Anchoring | Sailing Blog - Technical Hints and Tips - Sailing Television

Med Mooring Technique

While the build of our new Enksail Orion 49 sailboat progresses in the Netherlands, we make a 12-day voyage through the Greek Islands aboard a Jeanneau 54 monohull, enjoying some fast sailing in strong meltemi winds! Aboard are 6 guest crew members new to the techniques of Mediterranean mooring, going stern to the shore and rafting up with another sailboat. We go through all three of these techniques en route, sometimes in challenging conditions. The video includes helpful animations and illustrations as well as visits to remote islands and ancient Greek ruins.


Final Cruise - Sailing San Blas Panama & Epsilon Anchor Test

In this our final cruise aboard our Southerly 480 sailboat, we test out the new Lewmar Epsilon anchor while we revisit the San Blas Islands of Panama, home of the Guna tribes, Panama’s indigenous people who still live in traditional ways. Even though it’s been 11 years since our last cruise here, we reunite with island friends, meet new ones and rediscover these unique pristine islands.


Exploring Exumas-We tested our Ultra anchor

We have been using the ultra anchor for just over a year now from England and the the Mediterranean to the Caribbean and Bahamas. It has always set well and held perfectly in a variety of conditions. We were able to film it in the Caribbean and Bahamas in both clear sand and grass as well.

This time on Distant Shores we continue exploring the Bahamas in the Exumas with incredible beaches, interesting wildlife and review the performance of our Ultra Anchor.


Short Scope Continued - Crash Test

By Paul Shard, Copyright 2015. All rights reserved.
Testing continues... In this case we are anchored in 12.5 meters of water (plus 1.5 meters to the bow) for a total of 14 meters bow-to-bottom. We have our Rocna 33kg anchor (73 pounds) plus 45 meters of rode... 45 / 14 = 3.2:1 scope...

We wonder just how much force the anchor will get if we load it right up with this short scope. With our previous tests we believe our engine will simulate 30 knots of wind - but what about stronger gusts or lulls that allow the boat to build up momentum and jerk back harder? We decide to simulate this by jerking back on the anchor from a position somewhat forward then putting the engine in hard reverse. Sheryl will be on board and running the engine. This is not a precise test since the speed we attain in reverse will vary with each test. But it will make much greater forces than just running slowly up to full throttle astern. Sheryl will also try to estimate how this approximates to forces we have felt on the boat in violent squalls at anchor.

We are anchored and the boat resting - chain hanging down - as Sheryl puts the engine in full astern. We develop some sternway and momentum before the chain comes up taut, bouncing our 36,000 lbs of boat back forward. The force on the boat is quite impressive - Sheryl describes it: “The bow immediately snapped around to line up with the anchor and then the bow got pulled down from the force on the chain due to the anchor holding so well. It felt like when gusts of 40-50 knots whip the bow around”.
Underwater I watch the chain lift up off the bottom. It is coming up at an angle that actually raises the shank a little. The anchor moves about 12 inches back and digs in deeper. I wonder if this would have been the same with our old CQR Anchor? It might have possibly pulled out and dragged - but the 73 lb Rocna held on well.

Now Sheryl extends our scope to 52 meters - 52/14 = 3.7:1 so we are still less than 4:1 scope. We retest with a similar full power fast reverse and the bow snaps around again. The extra scope makes a big difference here as the shank doesn’t quite come up off the bottom. The anchor barely moves this time.

Conclusions on Deep Water Anchoring

In normal conditions (not storm force forecast) an all chain rode will allow reduced scope in deep anchorages. We find 3:1 scope to be OK for anchoring in 50 feet of water. Increasing scope to 4:1 or 5:1 will be better and would be a good idea if strong squalls were forecast. Even an increase to 3:5:1 will make the anchor more effective.

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Anchoring Sample from Lets Go Cruising


Short Scope Anchoring in Deep Water

By Paul Shard, Copyright 2015. All rights reserved.
Do you ever wonder how to anchor in a crowded anchorage when the water is a bit deeper than you are used to?

Do you sometimes come into a busy anchorage and can’t to find a place to anchor where you can put out the recommended 5:1 scope?

Or do you sometimes arrive at an anchorage that is deeper than you’re used to and wonder if you have enough rode to lay out a 5:1 scope?

Welcome to the world of “short scope” deep water anchoring…

In deep anchorages that are either small or crowded Sheryl and I occasionally need to anchor with shorter scope than we would like to. In these situations we have used as little as 3:1 scope. The question is “how bad is this really?” Are there situations where you don’t really need to have the recommended 5:1 scope?

Standard “rules” say we need 5:1 scope and this is a good generalization for regular anchoring with an all-chain rode. But it doesn’t take into account the effect of having all that weight down when you have laid out a lot of chain in deep water.

If we put out 165 feet of our 3/8” chain, we have got 250 pounds of weight in chain between our anchor and the bow of our boat. This forms a curve called a catenary curve - the weight of the chain pulling down the rode even when the wind is blowing strongly. So the chain near the anchor will hopefully be pulling close along the bottom - not lifting the anchor up. But just what is the effect of this and how much can we count on it to hold the boat in place? How much of a difference will it be to having the same scope in shallower water?

