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I can say without a shadow of doubt that the Rocna/ Manson/ Ultra style of anchor (which also includes the Spade, but I have no experience with it) is a qualitatively better all-around anchor than anything else we have ever used. So what happened in this test?
First of all, the bottom—soft mud— was ideal for the Danforth-style anchor. These have a narrow, relatively low resistance shank with a large fluke area angled in a way that drags the anchor down to harder mud, which is demonstrated by the steady increase in the holding power over the course of each test. The other anchors take longer to dig down in this kind of a bottom.
The constant rate of rode retrieval (including after the second method of setting the anchors on the fourth day of testing) used in the test does not in any way reflect normal usage—in real life, this would constitute the boat dragging through an anchorage, which would lead to the anchor being immediately retrieved and reset. In a soft bottom, this kind of anchor is invariably set by applying gentle pressure that gives it time to dig in. On our boat, we have a cup of tea while we wait for it to set.
Second, the Danforth-style anchors perform poorly in any kind of a hard bottom. The flukes typically do not fully dig in. If a high load is applied, the anchor tips up over the points of its flukes and lets go. The heavily weighted points of the Rocna/ Manson/ Ultra (and Spade) style bite hard. Even if the anchor is not buried, it does not trip over itself.
Third, the Danforth-style does not set well in heavy weed and kelp. To do this an anchor has to worm its way into the bottom until it is below the roots. If not, it just pulls out a clump of vegetation and skates across the bottom. No anchor sets well in these kinds of bottoms, but we have found the Rocna/ Manson/ Ultra type to do considerably better than anything else we have used.
Fourth, it is really hard to get a Danforth-type to get a grip in a rocky bottom, whereas the heavily weighted tip of the Rocna/ Manson/ Ultra style will grab at any available crevice and hang on.
Fifth, in any kind of a bottom in which the Danforth-style does not fully bury (most bottoms other than soft mud), if the boat swings at anchor there is a risk of the rode tangling with the stock and tripping the anchor, which will then not reset. Our boat has only twice drifted up on a beach when we were not on it and on both occasions this is what happened.
If your cruising area is limited to the east coast of the U.S., this is not likely to be a problem as most anchorages are soft mud in which the anchor will dig in far enough to fully bury and will not trip if the boat swings. But for those planning on sailing farther afield, for example, the Bahamas, it could well be a problem.
We have also had the Fortress let go in a 45-knot squall, even when well set in
sand, at which point because of its light weight, it hydroplaned across the bottom.
Sixth, the Rocna/ Manson/ Ultra style of anchor will hold better on short scope than the Danforth style. Anchoring on short scope is an unfortunate fact of life in many of today’s crowded anchorages.
Don’t get me wrong. I love our Fortress and always carry one on board. I recommend it to other cruisers. Its light weight makes it the perfect kedge anchor. Over the course of our cruising guide days we ran aground multiple times when doing survey work (four times on one memorable day, which did finally prompt a bit of an expletive from Terrie). Terrie and I learned to launch the dinghy, set the Fortress and pull ourselves off without saying a word to each other. The children, who were quite young at the time, learned to go below and keep out of the way.
But when it comes to sleeping soundly at night during a gale in a rugged Scottish anchorage with the stern of the boat swinging 20 feet from the rocks, regardless of the latest test results, so far as I am concerned there is no substitute for the Rocna/ Manson/ Ultra style of anchor. We have met numerous experienced cruisers who share the same opinion. At some point this mass of anecdotal data must start to coalesce into some kind of an objective judgment.
My role was to ensure that the test was conducted as fairly as possible, and to help those present interpret the results. My qualifications for serving in this role are based on roughly 40,000 ocean miles sailing a variety of craft, and participation in many anchor tests, including tests on San Francisco Bay, Puget Sound and Santa Cruz, California. I’ve also been privileged to meet and interview Peter Bruce, Robert Danforth Ogg, Gordon Lyall (inventor of the Delta anchor), Don Hallerberg (inventor of the Fortress anchor), Alain Poiraud (inventor of the Spade anchor), Andy Peabody (inventor of the Max anchor) and Elbert “Mack” Maloney, editor of Chapman Piloting.
During the anchor tests in which I have participated, it has been common to end up with vexing questions at the end of the test which had not been answered or which had not been anticipated. “What if we increased the scope?” “What if we veered the test boat 180 degrees?” “What if we used all-chain rode?” “Did the size of the boat (or rode or wind conditions) make the test invalid?”
