are few things more remarkable than a star-filled sky on a clear night
while anchored in a secluded section of paradise.
Even after cruising aboard ‘Charbonneau’ for the last two
years, those night skies still leave me in awe.
Over the last few days at anchor, I’ve seen two brilliant
shooting stars. Not the
ordinary, ‘gone in a second’ kind, but the kind that streak across the
entire sky with a blazing tail. I
thought they were good omens at the time.
But now, as I lay in the cockpit at 3AM covered in our beach picnic
blanket (white with big blue & yellow penguins sporting sunglasses),
I’m less convinced of the ‘good’ in their omen.
I’m no longer looking for the glowing tail of shooting stars. My thoughts now drift from the immense star-filled sky to the
soft glow of our cockpit GPS, wondering if our anchor will actually hold
You see Mother Nature has a sense of humor.
I’m sure of it. If she didn’t, how could I explain that almost every front,
squall, or other major weather phenomenon affecting our floating home
occurs in the middle of the night. It
never happens at lunchtime and she wouldn’t even consider bringing in
strong winds while we’re sipping sundowners in the cockpit.
Oh no, it always happens between midnight and 4 AM.
And, it only happens on dark nights!
So here I am confined to the cockpit, wrapped in a silly-looking
blanket, and staring at the GPS as the winds build to a steady 25 knots,
with gusts over 30.
It all started with one of those spectacular sunsets that you come
cruising to find. Janet and I
watched the sun dip below an unblemished horizon as we sipped our drinks
in the cockpit; the smell of just baked bread wafting up to us from the
cabin below. The winds were a
gentle 10-15 knots from the northwest.
We had just returned from offering a neighboring boat (85’ luxury
motor yacht) a loaf of Janet’s homemade bread.
You’d think that sharing fresh bread with strangers would impress
upon the gods just how nice we really are.
Mother Nature didn’t buy it at all.
The sound of the wind in the rigging took on an all too familiar
sound around 2 AM (after midnight and before 4 AM, remember?).
I climbed out of bed, grumbling something about it being the middle
of the night AGAIN, and made my way to the companionway to check our
position, wind speeds, etc. The
winds hadn’t switched direction at all, but had increased to a steady 20
knots. However, we were still
holding our ground based on our relative position to the motor yacht
anchored next to us. I was
growing a little concerned because we knew the holding in this anchorage
wasn’t the best you could hope for.
I was still grumbling as I made my way back to bed.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to stay there very long.
The wind screaming in the rigging went up another notch around 2:30.
So, thirty minutes after my first foray into the cockpit I made my
way back again. You can
imagine the names I was calling sweet Mother Nature as I stumbled over the
dogs and climbed the companionway stairs.
It was about this time that I remembered Rule #1 on the boat –
Never cuss Mother Nature. When
I poked my head into the cockpit this time I had two thoughts, of which
only one could be true. Either
the large motor-yacht was motoring closer to say thanks again for the
bread or our anchor was dragging. I
chose the latter as the most probable option because even though Janet’s
bread is worth a second thank-you, I didn’t expect to get one at three
in the morning.
I called down to give Janet the good news and asked her to bring me some
clothes when she came up. Not
much chance of being seen naked at three in the morning, but I didn’t
want to give Mother Nature any free shows after the trouble she’d caused
me. We retrieved our anchor,
which continued to faithfully hold onto the clump of ground that once held
us in place. Our anchor had
never failed us before and I think he was a little embarrassed by the
Janet motored us around to a new spot hoping for better holding and giving
us a clear run down the anchorage if we dragged again.
We dropped the anchor and settled back on it with almost double the
amount of chain required for the depths we’re in – just in case.
Did I already mention that it was pitch black out here?
By 3:30, the anchor had been reset and Janet and the dogs were back in
their cozy beds below. I,
however, have been banished to the cockpit with a pillow and this silly
blanket. I was well behaved
earlier in the day and had no idea that I’d find myself banished from my
bed and forced to sleep ‘on the couch’.
But as I proposed earlier, Mother Nature has a sense of humor.
Leave it to her to throw a man out of his bed for no good reason.
At least the stars are still decorating the night sky.
And look on the bright side; I’ll see the sun rise too.
Oh yeah, that’s a reason to drag anchor!
See you on the water! Perhaps
you could sleep over (in our cockpit watching for our anchor to drag,
while I get some sleep)?
Charbonneau's Anchoring Tips
- Size your primary anchor to be
at least one size up from that 'recommended' by the
manufacturer. Our primary is a Bruce 66 (Bruce 44 was
recommended) and has never failed us
except for the incident which prompted this article. Select the
'recommended' size secondary anchor, which should be different than your
primary. Our secondary is a 45 lb. CQR.
- Use an all-chain rode if your
boat can carry the weight. The additional weight across the
bottom and chafe-resistance has been worth the slight loss in sailing
performance to us.
- Develop hand signals for
anchoring maneuvers BEFORE anchoring. When the wind is blowing,
you can't hear each other from the bow to the cockpit (and if you can,
so can the entire anchorage--loss of ten points for bad form :-)
- Select a spot with plenty of
swing room and be aware of how others are anchored. If everyone
else is on one anchor, follow suit. If your neighbors are
swinging on two anchors, you should also. If the bottom varies
with location, search for a spot where your primary anchor would
- Agree on a spot to drop the
anchor and then have someone move up to the bow to prepare the anchor
while the other drives the boat. If married or dating, I suggest
a kiss before heading to the bow. Anchoring can be stressful and
the memory of that last kiss may have to last a while if you end up
- Motor into the wind as you get
close to the pre-arranged spot. Wait for the boat to stop its
forward motion before lowering the anchor and paying out rode as the
wind pushes you backwards. Dropping all your rode in a big pile
does nothing for holding (although we enjoy watching boats drag when
they try this technique).
- Let out enough scope to give at
least a 3:1, preferably 5:1 or more, ratio. The calculation for
that ratio should include the HIGH TIDE water-depth plus the distance
to your bow roller. We add 5' to the depth to get our
numbers. (example - 10' depth plus 5' to the bow = 15'.
Minimum of 45', preferably 75' or more, rode to be deployed)
- As the boat settles back on the
anchor, the bow will be pulled up into the wind. Give the boat a
moment to settle down before slowly putting some reverse pressure on
the anchor. We back down at three intervals. The first is
at 1000 rpm, then 1500, and finish with 1800 rpm. While Janet
backs down, I place my foot on top of the chain to feel for
hold. You'll feel the anchor 'jumping' if she isn't
holding. Use several landmarks to determine if the boat is
holding stationary during the back-down process. If you can't
get it to hold, pick a new spot and repeat the procedure.
- Wait a half-hour or more
before racing into shore. Not only will you feel better knowing
that you are anchored well, but your neighbors will breathe easier knowing
you waited to be sure that you were anchored well.
- How do you know if you're
dragging while you're in your bunk? A good tell-tale sign is
when the boat stops pitching forward-aft and begins a side-to-side
roll. As a boat begins to drag anchor, the bow is usually blown
off the wind which will result in the change in motion. It is
very distinct when it happens. The difficulty is where you get a
tidal-surge that rolls you side-to-side already. You lose that
- You can use a GPS anchor drag
alarm or other device to help determine if you're dragging.
Remember to set the drag-alarm distance for at least twice your amount
of scope. If the wind switches 180 degrees you'll be going at
least that distance.
- We have a Captains Compass over
our bunk. Any time the wind increases and/or switches direction,
I climb out of bed to have a look. This habit saved our boat
this time and has allowed us to warn several other boats that they
- Anchoring is easy, but diligence
will help you sleep better.