The Best Sailboat Anchor
What's the best anchor for a cruising sailboat?
Over the past 25 years we have used a CQR, Delta anchors and Rocnas as primary anchors, and the Fortress, Fisherman and Danforth-copy as backup-spare or storm anchors. We have anchored for many thousands of nights and have ridden out some serious gales at anchor. We have anchored throughout the Caribbean, Bahamas, USA, Mediterranean and Europe. Plus I dove down to check our anchor, and the anchors on many other sailboats over those years.
If you are planning a cruise you might well be considering a new anchor - upgrading your anchor and ground tackle for the big adventure ahead. And at the risk of summarizing our MOST important finding over the years - upsize your ground tackle if you can! A larger anchor will definitely hold your sailboat more than a smaller one of the same kind! Manufacturers seem to recommend quite small anchors for boat size but the reality of successful world cruisers out there is "bigger is better". Note this Blog is just on anchors - for details on our full anchor setup click here Ideal Anchoring Setup.
Check out this clip from Let’s Go Cruising - Anchoring on Scope
Now ... on to the anchors.
Here’s our Rocna well buried in the Wadden Sea of Holland
CQROur first sailboat was 37 foot long weighing about 18,000 pounds. We carried a 45 pound CQR as the primary anchor. Back in 1988 when we bought it the CQR was one of the most common anchors. Although it was upsized from the recommended 35 for our boat - we still found it was difficult to get it to set in many circumstances. We thought that was just how it was until we started diving on it and found it would mainly lie on its side and drag for quite a while before setting. We upgraded to a Delta 44 for the same boat and found it set much better.
Sheryl checks out the CQR in Bahamas Sand
DeltaWe used this anchor on both our 37 footer and also for a year on our 42 foot saiboat. Our Southerly 42 came with a 20kg (44lb) anchor. Why just 20kg? That was the recommended size by the manufacturer. It worked OK in the Caribbean and Bahamas but dragged a few times in the soft Chesapeake mud. I wish we had a 32kg model since that would have been more appropriate, and I would have been able to test it. Instead we switched over to test a Rocna 25kg. It would set in that same soft Chesapeake mud and also worked great everywhere else. But I still think it would have been good to try the heavier Delta. If you get one definitely upsize from the recommended one. From the tables they recommended a 16kg model for our 42. The 20 that Northshore put on will supposedly work for a 43 foot sailboat to over 50 feet. Come on guys! It is a very good anchor - great in weedy bottoms but must be upsized at least 1 model to work reliably as a primary anchor in my humble opinion!
RocnaWe had a Rocna 25 (55 lbs) on our Southerly 42 and loved it. When we had the Southerly 49 sailboat built I opted for the Rocna again - this time a 33kg model (73 pounds). Our 33 model is listed on Westmarine at $879. Rocna has a very different sizing philosophy and seems to have much more realistic expectations in line with the average cruising sailor. Check out this comprehensive table from the Rocna website that builds in LOA plus displacement for improved sizing.
Our 49 footer should have a 33kg or possibly the 40kg model. Very realistic. We find the Rocna sets very quickly and holds very well. It just works - and works very well. Setting in sand and regular mud it is great, and it even works well in that tricky "soupy" mud of the Chesapeake Bay. In grass it can have trouble like most anchors, but we have only dragged once - thick grass in Denmark. When we pulled it up the roll bar had clogged up with a huge ball of grass-weed and needed to be cleared before we could set it again. In those situations all anchors have difficulty. Another time where bigger is better! Perhaps the NEW Rocna with no roll bar will solve this?
FortressThis is a special lightweight anchor excellent as a spare! It disassembles quickly and goes in its nifty bag making it perfect as a storm anchor. Made out of aluminum it is light for its holding power. We have carried them on board since 2007. Now on our 49 we have 2 models. A FX-23 (which confusingly weighs just 15lbs) plus a FX-37 which weighs 21lbs. We hung on that FX-37 in tropical storm force winds last summer and it didn't budge. Set in sand or mud the Fortress NEVER budges in our experience. A great backup anchor. We might add another larger one for storms as well. The FX-55 weighs just 32 pounds packing down in a slim bag. Here's their quite realistic Fortress sizing table. I wouldn't use the Fortress as a primary anchor since I don't think its as good in grass, and might be damaged in rocky conditions, but it seems unbeatable as the backup and secondary or storm anchor! We have used it many times and it has held perfectly. After heavy winds it is so well set that getting it up again requires the boat right overhead and winches employed!
Our Fortress FX23 set in sand with light grass
FishermanWe had a 75 pound fisherman anchor that disassembled into 3 pieces. It is actually the heaviest anchor we have ever carried. The plan was to use it as a storm anchor on our 37 footer. We carried it for 3 years fulltime cruising and never used it once. It was so heavy that the one time we tried to assemble it and get it into the dinghy to take out was very daunting. We also had a smaller 35 pound model to help anchor us in grass. We tested this but found we were never able to get it to set at all. Yikes! If you don't know what a fisherman anchor looks like it's the "standard anchor" shape - many pubs, yacht clubs, restaurants and hotels use this type of anchor in their front lawns and flower beds. Seems a good place for them :-)
Danforth typeWe had a Danforth-style anchor as a backup on Two-Step (our 37 footer). It worked well but was difficult to stow since it did not disassemble like the Fortress. We use only the Fortress these days.
Other Interesting Anchors
Above are all anchors we have had onboard our boats and have personal experience with. But there are so many anchors out there, and some we re interested in but haven’t had a chance to test. The good old Bruce anchor was a standard sight on cruising boats back in the day. In my diving experience I would find them set quite well in the bottom. Today Lewmar Claw is similar to this. A very heavy one of these would likely be a good and affordable choice (for our 49 footer I would choose a 110lb model at $369 from West Marine). Manson makes a competitor for the Rocna but we have no experience with these anchors. Many people like the Spade anchor (nifty selector program here) which take apart for easy stowage. The Spade anchor is somewhat similar to the Rocna in shape but without a roll bar. For our boat the 30kg steel Spade is$1150. They have an aluminum version too - 15kg version for $1800 wow!
Video of Testing
We filmed anchor tests of most of our anchors and have put these in our new video program “Let’s Go Cruising - Anchoring” on Vimeo.
Getting a good night’s sleep aboard your sailboat at anchor will often depend on your anchor. Can you trust it? A good primary anchor will be a key factor. And knowing you have spare anchors to handle all conditions is also important. Our experience has shown us that the new generation anchors like the Rocna are worth the investment.
So there you are - the best anchors we have been able to find and have tested aboard our sailboats for the past 25 years.
More Info? - Click here for full information on our Ideal Anchoring Setup
I know this will be a contentious issue, so go ahead and add comments below. What anchors have you found to be the best, and what problems have you had with them? Let’s hear your experiences!