In preparation for Hurricane Irma that struck North America in September 2017, we motored our 56’ sailboat up a river and as far away from the east coast as possible. Unfortunately, the boat dragged so our attempts at preventing anchor drag didn’t work. I think my husband, Simon, and I made a few mistakes so here are some lessons learned so you learn from us rather than repeat our mistakes.
But let me back up. The previous year, we took our boat up the same river for hurricane Matthew (Sept 2016). Our strategy was to attach another anchor (spiked grapnel) to our current anchor (an Excel) in the hopes that the added anchor would keep our Excel bedded in. The grapnel was attached with a fitting from the top of the Excel with 15’ of chain.
The configuration worked – Britican stayed anchored for the duration of Hurricane Matthew sustaining over 70 knots winds over the course of 5 hours. Friends on a boat next to Britican actually videoed our boat for us demonstrating that our chosen anchoring technique did, indeed, do the trick.
Fast forward a year later and Simon and are once again heading up river to anchor our home as far off the path of the impending storm, Irma.
We had a few choices we could make. In our locker we had a brand new Mantus Anchor not yet installed. We could replace our Excel anchor and use the Mantus, a superior anchor, or we could do the same thing we did last year.
We decided to go with what worked last year…
However, this year for Irma, our decision didn’t provide us with the results we were looking for. What we think happened is that the following:
- The grapnel anchor somehow became the primary anchor and the Excel wasn’t properly set from day one. We think that it’s possible that the Excel was flipped upside down due to the weight of the grapnel and chain.
- The grapnel couldn’t hold the weight of the boat (nor did we intend it to do so) and the grapnel bent and broke off leaving 15’ of chain attached to the Excel.
- The Excel couldn’t turn itself so the anchor couldn’t bed itself back into the seafloor.
When preventing anchor drag we pulled back on the anchor at full revs a couple times.
We truly believed that the Excel was set but thinking back to Matthew, what we did last year was to drop both anchors before reversing back. Only when we knew that they were on the bottom did we pull back providing the Excel and opportunity to bed in without the Grapnel holding it upside down. For Irma, we went into reverse while dropping the anchors which could have caused the grapnel to bed in with the Excel upside down…or not properly set.
In hindsight, I think we got lucky last year. This year, we also got super lucky – sure, we dragged, but the boat doesn’t have a scratch on her. Neptune or the River Gods were certainly on our side. Furthermore, Irma was a tropical storm by the time she hit Charleston, South Carolina so we were spared. If we got the full brunt of the storm I doubt that there’d be much left to Charleston, let alone our boat.
So, with all that in mind, what would we do differently?!
At this present moment, and considering that I’ve talked and witnessed a variety of anchoring techniques and several major storms, I’m now of the mindset that it’s best to use one anchor and one really good anchor.
Yes – there are a variety of options when it comes to anchoring in storms. There’s the configuration that suggests two anchors are deployed forward of the bow. The need to be set 30 degrees apart from each other (and one slightly ahead of the other). Interestingly, however, those that did that last year with Hurricane Matthew, all dragged.
Consider what happens when a boat spins 360 degrees due to the tide changes and/or wind. It’s very possible that one anchor pulls up the other anchor. Or at the very least gets completely fouled and turns into a mess. I think that this approach might work if you’re not going to swing 360 degrees but how can you ensure that won’t happen?
And then there’s the technique where you anchor one anchor off the bow and another behind the boat – both anchor rode’s coming from the bow with the aim of reduce the swing radius. My fear on this approach is that there must be a huge risk of the back anchor rode fouling the keel or rudder. In extreme weather I’m sure the rode (chain or rope) would be tested and stretched out to its limits.
Sure – I can see the benefits of using this approach in a busy small anchorage but I’m not convinced it’s a good storm anchoring technique.
And it’s important to realize that keeping an anchor set during a storm isn’t just about the anchor and the seabed state.
Yes, you need a good anchor. One in which will hold the pressure caused by the impact of the wind and tide. One that’s appropriate for your sized boat. You also need a strong snubber (with chafe guards!). A well-designed and appropriately sized bridle will reduce the rode loads to a third of what the American Boat and Yacht Council suggest.
And then there’s the whole concept of scope.
Scope is the amount of chain you let out in relation to the depth of the water at high tide. So, if you let out 50’ of chain, accounting for the freeboard area (length between the sea and the bow of the boat) while anchored in 5’ of water, your scope is 10 (5 X 10 = 50).
