Know-how: If I could choose only one anchor

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Truth be told, if I had to cruise with only one anchor, I wouldn’t leave the dock. Heck, I wouldn’t go dayboating with only one anchor on board. With apologies to my old English teachers and profs (probably spinning in their graves), “Thar ain’t no such thang as a anchor what’s good for all conditions.”

After 50 years of boating, power and sail, I’ve learned that when things turn sour, one anchor is rarely enough. On our last boat, a 43-foot ketch, we carried a 32-pound Fortress FX 55, 55-pound Delta, 33-pound Bruce “lunch hook,” and 100-pound Luke three-piece fisherman’s anchor. And were considering an aluminum spade anchor.

From my perspective, anchor tests are rarely conclusive. Published recommendations by anchor manufacturers and retailers regarding anchor sizes are inadequate. They are based on rather benign conditions — usually, but not always, winds not exceeding 20 knots in sheltered water with good holding.

So here’s my take.

1. Pivoting fluke anchors (Danforth style with stocks, the longer the better) are best in relatively firm sand and mud. They are light for their holding power after they bury. However, they need to be of good quality steel or alloy; stamped metal isn’t strong enough. They readily upset with a significant change in the direction of load, which is why longer stocks are better, and need a long scope to hold well. They rapidly lose holding power as the angle between the horizontal and the shank increases, and they don’t penetrate grass and weeds easily.

The 32- or 33-degree angle between the open flukes and shank works well in fairly stiff bottoms (sand, mud or clay) but is virtually useless in soft mud. For soft bottoms, you need a fluke-to-shank angle approaching 45 degrees.

2. The Fortress is one of my favorite anchors. The angle between the flukes and shank can be adjusted so that it’s effective even in soft, soupy bottoms. The flukes are very broad, the stock is long (providing greater resistance to the anchor being upset), and it’s made of incredibly strong, light alloy. In addition to flexibility in the types of bottoms they can handle, Fortress anchors have replaceable components. Bend any part of a steel anchor, and you may as well sell it to someone you really don’t like, providing they don’t owe you money. There are only two drawbacks that come to mind. Because of their large fluke area and light weight, they can “fly” under water before reaching the bottom, though this can be controlled with a kellet or sentinel attached to the rode. And they are expensive, but keep in mind that they can save your life and your boat.

3. Plow and spade anchors look like plowshares and work well in sand and mud, OK in weeds and rocks. The flukes on plow anchors merge at the top and are “A” shaped, with a steel rod between them. Some plow anchors, such as the CQR, have a hinge to allow the shank to swing as the boat veers without disturbing the buried flukes. The Delta anchor doesn’t have a hinge, but the flukes are angled out near the ends to form “ears,” which increases the resistance to dragging and gives them greater holding power than the CQR. Deltas, weighted at the nose, deploy without being kicked free of the rollers.

Spade anchors are plow anchors in reverse. The flukes join at the bottom to form a “V,” and this encourages the anchor to dig deeper under load. They come in steel or alloy. We seriously considered a spade. Our only reservation was the curved shank that was bolted to the fluke assembly.

4. Claw anchors — Bruce, Horizon, Ray and others — are designed with three palms around a single large fluke. These work very well in rock, gravel and shingle, where they can hook and hold, and well in sand and mud. They grab quickly and bury but may tend to drag, then grab under load, then drag, and so on. They don’t just let go suddenly and drag without recovering.

5. Fisherman’s anchors are classics. They dig into almost any bottom but are weak in mud. They rely on weight and will slow or stop you from dragging. Because of their shape, rode can foul on the upturned arm. The Luke and Herreshoff pattern flukes can let a fouled rode slide off the arm. They’re difficult to deploy without marring the topsides. Ours was for deployment only when we were ready to kiss a portion of our anatomies goodbye.

6. Choose at least two different kinds of anchor, especially for cruising. You never know when one won’t hold. And get them at least one size larger than recommended. Here’s hoping your anchors hold.