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By John Welsford - Hamilton - New Zealand

John Welsford is touring the USA. Here are some details of his trip and a chance to help out a bit.

Anchoring Out

Anchoring is a somewhat fraught experience for a lot of small boat owners. The items sold by the big stores tend to be inadequate or a poor choice. The ones advertised by the makers of anchors are, when selected from their charts which say " this anchor for a boat this long", tend to be way too small. They tend to make their recommendations on the basis that a very small (under about 20 ft is very small by their standards) boat won't be left unattended or anchored in anything other than calm weather, so the anchors recommended tend to be toys designed to stop the boat off a nice sandy beach while you have lunch and watch the girls.

We though, you and I, being serious cruisers who just happen to use small boats for "real" cruising, need to do better than that. Its evident, and known by experienced cruisers, that an anchor of less than about 15 lbs does not have enough weight to push the point of the anchor into a bottom that is other than soft sand or mud. We need to remember that.

I recently bought a small boat, a very pretty trailerable gaff sloop with long keel and a cabin with two bunks. The sort of thing that is a dreamship for many who live in suburbia and want to keep the boat at home for low cost storage and ease of maintenance. She came to me with two quite decent looking anchors, one a genuine "Danforth" 6S, and the other a 10 lb Plough anchor from a reputable manufacturer, each equipped with about 20 ft of 1/4in short link galvanised mild steel chain, and around 50 yards of 3/8in polypropylene fishing boat rope.

"May" is a close interpretation of a South Coast English workboat, used as ferries, fishermen and freighters they had to be fairly shallow draft to access the estuaries and mudflats, superbly seaworthy craft as the Atlantic end of the English Channel is one of the nastiest places on the planet in terms of gale force winds and contrary currents. They had to be fast as without refrigeration the fish tended not to be at their best if not landed and processed quickly. All ideal things to have in a small cruising yacht.

Neither of the anchors had their shackles secure, first problem. Second problem was the rope, it floats! Third problem, no proper eyes in the rope. Fourth problem, the anchors were too small! Not by much, and of course the boat was well within the makers recommended length range for that size anchor, Hah!

We wanted to go cruising though, and the event that we wanted to attend was on in a very few days, so, I got some thimbles out of my box of bits, spliced a decent eye in each rope and refastened the ropes to their respective chains with a bigger shackle (each one with a little hole in the fingers end of the shackle pin), and got some stainless steel tie wire (surprisingly the local hardware has this) and wound it through the pin and around the shackle body, twisting it together with pliers. This is called "mousing" the shackle, and it should be done to every shackle and rigging screw on the boat that does not get undone and refastened in the normal course of sailing. It prevents the pin coming undone with the vibration of flogging sails and that can lead to a very embarrassing situation.

Having done that, and checked out the security of the cleats that I'd be hooking the "warp" (anchor line) to, I stowed them away and loaded the stores on board. I figured that as we were planning to be in an area with very good shelter and a perfect sandy bottom to anchor on this time I'd be able to get away with the other issues, just this once. Like I said, Hah!

The forecast said that later that day it was going to be really lousy weather, but by the time I'd driven for three hours to get to where we were going to launch, we were going to go sailing regardless. There were several good sheltered anchorages along the way and there were three days in which to cover the 45 miles up the coast to where I was heading. So the boat was launched and rigged , all the gear stowed and we headed out.

We had a lovely sail along the upper reaches of Aucklands Waitemata harbour. You'd hardly think that one was in the middle of a good sized city. For the first two hours it was so calm that only the outgoing tide was moving us , then, there was a little breeze, oh perfect! She sailed very nicely for the next couple of hours and I was beginning to think that the weather prophets had it wrong, but no---
Before the weather started to deteriorate, a near perfect day on the water.
Even supermodernistic boats like this power trimaran still need good anchors. This one, moored at the superyacht building facility in Hobsonville, Auckland seems to have its engines out in the floats. Unusual.

