The northern Channel Islands
consist of San Miguel, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, Anacapa, and Santa
Barbara islands. The islands boast an enormous array of natural
and cultural resources including over 2,000 species of plants and
animals, many of which are endemic. Notwithstanding their proximity
to the coast, the islands are an isolated, undeveloped, boater's
Many books have been written about the islands' anchorages. Each
anchorage is different and nearly all are rewarding. Some are miniature
fjords (i.e., Pelican's Harbor, Santa Cruz Island) where bow and
stern anchors are mandatory. Some lie off wide, deserted beaches
(i.e., Betcher's Bay, Santa Rosa Island), where floating reefs of
kelp provides the only shelter from wind and swell. The anchorages
big enough to swing in (i.e., Smugglers Cove, Santa Cruz Island)
are usually edged by steep slopes, down which night winds can rush
like a freight train.
Generally speaking, if you pay attention to what you are doing,
anchoring out at the islands for a day, a weekend, a week, or a
month rewards you with amazing sights, sounds, and emotions. Many
boaters, however, do not enjoy anchoring out for a variety of reasons.
Some are afraid of dragging anchor. Others are scared of the dark
ocean at night. Many boaters do not have sufficient ground tackle.
Simply stated, the biggest reason boaters miss the opportunity to
convene with nature in this way is that they do not know how to
anchor a boat.
Anchoring is really simple if you have the proper equipment and
certain bits of important information.
Select the Right Anchor
There are several different types of anchors. Nevertheless, there
are certain very important attributes you should keep in mind when
selecting an anchor. Will it set quickly, and hold in a variety
of different bottom types? Can it withstand significant loads? Is
it easy to deploy and retrieve, and is it easy to store?
An anchor is a significant piece of safety equipment. Look for
quality construction features such as heavy duty components, strong
materials, strong welds, and quality galvanizing. You should have
at least one heavy anchor for each type of bottom you expect to
anchor on. Actually, you should have more than one depending on
the bottom conditions, and you will need two (bow and stern) in
There are essentially three categories of anchor. First, there
are those with deep penetrating, lightweight, pivoting flukes such
as the Danforth or the Fortress. These anchors are reported to have
the greatest holding power per pound of any style of anchor. Second,
there are the plow-style anchors such as the Bruce, Delta, CQR,
Spade and Max. These have excellent structural strength, but do
not penetrate as deeply into the seabed as fluke-style anchors.
On the other hand, they tend to set more easily due to increased
weight. Finally, there are specialty anchors for specific bottom
types. Variations on all of these traditional designs exist, and
new ones seem to pop up all the time.
No single anchor design is best in all conditions. Thus, a critical
consideration when selecting an anchor will be the bottom conditions
in the areas you want to visit. In fact, empirical studies suggest
that the selection of a suitable bottom for anchoring is a much
more critical factor than the design of the anchor.
Sand is relatively easy for anchors to penetrate. Most anchors
will hold best in hard sand. The Danforth and Fortress anchors work
very well in sand. Mud, on the other hand, has low sheer strength,
and requires an anchor with a wider shank-fluke angle and greater
fluke area so that the anchor will penetrate deep to where the mud
has greater sheer strength. Mud is frequently thin and layered over
some other material. Thus, anchors that can penetrate through the
mud to the underlying material will hold better. Fortress anchors
work very well in mud, because they can be converted to a broad
Rock and coral bottoms present different challenges. Here, holding
power is more dependent on where you happen to drop the anchor,
than on the type of anchor you have. Plow-shaped or grapnel-type
anchors generally work best. These include the Bruce, CQR, Delta,
or Yachtsman. Shale, clay and grassy bottoms present tough challenges
for all anchor designs. Here, it is the weight of the anchor, more
than its design, that is the most important factor. CQR, Delta anchors,
and Yachtsman anchors are able to penetrate the vegetation. However,
be careful of a "false-set" as it is possible the anchor has caught
on roots or other protrusions rather than something solid.
Now that I have an anchor, what do I attach it to?
Anchor rode on pleasure boats generally consists of three strand
nylon line with a short length of galvanized chain. Nylon is used
because it stretches thus reducing the load on your anchor. Chain
is used between the anchor and the nylon line for abrasion resistance,
and to keep the pull on the anchor shank more parallel to the seabed.
Experts recommend that the amount of chain be equal to at least
one-half to one full boat length, and of a diameter equal to one
half that of the nylon line. Some boaters prefer an all chain rode
as it reduces the need for scope, and, due to its weight, it lies
easily on the bottom.