Test Anchoring in Deep Water

In our test anchorage the wind is blowing 15-20 knots with gusty conditions and it is a busy but not exactly crowded anchorage. It’s deeper than normal - about 50 feet deep with a nice sandy bottom where we are anchoring. Our Rocna 33 anchor weighs 73 pounds. We have 275 feet of 3/8 G4 (G40) chain.

Water is 50 feet deep + 5 feet to the bow roller. Here is how much chain we will need to achieve different scope ratios...

5:1 Ratio 55 feet X 5 = 275 feet

4:1 Ratio 55 feet X 4 = 220 feet

3:1 Ratio 55 feet X 3 = 165 feet

The problem is that nearby boats would make it hard to find a place to lay out all our 275 feet of chain (which is the total of what we carry)

So we set out 165 feet of chain and pull back to set the anchor. This means we have a scope of just 3:1.

I calculate our Yanmar 54 hp engine with Autoprop 3 blade propellor will develop about 400-500kg of pull (1000 pounds) at full power. This is roughly equal to the force on the anchor in a gale 30-40 knots. So we are simulating a similar stress on the anchor as we are likely to experience in normal conditions if the forecast shows 20 knots and a rain squall comes through …

My goal with this setup was to dive down and see what the anchor looked like in these conditions. Would the rode be lifting up off the bottom or would the weight of the chain be holding it down on the sand?

Here are pictures from our test - engine astern at 2500 rpm simulating winds over 30 knots.
Although the chain enters the water at a steep angle this is the effect of the 250 pounds of chain. This is the effect of the catenary - the weight of the chain makes the 3:1 scope pull pretty much parallel to the bottom at roughly 30 knots of wind force. Note the chain is nearly parallel to the bottom.
Paul dives down to take a look at it 55 feet underwater.
The water is nice and clear for testing here in the British Virgin Islands.
Rocna anchor set perfectly as usual... it is well buried and sitting right way up.

Cultural Differences

Anchoring is a very contentious subject and also seems to differ by culture. In North America many cruisers use a short length of chain with the rest rope. In this case the catenary method described here will not work - you need all-chain for this effect.

In the UK we rarely saw anyone anchoring with rope rode. Everyone uses all-chain rode and in many cases are anchoring in challenging crowded and tidal anchorages. Peter Nielsen of Sail Magazine comments on reducing scope with deeper water “I do agree that shallower water = greater scope. Borne out by various tests over the years. Cruising round the British coast, standard practice was 3:1 scope at HW. Often a 12-15 foot range so scope naturally increased as tide fell. “

Conclusions on Deep Water Anchoring

In normal conditions (not storm force forecast) an all chain rode will allow reduced scope in deep anchorages. We find 3:1 scope to be OK for anchoring in 50 feet of water. Increasing scope to 4:1 or 5:1 will be better and would be a good idea if strong squalls were forecast. Even an increase to 3:5:1 will make the anchor more effective (see Part 2 Crash Test here).

Additional Hints:
  • It can be difficult to judge the space to your neighbours since the increased scope means you need to be further away from nearby boats. Try a range-finder app (review to follow) or a laser rangefinder example here
  • Use binoculars with a rangefinder (such as our Fujinon 7X50 binos) to judge neighbourly distance.
  • Use GPS and Radar to plot nearby boats.
  • Ask neighbours how much rode they have out to make sure you will not hit each other.

Additional Reading on Short Scope Anchoring:

Steve Dashew - bigger anchor will allow for shorter scope if you need in deep anchorage (where you most often need it)
Go for a heavy anchor - in any given anchorage a heavier anchor will perform better than a lighter one.

Rocna designer Peter Smith discusses catenary with graphs

Catenary Calculator - give it a try!

Check out anchorages around the world with us aboard Distant Shores
Order the Super Pack on DVD and get Season 1-10 Downloadable.
Order the Super Pack on Vimeo and we will send you the code for Season 10 as a bonus. Email us for details.

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.

anchored near white cay

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


Our 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


We 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!


We 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?


This 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


We 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 type

We 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!


8 Steps for Finding a Good Anchorage

You're designing a cruise and want to plan out a few good anchorages along your route. How to begin?

Distant Shores II anchored off Thunderball Cave, Staniel Cay, Exumas, Bahamas

Sheryl and I have been cruising for 25 years and have anchored in hundreds of places around the world in all types of conditions. We love the freedom and privacy that anchoring provides and that it allows you to stay in some amazing places that you might not be able to get to in any other way. Another perk is that anchoring saves you money compared to regularly staying in marinas.

Here are the eight steps we go through for determining if an anchorage is a good.

1. Clarify Your Personal Criteria
The first thing to do when choosing an anchorage is to clarify the reason why you want to anchor in the first place. Do you just want to anchor for lunch and a swim in a quiet place? Are there good reefs for diving or fishing close by you want to investigate? Or are you on a long-term cruise and want to anchor near towns for supplies without the expense of overnighting in marinas? Are there attractions ashore that you want to visit? Is there an anchorage near the base where you have to return your charter boat early the next morning?

