Fear of Drag­ging Some­times it’s smart to be ner­vous

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It’s some­times smart to be anx­ious about an­chor­ing

If you have a para­noid per­son­al­ity, an­chor­ing out can be a val­i­dat­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. On the one hand, it seems rather sim­ple. You am­ble up to the bow of your boat, drop a lump of metal over­board, let out some rode and se­cure it some­how. Then you stroll back to your cock­pit and cel­e­brate with a li­ba­tion or two. On the other hand, it seems fraught with dan­ger. The clos­est equiv­a­lent I can think of are those guys who sleep out on moun­tains they are climb­ing in sacks they hang from tiny pins driven into cliff faces. The im­me­di­ate re­sult if some­thing goes wrong is not as dra­matic, but the po­ten­tial conse-quenses (loss of life anf pu­ta­tive home) can be just as se­vere.

I re­al­ized re­cently that when it comes to an­chor­ing I haven’t been para­noid enough. I’ve been us­ing a nice heavy Spade an­chor on Lu­nacy, my Boréal 47, for more than a year now, and its great hold­ing power had made me com­pla­cent. That was un­til this past June, when I lay at an­chor at Cape May, New Jersey, wait­ing out an early sum­mer gale. I was ly­ing on what most would call short scope, about 4:1, in 35-40 knots of wind with gusts to 50, and the an­chor seemed to be hold­ing fine.

Quite sud­denly, af­ter hours of hold­ing steady in the roar­ing breeze, the boat started drag­ging. Though I was sail­ing alone I for­tu­nately had a tem­po­rary guest aboard, and he helped me re-an­chor on a longer scope, at about 7:1. It was a nerve-wrack­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. My in­flat­able dinghy, trail­ing be­hind the boat on its pain­ter, had flipped over in the breeze, and the aw­ful drag it cre­ated made it very hard to ma­neu­ver. At one point, with the engine go­ing full blast and the helm hard over, I just barely avoided smash­ing into the rocky shore. If I’d been alone I might eas­ily have lost the boat.

We were just heav­ing a sigh of re­lief—and I was thank­ing my friend pro­fusely—when the damn boat started drag­ging again. Gack! And

again the damn dinghy, which re­fused to stay up­right, ham­pered our ef­forts to re­cover and re­de­ploy the an­chor. Fi­nally, in frus­tra­tion, we cast it loose. We re­an­chored again, this time on 10;1 scope and last stayed put. The next morn­ing, af­ter re­triev­ing my dinghy, which for­tu­nately had been cor­raled by the cre on an­other boat down­wind of me. i won­dered if it had been the reet cause of my prob­lem. The first time it flipped was just a few mo­ments be­fore Lu­nacy first started drag­ging. Could the ex­tra drag it cre­ated as the boat swung on its an­chor have been what caused the seem­ingly well-set an­chor to pull out of the ground?

Maybe, but I wasn’t the only one who dragged that day. An­other cruiser up­wind of me was also forced to re­an­chor, plus one big cata­ma­ran on a moor­ing found it was drag­ging and had to let the moor­ing go. The least for­tu­nate ca­su­alty was a small Catalina that had dragged an­chor straight up on to a beach. None of these boats had dinghies stream­ing be­hind them.

Shar­ing this story with other cruis­ers, I’ve since learned that the an­chor­age at Cape May has no­to­ri­ously poor hold­ing. To me it had looked pretty good, lots of nice sticky mud, but I guess it wasn’t quite sticky enough. And yes, I can hear the cluck­ing tongues of you arm­chair ad­mi­rals out there: I cer­tainly did not have enough rode out. It is true you can get away with scope ra­tios of 3:1 or 4:1 when con­di­tions are set­tled, but when the go­ing gets tough you do need to get out more rode.

The most im­por­tant thing I learned that day, not for the first time, is that be­ing para­noid is of­ten the best strat­egy. Twenty-five years ago when I was cruis­ing full-time on a much smaller boat, with only rope rode and no wind­lass to help haul it, I never ever dragged an­chor. I al­ways let out as much rode as I could with­out bang­ing into other peo­ple. I also of­ten set two an­chors, just to be on the safe side, and I dove on my an­chor when­ever it was fea­si­ble to see for my­self how it was set.

Some might call this para­noia. Oth­ers might call it pru­dence. s

The least lucky of the boats that dragged an­chor off Cape May

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