The perfect anchorage, made a little bit better

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I love anchoring. Most of us do. Whether it’s hanging out on a Sunday afternoon or anchoring overnight, this is a special part of boating. So I’m not going to tell you about how wonderful it is because you know that. And I’m not going to give a lesson on how to anchor because most of us know about this, too. I’m going to tell you about some of the anchoring problems we’ve encountered and how to avoid them and make it all fun.

Anchorage parties can be a source of entertainment, whether you join the fray or just observe.

Wraps

Pale, pasty bread wrapped around deli delights has nothing to do with anchoring, but other wraps do, when they involve waves. We all want to anchor in the lee of the land, where it’s calm and waves aren’t a bother. But the land you anchor behind and what’s out beyond it can make your anchorage anywhere from miserable to dangerous.

Waves can wrap around an island or what seems to be a great protective point of land. That protective barrier might even be very long, giving you a feeling of security as you snug up far away from open water. But this feeling of security may be false. The contours of the bottom and the shore can play a role.

Wave wrap may particularly be a problem if the open water on the outside is deeper than the relative shallowness of your “protected” harbor and its surroundings. For example, big swells in deep water may hump up as they reach shallow water, and this rising may flood around so-called protective land barriers, essentially as waves. During a wave wrap, your boat may be hanging to the wind, which is probably blowing off the island or point. But the waves may hit the boat on the beam, which can create horrible rolling.

I’ve seen people handle wrap by what I refer to as “angle anchoring” or “cocking” your boat. You run a line from an amidships cleat or from the stern up to a point on the anchor line below the bow — sometimes well forward of the bow. Usually chain rode is better for this because it’s easier to secure the adjusting line to it. A lot of experimentation often is required to find the right place on the rode, the right cleat on the boat and the right length for the angling line in order to comfortably cock your boat so the bow faces into the swell instead of the wind.

Problems with this technique include a huge strain on your cleats; more pull on the anchor (perhaps pulling it out); difficulty safely setting it up; the fact that the angle of those offending waves can change, thus causing the need for additional adjustment; and difficulty quickly getting away from the anchorage — you may have to cut the cocking line.

This is not the way to ride out a storm. It’s simply a way of dealing with a fair weather wrap to make yourself more comfortable. I’ve used it, and I’ve seen others use it for days, but only when it’s safe and convenient.

Ricochets

Another problem with angling your boat using this method is that sometimes the wave wrap will set up a ricochet. This can be miserable, and this tactic isn’t going to help. The waves will march into the anchorage, hit land or a shallow channel edge and bounce off. Then they hit the other side and bounce back, meeting the new ones coming in. This can create a washing machine effect, and nothing is going to make you comfortable.

To make matters worse, you can’t necessarily tell whether this is going to happen when you come in to that great anchorage. Ricocheting waves can happen with wind shifts — and winds almost always shift — or changes in the tide, so there may be no problem when you enter the anchorage but plenty of problems later. It’s always good to know your anchorage — get local knowledge or at least determine how the waves might behave.

Wind Tunnels

Fort Lauderdale’s New River is probably one of the busiest rivers in the world, not to mention beautiful, even though its banks are heavily developed. Some years back several skyscrapers were built. Those plying the river noticed a marked change in the winds. The tall buildings played tricks with it, funneling and twisting it in unexpected ways. No one anchors in this narrow river, but captains of boats with a lot of windage, such as party barges and megayachts, had to use all of their skills to keep the vessels in the right place in the channel.

When you anchor behind a chute between two hills, tall buildings, mountains or a similar landscape, the wind funneling through obstructions creates what is in essence a venturi effect, and the wind can be much stronger than the sea buoys are reporting. As winds shift, this effect can be exaggerated by topography or other obstructions upwind of your boat.

In some areas wind can blow over high headlands and drop into the anchorage with velocity. On calm, hot days this can be used to get a little more breeze down your hatch. At other times, the unexpected wind velocity and direction associated with funneling can cause problems, including dragging anchor.

No-See-Ums

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We now move from weather phenomena to creature phenomena. The first on the list are probably the most prolific — I’m talking about millions of them. Not sharks or giant squid from the depths, although I’m not particularly enthusiastic about either of these — I’m talking about the infamous no-see-um. If you haven’t been introduced, these are tiny bugs that attack without mercy and suck blood voraciously, resulting in unbelievable itching and, sometimes, welts and swelling. With some people, including me, they cause temporary insanity.

They lurk in some of the most ideal anchorages, including those in the lower latitudes and especially anchorages with mangroves and swamps nearby. But they are also known to inhabit other environs — even wilderness anchorages up North, I am told.

You can find information about the varieties of no-see-ums at Google University, but all I know is that they’re nothing but bloodsuckers with wings that take them to their prey. I’m talking about the ones you can hardly see that pass through screens as if they don’t exist. Typically you find your perfect anchorage during the day, but unless you know the signs you won’t know they’re around because their prime hunting time is at dusk and dawn.

There are many folk legends about how to handle no-see-ums. Anchoring far offshore, away from mangroves or other habitat, has been said to work, as has anchoring in windy areas. But if a flock of no-see-ums wants you — and I define a flock as millions — they’ll come great distances offshore and in any wind that blows. So even if you’re fairly educated about their existence, they can still get you.

We’ve tried numerous repellents, some of which are marginally effective. If you’re in a marina you can close up the boat and turn on the air conditioning, but at anchor one way to keep them more or less at bay is to use no-see-um netting. You can find it in sports stores. The holes in the netting not only keep out no-see-ums, but they also keep out most of the breeze, so we don’t keep it permanently rigged. If that perfect anchorage turns into a bloodsucking, itching hell you may be able to get some sleep after all, even though you are suffocating.

Fishing Boats

From bugs we turn to people. Many seemingly perfect anchorages have creeks leading inland from them. Often there are anchorages up those creeks. You set your hook and settle down to a world where all is well. There’s no wind, no waves to wrap, no bugs, but the fishing fleet may be another matter.

You will probably get that first warning in the evening, again after it’s too late to find another spot. They’ll start streaming in, anxious to clean the catch and head home. They’re racing darkness, may have a long way to drive, and others need to fuel up at the marina. Going slow isn’t in their plans. These often are commercial boats that can throw big wakes. I’ve been on these boats — both pleasure and commercial. We all share the water together in our own ways, but these wakes can sure tear up an anchorage as the boats streak in and out, one after another.

If you have the opportunity, you may want to move farther from the channel and even farther from the route they’re taking prior to reaching that creek channel. That’s because come morning, at the break of dawn or earlier, they’re on the way back out. If you anchor near these routes, you’re going to get wakes. Usually these folks are local, and this is a daily routine; you may be stopping to anchor just for the night. Know the territory, understand what boats travel the channel and plan accordingly.

Parties

Cockpit and flybridge parties are common when we anchor. If you choose a party anchorage, you might as well join in. Actually, at any popular anchorage there will be a party to join. But here’s the thing to remember. Sound travels over water, especially at night. So if you think your perfect anchorage has been ruined by someone having a party, lay back and enjoy it. You’ll be surprised at the entertainment — or the stupid things you might hear people say.

The reverse is also true. Even if you’re the only boat in the anchorage, there’s likely to be some home on shore where they’re sitting on the porch listening to everything you say. It can be a recipe for embarrassment. But if they’re the ones doing the talking, it can be a great way to enjoy some extra entertainment in that perfect anchorage.

It’s difficult to find good anchorages these days, but when you find one, a little understanding of the situation will help you better enjoy it.

This article originally appeared in the July 2016 issue.