We love to snorkel so search for anchorages close to interesting shallow reefs

Often there will be several criteria when searching for ideal anchorages for you and your crew, and your criteria and needs will change throughout your voyage.

2. Check Your Charts and Cruising Guides
Once you have a rough idea of the type of anchorage you are looking for and why, a good starting point is to go over the charts and cruising guides for the area you plan to cruise in. Anchorages will be marked with the standard anchoring symbol and cruising guides will offer recommendations. However, just because they're marked as an anchorage doesn't necessarily mean they will suit you best. For example, they may be too shallow for your deep draft boat or require that you get under a bridge to get to that's too low for your mast to get under.

Anchored stern-to the shore in Sweden

And just because a bay or cove or spot off the shoreline isn't marked as an anchorage on the chart doesn't mean you have to rule it out as a possibility. As long as the place of your choice is not marked as a restricted area and meets the basic criteria of offering protection from wind, waves and weather; has a bottom that will provide good holding, has sufficient depth, and offers enough swinging room for your boat, it's good to go.

Anchored off Twin Cay, Exumas, Bahamas. Good in calm conditions with quiet beaches and swimming nearby.

3. Determine if There is Protection from Wind, Waves and Weather
If you anchor in a place that appeals to you, will it be protected from wind, waves and weather? This can change if there is a wind shift, increase in wind strength, or a new weather system moving in that could cause you grief. Few anchorages offer protection from all directions. Check current weather forecasts for the period of time you plan to spend there swinging on the hook to make sure you will be safe from a building swell in all predicted conditions.

Anchored at Cockburn Harbour, South Caicos, Turks and Caicos. It’s a port of call and we needed to check in.

4. Check the Depth
Even if a harbour looks well protected, if there is too little or too much depth for your boat to anchor safely it's not worth considering. On average we find cruising guides seem to mark anchorages based on yachts with an average draft of 6 feet (1.8 m). If the draft of your boat is greater, you may have to find other options from the recommended anchorages in some cases.
You also have to consider tidal ranges if applicable. You may find sufficient water to anchor in when you first arrive but if the tide drops will you still be afloat or grounded at anchor? Best to check the tide charts in advance.

High and dry at low tide. That’s okay for Distant Shores.
Southerly Yachts are built to dry out and have retracting keels.

Too much depth can also be a problem. You may not have sufficient anchor rode to achieve the proper scope. Chain rode helps with this since the weight of the chain allows you to use less scope, but if the water is too deep and you don't have enough rode to keep a good angle on the anchor (the anchor holds better if it pulls parallel to the bottom) the anchor is likely to just pull out or drag.

5. Check the Bottom
You want to sleep through the night and not worry about your anchor dragging. Sand and mud offer the best holding properties for your anchor. This information is usually shown on charts with “S” for sand and “M” for mud. Sometimes the sketch charts in cruising guides show “good holding” or “poor holding”. Be careful of weedy areas which can cause your anchor to foul and drag, scoured bottoms where there is strong current and not much for your hook to grab into, rocky spots or areas marked “foul” where your anchor might get hung up, and areas where underwater cables are shown on the chart. In tropical areas you can often see the bottom to find a good sandy patch.

Sand provides good holding. Sheryl dives on our old CQR anchor on S/V Two-Step.
We now use Rocna anchors.

6. Determine if There is Room to Swing
Next to consider is if there is enough room for your boat to swing using the recommended five to one scope. Boats rarely sit still and with changing conditions can swing in a complete circle around the anchor. Is there room for this to happen safely or will you hit another boat or fixed object? Are you anchored near other boats that will swing the same way and at a similar speed that your boat will? For example, boats on moorings will swing in quite a small circle compared to yours at anchor. Lighter boats with more windage could swing faster than your boat creating a collision situation.

Boats anchored in Elizabeth Harbour, George Town, Great Exuma, Bahamas.
Swinging room for lots of boats here!

When Sheryl and I arrive at an anchorage where there are other boats we make it a practice to say hello to the owners of boats we might be anchoring close to, to ask how much rode they have out and if they can point to the location of their anchor. This will help you to place your anchor for safe swinging room and open up friendly discussion with fellow boaters.

7. Create a Plan B

It's always a good idea to have a Plan B up your sleeve if you get caught out. For example, you find a protected anchorage but the wind shifts. Can you simply move to the other side of the island or other end of the bay? Can you do it in the dark? Could you ride it out? Is there another anchorage or marina nearby? Will you need to head out into open water and ride it out at sea? If you can't move safely will throwing out a second anchor help you deal with increased conditions? If it's too crowded or the holding poor what's the next option?

North Sound, British Virgin Islands.
Many options for anchoring or picking up a mooring off Bitter End Yacht Club and Saba Rock

8. Arrive Early
Days on the water are precious so it's tempting to pack in as much sailing and as many miles as you can in daylight hours, but arriving at an anchorage right at sunset or in the dark isn't a good idea. Then you have no time to make changes or to go to Plan B if necessary. Sometimes you'll discover your planned anchorage is too crowded for safety, or you'll find it full of lobster pots or that a fish farm has been built there since the last update of your chart! Maybe it's more developed than you'd realized or more noisy than you expected.

