Back in England, when we had our 35’ Moody sailboat (pictured above), I never considered using the anchor. In fact, I never looked at it nor did I know the location of the windless (anchor) controls. I didn’t even want to know how to anchor a sailboat.
When our engine cut out in the middle of Portsmouth Harbor – one the busiest harbors in the world – not once did it dawn on me to drop our anchor. It wasn’t even in my mind as an option and looking back, it should have been. (Read Experiencing engine failure and living to tell the tale)
What’s wrong with using an anchor?
Well…you don’t know what you don’t know. And I just didn’t know how to anchor a sailboat. When we purchased our first boat, Selene (pictured above), we’d take her out for a 3 – 5-hour sail and head to another marina. Over the course of two years, we spent time in 5 other marinas – never considering finding a quiet bay or an inlet to drop a hook.
Looking back, we could have anchored in a bay for lunch but the old, mostly land-based Kim, always wanted to get to the final destination. Perhaps I was nervous about tying off and I just wanted to get it over with? Or maybe it was due to my reoccurring issues with seasickness? Or – could it have been the glass of wine that I was anticipating after what felt like a long sail?
At least the new, totally sea-based Kim, is now happy to sail for the sake of sailing.
Upon the mention of anchoring overnight, however, I’d shiver and say, ‘There’s no way I’d be able to sleep while anchored! What happens if it comes unearthed?’ I honestly couldn’t understand how anyone could get a good night’s sleep when open sea or worse, rocks and land could gobble up the boat.
Fast-forward to our new boat and our new life.
When we first started on our around the world adventure aboard 56′ Britcan (pictured above) in April 2014, we went from Marina to Marina. In fact, up until the second month of our around-the-world sailing adventure I never even looked at our anchor.
There was so much to learn and from my perspective, I still couldn’t fathom the concept of anchoring.
There was one evening, however, very early in our trip when we first arrived in Malta that an anchor was needed. Even though we could see the slip we were destined to tie off to, the marina was closed and we had to anchor literally in the middle of the marina.
Imagine sailing over 850 nautical miles and having to anchor rather than tie off to land? Fortunately, we had a hired skipper (pictured above between my cousin and me) with us for our first trip and he set the anchor. Skipper Mike also tied a floating buoy to the top of the anchor so others would know where it was sitting. I thought, ‘wow – how professional’.
Looking around I questioned our spinning radius.
I looked at Skipper Mike and said, ‘But if the wind blows from a different direction, will we spin and hit something?’ I think I then asked several other questions and by the time I said, ‘But what if it doesn’t hold us,’ Skipper Mike barked out at me, “Kim – THE ANCHOR IS FINE. WE ARE FINE.’
His bellows seemed so convincing that I thought, ‘Okay, so I guess we’re going to be FINE.’ As you can imagine, I could see the jetty that we would soon be tied to. It was like putting candy in front of a kid and telling her that she couldn’t have it. Furthermore, we sailed over 850 miles – I wanted to get off.
Despite it being my first overnight anchoring experience on Britican, I slept very well.
But I didn’t sleep well because we were anchored and I felt secure in Skipper Mike’s decision. I slept well because I was exhausted. Fortunately, we survived the night, pulled up the anchor, and tied onto a jetty by 9 am the following morning. As you can see in the picture above, we didn’t have any anchor issues. Skipper Mike helped me pull up the anchor, tie lines to the bow, and hubby drove us into the slip that was next to us all night long.
After Malta, we went to Sicily. Fast-forward a few weeks in Sicily and we were fortunate to have an Italian Admiral sailing with us. Knowing the waters very well, the Admiral helped us, on how to anchor a sailboat, in a few spots.
My husband kept telling me that I’m going to have to get used to anchoring so I tried my best to go with the flow.
When I woke up and found us anchored 20 feet off of Stromboli Volcano I thought I’d die.
Fortunately for me and probably everyone else on the boat, I went to bed before we anchored, but that was after seeing lava spew 300 meters into the sky at 3 am. (Read Sailing around Stromboli Volcano needs to be on every sailors bucket list! ). Our stern was facing the island and I could have almost jumped from the back of the boat to land (see the above picture – includes my hubby). From all that I’ve read, I didn’t think you should ever anchor along a lee shore (shore facing the oncoming wind and waves).
Heck, if we even dragged a little our keel would surely hit bottom! That would not be how to anchor a sailboat!
The admiral slept on the aft deck – he always sleeps outside (pictured above). Perhaps he also sleeps with one eye open?! Of course, I couldn’t question his decision to anchor on the lee shore – not only is he an admiral but he’s a local! I just thought in my head, ‘Simon better not try this kind of anchoring when I’m awake.’
In Sicily, I got a little more comfortable on how to anchor a sailboat.
Every ½ hour, I’d pop my head out and check our bearings. I kept telling myself, ‘Kim, you have got to get comfortable with anchoring. This is your life now.’
After Sicily, we sailed along the boot of Italy to the heel and then over to Corfu. Our first port of call was the little bay of Palaiokastrita, on the west side. We anchored in front of a hotel and between a rock and a cliff. There was ample room to swing and after several hours, I decided the boat wasn’t going to move. However, there was a surge and we rocked back and forth in the most uncomfortable way!
I didn’t sleep that night.
After anchoring a few more times, I started to relax a bit. And then I became cocky about things. I started calling myself the master anchor-woman and acted like I actually knew what I was doing. In my past, whenever I get cocky, I usually get pushed off my pedestal.
