Anchoring for idiots
Life aboard has had some incredible ups recently, which I will of course rub in your faces sometime soon, but there is a dark side to sailing that you may not be familiar with.
It’s name is anchoring.
Anchors are famous sailing symbols. Their designs decorate bags and dresses, they hang as decor in rustic seaside pubs and they draw up images of safety and protection.
BUT THAT IS ALL WRONG.
Anchors actually cause stress, heightened levels of anxiety and in some cases, physical pain. Let me explain.
When you are cruising in the Med it is essential to use the anchor. There are very few places to come alongside and even fewer places if you are on a tight budget and can’t afford marinas. There are three mooring situations that we have had to use the anchor in so far. We give you the low down from living at anchor for the last six months in the hope that you won’t make the same mistakes we have! We’ve included what should happen in theory, and what will probably happen in reality. Just so you don’t have any illusions of an easy life!
A Few Tips Before You Start
Plan Your Anchorages
Before you head off you’ll need to plan where to anchor. You want to be sheltered from the wind, and for the wind to be blowing you off shore. You need to know how deep you’ll be so you know whether you have sufficient chain, and you need to know the holding.
There are other things you might want to take into account too, such as how busy the anchorage can get. Paper charts are ok to check things like shelter and depth, but there are much better ways to scope out anchorages before you arrive if you have the wonderful invention that is the internet.
Apps and websites like Navily and No Foreign Land are easy to use and provide you with first-hand information (you can check out more great sailing apps here). People often comment on how good the shelter and holding is but they will also comment on things like how busy the anchorage was when they were there, whether you can take lines to shore and even how noisy the anchorage was.
Google maps is also a surprisingly good tool for checking out an anchorage before you arrive. It gives you a clear indication on the layout of the land and you can even sometimes work out what the holding is likely to be like, whether it’s sand, rock or seaweed.
You should also grab yourself a cruising guide for the area/country you’re visiting. These often provide extra insight though they don’t cover the same range of anchorages as apps and websites, so if you prefer anchoring out you may find the apps more useful.
Know Your Anchor And Chain
Different anchors are better for different surfaces. You will also need to know how much chain you’re carrying, so you can work out what depths you can anchor in.
When we bought Hot Chocolate she came with 60m of 10mm chain and two Delta anchors on the bow. Both anchors were only 15kg, way lighter than the recommended anchor for a boat of this length and displacement.
We got off to a bad start, partly due to inexperience and partly due to the size of the anchor, when we dragged in an area of poor holding. It made us feel less sheepish when just about every other boat in the anchorage dragged too, but it didn’t give us much confidence in our anchor!
Over a season of anchoring we built up more and more trust in our teeny tiny Delta. She held tight through 40knts of Meltemi wind, 4 days of consistent 30knt winds and a blast of wind like I have never felt before from a passing storm. You can check out our honest review of our Lewmar Delta anchor here.
We were still desperate to upgrade, so researched anchors till we couldn’t read another angry forum (don’t even start down the which anchor is better rabbit hole!) We would have loved a new generation anchor like a Rocna and were prepared to alter our bow sprit arrangement to accommodate one (the roll bar makes it difficult to fit on certain boats) but when it came to it we just couldn’t afford the £700+ price difference. We decided that a bigger Delta would be more than enough, since our tiny Delta had done so very well. You can work out what size anchor you need here, but consider going a size or two up if you’re planning on anchoring out often.
A Few More Things To Consider When Anchoring
Get A Snubber
Just as it’s important to take the snatch out of mooring lines, it’s a good idea to take the snatch out of anchor chains too. When a gust comes through the boat can pull back quite hard on the chain causing it to snatch and potentially unset. A decent snubber will make sure the chain doesn’t snatch too hard and keep your anchor sitting pretty!
I’m not so sure on the science of this, but I know it to be true from experience – whatever your usual ratios are you’ll probably need to up them for shallow anchorages. A big part of the reason anchors work is the chain. The more chain that’s out, the more weight you have keeping that nice curved shape you see when you dive your anchor.
