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Some of the happiest parts of boating are the things that happen when you’re standing still: a quiet picnic in the lee of a remote islet; an impromptu gam in a friendly cove; or a splash ashore to an inviting beach. In all of those situations – or even if your boat is small enough that it can be driven or dragged onto dry land – you’ll want to secure it with an anchor.
Of course, there can be other reasons for dropping the hook that may not be quite as much fun: an unexpected loss of power; a sudden change in weather; or the need to reorient after missing a turn in unfamiliar waters. Whatever the motive, anchoring is one of those deceptively simple exercises that can be a source of all the wrong kind of surprises.
For example, nothing identifies us as alumnae of the School for Seagoing Simpletons quite as decisively as bending down at the skipper’s signal to give the anchor the old heave-ho — and finding it is securely lashed to the deck. Or to toss it out with the appropriate elan, only to have it jerk to a stop a full foot above the water because of a kinked chain or knotted rode. (Crustier seadogs refer to the anchor line as a “rode,” most likely to avoid being understood. This can be useful information for someone striving to recover lost face on the backlash of an embarrassing gaffe: “What fool fouled the rode? Shiver me timbers.”) And then there’s the boater who is so afraid of losing his anchor to thieves that he padlocks it in place and leaves the key in a cigar box under the work bench in his garage.
Here are some of the other common anchoring pit-falls, and some easy tips on how to avoid them.
The anchor, the rode or both can be tangled up with mooring lines, fishing equipment, even with ankles of passers-by. Keep it clear; the times you’re going to need it are often spur-of-the-moment, and sometimes unforgiving.
The boat is moving backwards so fast the anchor sleds above the bottom, or if the hook has already taken a bite the rode is playing out too fast to be snubbed off. Use your sail or motor to move up on it.
Someone grabs a fast-moving anchor rode and loses skin. Anchor handling is one of the best reasons to wear gloves, which should be kept close to where they’re needed.
The part of the anchor rode which is supposed to be attached to the boat – called the “bitter end” by those who speak the language – isn’t , and it follows the anchor overboard (thence, possibly, the name.) This is another situation best corrected in advance.
The wind or tide shifts, and the swinging boat fouls on someone else’s anchor rode or bangs into an adjacent vessel. One way to avoid this is to secure both bow and stern. Another is to use two bow anchors, one on either side of the boat; this won’t stop the boat from turning around, but it can greatly reduce the scope of the swing.
The anchor won’t set. The most common reason is that the scope is too short for a good parallel pull along the bottom, This is easily corrected by playing out more rode. Other possibilities are the wrong type or size of anchor, or mud, clay or weed (usually requiring clearance by hand) fouls the flukes.
The anchor sets, but the boat settles back into the wrong position. This is a common problem in wind or moving water, because the anchor always hits bottom in a different place from where you let go of it. Pull it back up, clean the flukes if needed, and on your next try allow for drift.
The anchor is set, the scope is right, the weather is fair, so you turn in for the night — and two hours later you realize the boat has stopped rocking. This can be for a number of reasons: the weather, the tide and the current are in perfect stasis; you are in the tractor beam of an alien orbiter; or – and this is far more frequently the answer – you didn’t check out tide charts or the depth for your anchorage, and now you’re on the bottom. One way to find out which of the above pertains is to lie perfectly still and wait; unless the sea bed is very deep mud, you’re going to start sliding to one side or another in your bunk as the boat heels over. A good time to drain the sink, flush the head, secure the dinner ware, and thank God for the fact that His tides flow in both directions twice every day. This is one case where there’s no immediate need to check the anchor.