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Q&A anchor drag

Q: While anchored in about 10 feet of water with about 70 feet of rode out, including chain, myanchor broke loose. I thought I had set the hook well. But we had a change of wind direction, the wind picked up for a short time and we broke free. This was a first for me, and I hope it doesn’t happen again. I’ve been boating for more than 50 years and consider myself accomplished with both power- and sailboats. I’d appreciate any suggestions or advice that you could share.

Edgar Riozzi

Niantic, Conn.

A: First, I’ve got to say that it happens to all of us, no matter how well we anchor. That doesn’t make it any better when it does happen, but know that you’re in good company.

The dragging could have been the result of one or more coincidental circumstances, such as grass on the bottom, something like an oyster shell or beer can or other junk fouling the flukes, or a spot of extra-hard or extra-soft bottom. Perhaps — and this happens often — the rode got tangled in the anchor when the wind shifted. Anytime I have a wind shift, I assume the worst.

If the rode gets caught in the anchor as the boat swings around, it usually will trip it, sometimes dragging it along backward. A Danforth-type anchor is particularly vulnerable to this because of the long cross arms, although there are many good things about this type of anchor if used in appropriate circumstances. Sometimes another boat can accidentally trip the anchor by snagging the rode with its anchor or even snagging your hook.

In my opinion, the more and heavier chain you have out the better. I prefer an all-chain rode with a well-rigged nylon snubbing line and chain loop to provide extra elasticity. Chain helps the anchor dig in and diminishes sailing about. The chain loop also helps diminish sailing about. And, importantly, when the wind shifts the boat usually will swing around and pull on the anchor from the new direction much more slowly because it has to drag the heavy chain along the bottom.

In many wind shifts, including those of 30 knots or more, I’ve observed that in a good bottom the chain holds the boat and the shift of direction off the pull never reaches the anchor. But you have to be sure that the weight of the chain doesn’t adversely affect your stability under way or at other times. Different boats handle different loads in different ways.

I prefer the original CQR and the Fortress. I usually deploy the CQR as my only anchor, saving the Fortress for those bottoms where the CQR won’t hold — like hard sand or mud that’s too loose for it — or for the very rare times when I deploy two anchors. My experience has been that if the bottom is good, the CQR will usually reset well and is seldom tripped by a rode crossing it.

If I’m expecting a violent shift and I’m pretty sure from which direction it’ll come and in which direction the wind will clock, I might set a second anchor in the direction of the next wind. A negative to this technique is that if the wind clocks from another direction the rodes could tangle, which could make an emergency retrieval both difficult and dangerous. (It’s important to note that other experienced cruisers have other opinions as to gear and techniques.)

Even the best anchors won’t do well if the bottom doesn’t provide good holding. You might have anchored in that harbor for years, not knowing that there was a bad spot. Also, factors such as changes in current flow, which can occur from bank or bottom erosion, could quickly change the bottom.

Check some of my past articles in Soundings to see what I do with regard to rigging a nylon snubbing line on an all-chain rode. If you use part nylon, then you’ve already got a snubber, in essence. You’ll also find in past articles my tactics for setting the anchor. It takes a lot of time and some energy, but I sleep better. I do more than just back down; I also jerk the anchor as I’ve described in past articles, though not too hard and with great care for safety and for the load and other limits of my equipment. (See the January and June 2005 issues or search the archives at, keyword: Sea Savvy.)

My book, “All in the Same Boat,” published by McGraw-Hill (International Marine Division), gives more tips. You can order it from my Web site . Hope to see you out here someday and that neither one of us is dragging at the moment.