When you’re in shallow water you might be tempted to stick to the same ratio, but it’s a good idea to put out more anyway to add to the weight! The only times we’ve dragged have been in shallow water when we’ve avoided putting out more chain due to to swing room – don’t follow our mistakes!
Anchoring Out (In Theory)
In our opinion anchoring out is the easiest, especially without a windlass. First, you need to scope out the anchorage. You want somewhere as protected as possible from any predicted wind, and you want any wind that comes to be blowing you offshore. So none of this ‘Oh wow, that looks pretty, let’s just drop the hook there’. You have to plan somewhere to go before you even set off, and then plan a few more safe harbours just in case the wind changes, or the anchorage is full when you arrive.
Once you arrive you need to check depths. Too deep and you won’t have enough anchor chain and too shallow and you’ll hit the bottom (obviously). There needs to be enough room between you and the other boats around you so they you don’t lay your anchor over theirs or swing into them. You preferably want to be anchored near a boat similar to yours, so you swing in the same way. The seabed is also important. Sand is ideal, weed not so much and rocks even less appealing. Once you’ve done a reccy you can get ready to drop.
You need to prepare enough chain for the depth you are in.
Note: Obviously, like everything in sailing, there are countless disagreements about what ‘enough’ chain really means. The RYA say no less than 4 to 1, so we go for at least 5 to 1. But others say 8 to 1, which would mean our 50m of anchor is only suitable for 6m depths, which are pretty hard to find sometimes! Without any real clarity on the subject, I am left constantly afraid that we haven’t let out enough chain, even when we’ve anchored in 2m of water and let out all 50m of chain.
To drop you need to motor up to wind. When you’ve stopped you lay the anchor on the seabed and then reverse back while peeling out the chain. Once you’ve laid enough chain you need to make sure your anchor has dug in, so you reverse slowly back until you’re doing full revs and going no where.
Then to be extra sure you need to dive your anchor so that you can see what it’s doing. If it’s buried under the sand then you’re probably ok. Simple.
We decided to drop anchor in the lovely little town of Vathy. We read the pilotage book and found out that the holding is weeds and not great, but once you’re dug in you’re good. Great. It was busy so we spent some time trying to find the right spot. We laid the anchor (by hand, without a windlass, which involves trying very hard to lay tonnes of chain slowly, but not too slowly, while the helmsman reverses back). We reversed back to set the anchor only to find that when we motored back we were too close to another vessel. Que hauling up 30m of chain and an anchor to find a new spot.
New spot found we repeated the process. This time when we motored back slowly we were most definitely dragging. Time to haul it all up and try again. Third time lucky we reversed back into a perfect space and the anchor held beautifully. Now, as every diligent sailor would, we waited on the boat for five hours, constantly taking transits to make sure we definitely weren’t dragging (by this time Adam is about ready to throw me overboard).
Satisfied we weren’t going anywhere we rowed the dinghy to town. Just to be extra sure I made Adam watch the boat from the shore. We still weren’t dragging.
We spent half an hour pottering around town when we felt the wind pick up a little. Best go check on the boat again (just to shut me up). This time we were most definitely dragging anchor. Quickly. Towards a very expensive looking cat.
Long Lines To Shore (In Theory)
When you end up in a beautiful little bay that is too small to swing around in, or too crowded to swing around in, you need to take lines to shore.
This involves a similar process to anchoring out, only this time instead of heading to wind and then reversing, you reverse towards the rocks that you are planning on tying off to. In this situation you need to predict how far away from the rocks you need to be before you start laying the right amount of anchor. So if you’re in 5m of water, you need to be at least 30m from the rocks.
Once you’ve worked this out, laid the anchor and motored back to check you’re not dragging, you need to get a line to shore to stop the boat swinging into the shallows, the rocks or another boat. As you still need control of the boat you can’t switch the engine off, so you need to be very careful that the lines don’t go near the prop. You then row the dinghy (or swim if you have a dinghy that is so beaten up it doesn’t have oar holders) to the rocks, secure the lines and the boat will be held there. Simple.
We found the most stunning little bay on the island of Kastos. It was too deep for us to anchor so we decided to take lines to shore in the shallows where our shoal draft keel could sneak in.