And here comes my disastrous anchoring story…
We, and 30 other boats, were anchored in the lovely bay of Lakka on the island Paxos, Greece – notice all the boats in the background pictured above. The picture is my daughter, Sienna, and my cousin, Loryn. We stayed for two days. On our first day, we anchored quite far out as we didn’t know the bay very well. By day two, we decided to lift our anchor and get closer to the town. The hope was that we’d be close enough to get some wifi from one of the bars.
And I have a sneaky suspicion that hubby wanted to show off our new boat.
Knowing now what I didn’t then, we should have never anchored so close to so many other boats. But then I wouldn’t be able to tell this story…
Due to the number of boats, we couldn’t let out very much chain. The best we could do was go into the wind, motor up to the very back of another boat, drop anchor and go back as far as we could considering that we have very little room to swing. We’re a 56’ boat – it’s just too big to get in amongst a bunch of other boats. We couldn’t let out enough chain to make our holding secure.
If the wind was steady everything would have been okay.
But that’s not what always happens when you’re at anchor. In fact, too little wind is bad, and too much wind is bad.
A little digression: Recently, while on a mooring buoy in no wind, I heard a “clank, clank.” I looked up and our davits (the things that hold our tender up at the back of the boat) were locked into the bow of a neighboring catamaran. Because there was no wind, we swung one way and they swung our way! Luckily, we knew our neighbors and I simply slept in the cockpit all night to push them off when needed. But I digress. Let me get back to the crowded bay.
So…we’re in a bay with people swimming off the back of their boats. Some boat decks are empty – either the occupants are down below sleeping or onshore enjoying lunch. My husband is just leaving me, my cousin and my daughter on board while he goes to take the trash ashore with the dinghy.
And out of nowhere, a 60 mph gust of wind hits all the boats.
We were broadside to the gust, so our boat took the full brunt of the wind. I could feel us tipping over and saw the strain on the anchor. Quickly, I yelled for Simon to get back to the boat, started the engine and before I took another breath I was running to the bow to fend off an unoccupied drifting boat.
I wouldn’t be exaggerating when I say that at least 75% of the boats dragged their anchor. It was like we’re all pieces on a chessboard that got blown to one corner.
After fending off one boat, I then had to detach our ladder from another boats anchor chain.
It was absolute chaos. At first, we didn’t want to admit that we might have dragged but we just didn’t know if our anchor was still set or not.
My husband motored us out to the entrance of the bay and we anchored away from everyone else. The wind was blowing strong, so Simon stayed up on deck all night making sure that we stayed put. Unfortunately for him, it was his birthday! No beers for him, but we celebrated a couple days later.
After that experience, I started to take anchoring more seriously.
I read some books, talked to Jim and Carole (Read: Couple sets off for a 3 year around the world sailing trip – 15 years later they’re still going!) and actually applied my mind to anchoring a bit more than before.
As fate would have it, we met people that owned the same boat as us – a 56’ Oyster. We were invited onboard for a drink and I asked the captain what advice he had to offer.
His number one comment was, ‘no matter where you are, let out as much chain as you possibly can when you anchor.’
The boat we have is very heavy – I think it’s around 33 tons. When wind blows a boat of our size and weight, she starts moving and doesn’t want to stop!
And this brings me to my last anchoring story…
What do you mean we have an anchor alarm?!!??!
A few weeks ago I was on our friends catamaran named, ‘Why Knot.’ We were talking about anchoring and the lovely first mate, Elaine, said that she sleeps easier knowing the anchor alarm is on.
I immediately respond with, ‘There’s a such thing as an anchor alarm? How does it work?’ Both Elaine and I put down our glass of wine and she walked me over to the navigation station. She then pushed a couple of buttons and explained, ‘Okay, I’ve just sent the alarm to go off if we move 0.01 nautical miles from our position.’
Not long after setting the alarm, it went off.
Elaine then explained that she’ll keep upping the nautical mile distance until it stops going off. If you’re swinging you can easily move 0.04 nautical miles. Elaine explained that she initially sets the alarm to 0.01 and keeps upping it until it stops getting triggered while swinging naturally. I missed the whole anchor alarm section of our how to anchor a sailboat training.
As you can imagine, the first thing I did when I returned to our boat was to find out where our anchor alarm was!
Unbelievably, I found it on one of our 14 computer display units. We have so many things to look at! Right on the front of a navigation station unit, I noticed a button that was labeled, ‘Alarms.’ I hit the button and it allowed me to set an alarm for track and the anchor. I thought, “OMG – all this time it was right in front of me.” (I forgive you if you’re thinking, ‘This girl really doesn’t have a clue – does she?!”)
Since finding the anchor alarm, we’ve never gone a night without using it.
So, to date, those are my anchoring stories. I’m sure I’ll have more. But what have I learned? What tips can I offer? What wisdom have I gleaned so early in our travels?
The Sailing Britican Guide on How to Anchor a Sailboat
Since writing this article my husband and I went on to anchor over and over again. We learned what to do and not do. The result?! I created an easy to digest Boat Basics: How to Anchor guide. I can’t promise that the guide will 100% prevent you from dragging but I can assure you that it will allow you to follow the right steps to anchoring properly. Avoid getting laughed at when entering a bay. Grab a copy of this guide now…
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