Arriving at an anchorage in good time reduces your stress throughout the day since you know you'll have options no matter what. Early arrival allows you time to relax, watch the anchor and feel confident that it is holding, move to a new place if it isn't, plan the next few days, cook, write, swim or do some exploring.

Lunch at anchor with friends Yvette and Pete aboard M’Lady, Isle of Wight, England

Anchoring is one of the joys of cruising, offering you fresh air, privacy, and a sense of self-sufficiency so planning it well adds greatly to your confidence and pleasure as you travel on your boat.

Explore beautiful anchorages around the world with us aboard Distant Shores
Order the Super Pack on DVD and get Season 1-10 Downloadable.
Order the Super Pack on Vimeo and we will send you the code for Season 10 as a bonus. Email us for details.


Ideal Anchor Setup

The ideal anchor setup for Distant Shores …

For nearly 25 years we have been cruising internationally and thousands of nights have been spent at anchor. We have had three boats (37 feet, 42 feet and 49 feet) with different anchoring setups, and we have had a variety of different anchors, both as our primary anchor and as our secondary anchors. We have anchored in the tropics, up and down the US East Coast, in the Mediterranean and in Northern Europe up to Norway's fjordland. And in many of those anchorages where the water is warm enough, I have swum down to check our anchor(s) and also others nearby so I have seen many different anchors perform in various conditions.

Ideal anchoring - 1 (copy)
Here is the setup on our first boat, a 37-footer with a manual windlass and 40 meters of chain.

We have also seen a number of people having problems, dragging and using inadequate anchors or techniques for the anchorage.
Anchors have improved, there are more options for windlasses and other equipment has evolved over this past 25 years. Now there are fewer excuses for not having a ground tackle system that will allow the cruising sailor to anchor securely in a wide variety of situations. You can anchor confidently and get a good night’s sleep at anchor.

So here is a summary of our ideal anchor setup...

  • Rocna or other newer generation anchor - We have had Rocna on our last two boats and they have been a big improvement over our old plow-style anchors. Especially the CQR which was much more difficult to set properly. For our current 49 footer, Distant Shores II, Rocna recommend a 33 or a 40kg model - we chose the 33kg (73 pounds) and it has been the most dependable anchor we’ve ever owned. (Rocna are one of the only companies I am aware of that recommend reasonable size anchors). I have read recommendations from other manufacturers for as low as 1 lb anchor weight for 1 foot of boat length. That would mean we need a 49 lb anchor for our 49 foot monohull. This is not enough in my opinion for real world cruising and secure anchoring with a good night sleep!

bow (copy)

  • all chain rode. We have 80 meters which is more than strictly necessary. If you needed to save weight 50 or 60 meters would be fine but more is nice especially in the Med when stern-to mooring. The 80 meters also allows us to anchor in very deep anchorages, but this would also be OK with 50 meters chain plus 30 meters rope spliced on. I recommend hi-test chain (we have used G4 but G7 is also an option if you need to reduce weight more). Definitely put the extra weight into the anchor not the chain. For example, 8mm G4 chain would save 30% of the weight of 10mm BBB chain and have similar strength. Then you can afford to upsize the anchor :-) - Note: The rode should be attached to a solid point in the anchor locker so that it will not all go overboard if you drop it all by mistake. For all chain rode this should be on a tail of rope long enough so the rope will come up on deck when the last chain is dropped. This way you can cut it easily if you need to drop the rode in an emergency.
  • good windlass. You need something to pull in the chain with. Handling chain by hand can be dangerous. We have a vertical Lewmar V3 windlass which works well. We have also had horizontal windlasses on previous boats. Originally we had a robust Seatiger horizontal manual windlass which gave us 18 years of trouble-free operation. We replaced it with a Lewmar vertical windlass under the orders of the first mate who was tired of manually winching!
  • good bow roller. Ideally the anchor will launch itself as you release the chain and not need to be pushed over. When you retrieve the anchor it will ideally come up (not swinging in to hit the bow) and store itself.
  • anchor snubber - with an all-chain rode you need something to absorb the shock when the boat tugs hard and the chain straightens out. A snubber is a piece of rope that will stretch (3 strand nylon is best) with a chain hook or similar to connect to the chain. This attaches to a point on the bow so you can let out extra chain transferring all the load to the snubber. It also saves your windlass which was never meant to take strong loads of the boat at anchor. Catamarans generally use a bridle with two lines to the chain hook, and depending on your bow configuration this can also work well for a monohull.
  • anchor washdown pump. I installed a saltwater pump and hose connection up forward to wash down anchor and chain as it is raised. In muddy areas such as parts of the US East Coast the anchor will need to be rinses and it is tiring with a bucket.
  • anchor locker - the chain or rope-chain rode should store itself as it is raised. Sometimes chain will come up in a big pile which gets so tall it will interfere with the chain that is coming out of the windlass. Our current boat has a very deep locker so this doesn't happen even when all 80 meters of chain is brought up. On our old 37 footer the locker wasn't that tall and you could only bring up 30 meters or so before you needed to knock the pile down to make room for more chain.
  • spare anchors. We carry two additional anchors - a Fortress FX23 and FX37 which conveniently disassemble and stow in a nice bag. Similarly the Spade make an anchor that can take apart for easy stowage. On our 37 footer we also carried a small additional CQR anchor but for larger boats this is not practical. A reasonable size anchor will be difficult to lift and bulky to store (unless it disassembles). If you have a larger boat it might be worth trying to accommodate 2 anchors on the bow permanently so they do not need to be manhandled. But I would still recommend oversizing the primary anchor.
Ideal anchoring - 10 (copy)
  • spare rodes - we carry 4 additional rope anchor rodes. Two of them are stored nicely flaked so they will deploy easily in a bag. When I flake them carefully I can row out in the dinghy and the rope will run out of the bag without tangling making it easy for me to set the anchor myself. West Marine sell such bags and we are still using one we bought from them more than 20 years ago.
  • stern anchor setup - we don't use this much but it came in handy in Scandinavia where many people will anchor and come bow in to the shore. We installed a reel with a flat anchor rode on the stern rail. Here is one of the many interesting setups we saw in the Baltic where this is common.
Ideal anchoring - 5 (copy)
  • Chain Counter - It is important to know how much chain you have out to calculate the proper scope. We tested an automatic anchor chain counter on our Southerly 42. It displayed the amount of chain on a screen at the helm and could also be used to raise and lower the anchor from the helm. It worked quite well and was especially nice to see exactly how much chain. On Distant Shores II we do not have a chain counter (I might add one) but have marked the chain in 10 meter lengths using electrical tie-wraps.
  • We have an anchor alarm (see App article) to alert us if we drag or drift outside the range we have set up. Nice. You can also use a regular GPS plotter to check if you have moved but an actual alarm is better in case you sleep through a squall and the boat starts dragging.

