Port Credit Marine Survey
& Yacht Delivery
6. Ground Tackle & How to Use it.
The first time we cruised the Hudson River we ended up in marinas and on mooring balls because the river seemed so open. Many years and many trips on the Hudson later we have found dozens of snug little holes to drop the hook. It takes time and experience but you will get comfortable anchoring as your knowledge base expands.

Few topics in boating will generate more arguments than this so for what it’s worth here are my own highly prejudiced opinions. Successfully launching and retrieving ground tackle, while not rocket science, is not as simple as it appears what with currents, rough water, blinding spray or poor light. 

There is simply no substitute for practice. Hand signals from bow to helm are best arranged before you cast off to avoid being one of those couples screaming obscenities at each other in the dark (there is one such entertainment in each anchorage). You will encounter situations where either a speedy launch or retrieval can make the difference between a great day and a stinker.


The Set-up - Release the chain lock and the anchor should automatically drop from the roller. A windlass with a power down feature will make it easier to measure how much rode you let out. You should never have to fight the anchor out of its roller or hang over the bow to shake it loose. There are times when this would be unsafe. Practice before you leave and if your system dosn't work work flawlessly….. change it. 


Isle of Skye ground tackle arrangement with snubber running out starboard hawsepipe and the all important washdown hose to port.
Many production boats have poorly designed bow rollers that don’t have room for two anchors or they may not be designed for your choice of anchor and likely didn’t come with a chain hook or rode cleat. In the photo above right - You can just make out the 5"X5" sampson post with stainless steel bit on our stemhead. A real rode cleat is much more substantial than the chrome thing secured with two ¼” bolts through balsa core that many boat builders provide.

Two different type anchors should be kept at the bow as you will occasionally find that for some reason one type will
not set. We also always have a Danforth ready to go at the stern. Over the years we have twice lost power going downstream in narrow cuts where dropping a bow anchor would have sent us ashore. We regularly anchor in narrow creeks (mostly in Georgia) where there is not enough room to swing so bow and stern anchors are the way to go. We have even anchored with bow and stern anchors ashore in Georgia. If you try this, check the depth with a boat pole as there is sometimes an underwater shelf that can hang you up when the tide drops.

The Rode - When we pull into anchor one of the first things we look at are the rodes of the anchored boats. We keep away from boats with (especially ½”) rope rodes as they swing differently than those on chain and they drag more often. In a 10 knot wind a rope rode boat will be at the full extent of the rode pulling directly on the anchor where a chain rode boat may ride on the chain with no pull on the anchor at all.

Since we never anchor in more than 15’ we only carry 120’ of all chain primary rode. Many areas in the lower states have junk on the bottom and nylon rodes do not wear well against abandoned shrimp boat hardware (there is more of this than you would think). We have snagged on everything from truck fenders to large concrete mooring blocks. My vote is for all chain rodes however, with weight being a factor, only our primary rode is all chain with the secondary having a 30’ chain leader on 250’ X ¾” triple strand Nylon and a stern rode of 250’ of ¾” double braid.

A Snubber - should run off one side of the bow as holding the rode at a slight angle will help reduce “sailing”. 

A Washdown - pump is a must unless you like 40lbs. of black muck running down your decks.

The Windlass - If you read the log of our 2005/06 trip you will learn how absolutely critical it is to be able to launch and retrieve your tackle as quickly as possible. For this reason I am a firm believer in electric windlasses. Using a manual windlass to drag in 100’ of chain and a 45lb. anchor 80 or 90 nights in a row does not make for happy cruising. If you are the unlucky boat dragging through a crowded anchorage, a slow manual windlass will not help much. Windlass controls should not be at the helm but at the windlass where the operator can see what’s happening and find the sand patch among the seagrass.

Self launching - anchors are easier and safer to launch as no one has to go out on a bow sprit or have their fingers in the way of 45lbs. of steel and chain. 

Anchor Types - Size does matter. Whatever type anchor you prefer a bigger one will invariably work better. Forget all the charts about anchor size relative to boat size and get the biggest you can handle.


Anchored bow and stern in a narrow Georgia creek.


