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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

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