How to anchor like you really mean it

A long lunch is no reason to take short cuts with anchoring.
Mark Rothfield
In a long, proud line they paddled upstream, decades separating the young motor cruisers from the venerable tailenders in what was the largest rendezvous of this brand ever assembled outside the US.

Awaiting them on the Hawkesbury River, just north of Sydney, was a sumptuous feast at the Peats Bite restaurant.

Patagonian scallops poached in Japanese broth with wakame, then corn-fed chicken breast stuffed with cashews and coriander or grain-fed beef fillet on potato and chive rosti.

Slow food for a slow cruise …

As I indulged in a pear and macadamia nut crumble with passion fruit caramel cream and a cheese selection, I watched the owners happily dancing while the restaurant owner belted out tunes with the gusto of Celine Dion.

Her dog howled in harmony.

Out in the bay, meanwhile, the sea breeze was gaining vigour and five or six old gals began dragging their anchors, apparently intent on rubbing gunwales with their sister ships.

As tenders were madly scrambled from shore and the mess sorted, the knowing folk allowed themselves a private chuckle.

These craft had come from far and wide, each in pristine condition as hundreds of hours and dollars had been lavished in their upkeep. Yet their owners didn’t even know the basics of anchoring technique – they’d simply plonked down the pick before hitting the plonk themselves.

It’s a scene commonly seen, sometimes with devastating results.

Stories abound from the Whitsundays bareboat charter world. In one case, a honeymooning couple anchored their cruiser in three metres of water at high tide, forgetting that tidal variation there can be up to four metres.

They were gone for a long while, enjoying a bushwalk, and upon return found the boat hard aground. Suction kept it there as the tide rose and water eventually flooded the cockpit and cabin.

A cold, wet night on the beach ensued before they were noticed next day.

Another famous case involved a charterer radioing the base: ‘Can you send more anchors out?’ he asked.

‘Your boat has a main anchor and an emergency anchor, why do you need another?’ came the reply.

‘We used those on the first two nights …’

It transpired that the novice skipper had cast each anchor adrift in the morning, believing that the map symbol on the 100 Magic Miles guide referred to a dumping ground, not a recommended anchoring site as intended.

I’d confess to an anchoring ‘moment’ or two myself. One occurred at Chalkies Beach in the Whitsundays, which is notorious because it has soft sand and a shelf that falls away dramatically.

Whitehaven at dusk is the ultimate reward for smart anchoring technique
Mark Rothfield

We arrived late, with all the prime spots taken, and I struggled to get the anchor to bite on the down slope. After several tries I added a heap of extra chain, crossed my fingers, and shut the motors down.

At 11.30pm, with peak tide and pitch blackness, we were 'found out'. A yacht that had been 100 metres astern was now 30 metres away. I heard the slapping of its hull before we saw it.

Our frantic torches eventually aroused the boat’s owner from his sleep and he rushed up on deck in nothing but undies. I’d already started the motors and we moved away while the windlass groaned in protest.

That still left the problem of re-anchoring in the darkness, and I achieved it more by fluke (no pun intended) than skill. After that I barely slept a wink all night.

On another occasion at Port Stephens, NSW, a southerly struck as we slept soundly in a borrowed 42-foot sports cruiser. This particular boat had a nasty habit of sailing from side to side when tethered, and before long the anchor was dragging.

I had several attempts at making the pick stick but it was just too small – built for aesthetics and OK for lunching but not a serious cruising anchor. Setting a second anchor was considered but I knew of a NSW Maritime mooring across the bay.

In 40 knots of breeze and driving rain we motored over to it, and my wife somehow managed to grab the line. It took both of us to get the loop over a bollard.

Make sure you allow for plenty of swing room when picking a spot
Mark Rothfield

Factors to consider each and every time you enter an anchorage include:

• Water depth
• Bottom type (is it sandy, muddy or pebbly?)
• Underwater hazards (reef, logs, cables or coral bommies)
• Exposure (is it vulnerable to wind changes?)
• Swing room (proximity to other boats or jetties)

When you’ve worked out the best spot, don’t just dump a pile of chain. Rather, move slightly upwind before lowering the anchor, then reverse slowly while paying out chain/rope. The effect is to lay a neat line, not a tangled mess.

From the depth gauge you should know how much water you’re in, plus you must allow for potential tidal difference. Take the maximum depth and multiply it by at least three to calculate the safe length of chain. A ratio of 3:1 is minimal; 5:1 is better for longer stays in exposed anchorages.

Consider the dead low tide as well.

Once the line is secured, bury the anchor with a burst of reverse power to simulate a strong gust. By lining up two trees on shore you can check that the boat is holding, but give it a minute or two before shutting down.

Check too that you haven’t come back too far, or laid across another boat’s line.

It’s not rocket science, but it’s amazing how often boaties get the simple art of anchoring wrong. Get it right and you can enjoy a perfect night’s sleep.

Modern windlasses and bowsprits have taken the hard work out of it.
Mark Rothfield