Well there you go, our ideal anchoring setup - hopefully we have some ideas that might help you out in the quest for the perfect anchor setup so you can enjoy anchorages wherever you cruise. If you have any suggestions jump in with comments below! Post pix too!

Check out anchorages around the world with us aboard Distant Shores

Order the Super Pack on DVD and get Season 1-10 Downloadable.
Order the Super Pack on Vimeo and we will send you the code for Season 10 as a bonus. Email us for details.


Anchor Alarm App - Update

(Here is an update on our latest success in anchor alarm methods)

Having your boat snuggly anchored in a beautiful setting is a great highlight of the cruising life for many people. We love spending time at anchor but sometimes in the night when the wind shifts or a squall comes up you wonder if you are really so snug! Is the anchor dragging?

In the "good ole' days" we used our handbearing compass to take bearings on nearby shore features, but on a dark night that could be quite difficult. We might wake up to check our position and find the light ashore had been switched off, or the squall was obscuring the feature we we using to take a bearing.
Then for a few years (before chartplotters were in common use) we were using our GPS - writing the numbers down and comparing them to the numbers we should see. A big improvement but prone to errors as we all are a little more muddled waking at 3AM with strong gusts!
early plotter
Back in those old days, there were crude anchor alarm features, but I never had much luck with them. GPS accuracy was poor and LORAN towers went down (remember LORAN :-). Getting a good nights sleep was still difficult.

Then GPS accuracy improved (SA was turned off) GPS got better reception and I put a small handheld plotter by the bed. I left the plotter on all night and it gradually developed a lot of fixes in an arc as we swung on the hook. Cool!! When I woke with a gust or squall I could just roll over and peer at the small plotter screen - we were still on our arc - back to sleep!

It still wasn't perfect system though. What if we had just had a large Sunday Roast dinner and a bit of wine and I didn't wake up with the squall.

Well I have finally found a solution that works GREAT in the form of an App for my phone! I have been testing it for some time, but they recently came up with an update and it is now really great!
In this screen-cap you can see the boat to the left and the anchor in the middle of the red circle "safe zone". The previous track of the boat (in this case the past 20 hours) is easily seen in various colours so you can differentiate older positions from newer ones.

When the phone is online the App also grabs a satellite image of the surrounding area which I think can be quite helpful (although it won't work in all areas) Here we are in the Bahamas and the island next to us is Thunderball Cave near Staniel Cay Exumas. You can even see we are in nice sand between grass patches!! Ain't technology wonderful!!
If you have trouble sleeping at anchor this might be worth a try! Heck its just $1.99...

The app even has a feature that it can apparently call or text you if you drag… has anyone tried this?

This app is called “Anchor!” and is here on the Apple App store.

If you have an Android phone here is one for Android... Or has anyone tried any similar apps?


Mooring Stern-To with Lazy Lines

If you will be coming in to a marina like Port Louis in Grenada that has lazy-lines installed then you do not need to worry about dropping an anchor. It is one version of Med Mooring (see here for the other version) It is easiest if there are boats on either side already and you just need to come in between them. That way you will be pretty well secured in place as soon as you get manoeuvred in between your new neighbours.