Under normal anchoring conditions most boaters aim for a 3:1 to 5:1 scope ratio but in storm conditions a 10:1 or higher is often recommended.
My previous opinion was that the more scope you have the better you are. Of course, you have to consider the size of the area you’re anchoring in. You don’t want to put out so much scope that the boat hits land or another boat.
However, my thoughts on scope have changed.
Last year and this year we’ve actually witnesses occasions where the tide will hold a boat beam onto the wind causing the boat to actually start sailing. If the boat starts to gain too much momentum it can actually sail off taking the anchor with it! Can you imagine that?! Perhaps having too much scope during high winds can backfire?!
Our boat neighbors, Ron and Mercedes, from sailing vessel Samana witnessed a boat do this very thing during hurricane Matthew. Luckily the boat the unmanned boat sailed off it’s anchor, passed our neighbors without hitting them, and safely got stuck in the mud.
The best scenario that I’ve come across is to find mangroves to put your boat bow into. And once in the mangroves set anchors off the front and back so to jam it into place. Where we are, we don’t have mangroves but luckily we have very substantial reeds and mud.
Like I said, we got lucky.
We knew that if we dragged, chances for survival were possible and that’s an important thing to consider. When anchoring in a storm, look around – find out what you’re going to hit so if your methods to prevent anchor drag don’t work, you can still survive.
For over three years we’ve sailed over 20,000 nautical miles around the Mediterranean, across the Atlantic, up the Caribbean and along the east coast of America. Recently we spent a month over in lovely Bermuda. In all that time, in hundreds of anchorages we only ever dragged once. Our drag was due to an inability to put out enough scope before a freak storm with high winds hit. And now we can add that we also dragged during Hurricane, or Tropical storm Irma. Overall, that’s not a bad record.
Not a proud moment to admit that we dragged but it happens. It happens to the best and worst of us.
Watch the video below to see how Simon demonstrates our anchoring configuration and where we went wrong. Also keep watching if you’d like to see what our trip back to Britican was like after Irma hit.
Resources shown or mentioned in the video below:
- Patreon. Patreon is a web platform that allows viewers special privileges in return for a monthly patronage fee. Some patrons pay $2/month and others pay $25/month. There are various levels with increased rewards for each level. If you’d like to become a part of the growing Sailing Britican Patreon community click the link to check it out. For $2/month you can get a pre-viewing of most of our videos and for $25/month you will get a free $28 – $33 sailing t-shirt, my book for free and more.
- Next Meet & Greet. Our November, 2017 United Kingdom Meet & Greet. Dates are not yet set but I’ll announce them on the FaceBook.com/SailingBritican page. Make sure that you like our page and you’ll get a notification of this event and other future events.
- Mantus Anchors. We already use the Mantus Dingy Anchor and we were so impressed we acquired the full sized Mantus Anchor. Please check this company out if you’re in the market to buy an anchor. They have fantastic customer service. Also – look around at other reviews on anchors. You’ll find that time and time again seasoned sailors are moving to Mantus.
- Dinghy Anchor Review video. You can watch Simon, Sienna and I test out three different dinghy anchors. We test them on land, on the beach and in the harbor: The Best Dinghy Anchor is…
Make sure you check out all the Sailing Britican designed nautical t-shirts too!
Simon is wearing this t-shirt (see picture) while discussing our anchor dragging issues in the video above. We currently have 13 different men’s designs and 10 woman’s designs.
The proceeds of the t-shirts go to keeping Britican afloat.
Lastly, to ensure that you do everything you can to ensure your boat doesn’t read this… ‘How to Anchor – A Checklist to Prevent Dragging.’ Within the guide, you’ll discover:
- What to look for when finding a suitable place to anchor.
- The step-by-step procedure for finding a good anchoring spot and then effectively securing your anchor.
- Whether your anchoring equipment is adequate for the conditions you plan on anchoring in and the metrics of your boat.
- Ultimately how to prevent your boat from dragging.
Get the digital guide instantly here – within seconds you can be armed with a anchoring checklist, how to pull up the anchor checklist, 20 tips, tricks and little known secrets about anchoring, how to choose the RIGHT anchoring equipment in addition helpful to anchoring load tables and charts.
The cost of the guide is a few coffees. The cost of dragging could be $$$$’s
Please leave any questions or comments below. Thank you 😉