Into the Wind
by Jeff Williams

Anchoring Part II
(Part I)

We cruise into the anchorage slowly, eyeing the distance from other boats, the depth on the sounder, and the wind direction for an ideal spot. An atmosphere of quiet expectation grows over the anchorage. Skippers on the fancy yachts watch suspiciously over their martinis to see if we will blunder into them. The less sophisticated boat watchers crack a fresh beer as they anticipated the domestic dispute that commonly arises between husband and wife when they try to anchor their boat.

After circling once, and agreeing on our strategy, I go forward to lower the anchor. Merrill starts to back up as I lower the anchor gently over the bow roller. I continue to feed the line out after the anchor touches bottom, waiting until we back up about three boat lengths. I put a turn over the large bow cleat, and watch the line become taught as the flukes of the anchor dig into the mud. The nylon line begins to stretch and our backward progress is stopped by the now well buried anchor. I give Merrill thumbs up. She puts the motor into neutral and shuts it off. We're anchored for the night.

Everyone turns back to their conversation, disappointed with the lack of a show.

Of course, that's not how our anchoring first started out. We, like most people had to learn the hard way that anchoring without looking like a circus act requires a bit of planning.

Start with a slow cruise around the anchorage. It may seem like a waste of time, but it usually pays off with less stress in the long run. Look for a spot that is sheltered, (a marine weather forecast is helpful here) but still allows you enough room to swing on your anchor line. A chart will tell you how deep the water is, and what type of bottom there is. Now is the time to discuss with your crew what the plan is. Everyone seems to forget that the helmsman can't hear the crew at the bow and vise versa over the engine. Even worse, the guy or gal up front is usually facing forward when shouting directions. Boat watchers live for this moment of confusion, but it's rarely funny when you're the one directly involved. Clear hand signals are much more effective than your voice.

It's usually easiest to come to a stop facing into the wind before you lower the anchor. This way you keep the boat's propeller away from the anchor line. Don't throw the anchor in. If you do, you will likely: a) tangle the anchor line in the flukes of the anchor b) throw out your back c) fall overboard, hopefully not attached to the anchor or d) all of the above. Option d will result in wild applause from the boat watchers if and when you come up for air.

Back up slowly while the crew feeds out line. This way the crew has time to react if the line gets tangled or hung up on something. Many boats don't handle well in reverse. Practice this out on the lake when no one is watching. Feed out at least three times the water's depth in anchor line. This is a minimum for calm weather anchoring. A short anchor line pulls up on the anchor instead of allowing it to lie flat on the bottom so it can dig its flukes in.

When you have enough line out, wrap a turn of line around a strong cleat. The anchor line will hopefully come taught. If it doesn't, the anchor is probably tangled or on smooth rock. If this happens, you will have to pull the anchor back up and try again. Usually, the anchor will bite in the first time around and stop the boat.

Once everything is shut down, take a few moments to notice some landmarks on shore so you can judge if the anchor is dragging when the wind pipes up. Make sure the anchor line is well cleated and relax. You have now discovered a whole new dimension to boating.

Jeff Williams