Step 1 – Planning. Your approach will depend if you will be bow-in or stern-in. This is likely determined by your boat’s boarding options. Most boats are easiest to board over the stern and many are designed for this as it is common in Europe and the Med. However if you have lots of clutter at the stern such as a big wind-vane then it might be better to come bow-to. The marina will likely assign you a dock and you can see how the wind is blowing for your approach, whether stern or bow-to. With strong winds, or if you are worried about it many marinas can come out with a RIB tender to help nudge you in if you want help.

Step 2 – Prepare lines and fenders. You will need 2 lines to tie to the dock. Assuming we come stern-to these will be made ready astern. We put our fenders out as well planning for our neighbour boats. Generally fenders will go higher up since you aren’t coming beside a pontoon. If the neighbours have not left fenders out then you can hang all yours out. If they have a bunch of fenders out then we usually just have a couple of large ones over near the stern and the others tied on but not thrown out until we get in position.

Step 3 – Back up towards the quay and in between your neighbours. This is often tight but once you have the boat partially in place its easier since your fenders hopefully line up and you are now resting against the beam of one or both of your neighbours. Keep up the momentum and move back in lifting the fenders past neighbouring fenders so they don’t get tangled. We have one reserved as a “roving” fender in case we jostle our new neighbours. Once you get in between the other boats you have done the hard part. Now toss a stern-line ashore if there is someone waiting and pull in on the stern.

Here is an example of stern-to docking with no neighbours to help out. Its a castle in Sweden where you can dock in the moat!!
Vadstena 3

Step 4 – Pick up the "Lazy Line". These are usually left tied to the dock in the middle of your slip. Its often a light messenger line that extends down to the heavier stern line down on the sea bed. Hopefully a dockhand or fellow boater will grab the stern line and pull it up a bit so you can grab it with a boathook. Note you should be careful not to get the lazy line in the prop... Best to put the engine in neutral at this point. Lazy-lines are often VERY encrusted with an amazing variety of sea-life including slime, corals and more. Gloves are a good idea. You can "hand over hand" the line and walk forward to tie it on the bow cleat.

Step 5 – Tidy up. Tie on the other stern line, and adjust your two stern lines so you can get ashore. If there is another "insurance" lazy-line you can make that one fast too. Then make sure the lazy lines are tight enough to hold the boat off the dock in a blow. Adjust fenders etc...

Congratulations - you have moored up Mediterranean style!!

Here is a link to our video on mooring Med-Style with an anchor...


Anchor Dragging?

One of the great pleasures of the cruising life is settling down in a lovely anchorage to watch the sun set. Your boat is your own little island!
Hopefully your anchor is well set and will hold even if the wind in the night gets up a bit, or shifts and you swing around...

This often means I am up in the night checking all is well and we are where we are supposed to be. Check bearings on other nearby boats, check the beach astern hasn’t come any closer....

For many years I have been using a small handheld GPS beside the bunk to make a plot of where we have swung., After a few hours it shows an arc of dots indicating we are (hopefully) where we should be. But this means I have to wake up and check the plot. I haven’t been able to find a good anchor alarm. The ones I have seen are all add-ons to a GPS - not a purpose built system. They all seem to require me to set the alarm while we are anchoring otherwise the centre of the alarm circle is where we pushed the button - not where the anchor is on the bottom. I have always hoped for an anchoring alarm designed just for that purpose - where you can set the centre of the circle where your anchor is, and plot the anchor position.

Anchor Alert - SEE UPDATE July 2014

This is an iPhone App that does just that... I had a chance to test it as we anchored in the remote Cala San Pedro on Spains coast a few days ago. You can set the spread of yellow dots showing where we have drifted within the red circle I have set as a safe radius. The centre dot is our anchor. Drift shows we are currently 18 meters from the anchor. This was done with the iPhone down in the cabin - try it on your own boat to see if the smartphone has a sufficiently sensitive GPS to receive belowdecks.

To set the Anchor Alert with an "offset" is quite straight forward although I had trouble at first since it isn’t in the manual. I emailed the developer (from our anchorage!!) and he kindly sent me directions.

1) Press the "lock" icon in the upper right of the screen
2) Point the phone to where the anchor is.
3) Drag the boat back until the position on screen reflects your current position back from the anchor in real life
4) Press the Set button (currently showing "clear" in the lower left) and choose "Offset"
5) Press the lock icon again.

I set the alarm and it didn’t give any false alarms during the night - nicely plotting the yellow dots. The blue circle is the GPS uncertainly of our actual position (shown in the top menu GPS accuracy). A fancy feature is the overlay of a Google Earth Satellite photo if your phone is on the internet to download it.

If you have an iPhone I recommend this App - for the mere fee of $3.99 (Check Here for Update July 2014)


If you use Android you also have an App, and its also called Anchor Alert, although it has nothing to do with the iPhone one!! It looks even better as it has an exclusion zone option so you can set an area of the circle you want to remove from your safe-zone. This would be useful and would alert you if the wind switched and you wanted to wake up to check if the anchor was safely reset. Its 12Euros. Also looks like excellent value. Anyone out there with an Android phone who has tried it?

