc but after spending so much $$ and time building your heavy displacement family cruising circumnavigation-worthy boat (your future home for many years) doesn't it makes good sense to invest a lot more of that $$ and time on developing the best, modern, strong and heavy anchoring system that $$ can buy? We spend at least 30 minutes or more every day analyzing weather forecasts even if at anchor and not planning a move.
BTW we've only anchored "Bahamian" style with two anchor rodes once. Big hassle retrieving the gear and in our view unnecessary and potentially unsafe.
I realize that this "running out to sea" scenario might be the trouble that the Pardeys had in Baja more than 20 years ago. They did not have the Wx info that we enjoy today.

Rhys said...

"Bottom line here is that the ground tackle is your insurance. Don't skimp on it. Not many folks here have 250 ft of chain but we have used all of it at times. Some anchorages have depths of 30ft or more! We always try to seek anchorages with 360 degree protection from land masses or reefs etc."

Can't argue with this, even though it doesn't always seem possible to achieve, either due to the local geography and/or one's fellow sailors in the anchorage.

Rhys said...

"I realize that this "running out to sea" scenario might be the trouble that the Pardeys had in Baja more than 20 years ago. They did not have the Wx info that we enjoy today."

It's one option. Probably not the first option, either. I haven't the experience you guys do in confronting these conditions at anchor, although I've now seen a bit of rough weather offshore (and here in the lake, actually). Access to WX data, as well as the old "watching the glass" and basic sense of impeding changes is, of course, part and parcel of the successful anchoring experience. Perhaps the biggest part. So, of course, is the somewhat less practised use of tandem anchors, kellets and so on.

I actually am not at all adverse to spending money on ground tackle. After all, what's the point of having a fabulous radar if all it can see is the beach?

I'm getting a free Fortress next week that I'll use on Valiente against the 20 lb. CQR with the same 15 feet of chain and 200 feet of nylon rode. I'm curious to see if they have differences in our local grounds.

Thanks again for your knowledgeable comments.

John J. Kettlewell said...

Nice blog. I have to defend the use of two anchor sets, which I have done hundreds of times. The Bahamian moor is a great way to limit your swinging room in those crowded harbors, and lets you put out more scope and still safely stay away from your neighbors. Plus it eliminates worries about your anchor resetting, and gives you considerable back up if one anchor should fail to grip for some reason. A Fortress makes an ideal secondary anchor for this purpose.

Rhys said...

Thanks, John. I have heard similar incredulity concerning the concept of tandem anchors, like a Fortress on 15 feet of chain ahead of a Delta or similar plow anchor. As I have recently acquired a Fortress, I think I'll do some experimentation this summer.

Thanks for your comments. I feel flattered you posted, particularly as my latest issue of "Ocean Navigator" arrived today with your name prominent in the table of contents.