The blue line shows a snubber holding the bow off
the wind to reduce "sailing".
You do want to sleep…right ? Almost all anchors work well in certain conditions however, once out of Lake Ontario all the way through the New York State Canal System to the Bahamas you will be dealing with mostly two bottom types, river mud and sand with some heavy clay in Georgia. There are some areas of sea grass and weed but you are not going to anchor there anyway, right ?

The old standby Danforth anchor is my favourite the for sand and mud but it does not work well in most bow rollers (ours included). If you want two anchors (you do) in dual rollers at the bow they should be of different types. If your Bruce won't set, how effective will another Bruce be ?
We’re not fans of CQR types as they seem to drag more frequently than others and for some distance before they reset. I think the worst anchor on the market for this trip is the Fortress which is an aluminum Danforth knock-off. This anchor is so light it takes off like a kite in strong river currents or tidal streams and is extremely difficult to get on the bottom where you want it. Even though it gets high marks for holding power once set, it is just not worth the trouble. We carry a Bruce, Delta and a Danforth. The Max seems to have a lot of fans as does the Rocna but make no mistake, they will all drag at some point !

Isn't it funny how all those anchor manufacturers advertise tests that show theirs is the best ? Practical Sailor has done a number of anchor tests over the years and got different results each time depending on methodology.

Setting the Hook - This is so easy to do right that it’s surprising how many people get it wrong. Before you release that self launching anchor from your double bow roller you must know how deep the water is. If the water is 15’ deep let out 15’ of chain (plus height from bow roller to water). The boat must be moving very slowly astern when the anchor touches bottom. If you just dump 100’ of chain over the bow there is a good chance it will get tangled in the anchor you back up, this is not good.

As the boat slowly drifts back let out as much rode as required. Of course you have painted marks on your chain so you know how much is out (we use Tremclad). When we feel a gentle hook-up we put the coffee on and enjoy the view for 15 minutes to let it sink in (the anchor not the view). We then back down, slowly increasing the throttle to full power. After you have done this for a while you will be able to tell at the first tug if you are going to get a good set.

There will be occasions when no matter what you do the anchor will not bite. This is one of several reasons to always have a backup
anchorage planned (before it gets dark). We give it a maximum of three tries and then move on.

Isle of Skye achored off Johnny Depp's boat,
Grand Bahama

Weighing Anchor -
When its time to leave in the morning shorten the rode until its
snug and vertical, have a coffee. By the time you are ready to leave the gentle bobbing of the boat will have loosened the hook from that heavy Georgia clay. This is when you will really appreciate the time it took to install that washdown aside from using it to clean fish.

Scope - Decades ago I was taught that 5:1 was the ideal scope but everything I’ve read in this century says 7:1. Our rule of thumb is if you’ve got it, flaunt it. We put out everything we have whenever possible. There are some very well protected small anchorages where there is not room for more than 3:1 but if the protection is good enough, it does not concern us. If there is room to put out 120' in 6' of water ..... out it goes.

Setting Multiple Hooks - We have never dragged anchor with only one hook out. In thousands of cruising hours we have dragged twice, once with two anchors in a strong tidal river current and once in a high gale with three anchors out. Never again, I’d rather sit up all night with my hand on the throttle than try to get out of a tight anchorage dragging three hooks with me.

Setting more than one hook is
to be avoided whenever possible. We have set two anchors in tandem with the long rode freely running through a caribiner on the near anchor (sketch - below right). The near anchor acts like a huge kellet with biting power of its own and worked well for us in an open anchorage high gale ( it stuck but I still didn't sleep). This method does take some forethought to launch, set and retrieve so we only use it when we are really worried.

We have occasionally set bow and stern anchors but only in narrow Georgia creeks where there is no room to swing. We have been in creeks so narrow we put bow and stern anchors ashore. This arrangement has never caused us any problems but I certainly wouldn’t try it in more open spaces.

Use of the "Bahamian Moor" is to be avoided if at all possible. The only place we use this arrangement is
Beaufort, NC where we are forced to use it because everyone else does. If you have to anchor in this style, run out your chain rode first otherwise you may catch your rope rode as you maneuver to get your second anchor down. With two hooks down the rodes get cork screwed with every tidal current change. Trying to unravel this mess is why my little finger looks like a pretzel.