Equipment Roundup - Part 2

Rocna 33Kg Anchor - Excellent - In my opinion this is the best all-round anchor, working well in sand, mud and soft mud. It sets quickly and holds very well. It also sets well in most grass and weed although the Delta might outperform it there since it doesn’t have the ring on top. Basically most modern anchors will work well if they are big enough. This is one thing I really admire about Rocna - they recommend a realistic size anchor for a cruising boat. For our 49 footer we could have used either a 33kg or 40kg version of the Rocna according to their website. Other anchor manufacturers recommend much lighter versions but in the very small print they are talking about using it up to just 30 knots wind. I think similar anchor shapes like the Manson and the Spade might also perform well in similar sizes. But would need to be much bigger than they recommend. For instance, Spade Anchors recommend the 77ld (similar to our 73lb Rocna) would be sufficient for a 75 foot boat?! Rocna suggest their 73lb for 40-50 footers (66 feet only if the boat was an ultralight racer weighing less than 10t). Rocna tables - For real life cruising when you occasionally wake up at 3am in gusts of 40 knots you want to know you have been conservative in sizing your anchor! Here I inspect our Rocna at low tide after winds of 30-35 blew all night. Not budging!

Yanmar 4JH4 Engine - 56hp - Excellent!! - Very nice performing engine - well engineered. Affordable parts (versus certain other makes... not to name names). The instrument panel is abit cheesy but all my experience with the engine is positive.

3 bladed fixed prop - oops... not good - it certainly pushes the boat along nicely under power but a real drag under sail. We hadn’t ordered a feathering/folding prop for the 49 for this past summer cruise and really missed it!! The Variprop we had on the 42 was excellent. Will probably go for another on the 49 for this season. Definitely we need to change from the fixed prop. It is certainly the best way to improve performance on any sailboat. We’ll go at least 1/2 knot faster under sail and I think closer to 1 knot in some situations.


Anchors stuck in the Chesapeake Mud

The past 2 days have been windy cold and miserable here in Annapolis. The boat show finished with great weather through the whole 5 days of the show. Now it seems like winter has set in!!! Brrr!

We are anchored in a little creek and getting a chance to test out our anchors in the soft Chesapeake Bay mud. When we were here last year we had trouble in the mud - the only time we had trouble with our Delta 44 (20kg) in the 3 years we have had one. The Delta slipped 4 times in a number of Chesapeake anchorages. I think it is a good anchor but perhaps would have to be bigger for the Southerly 42. At any rate we took the opportunity to re-evaluate anchors and decided to try out the Rocna. We got it in Moorhead City and have now sailed with it for one year, anchoring throughout the Caribbean and Bahamas. It has performed consistently well from sand to grass and some mud. Now we are back in the Chesapeake Mud that was a problem last year.
Rocna 25kg on the right - note scoop shape and large surface area.

So how did it do? The short answer is ... Excellent!

First of all, the Rocna is a 25kg anchor so it’s heavier than the Delta we replaced. I very much admire Rocna for standing up and saying they recommend a heavier anchor. The Rocna people have actually sailed and anchored and know you need a serious dependable anchor on the bow of a cruising boat. Most other anchors seem to recommend smaller lighter anchors but in small print they say it is for winds up to 25-30 knots - basically a day anchor/lunch hook. I think our anchor is probably our most important insurance!

I can’t say why exactly but the Rocna seems to have conquered the gooey Bay Mud. It has never slipped here as we have tested it in a few anchorages. The toughest test we have tried is anchoring stern to a dock. In this case the Delta had slipped repeatedly. Now in exactly the same place the Rocna has been great. Once set in, it has held many times the force we achieved last year. Overall this is the best anchor we have tried and are happy to be putting one on the new Southerly 49. We are moving up to a 33kg (73 pound) version.

Here’s a shot of the Rocna 25 on our Southerly 42 in the Bahamas this past spring.

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Mediterranean Mooring - stern to the dock

Hello from the French island of Guadeloupe. After the tiny islands we have been exploring this is a change with a big port and lots of people. The marina here is good place to get things done with chandleries and service people for almost anything. In fact the marina is quite full and we got put on the big boat dock where you drop your anchor and back up to the quay.

We got the chance to put our Lewmar Auto-Anchor to the test and try our first stern to the quay mooring using the system. From our years spent in the Med we are quite comfortable mooring stern-to and I thought I would describe the procedure for those who haven't tried it before.

Many marinas provide a straight dock without finger piers or pilings to tie the boat to. There are just cleats or bollards along the dock. Boats drop their main anchor away from the dock and back in, throwing stern lines ashore to secure the boat to the quay. The anchor will hold the boat away from the quay. Besides being cheaper to build marinas, the dock can accommodate any or width of boats this way. This system is quite common in the eastern Med.

Step 1 - choose the spot to drop your anchor. The marina pointed us to our place between two large catamarans. Looking at the boats you can guess where their anchors are as you will be looking down their anchor chains. Try to divide that distance so the boat will be centred in the slip. You will need good scope for your anchor so calculate a distance from the dock that will result in minimum 5-6 to 1 scope. More is better if there is room but remember you must have enough chain to allow you to reach the dock :-)

Step 2 – line the boat stern up so you point stern to the quay and drop the anchor. It depends on how your boat handles but if there is a crosswind I position the boat slightly upwind before dropping the anchor in the chosen spot. Now drop the anchor.

