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Anchoring reality in a crowded world

At anchor, with the boat moving with the swell and currents and the wind howling in the rigging as a storm front moves through, you are back with your ancestral memories before you were cut off from nature.

If your idea of cruising is to go from marina to marina, stop reading and turn the page. This article is for cruisers who don’t think air conditioning is the staff of life, and want to see and feel the sea in all its primal glory. At anchor, with the boat moving with the swell and currents and the wind howling in the rigging as a storm front moves through, you are back with your ancestral memories before you were cut off from nature.

In the golden olden days, there were fewer people and few yachts. It was customary for the first yacht to reach the anchorage to take as much space as the skipper wanted and for later-arriving boats to respect that space. That is why the curmudgeon on his sailboat with a 10-to-1 scope of nylon line glowers at you — and maybe worse — if you dare anchor within any reasonable distance of his boat. After all, he got up at 5 a.m. to get that precise spot and, in his mind, he owns it. Well, he’d better stand by to be ignored in a crowded world; much better to enjoy the anchorage by recognizing reality and using as little scope as conditions allow.

For a trawler that’s going to spend time in a tight anchorage the principal variables to be considered are the windage and displacement of the boat, currents and sea state. The calculation is complex — for example, the load from windage increases with the square of the wind speed. There are good books on how to choose ground tackle. (Try “The Complete Book of Anchoring and Mooring” by Earl Hinz, Cornell Maritime Press, , or “Nigel Calder’s Cruising Handbook” available at West Marine, .)

This article sums it all up with this advice: put the biggest and strongest ground tackle on your trawler that will fit. With the right stuff properly deployed, the sound and fury of a 30-knot line squall blowing through will hold no terror for you. The boats around you anchored with “lunch hooks” will be dragging, their skippers madly trying to save their vessels from the indignity of being blown onto a lee shore.

First the anchor. Mariners endlessly debate the merits of various anchor designs and will fiercely defend their preferences, no matter the evidence. Over the years I’ve had quite a few of them, but I was particularly influenced by tests published in Powerboat Reports when I chose the French-designed Spade for Maramor, my Grand Banks 42. From the inset picture of Maramor’s ground tackle you can see that the upper surface of the fluke is concave, with a plow-like keel underneath. Fifty percent of its weight is concentrated at the tip. Experience on Maramor, which weighs in fully loaded at about 40,000 pounds, has proven the Spade very effective in the heavy mud or sand likely to be encountered in our New England cruising grounds.

The Spade is available in either steel or aluminum. On the theory that the surface area of the anchor’s flukes contributes to its holding power much more than its weight, I chose a 33-pound aluminum model. It is the biggest anchor that will stow on Maramor’s bow pulpit, but isn’t so heavy that it is difficult to handle. If this anchor were made of steel it would weigh 66 pounds.

The Spade replaced a smaller steel Lewmar Delta, which I also found to be quite satisfactory in New England conditions. Here is a bit of heresy: Empirical data favors the Delta over the beloved and fiercely defended Lewmar CQR, and the Delta is much less expensive. Maramor also carries an aluminum Fortress stowed below, but I have never had occasion to break it out.

There is much debate over the advisability of attaching your anchor rode to an anchor swivel. Again, I am going to sidestep the debate since an improved swivel design has rendered the objections largely moot. Attached to Maramor’s chain rode is a “WASI Powerball.” The ball-joint construction is extremely strong, exceeds the tensile strength of the chain rode, and permits side loading.

I’m sure you’re familiar with the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS). The German equivalent is Germanischer Lloyd, and the WASI Powerball was tested under GL observation until the chain broke. The WASI has a GL “Type Approval Certificate,” which from a practical point of view not only gives the yachtsman assurances of the appropriateness of the materials used, the manufacturing process and the design, but also satisfies underwriters and authorities in respect to the owner’s due diligence should it fail in extreme conditions.

I am writing this article on board Maramor, anchored at Tarpaulin Cove on the eastern side of NaushonIsland opposite Martha’s Vineyard to the east. There are 18 yachts in the anchorage of The Corinthians, a virtual yacht club of experienced yachtsmen on their annual cruise. In total overnight there were 30 yachts, including a schooner in excess of 130 feet. When we arrived on a glorious Sunday there were many more day boaters. All day it blew 15 to 20 from the east, so everyone’s rode was extended.

That brings me to the subject of the anchor rode. Maramor has 250 feet of 3/8-inch high-tensile chain, and I have found that 4-to-1 scope (adjusted for water depth) of all-chain rode coupled with the large Spade anchor is sufficient to secure her in a line squall gusting to 30 knots and roaring through a protected anchorage with good holding ground. By protected I mean an anchorage with little fetch in the storm’s direction so that there is no great dynamic load imposed by wave action. When conditions are mild, 3-to-1 scope (adjusted for water depth) works with this arrangement in a tight anchorage.

The adjustment for water depth is a function of the weight of the chain deployed, which increases with water depth. As the weight increases so, too, does the force needed to stretch the catenary out of the all-chain rode, significantly affecting what scope is appropriate for the prevailing conditions; less scope is required in deep water than in shallow water. As an example, Maramor is safely anchored with 4-to-1 scope in squally conditions gusting to 30 knots where the water depth plus the height of her bow at high water is 45 feet. If the 45 feet is reduced to 30 feet I would put out 5-to-1 scope in such conditions.

The downside of an all-chain rode is that when the wind pipes up the chain becomes taut, and dynamic loads occasioned by wave action put tremendous stress on the ground tackle. The solution is to add some elasticity to the rode and transfer the load from the windlass to your cleats. On Maramor we fit a devil’s claw on the rode, attached to a nylon bridle (snubber) that passes through the hawseholes and is secured to the cleats. In true storm conditions the longer the nylon bridle the better.

We have to face facts if we are to enjoy cruising. Anchorages are being lost to environmental restrictions and local disfavor. The shoreline is disappearing to the relentless waterside building boom. Chart plotters and high speeds have enabled those with only a passing interest in navigation and seamanship to wander far afield. There just is not a lot of room in many formerly secluded anchorages. You are more likely to find room for your boat with an all-chain rode and the biggest anchor your boat can accommodate.