Anchoring – Choosing Your Spot

Anchoring Choosing a Spot

Elementary considerations regarding anchoring spots need to be observed. Check the charts to make sure firstly, that you will have enough water at low tide, secondly, for the nature of the bottom, thirdly, for any underwater obstructions such as wrecks, pipelines, cables etc, and finally to ensure you have enough swinging room for the amount of scope you are likely to pay out. Check with the charts and local regulations to make sure anchoring is not prohibited.

Crowded Conditions

Anchoring in narrow channels require special vigilance at the turn of the tide, as there is always a possibility of swinging into the side of the Channel and grounding. On a falling tide this could be serious, thus there are special techniques you can use to limit your swinging circle dramatically. The Bahamian Moor is one of these, and it will be covered in another article.

In crowded conditions, where you’ll have to anchor in amongst other boats establish whether any of them are on moorings as opposed to anchored. It is not wise to anchor around moored boats, as your ground tackle can end up fouling their mooring chains. In these cases you will have a real job recovering your anchor.

If you’re anchoring amongst other anchored boats, try and gauge where they have laid their anchors, how much scope they have out, and thus estimate what their swinging circles are likely to be.

Some boats with substantial underwater sections lay more to the tide, whilst those with high topsides and shallow underwater sections are more affected by the wind. In crowded conditions it is best to anchor nearer to boats that will behave the same as yours does.

There is really a whole art to anchoring in close quarters situations that only practice will make perfect. The etiquette involved is that the newcomer must keep clear of people already anchored.

If space is tight, one way of making sure you do not drop your anchor on top of or across your neighbours, is to motor up behind them (into the prevailing forces), and drop your anchor close to their stern. You then fall back on your anchor rode and snub it when you are far enough behind them (or have let out the correct amount of scope). This way when the wind or tide turns, you should both swing together, and your swinging circle should never impinge on theirs. This is of course dependent on you both having roughly the same scope deployed, and this is why anchoring on rope is considered antisocial.

If after having deployed your anchor and settled back on it, you find you are too close to another anchored boat….. you have to pull it all up and try again with good grace.

Good spots to anchor in all conditions are hard to come by, many will offer shelter from one direction but be very exposed to another. Spots with all-round shelter tend to get crowded, and often tend to fill up with permanent moorings. Many rivers and creeks fall under one jurastiction or another, who’s minions will chase you for ” anchoring fees” (as if they’re providing a service !). We try to mention these irritations in our harbour coverage.

For short stops it is not necessary to find a bombproof anchorage, it is sufficient to be in the lee of the land, with enough depth of water and no underwater obstructions. Obviously you are looking for a place with no swell or waves, and you need to take into account what would happen if the wind shifted. In UK waters SW winds are liable to suddenly shift to the NW, therefore finding a spot with shelter from both these directions makes sense if staying a little while. Close attention to weather forecasts is required in an “open” anchorage, but anchorage off a beach etc. for lunch is the norm.

Deepwater Anchorages

It is quite possible, and indeed used to be normal, to anchor in rather tenuous places to await a fair wind or tide. Nowadays even sailing yachts have powerful engines, and most skippers choose to smash on regardless. Vessels with puny engines and propellers very often used to have to anchor “at sea”. Having commenced my sailing in such a vessel I have found myself anchored in some very strange places. In the Thames estuary (out of the shipping channels), behind headlands (like Dungeness), dodgy places with little or no shelter.

Sometimes when you don’t have a fair wind there seems little point in motoring full speed ahead, burning what precious little fuel you have left, and staying exactly in one spot… at times like these (bearing in mind weather conditions, sea conditions etc.) It may be worth anchoring. Maybe getting in behind a headland to wait out the tide.

Anchoring in these conditions, with deepwater, often none too calm, need special consideration. The first thing is don’t use your main anchor, even if you have an electric anchor winch to pull it up again. Anchoring in deep water with heavy chain is inviting trouble, as the sheer weight of the chain when you break out the anchor is backbreaking.

I heard of one account where a ship suffered engine problems in the Indian Ocean. It was flat calm, and the problems were going to take some time to fix. The bosun thought it would be a good idea to keep the crew busy, so the anchors (both of them), were lowered away into the unfathomable depths and the chain lockers were chipped and painted. The problem came when it was time to raise them… the anchor windlasses simply did not have enough power to pull up the weight of the chain that was dangling in the ocean. Both anchors were lost.

The same thing has almost happened to me on a much smaller scale obviously, as I struggled away with the weight of many metres of chain hanging up and down. Even an electric winch would have problems in these conditions.

Advice… use your Kedge anchor and loads and loads of rope. Swinging circles won’t be a problem in these cases.

Anchoring to seek shelter in heavy weather.
Passagemaking, no matter how thoroughly planned, can sometimes result in being overtaken by unpleasant weather. Often there comes a point where trying to push on forwards is a futile exercise, and the thought of losing all the ground you have just made doesn’t appeal either.

If you are heading eastwards down the English Channel the prevailing SW and NW winds will be favourable… you’ll be sailing like a freight train.

With the first blasts of strong winds normally originating from the South West, passage making westwards along the channel offers plenty of opportunities for shelter, for the prepared.

This is the time to have a good study of the charts to find out what natural land features can give you some protection from the wind and waves. Getting onto the port tack and sailing close-hauled as possible in a stiff SW wind, gives you access to many of the bights and bays in the western channel. Within these bights and bays the sea is likely to be a bit calmer, and you may be able to harden up your course a bit.

The net result is you may well be able to tuck yourself under a headland and anchor fairly close inshore out of the main blast the wind, in relatively calm waters.

Should it be impossible to push forwards into one of the bays, it may be that running back a little way and tucking in behind some headland will give you respite.

Extra special care is needed as headlands often have tidal races plus large areas of disturbed seas extending offshore in heavy weather. You need to keep well away from all this.

When choosing a spot look for somewhere that will also give good protection should the wind be swinging round rapidly to the Northwest. With a bit of luck you won’t lose too much ground, and you may also have access to harbours within the bay that are sheltered from the wind, and thus relatively safe to enter.

After all the commotion of heavy weather at sea, even a tenuous open anchorage in the lee of the land will seem blissfully peaceful.

Any kind of open anchorage needs special care while working on the foredeck, with harnesses and life jackets essential. It is very easy to be pitched over the side, especially while struggling with cables… I know… it has happened to me !
And that about concludes this little article on anchoring spots.

Many thanks to Steve Bryant for letting us re-produce this article. Please click here to visit his website for more article and harbour information.