Step 3 – Back up towards the quay dropping chain out as you go. Initially you will need to keep it slack but once some chain is out you can tug it gently to set the anchor. When you have enough scope out, you can set the anchor by giving it a stronger pull. This is why its better to have a bit more scope out so you can set the anchor and know its holding before you get all the way stern to the quay.

HINT: Our old boat Two-Step was a long-keeled boat and was terrible to control in reverse. But Med-mooring was easy because we had the anchor out as an extra control. As we backed up the wind would blow the bow around but we could then put a little tension on the anchor chain and use this to straighten the bow out again. Sheryl stayed up at the bow and worked the old manual anchor windlass letting the chain out slowly until we got near enough to the dock to throw a line ashore. When we got turned she would stop the chain and the bow would pull around back into line.

Step 4 – Come in between the boats on either side and tie up. We have all our fenders out with one reserved as a “roving” fender in case we jostle our new neighbours. Once you get in between the other boats you have done the hard part. Now toss a line ashore if there is someone waiting. If not then you can come in close and lassoo a piling. This is one time where having control of the windlass from the helm really pays off. As we backed up to the quay here in Guadaloupe I was able to see the amount of chain we had out, and let it out myself as we backed in. This left Sheryl free to manage the roving fender when we got close to the other boats.

Step 5 – Tie up. With lines ashore now is the time to tighten up on the anchor chain to make sure your anchor is well set and will hold you off the dock. There can be quite a strain on this in a stiff crosswind so you need to be certain it isn't dragging. I use the engine in reverse to pull the boat in, tie the lines as tightly as we need to keep the boat in to the quay. Tighten up on the anchor chain as needed and make sure you are not dragging. If it is slipping you might be able to set it by pulling or you may need to go out and try again!!

Step 6 – Tidy up. I put an anchor snubber on to take the strain off the windlass. This is a chain hook on a length of line. I put it on the chain just off the bow, pull it tight on a cleat and then let tension off the windlass. Voila – anchored stern to the quay.

Additional Hints:
  • know the length of your chain. Nothing is more embarrassing than backing in perfectly and finding you are still 6 meters away from the dock and you have reached the end of the chain!! Many boats that moor this way often have 80 or 100 meters of chain or more.
  • try not to cross the next boat's anchor chain. If all the chains are lined up parallel then there will be no problems. But if you cross over their chain and they leave first, they will pull out your anchor.
  • the chain counter and control at the helm is a great asset when Med Mooring. I have watched our Greek friend Thanos in Rhodes, bring a 50-footer in to the dock all alone and do a perfect stern-to mooring.
  • a passarelle is useful since it is not always easy to get off the stern. Many boats have fancy custom affairs that get quite elaborate. The best are motorized and extend out of a hatch at the stern, sensors maintaining their height above the dock as the tide changes! On Two-Step we carried a simple 2X10 plank about 7 feet long (a gift from Thanos!)


Anchor Chain Counter and control at helm

This is a very cool add-on for an electric windlass!! I have just finished the installation of an "Auto-Anchor" for our Lewmar H3 windlass. This is a device that counts the chain you have down and displays this at the helm. But it also lets you control the windlass from the helm, so if you want to let more chain out you can do it from the helm. We have seen this used in the Med where you are mooring up against the quay. Drop the anchor say 100 feet away from the dock, then back up while letting the chain out. Tie to the dock and snug up the chain so it keeps you from bumping back on the dock. This is especially easy if you have a chain counter and remote at the helm. Then one person can dock the boat this way!

For the installation I had to mount the control at the helm. 3 screw holes plus a hole for the wires. Easy!

Next the more difficult bit. Wiring it in. There are sensor wires that run from a magnetic sensor in the windlass to tell the box each time the windlass rotates. This allows it to count the chain. Then there are the control wires to let the device control the solenoid for the windlass. Since we already have a control up at the bow, we will splice into this to have the "AutoAnchor" work in parallel.

I put the splice in a waterproof junction box since the locker gets spray in when beating to windward.

Now hook up the power and voila!

Switch it on and find the machine gives me an error saying I have hooked up the power incorrectly! How about that?? This is one clever device. Email technical support at AutoAnchor... They send a nice wiring diagram that shows what I have done wrong...

The secret is the fact that the existing windlass switch was taking power from the windlass itself to operate the switch. The AutoAnchor wants to be connected to a circuit breaker from the panel. So now there are two parallel paths for power to get into the AutoAnchor unit. I guess this must happen often since they have even written an error message for it...

So I clip the wire from the windlass power, rerun power to the forward switch from the AutoAnchor and FINALLY it works.

Cool device. Next is to test it...

Up button makes it go up. Down makes chain go down. Control at bow still works. Chain counter counts chain...

Now I just have to get the anchor up from this sticky mud in the St Martin Lagoon and set sail. This really is the best place to take a break and work on the boat. Chandleries abound, I can get wifi from a completely protected anchorage in the lagoon, and there are French restaurants and pastry shops just a short dinghy ride away.