Some of my favourite anchorages are strongly tidal, a perverse eccentricity you may think. But I love the living feeling of the boat as she swings to the new tide, and the ever-changing view scratches my curiosity constantly and gives me a heightened sense of place.
Other than that, tidal anchorages only offer endless possibilities for trouble, especially those that are little more than tidal pools with steep banks. Swinging ashore, becoming all too intimate with your neighbours, pulling your anchor out and dragging as the tide turns— I’ve done them all. And so has virtually everyone else at some time or another, a fact that is widely recognized in Britain’s crowded harbours, where some, such as Dartmouth, insist that someone must always be aboard an anchored boat at the turn of the tide.
But What Can You Do?
There are times when anchoring in such places is inevitable, and there are many ways to improve your lot.
The first is to consider changing to a ‘new generation’ anchor (if you haven’t already). I’ve used pretty much every anchor on the market as a bower anchor on the boats I’ve skippered over the last 35 years, and in my experience the latest anchors (SPADE, Rocna and others) are a vast improvement over older models when it comes to re-setting after a 180° tidal shift, or, for that matter, big wind shifts.
This has made life far simpler, and makes lying to a single anchor a viable proposition in most conditions, and is generally my preferred option—simple = good. And whatever anchor you use, it’s always possible to ensure that your anchor has re-set effectively by working it in with your engine after the tide has turned.
But there can still be limitations to this approach. If there are other boats in close proximity, are they at anchor, too, or on moorings? If at anchor, it’s always worth checking whether they are lying to one anchor as you are, and if so how much chain they have out, otherwise you’ll become close acquaintances before too long. If they are on moorings, you’ll have to allow for their far more limited swinging room, compared with your larger arc.
Or you can bite the bullet and opt to anchor fore and aft in the tide, using what’s called a Bahamian moor. This is different from simply setting an anchor from the stern to limit swinging room, which in itself can be a viable option in the right circumstances, although the loadings placed on the kedge when anchored in this way are extraordinarily high in cross wind or tide conditions, and it’s easy to pluck the kedge out.
With a Bahamian moor, the cable from the stern anchor (usually the kedge warp) is led from the stern to be attached to the bower cable at the bow (in one of a variety of ways, as I’ll explain later) so that the boat swings from the bow. This dramatically reduces the swinging room required, and places a far more even load on the two anchors.
Well, yes. But like all things that sound easy, it takes much thought and practice to get it right. In order to do so, all the gear must be absolutely ready to go without snarling up, and both the person on the helm and the other working the gear must have a clear understanding of the sequence of events as they should unfold, and know how their boat will behave under power.
In strong tides or crosswinds, there are plenty of opportunities to make a hash of things, so if conditions are less than ideal, it’s never a bad idea to simply lie to one anchor, and wait for the tide to slacken or the wind to ease, which will lower your blood pressure when the time comes to commit to the manoeuvre.
So How Does It Go?
- Make a few slow runs through the area you intend to lie in, keeping an eye on any features that might be useful as transits—trees or other moored boats are ideal. It’s always useful to have some form of fixed object to guide you, as otherwise, as the tide moves you around, you can lose station. A forward looking sonar really comes into its own in these circumstances, enabling you to read the bottom. If you don’t have one, by all means use a lead line, in advance from a dinghy if necessary.
- It makes sense to set your bower anchor in the direction of the strongest tide (often the ebb in rivers), or wind, if you’re expecting it to blow. If it’s possible, choose a time when the tide is still running from that direction, but not at its strongest.
- With the kedge over the stern, and the cable flaked down, ready to go and with the bitter end made fast to a cleat, motor steadily into the tide. When you reach the position you want the kedge to be set, let go of the kedge, and pay out the full length of the cable.
- Work the anchor in under power until you’re sure it has set. Hold the boat into the tide with the power on and be ready to let the bower anchor go. You may have to shift the boat around with the throttle and rudder to ensure that when the bow anchor is let go you’ll lie in the correct plane up and down the tide.
- When you’re happy you’re there, let go the bower anchor, let the boat fall back, preferably out of gear to avoid any risk of entanglement with the kedge warp, and let out sufficient chain to reach a midpoint between the two anchors then power on and dig the bower anchor in.
- Once you’re happy with your position, take the kedge warp off the stern cleat, retrieve some of the slack and then lead it forward to the bow. Haul in say 5 m (16.5 ft) of the bower cable and attach the kedge warp to the bower cable, so that when the cable is let out again, the ‘join’ will be below your keel level, to avoid any chance of entanglement and tripping.
- You should now be lying midway between the two anchors, both firmly set, and at the turn of the tide, will swing smoothly to lie to the new anchor. Your swinging room will be drastically reduced, and all things being equal you’ll lie safely within your restricted pool.
Attaching The Two Cables
There are a variety of ways to attach the cables. The first is to simply bend the kedge warp on to the bower chain with a rolling hitch, but I’ve had less than successful results with this with three strand nylon warps in the past due to the stiffness of the warp. This makes it difficult to get the knot tight, with the risk it can come loose.
I’ve not tried it, but I’d imagine that either of our heavy kedge warps in 18 and 20 mm Octoplait/Brait might present similar difficulties. It’s also true that attaching the cable via a fixed knot makes it difficult to adjust the kedge warp effectively.
Make Your Own Swivel
Early in my sailing days an old (and much missed) friend called Bill Robinson made me a simple little device he called a ‘warpreeve’, that he had used very successfully for many years in some of the tiniest anchorages in the exquisite but wild Isles of Scilly. You simply feed the hard eye through the soft eye around the chain to suit the required depth below the keel, pull it tight and then feed the kedge warp through the thimble in the hard eye and make it fast to a bow cleat, then lower away below keel depth.
On the few occasions I used the warpreeve it worked perfectly, and I found that allowing the kedge warp to move up and down through the thimble was very useful, allowing the tension on the kedge warp to be adjusted easily.
We could have simply made a bigger version for Pèlerin, but I wanted to find a way to fix the swivel more solidly in place on the cable. The first version used a spliced whip tail which could be bent on to the chain, but when I discovered the new Wichard chain hook with its spring loaded pin, it seemed to me to be ideal for this application. I tried this out with an old snatch block, and was happy with the results, and so I coughed up for one of Lewmar’s maximum sized snatch blocks, tested to 2000 kg, and capable of accommodating our biggest kedge warp (20 mm). No tails on the snap shackles to prematurely trip it or the chain hook, and with the ability to swivel in every plane, I think it will prove ideal, and will be a far more safe and effective set-up in strong winds.
We may also add a Spectra/Dyneema loop threaded through the chain and the snap shackle as a back up, or perhaps even on its own, replacing the chain hook—time will tell.
It Seems Like A Lot Of Hassle
It is—but there are times when it’s absolutely the best idea, if not downright necessary. Although we haven’t used this latest iteration in anger yet, it’s only a matter of time before we do so, as we’ve come very close to needing it on a couple of occasions during our cruise here in Brazil, as many popular anchorages are now getting choked with moorings and there’s very little room left to anchor in some places. Unless, like us you can lift your keel and rudder and get right out on the margins—which in itself may require us to lie to a Bahamian moor.
Better get some practice in…