Anchoring 101 (Part 2)
07 February 2010
So it is somewhat fortuitous that I decided to do a couple of posts on anchoring as we've had some interesting adventures in the last couple of days. In Part 1 I spoke a bit about the basic principles of anchoring. I want to talk a bit more in this post about some practical aspects of anchoring.
Anchoring is a big deal; your safety and comfort depend on the security of your anchoring. Indeed, in a cruising environment with lots of other boats around, it is not only your safety but that of others at stake. Cruisers are very covetous of their "space" and it's very common, upon entering a new anchorage for the captains to come up on deck, tromp to the bow and glare at the interloper. And, you'll be told if the offending new comer is too close to the neighbours. It's intimidating and brings out the worst in otherwise soft spoken cruisers.
Anyway, choosing your anchorage is critical. What's the bottom like? Will the winds shift? Is there tidal current to contend with? Is there a tide height difference to allow for? Is there a blow forecast? What are the characteristics of your boat compared to your neighbouring boats? Etc. Etc. The latter is one we are careful about. Our boat has a lot of windage and freeboard and moves around quite a bit at anchor. Other more traditional, full keel boats, tend to stay put. So you've got to allow for your movement and that in comparison to others around you.
Suffice it to say that anchoring is part art, part science and a lot of luck.
Setting the anchor is quite production. You putter into the anchorage, take a look around, find a spot and ensure that there is sufficient swing room. You put the bow of the boat in the spot where you want the anchor to hook and drop the anchor, while allowing the boat to back away from the just dropped anchor as you pay out the anchor line. When you think you have sufficient line for the conditions (recall the normal 5 to 1 rule) you snub the line and wait for it to dig in. I always give the boat a big burst of reverse to really get it to dig in. They you take bearings of where you are and wait to see if the boat is dragging. Often (as was portrayed in the picture in the former post, you leave on your anchor alarm or navigation software to ensure you are not moving. They, you hope for a good night sleep without interruption from a subtle change n the conditions which only a Captain can detect.
So back to the opening line. We left Islamorada Key on Friday because there was a front coming and this as with many of the anchorages on the "inside" of the Keys is exposed to west and northwest winds. We consult our various cruising guides and find a little hidey hole in a place called Snake Creek. Its in a secondary creek off a main passage and we hope there are not other boats here because it is a very small anchorage and we see other sailboats heading for refuge as well. The entrance to this creek is challenging and we bump bottom but force our way in and around the turn finding that there is no one else in this spot. It is getting very blustery so we're glad to get in. While this is a very protected spot, there is a significant tidal current meaning that the boat is going to be heading in one direction for six and a half hours or so and then turn in the other direction when the tide changes. The creek is barely two boat lengths wide so there's really not enough room to allow the boat to simply turn on its anchor with any amount of scope out so it's quite dicey. The winds abate a bit ad Friday night is not too bad although I'm up most of the night because I'm waiting for the boat to turn with the tide and don't want it to run into the shore. As well, there's a lot of small fishing boats charging up and down this creek at breakneck speeds and all hours of the day and night. Another cruising boat comes in but anchors well away from us so we are not worried about him.
Around midnight a twenty foot or so centre console, high powered boat comes flying by and just misses us but actually catches the other sailboat's anchor chain and we find out the next day, hit's the hull of that boat. This is unnerving and between the boat swinging and worrying about crazy late night boaters, I barely sleep. The front is predicted to come through last Friday night and it does with lots of rain and lightning but not too much wind.
On Saturday, the wind picks up and we are moving quite a bit with the conflict between the wind and the current so I decide to put out a second, stern anchor. This can be tricky as with two opposing anchors out you can get into a great mess of boating macramé. And this anchor has to be set by dinghy. But we get it set down stream and it holds Sea Sharp's stern into the wind and prevents the current from kicking us around. I worry about boats hitting the anchor lines, in particular the stern one which has about ten feet of chain but then the rest is rope so it does not drop away from the surface as quickly and under tension actually comes up closer to the surface.
The wind starts piping up and Saturday night it really howls. The boat strains against both anchors and there are lots of creaks and groans. If one starts dragging we are in a real pickle. Its one thing to retrieve and reset one anchor but with two out it becomes a real nightmare. Anyway, another restless night but our anchoring prowess is proven and we don't move a bit. We wake up on Sunday to continuing brisk winds and colder weather but we have been safe and sound on our anchor(s).
Anyway, you can rest easy, there will not be an Anchoring 101 Part 3.