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.