We were in 4m of water so we need to lay 20m of chain. We prepared the lines and got ready to drop anchor. 10m of chain later and we were almost on the rocks. We hadn’t anchored out far enough. Time to haul up the anchor and try again.
Further out it was too deep so we need to find a new spot. We crept even further in, waited for the procession of swimmers on various inflatables who decided the best time to swim was across the middle of the bay was when there was a sailboat with limited manoeuvrability in it, and started to set the hook.
It set first time (woop woop) so Adam jumped in to swim the lines to shore. Just as he got in the water a big gust of wind came from no where and pushed the boat sideways towards the rocks and another boat. I attempted to use the bow thruster to keep us at the right angle but with no luck. We were now in completely the wrong position so it was time to try again.
Third attempt, tired and hot from a days sailing, we dropped anchor and got the lines to shore successfully. After scrambling over sharp rocks and sea urchins Adam managed to return unharmed. We tightened the lines to pull the anchor tight and no surprise, we were yet again too close to shore. With no wind predicted we decided to haul up some chain and deal with it in the morning.
Now onto our forth attempt, we motored out way, way further than we thought we needed (better to have too much chain than too little right!?) This time as we motored back the anchor dragged through the sand and by the time it set we were YET AGAIN too close to the rocks.
On our fifth attempt the stars finally aligned, the heavens sang and a mermaid applauded. We were perfect. Just to be totally sure we tied our second anchor on to weight the chain and added an anchor buoy so no one would upset our work of art.
Med Mooring (In Theory)
Med mooring is extremely similar to taking lines to shore, only instead of rocks you’re coming onto a town quay, probably into a space just big enough for your boat with two other boats either side.
First, you need to get fenders and lines prepared. Then you need to try and work out which way their anchors are positioned so you don’t lay yours on top of theirs. Then, you drop the anchor and peel out the anchor chain and run back to the stern to jump off onto the town quay as soon as possible and get the boat secured before the wind blows you into someone elses expensive pride and joy. Simple.
We found the perfect spot to do our first med mooring ever. There was space big enough for three boats, so we would aim for the middle and hope for the best! We needed to lay out 30m, but if we estimated the distance wrong and didn’t have enough chain to lay out, the boat would snatch on the anchor and send our stern towards another boat. As we couldn’t risk that we cleated off more than we thought we would need and I would have to lay it carefully so we didn’t end up with too much out.
Unfortunately, as there was a bit of wind, Adam needed to reverse quicker than usual to keep control of the boat going astern, so as soon as the anchor stuck I couldn’t lay out chain quickly enough and had to let go before losing a finger. The 40m of chain ran through quickly and I hoped for the best!
We got lines to shore no problem so our stern was secured, but we had out too much anchor to hold the bow steady. With a windlass we would have just taken in the slack, but heaving up anchor chain that isn’t lying directly below you is near impossible. We spent several hours rigging up some sort of cowboy way to winch in what chain we could and hoped for the best.
Luckily our neighbours were very understanding. We enjoyed the feeling of security and being able to leave the boat knowing that we couldn’t drag anchor. But we didn’t realise just how wrong we were. In fact, Med mooring on a town quay is anything but relaxing.
The boats around us spent the whole time on deck, shouting at people about to anchor over their anchor and adding more and more fenders to the sides of their boats. Our neighbours had their anchor pulled out and had to pull up their anchor and start all over again (luckily they had a windlass!) Overall it was a pretty horrendous experience, and one we only want to repeat when we need water or fuel.
Anchoring is horrific. If you want your home to be safe you can never leave it and never sleep. On the rare occasion you do leave it you will spend the whole time wondering what you will come back to, or trying to find somewhere you can get a view of it to make sure it’s safe. Anchoring has, on several occasions, nearly destroyed my relationship and my sanity. DO NOT ATTEMPT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCE.
Please, PLEASE, comment below with your anchoring experiences in an attempt to either make me feel better that we aren’t the only ones or make me feel as though there is hope. And if you enjoyed this post then please share and follow us for more stories about our epic sailing fails!
Disclaimer: This is for entertainment purposes only and you should not take any advice from us on how to anchor, ever.