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Date: 7 December 2013. Anchoring.

The only folks who have never dragged anchor are either those who never anchor or they are atrocious liars. The last time I dragged was back in 2012 and I don't anticipate doing so again. With proper (read: oversized) ground tackle I'm safe and secure. And I rest well at night knowing that when I set the anchor, I'm not moving until I raise the anchor!

Why do such things happen?  Well, last month I listened in on a VHF conversation that gave some clues. It was Oh-dark-thirty at night and two sailboats were anchored off Dog Island, one of which was having difficulty. There are lessons to be learned, so here we go:

Dog Island (at the red arrow) is a barrier island outside of Carrabelle in the Gulf of Mexico.

It was a dark and stormy night and two sailboats had anchored in what was the lee of Dog Island. Unfortunately they had apparently not checked or listened to the weather forecast which predicted the winds clocking around. Thus after midnight as the winds started kicking from a new direction, they were exposed to the brunt of both the stronger winds and rough seas.

One sailboat was dragging anchor. Although he had his engine running to assist in keeping the boat in place, he was still being driven towards shore by the storm. The TowBoatUS captain from Carrabelle came out to give him a hand and saved the boat however there are lessons we can learn.

  1. ALWAYS listen to the weather forecast. This storm was on the air, indeed there were small craft warnings out.

    Side Note: On VHF radios if you push and hold the Wx (Weather) button the radio will show ALT (means Alert) on the screen. Then, when an urgent weather forecast is issued, automatically the radio switches over to the broadcast presuming your radio is turned on. You'll hear a series of beeps first, then the Marine/Storm Warning.

    Basically what happens is the radio switches from your standard VHF channels to the weather channel. Yes, while Alert is turned on you can switch manually to Weather. After listening you have to manually reset the VHF to Channel 16 just as you normally would. Aboard Seaweed I keep the Weather Alert turned on. It's a handy feature -- and even my twenty year old radio has it so yours ought to as well.
     

  2. The two boats, instead of traversing the channel/river to get into a less exposed spot, chose to anchor outside. That normally would have been a great idea for an earlier start across the gulf, however when you have small craft warnings out and rough waters predicted it's probably wisest to be tucked in safe and sound.
     

  3. The anchor used by one sailboat did not hold.

Another clue experienced cruisers are aware of is when shrimp boats come into harbor, it's a safe bet that recreational boaters should be in port too. The professional fishermen know their seas so if and when they determine the ocean or gulf is unsafe you can be assured they are basing their decision on years of local knowledge. Too many times the novice will fail to appreciate the signs that are quite apparent to the rest of us.

If your anchor won't hold you in all conditions, it is my belief that you need to upgrade. I did drag, once, and believe it's best to be safe rather than sorry when it comes to ground tackle. Calling TowBoatUS at 0300 because you're afraid you're going to come ashore is probably not very good for your blood pressure either.

My former anchor was a 25 pound plow that the books say is more than adequate for a 23' boat. Before Seaweed dragged I was satisfied with it -- not thrilled mind you, just satisfied. I'd always had a hankering for one of the more modern designs but money being money, I held off until that storm back when I was in Pensacola.

Please note that my Seaweed uses 1/4" G4 chain. I have 100' at present though when the budget can swing it I intend to buy another 150'. I'm very serious about anchoring. This is my home and I'm going to protect her. When the 25 pound plow failed I went out (that morning) and ordered a 33 pound Rocna. The Manson Supreme and Rocna are essentially equal in holding power in my opinion, however the Rocna was a bit less costly so it was selected.

Folks who do not regularly dock at marinas must be prepared to anchor in all conditions, safely and securely. When the hook goes down it had better keep the boat in place. After more than 1000 nights depending upon my ground tackle, I'm confident with this system of all chain and an oversized anchor. By day three at anchor, I know that to get the Rocna up I'm going to have to cleat her off, then power it out with the engine. The windlass (a Lewmar V700) will not break it free from the bottom!

Consequently although I confirm my location and swing radius with a GPS I really don't worry about Seaweed dragging. I'm set and when boats get closer I know it's them not me moving.

In the above picture the chain comes almost straight down from the bowsprit, and the black snubber extends out a bit. For Seaweed I use a 5/8" 3-strand black rope. One end has a spliced loop and fits over the Samson post while the other attaches to the chain.

There are a lot of fancy (read 'expensive') attachments available to connect the snubber to the chain however there is one that is perfect. It's a knot: specifically a simple Rolling Hitch. That knot ties easily to the chain, doesn't loosen but is easy to remove when retrieving the anchor. It's never come off regardless of strain (or not) placed upon it. In my book, the rolling hitch works, and the price is outstanding.

Link to Video of Rolling Hitch by Grog:
http://www.animatedknots.com/rollinghitch/

Without a snubber the action of the chain can be too sharp. That action is called catenary and is essentially when the anchor at one end and the boat at the other end bounces. The sudden snap when the chain tightens can be discomfiting to the uninitiated, and it's definitely not comfortable.

Too  little catenary and you're in danger of dragging plus the movement will be sharp and unpleasant. Too much and it's a lot of work to raise the extra length of chain.  A snubber will all but eliminate the sharp bounces though of course when the winds go over gale force you're going to have a bit of motion to the boat.

My snubber is 15' long. If worse comes to worst and the line somehow frees itself from the boat, there is no danger of it getting tangled in my propeller. Black was recommended by a friend so I chose it. As an aside, most of the snubbers I see are white.

In snubbers bigger isn't necessarily better. You want the bounce/springiness of a 3-strand so sizing is important. I'm not an expert but chose 5/8" for Seaweed. When I tried 3/4" braid (borrowed to test) it wasn't as comfortable as with the 3-strand smaller stuff. And 5/8" may be a bit larger than required however I am concerned with chafe as well, so opted for a bit thicker than may have been necessary.

Anyway, it's great to know that the anchor holding my boat is sized appropriately (bigger is better!) and I know when I anchor I'm not going anywhere.

Today I watched as a sailboat anchored near me dragged. When he finally raised the bow anchor I was not happy. The anchor (a Danforth-type) was tiny. I'd have considered it adequate for my dinghy Algae, but certainly not for a real boat. This guy had laid two anchors and although he has reset the tiny one he had forward I'm concerned. Having seen his bow anchor, I can only imagine how small his stern anchor is.

If you anchor out do not think two small anchors are adequate.
Buy one BIG anchor, and I recommend at least your boat length in chain.

That way, you'll stay put when the hook is down!

The one nice thing about the boat that dragged is that he is using an anchor light. That will be handy because when he drags again at least I'll be able to see when he gets closer to Seaweed.

That's it from here. Take care, use a big anchor and if you've got to use one (or two) of those toy pretend anchors at least have the decency to anchor a long ways from me, plus down wind and down current would be helpful too. Thank you.

Have a great time on the water and make sure if you plan on anchoring out that you allocate enough funds to buy good, oversized ground tackle. Bigger is better so don't skimp on this very important aspect of successful cruising.

I'd love to hear of your anchoring experiences.
And, have you ever run aground? Please provide details! (anonymously is fine) 

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