Anchoring: Which kind to choose


Anchoring: Which kind to choose by Richard Thomas

The first question that most people tend to ask about anchors is 'what kind is best'? Well, it depends to some extent on the nature of the seabed. There's no doubt that for seaweed and rocky bottoms, the good old fisherman is better than the plough. But it's an awkward anchor to stow, or to have ready on the bow roller.

There's been a lot of work done on anchor development. You can get a fisherman where the top arm can be dismantled easily and the whole thing stowed flat, and ideally I would always like to carry one in the locker. But for normal use on sand or mud, there are much better choices.

Whilst they're certainly better than the fisherman, there's been a great deal written, and many tests, which show that the older form of plough anchors - the Danforth, Plough (CQR and Delta) and Claw (Bruce) - can have difficulties actually setting into sand or mud unless they land 'right'.

They can skip along the bottom rather than set. And the type of plough anchor with a hinged shank can be positively dangerous for crews' fingers when handling them. I wouldn't have one of those on board if I had a choice.

Newer designs have improved holding, and avoid the skipping problems that so often lead to a failed set. These include the German designed Bügel or Wasi, the French designed Spade, and the New Zealand Rocna.

The Bügel and Rocna both have roll bars to turn the anchor if it lands the wrong way up so that it digs in better. And when it's on the bow roller, the roll bar makes a wonderful step to get aboard if you're moored bows-to!

My favourite choice would still be the French Spade anchor, because it doesn't need any horizontal pull to set correctly. But be careful - the tip is very sharp.

But just a bow anchor is never enough, and if you've got a copy of the RYA boat safety handbook - something that should be on every skipper's reference shelf - you can see what anchors are recommended for each category of yacht.

On any lengthy trip, I would try to carry a Spade as my main bow anchor with a spare in the locker, (a cheaper version of the Spade is the Sword, but as it requires a horizontal pull to set which raises the chances of skipping across weed or clay), a kedge anchor of some sort, and at least one folding grappling anchor.

If you manage to get yourself aground, a good way of getting off into deeper water is to kedge off, by putting the anchor and a goodly length of line in the dinghy, motoring out to a deeper water and dropping the anchor, and then pulling yourself off by the winch.

I've had to do it a few times, and rowing is usually not an option! Whether you lead the line through the bow roller or fairlead, or whether you try a sideways pull will depend on circumstances. And if you carry two bow anchors, and have enough line, you will always be prepared to set two anchors off the bow in the event of a storm (remember to leave enough distance between them to get at least a 30 degree angle on the anchor rodes).

Those little, folding grappling anchors are great fun, and can be very useful in the dinghy. But they aren't much use for serious work because they don't bed into anything much. But you can use them for anything from holding a buoy or fender in place to mark a spot to holding the dinghy if you're fishing.

If you have the funds, and are saddled with one of the older type of anchors, it's worth spending a bit of money on one of the new generation anchors. I prefer the Spade, but all of them will do a better job than your old fashioned CQR or Bruce.

Your anchor is as important to the safety of the yacht as your flares or your lifejackets. So it's worth spending a bit of money getting it right!

Richard Thomas holds a Commercially Endorsed RYA Yachtmaster and Cruising Instructor (Sail) certificate. He runs his own delivery business, He is available for deliveries, assisted passages, own-yacht tuition, and yacht management.

Spade anchor