At the first hint of the heavy stuff, and watching the black clouds come pouring over the horizon, I bore away downwind and headed for a well known and popular anchorage some 10 miles from where I made up my mind to run for shelter. We made that distance in just over an hour, and my 18 ft boat, weighing in at over a ton, does not plane so you can imagine what that run for shelter was like! The little boat handled well though, and even though it was blowing so hard that I chose to round up and tack rather than gybe ship as I came to the little harbour entrance, we came into the sheltered area in good order and condition, laying out the plough and its chain ready on the foredeck as I ran into where I thought would be a good spot.

This anchorage is usually a busy place, possibly one of the busiest cruising anchorages on the planet (look it up on google earth, Islington Bay, Hauraki Gulf, New Zealand, I anchored right at the inner end on the eastern side) so I chose to get over in the shallows away from the crowd which were mostly deeper draft boats.

In the new boat I thought about it for a moment, and we took a conservative approach to anchoring. With all the other boats in the bay sitting doing nothing there were a lot of critical spectators, this was the first time I'd brought this boat to anchor, and although aware of the possibility that we'd be the afternoons entertainment we managed it perfectly! Sailed in, tacked about and hove to with the main just drawing and the jib aback, the boat sailing slowly sideways away from the shore somewhat upwind from where I wanted to be as I lowered the anchor and streamed the warp. I'd previously put black tape around it, one at 10 ft, two at 20 and so on, I put out 100ft plus the chain and snubbed it, letting the momentum of the boat "set" the anchor in the mud bottom pulling her head to wind in just the right spot.

Normally, with that amount of chain on the anchor you'd want about three times the depth of water of warp out at high tide. I sounded with my leadline to check, found that I had let out about five times the depth, checked that with that amount of "scope" I'd not swing ashore or into any other boats, and after dropping the sails and tidying up, went below to relax and cook up dinner.

Cornbread cooked in a frypan, canned beef and onion soup, and a mini steamed pudding cooked up in the water boiled for my cup of tea. Not what we'd eat at home but when away in the boat with the appetite stimulated by five hours since the last meal, just great. Settled back to read a book, checking every 10 mins or so to see that all was right with the world outside.

It was, but the wind was increasing all the time, and "Isy bay" has a soft mud bottom over smooth rock, its not brilliant holding, and I was worried. The wind had been from the north west making the shore nearest me the sheltered one, but it was swinging around gradually going south west, then late that evening went south which meant it was blowing straight down the harbour. There were 3ft waves out in the middle. I've been in that anchorage a lot and have never seen that before.

At dusk I veered (more nautical language, means to let out) another 30 ft or so of warp. The more horizontal the pull on the anchor the better they tend to hold. That's partly what the chain is for, a weight to hold the anchor shank parallel with the bottom. The other reason for having chain is so that the rope warp is not as vulnerable to chafe or being cut on rocks or whatever on the bottom.

We sat up late that night, being bounced around by the waves and listening to the screeching wind in the rigging, so rare in that harbour. It was extremely uncomfortable but by my estimate the wind was up to around 40 knots, close to full gale force, and increasing. If I'd wanted to head for somewhere else my chances of being able to sail out were not good, and there was nowhere much to go anyway.

Very late, checked again, we were still where we were supposed to be, not dragging, so I went to bed. A minus 10 down sleeping bag with a polar fleece blanket under and over it. Cozy.

I'd been waking regularly and checking, but it was a change in the boats motion that woke me up in the wee small hours. I looked out through the rain going past the windows horizontally, and noted that there were no other boats near, uh oh!

Up on deck, sure enough, we were drifting toward the shore. The anchor not even slowing us down.

I'd set up the outboard motor before bedtime, so it was already lowered into the water, fuel checked and fuel tap on, choke on, throttle in the right place. Just pull the cord and go. I did!

Up on the foredeck hauling in the anchor warp, wet to the skin which was not so bad as that was all I was wearing, and with the motor running we got away from the shore with the anchor tackle on board. The little longshaft 3.5 Tohatsu was making hard work of it but we were still able to go slowly upwind. I motored across to the other side thinking that may be better shelter, but no, it was even worse. It takes wave action to form a sandy beach, and it was doing a good job of grinding rock and shell into sand as we approached. Back across, and up along the shore into a tiny indentation in the shore, and after sounding the depth with the lead line I put first the Danforth, and then the plough down to ensure that we did not swing into the rocks, and checking that both were holding by pulling first on one then the other warp. Went below and dried off, shivering some, and boiled up some more soup to warm me.