In tandem - Two anchors off the bow with a caribiner
from the near anchor on
to the primary rode.


The Bahamian Moor can leave you hopelessly tangled
after a few tidal 360's

The Anchor Float - Notice the current streaming by our anchor float which is lying off our stern. With the weight of the chain our anchor float is often under or behind us depending on wind and current. Some cruisers strenuouly object to the use of floats but I need to know where my anchor is all the time. I also need to know where everyone else’s is. With a float, determining your relative position is easier and helps you envision your swing circle. We have seen collisions where one boat ran over a rode pulling both boats together …. wouldn't have happened if a float had been in place.

On several occasions I have seen the tangled mess when one hook was dropped on top of another making two helplessly drifting boats. We use a milk jug and very light twin in case (it's never happened) it gets tangled in our propeller no damage would be done..

Imagine this scenario then decide if you want a float or not. A boat pulls in the anchorage and asks "How much rode do you have out ?" We respond " 120' in 7' of water" . So he anchors 100' aft. As the wind comes up we fall back 150' and collide. Think this can't happen ? Take alook at the photo at right that shows our float astern of the boat.



Anchor float astern in a tidal stream as the tide turns

Our anchor float 100' off our stern.


Pick Your Spot - I've already mentioned that we don't anchor near boats with rope rodes, neither do we anchor near catamarans as they react very differently than monohulls in certain conditions. We once witnessed a collision between a 50' monohull and a 50' catamarran in the mooring ball field (now gone) in Charleston. The monhull was riding on the current and the cat riding on the wind .... bang !

Photo below right taken at 8X zoom shows a 65’ steel trawler dragging a 65lb. CQR through
Marsh Harbour in a gale with gusts to 48 knots. We are anchored 3/4 of a mile away from this mess near the harbour mouth. Carefully picking your spot can be a great stress
reliever. For convenience sake, setting the anchor close to your fellow cruisers, the free dinghy dock or off a pretty beach is nice however, winds change and what looked great on a sunny afternoon may not be much fun at 0500 when the wind comes calling.

Cruisers tend to congregate at one end of the harbour like Marsh harbour. We prefer to anchor well out of the crowd whenever possible even if it means being a little more exposed. I am willing to take responsibility for my own actions but reluctant to be a victim of others. Better a long dinghy ride than a sleepless night. When forced into a crowded anchorage be aware of the etiquette. Always anchor down stream or downwind of those already in position. Always anchor in the same style. Always ask your how much rode your neighbors have out and match it. If you don’t think he has enough out ... move. Don’t wind through everyone else to get closer to the dinghy dock and don’t anchor next to the Sea Ray with 8 guys drinking.


A tangle in Marsh Harbour as a 65' trawler drags through
Anchor Light - Always, always turn on your anchor light even if only to help find your own boat after the party.

Day anchor signals (black ball) are a rarity in fact the only one I have ever seen is my own even though they are required by ColRegs.

In
one case in broad daylight seven boats in a designated anchorage were hit by a cruise boat that had lost steerage, only the one with a day anchor signal was compensated. The insurance company found the one exception to the use of anchor signals in the designated anchorage rule.

The Bitter End - No, not your last divorce. Yet another ground tackle subject of controversy. Most secure the bitter end of the rode with clamps, shackles or some mechanical means but what happens when you have yo get out right now ! 

Do you have huge chain cutters at the ready ? Some advocate having the last 10’ of your chain secured with rope that you can easily cut if you have to escape
in a hurry and some believe in not securing the bitter end at all. That anchor float will help you find your tackle later.

Let me know if you turn up a 22lb. Danforth and 250' of 3/4" rode at Allens-Pensacola Key.


The very nature of this missive leans towards the negative and Mama tol' you there'd be days like that. Did she also mentions the free lobsters in Dry Tortugas.




There are six idiots anchored between us and the bridge
lights in the distance.

The joys of anchoring. That white wall coming towards us is a
tornado marching down Pungo Creek.
The 44lb. Bruce held !


Isn't she the prettiest thing you've ever seen ?

Chapter 7. Mooring balls & Docks.

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