It happened again. We headed out to our favorite cove. In the cove was a 48’ Cruisers yacht – a beautiful boat! However, this boater spent 2 hours trying to successfully anchor this boat. He repeatedly would drop anchor as someone watched from the bow, then back up to set the anchor. The only problem was that the person on the bow wasn’t helping at all, and he wasn’t letting out enough rode. At one point I could actually see the anchor swaying under the water – it wasn’t even on the ocean floor! Additionally, I could see the anchor chain bouncing as the anchor attempted to set. I felt badly for this boat owner. It was at this moment that I realized that perhaps my skills (which I constantly question) aren’t too bad!
If you want to enjoy boating you have to know how to keep the boat in one place! Here’s the deal….First, you need to know how far the bow of the boat is from the water. This is called “freeboard”. You need to know this so you know how much anchor line (or rode) you need to let out. Your captain needs to tell you how deep the water is where you want to anchor. Before you attempt to lower the anchor, be sure you release the safety clip. This clip is attached to the boat and to the anchor line in the event of a failure of the windlass. The windlass is the motor that raises and lowers your anchor. A failure of the windlass could potentially result in an unexpected lowering of your anchor, potentially damaging your boat. As you let out the anchor line, eyeball and count how many feet of rode you have let out. For our boat, the freeboard is 5 feet. If I am anchoring in 15 feet of water, I know I have to let out 20’ of line before the anchor is on the sea floor. I spot the rode at the bow, follow it to the water and know that’s five feet. Repeat until you have let out approximately 10 more feet than you have depth. You don’t want to let out too much rode as it may tangle and pile on top of itself at the bottom. You can see me counting and doing this in the video.
Once you have done that, have your Captain reverse, or back down on the line, gently. Put your hand on the anchor line carefully, making sure your hands and fingers will not be caught in the motor mechanism, cleats or line. You can “feel” the anchor bounce on the sea floor, and you can feel it grab. Once you feel it grab, let out more line. A general rule of thumb is to let out a 5:1 ratio – that means that in 15 feet of water you need to let out 75 feet of line, plus enough for the freeboard. In our case that’s another 5 feet, for a total of 80 feet. Your captain should be gently backing down on the line as you let it out. When you have a good “stick” the reverse motion of the boat will stop and the bow will be pulled in the direction of the anchor. (Now, I understand that some larger boats may not allow you to see or feel the anchor line, as the windlass and the anchor may be below the deck. In this case you will have to watch the anchor as it sets – you can see the anchor line bounce off the floor and you will see it catch. If it bounces, let out more rode).
Remember after you have a good stick, that boats are like kites in the wind. YOUR BOAT WILL MOVE! It’s okay if it swings “on the hook”. Eyeball a spot on shore, or see how far it swings to the right (starboard) or left (port). Watch it swing to port, catch, and swing back. Then watch it swing to starboard, catch, and swing back. Do this a few times to be sure you are set. Once set, be sure to cleat off your anchor line to the nearest cleat to reduce the stress on the windlass. NOTE that again, I am wearing an auto inflating life jacket. This is an absolute necessity any time you are walking around outside the cabin of a moving boat!
When leaving the anchorage, this process is reversed. Be certain your captain understands which direction to point the bow to ensure the anchor line is directly below the bow. Develop hand signals for this purpose (it avoids yelling!). In the video, you will note that once the anchor is free, I dunk it a few times in the water. It sometimes comes up very muddy, which is good, but we don’t want the mud all over the bow!