It blew like that for three days! The coastguard had two cutters stationed in the bay that weekend, and both were very busy with multiple rescues due to extreme weather. We didn't get a lot of sleep until the wind went back west making the big volcano of Rangitoto Island into a windbreak, but I did read several good books, and cooked some very nice meals.

We didn't attempt to sail back out until the wind was back down under 20 knots. That's about when the breaking waves stop making big long streaks of foam. Bad weather is not new to me, but once they start doing that it's a good time to be somewhere else.

I did though have a couple more frights while at anchor, the polypropylene rope used for the anchor warps floats. That meant that there was a risk of any other boats moving about in the area running over them and entangling their propellers or keels in them. With two anchors out, one of the two warps was generally afloat, I was several times up and waving to warn people to stand clear. We didn't make it up to the event I wanted to go to, but it was cancelled due to the extreme weather so I didn't miss much. Instead, as the wind dropped, and making my decisions on the basis of the forecast being for more of the same in a day or so, I sailed the 30 miles back up to the head of the main harbour near where I had launched, and mooched around in the tidal estuaries up there exploring old haunts. I'd grown up on the shores of one of those rivers, learning boating in canoes bent up from roofing iron and caulked with tar scraped off the road on hot days. My boat today is a lot more comfortable, safer too but not necessarily more fun.

Although its not easy to see from this angle, Paremoremo Inlet is a narrow little channel that leads to a tidal pool a few hundred yards long and maybe 50 yards wide that is used in theweekends by a waterski club. It's completely sheltered by hills and trees, a perfect place to hide from the wind and waves of the outer harbour.  A great place to read a book!

Lessons learned?

Anchors can be very specific to the type of bottom you are anchoring on. Be aware of the type best for your area, be aware of the nature of the bottom where you expect to anchor, and on a boat big enough to carry two anchors (anything that will be anchored out for more than a few hours should have two, or three anchors). You should have two of different types. Marine charts tell you what the bottom is in most anchorages, but small boats creep into places that big ships don't, and some tallow on the bottom of the weight that you use for a lead line will bring up a sample that will tell you what's down there.

Make sure that your anchors are big enough. My next cruise in that boat will see me armed with a 15 lb Danforth and a 20 lb plough. Possibly a 15 lb fisherman anchor as a third. Do believe the weather forecast, as it was I was never going to come to any harm, but would have had a much more enjoyable cruise if I'd stayed in those estuaries in the first place.

Don't use Polypropylene for anchor warps, its not as strong as Nylon, does not stretch to absorb shock so can jerk your anchor loose when the boats pitching to waves, and it floats so can get entangled with other boats.

Note that "Nylon" is not just any plastic rope, it's a specific type, very strong, chafe resistant, can stretch up to 30% without damage so absorbs shocks, and sinks.  Make sure you have at least as much warp as I did, 50 yards on each anchor is about right for small boats in our area with a 12 ft tidal range. More tide, you need another 10 ft for every 2 ft of tidal range above that.

Keep an anchor watch. I had been checking every half hour, but was woken from a doze by the change in motion when the boat went from head to waves to broadside on as the anchor pulled out. You can't count on that. If the conditions are really foul take turns and watch constantly.

My Moused shackles on the warps and chains performed perfectly, in spite of the boat sawing back and forth in the wind they stayed tight, as did all the rigging. It would not have been a good time for something to come loose.

I was glad to get home, but glad I'd gone out in the face of such a rotten weather forecast, I'd learned a lot about the boat and how it behaves in a wide range of conditions, had a boating break away from home for the first time in way too long, and had a list of things to do to the boat that was enough to keep me busy for the winter. Its better to find out in the autumn so the next summer is clear of problems.

Even in an open boat like Osbert Lancasters John Welsford designed Walkabout the minimum anchor size for serious cruising is about 15 lbs plus the weight of at least 12 ft of ¼ in chain. I've even gone to the trouble of tying a heavy weight to the rope end of the chain to ensure that the anchor sets correctly.

John Welsford

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