Setting the Hook
The best anchorage offers a good holding bottom, suitable depth,
and protection from wind, waves and passing craft. Setting your
anchor properly is critical to holding your boat in place. Follow
these steps to anchor your boat:
1. Select an area of little current, protected from the weather,
preferably with a flat bottom. The area should be well upwind of
where you want the boat to end up. Make your approach slowly into
the wind or current. Look at other boats in the anchorage and follow
their lead in using either a single anchor or bow-and-stern anchors.
Determine where their anchors lie so you will not foul them, and
select a position that will allow you to swing with the wind or
current without bumping into other boats.
2. Prepare Your Crew. Nothing marks a novice as much as yelling
orders at your crew, and a briefing beforehand will let your crew
know what you expect of them, as well as help you to sort out the
anchoring procedure in your own mind. Keep a pair of work gloves
aboard to protect their hands from the rode and chain, as well as
from mud or seaweed that may come up with the anchor.
3. Be Quiet. Because it is often hard to hear over wind and engine
noise, I use hand signals to let my crew know what I want. To start
lowering the anchor, I use a thumbs down signal. To stop paying
out the rode, I clench my fist. For the crew to let me know the
anchor rode is securely cleated, they clasp their hands above their
head. To raise the anchor, I use a thumbs up.
4. Be Courteous. If you are not sure how a nearby boat is anchored
or where their anchor lies, cruise past and ask them. It's much
better to find out now, before you have to re-anchor in another
5. Don't Splash. Never throw the anchor over the bow: it is a sure
way to both tangle your anchor and mark yourself as an amateur.
And be sure that the boat has stopped all forward motion before
lowering the anchor, or you could tangle your propeller.
6. When at the spot, stop the boat, and check that the boat will
be free to swing in all directions. Slowly lower the anchor over
the bow to the bottom, and then slowly back the boat away, downwind
or down current.
7. Once the hook is on the seabed, put your engine in reverse
until you feel the hook dig in. Back up steadily, paying out anchor
rode until you reach the predetermined scope. Let out about seven
to ten times as much line as the depth of the water, depending on
the wind strength and wave size. Scope is the ratio of the amount
of anchor line paid out to water depth plus freeboard. Anchors hold
best when the pull on the anchor is parallel to the bottom. More
line paid out also increases shock absorption by the anchor line.
Anchoring experts recommend 7:1 scope when possible. Using a larger
anchor or more chain to lower the angle of pull will compensate
for shorter scope.
8. Tie off the line around a bow cleat, and pull on the anchor
to make sure it is secure. After anchoring, check your position
with local landmarks. While at anchor, recheck these landmarks periodically
to make sure you aren't moving. Most GPS units have an alarm that
will alert you if the boat moves. Be sure to use it if you are going
to sleep aboard at anchor.
9. Periodically check connecting knots on your anchor line. When
possible, use splices instead of knots. Knots weaken a line more
than splices Remember, when anchoring overnight, you must turn on
an anchor light. Also, never anchor or otherwise obstruct passage
through channels or areas such as lauching ramps or any other high
Follow these guidelines when retrieving your anchor:
1. Always retrieve your anchor into the boat before leaving the
2. To retrieve the anchor, move the boat over the anchor while
pulling in the line. Pulling the anchor straight up should break
it free. If the anchor is stuck, turn your boat in a circle while
3. When the anchor breaks loose, stop the boat, and retrieve the
anchor. Never drag the anchor behind the boat.
A Few Extra Reminders
Wind determines the overall force on an anchoring system. Larger
boats present greater resistance to wind, which in turn causes a
heavier pull on the anchor and rode. Sizing anchors based upon conservative
wind velocities is foolish because you cannot run out and buy the
next size up when the wind starts blowing hard. It is recommended
that you size your anchor to withstand heavy weather.
Make sure you inspect your entire anchor system frequently for
chafe, loose shackles, and bent flukes. The system is only as reliable
as its weakest component.
Store at least one anchor so that it can always be used immediately.
Even the strongest anchor will not do you any good if you cannot
deploy it. Quickly deploying even a small anchor can keep you from
Be aware that the boat will swing down wind or current from the
anchor. Allow "swing room" for any change in wind or current!
Since anchoring can be an emergency procedure, store the anchor
and its lines in an accessible area. Use the anchor immediately
to avoid drifting aground if the engine breaks down.
Anchoring is one of the most important skills to master if you
plan to cruise from one area to another. Since there is rarely any
need to rush, use the same slow, cautious approach to anchoring
that you use when docking. With a little preparation and practice,
you'll be the one enjoying the pina colada in the cockpit watching
others as they anchor.
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