Despite the best intentions of the testers, there are always questions about the fairness or realism of the test procedure, and how it might affect one anchor differently from another.
So it is with the Chesapeake Bay Mud Anchor Test. Going into the test, it was agreed to use the calibrated winch on the stern of the Rachel Carson to create the pull on the anchor, as opposed to the thrust of her 2,410 hp (combined) engines. In my experience, it’s extremely difficult to modulate the thrust of a large vessel to simulate a steadily increasing pull on the rode.
Inevitably, this results in sudden increases in line tension, which pop the anchor free of the bottom as the boat surges forward or aft, depending on the direction of pull. This isn’t a reflection of the captain’s skill, but rather the difficulty of avoiding harmonic motion from the stretchy rode, and the sheer inertia of the vessel.
By winching the anchors toward the vessel at a continuous rate, it would seem to give all anchors an opportunity to orient themselves, and then dig down in the bottom until some equilibrium depth is achieved. I think we still imagine the anchor chain pulling the anchor shank downward, but it does exactly the opposite, even in soupy mud. It pulls upward on the shank, eventually causing the anchor to be pulled at a constant depth through the mud. This happens with sand bottoms, too, but the harder sand prevents the deep penetration of the seabed that we witnessed in Solomons.
So, was this a fair test? Well, it was fair in that it was highly repeatable, without the variations in propeller thrust and harmonic motion that we have observed in “powered” tests. We gave all anchors
100 feet to do whatever they were going to do, whether it was to not set, set and release, set and hold a constant tension, or set and increase to the end of the test.
If any anchors were penalized, it would be the very few that kept on increasing their resistance until the 100foot limit was reached. Interestingly, many anchors demonstrated radically different performance from test to test, which makes the selection of a “good” or “bad” anchor difficult since it depends entirely on which pull you select.
Nigel, you make the point that this anchor test wasn’t conducted in a dozen other seabeds where results would have been different (rock, clay, coral, weed, etc.). Yes, I think that’s self-evident. This was a mud anchor test, and it repeated many of the aspects of the mud anchor test I participated in in 1990 on San Francisco Bay, also sponsored by Fortress. Even though the procedure was different, we came up with very similar results that showed that the Danforth-style pivoting fluke anchors, especially the Fortress that can vary the shank-fluke angle, held far more than a wide selection of yachtsman’s anchors.
You might have pointed out that the Fortress anchor also does extremely well in another common bottom type: hard sand. In many tests, Fortress anchors have proven to out hold other successful anchor designs, especially more classic designs like the CQR and the Bruce. This isn’t to say that classic anchor designs haven’t proven effective for generations of cruisers, but rather that when you test them to failure in sand, the Danforth styles and some of the newer scoop style anchors (Rocna, Manson Supreme, Spade) are superior to the older designs.
Nigel, you also point out that you want an anchor that won’t trip if the current or wind changes direction. There’s no question that the ability for an anchor to re-set when pulled in a new direction, without fouling, is a wonderful attribute. In fact, in my conversations with Bob Ogg in 1989, he told me it was the Northill anchor’s propensity to foul as the current reversed on San Francisco Bay that encouraged Ogg and his uncle to develop the pivoting fluke anchor we now know as the Danforth (and Fortress).
That’s why I was so surprised by the number of pulls where the anchor appeared to be fully set, but which
became unset as more tension was applied. This false sense of security is extremely troubling to me since it would allow the sailor to blithely head for shore, or to go to bed, with a possibility of the anchor’s failing at some point during the night. This is a great argument for anchor alarms, whether based on depth or distance, as well as anchors that don’t send false signals.
I find it interesting—and I think you would agree—that anchor designs continue to come to market that are innovative, effective in certain conditions and beautifully constructed. And, I think you would also agree that if you want the maximum holding power in either soft mud or sand, the Fortress is an excellent choice. Finally, we’d both agree that diversity in anchor designs to meet the wide range of conditions that one encounters when cruising is a vital rule of seamanship. Calder: Chuck, I suspect that you and I don’t disagree on anything. I always carry a Fortress anchor and have done so for the past 25 years. It is my favorite anchor for certain operations and sets extremely well in precisely the kind of bottom found in these tests (soft mud). I also respect the rigor with which the tests were conducted and the obvious considerable effort that was made to achieve repeatability.
The issue I have is this: the results are sufficiently at odds with a great deal of anecdotal data from a large enough