Q&A: Do You Recommend A Stern Anchor System?

Question: We’re preparing our boat for cruising in the North. Do you advise a dedicated stern-anchor system? Lots of Scandinavians sail around with one. Danforth, CQR or SPADE? Right now our main bower is a 60lb CQR on 100 meters of 12mm chain. Our spares are a 60lb CQR and a 30lb Danforth on board. We have a spare 150lb Fisherman at home.

Answer: No, we do not advise a dedicated stern-anchor. We do not like to moor the boat fore and aft, unless the anchorage is very small and sheltered, in which case we would use lines to the shore and a bow anchor. The reason is that fore and aft anchoring stops the boat swinging bow on to the wind and puts huge loads on the anchors when the wind blows on the side of the boat.

When the anchorage is too small for swinging to one anchor, we prefer to use two anchors set at a ninety degree angle off the bow; this reduces the swing circle but does not have the problem mentioned above. Of course this method has the disadvantage that if the boat swings round in a circle the anchor rodes will become twisted, but this happens less often than you would think.

Our secondary rode is rope and in two parts of 50 meters each shackled together and in two bags that are stowed on the fore deck and cabin top respectively. So when the two rodes get twisted it is comparatively simple to un-shackle half or all of the secondary rode and pass it around the chain primary rode.

One other thing, we do not recommend the CQR anchor in Norway, or anywhere in the North. We used to have one and found it a very poor anchor in hard sand or weed, both of which are common on the west coast of Norway and in the North. We changed to the SPADE, the biggest one they make, and have had no problems getting anchored in many places including Norway, Svalbard, Greenland and Newfoundland.

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Meet the Author

John

John was born and brought up in Bermuda and started sailing as a child, racing locally and offshore before turning to cruising. He has sailed over 100,000 miles, most of it on his McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, including eight ocean races to Bermuda, culminating in winning his class twice in the Newport Bermuda Race. He has skippered a series of voyages in the North Atlantic, the majority of which have been to the high latitudes. John has been helping others go voyaging by sharing his experience for twenty years, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 12 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

11 comments… add one
  • Geir ove Sep 7, 2010, 5:16 am

    Ref:
    Do you advise a dedicated stern-anchor system? Lots of Scandinavians sail around with one. This refers to na anchor out in the back, and the bow in to land in a sheltered place. That’s what it’s used for.

    Geir Ove.

    • John Sep 7, 2010, 7:58 am

      Hi Geir Ove,

      You are, or course, right. Many of our Scandinavian friends make good use of a stern anchor in this way.

      And I think it works well in very sheltered places where there is little chance of a hard wind from abeam.

      • Geir ove Sep 7, 2010, 12:16 pm

        Hey John,
        Yes, during daytime you keep the boat in a distance close to the rocks/mountain, so you can walk on land, when it’s time for bed you pull yourself out some meters, and you are good for the night, even if there is some wind, but you make sure the anchor sets well. Then in the morning let out and go close to the rocks/mountain again, for easy entering on land. But it is not used in very bad weather like this.

  • Jon Dec 26, 2010, 5:05 am

    Geir Ove is of course right.

    You really need a stern anchor when sailing in the archipelago or fjords…the best way to go ashore when the depth is not sufficient for alongside mooring, but deep enough for the bow to go in.

    The aft anchor is NEVER used together with the bow anchor, only as a hook to keep the bow off the rocks. Once moored you can add as many ropes to what ever side you like if the weather gets nasty.

    Also, when approaching a rock you want to moor at, you can go in at an angle, drop the stern anchor and slide alongside in. When leaving you use the stern anchor to pull you off the rock.

    Also in some marinas you are asked to moor bow in, but there is no rope our buoy for the aft…again the aft anchor becomes useful.

    Never leave home without the stern anchor… 🙂

  • Chris A. Dec 26, 2010, 9:18 pm

    Jon,
    We use our stern anchor a lot here in the northwest mostly for the reasons that you described above. Our primary anchor is a 66 lb spade on 100 meters of chain. Our stern anchor is also a 66 lb spade with a hybrid rope/chain rode. I use a couple of snatch blocks to get the rode onto a cockpit winch but the last 20 feet plus the anchor is work. This is especially true when there is an extra 40 to 50 lbs of mud/kelp/eel grass attached.

    How do you guys handle your stern anchor?

    We have an aluminum spade backup stored in the bilge. Never used it; same size but probably half the weight?

    Is this a place where smaller line such as spectra 12 strand might make a cumbersome process easier?

    Thanks for the holiday post by the way. Nice pics as usual.

    Chris A.

    • Jon Feb 4, 2011, 8:03 am

      From the size of the anchor I guess your boat is 45 feet or so? If that is the case I would go for a winch. My boat is 40 ft / 10000 kg and I have a winch, 50 m chain and 15 kg Delta Anchor (plough). I used to have a Bruce, but I have turned it in for metal-price (dangerous anchor with poor holding capacity).

      On my former boat, 37′ and 5500 kg, I used a 15 kg Bruce (God forbid), 7 m 8 mm chain and a 50 m nylon web on a spool (available at most boat stores).

      Always worked. But, when the boat grew, so did the demand for a winch.

  • Dave M Feb 20, 2011, 11:05 am

    I see a lot of Ovnis with stern anchors. Does beaching a boat bring special requirements regarding anchoring? Perhaps Colin (Ovni wirter on this site) could write something about the beaching process of Ovnis, I would be very interested to hear about it.

    I suppose it must be very similar to taking the ground in a bilge keeler?

    Regards, Dave

    • John Feb 20, 2011, 8:31 pm

      Hi Dave,

      Colin has written on the subject of beaching the Ovni here.

  • Victor Raymond Sep 11, 2015, 2:37 am

    John,

    Unfortunately Colin’s article is not about beaching as much as the advantages a flat bottomed retractable keel vessel such as the Ovni, Boreal, Garcia or my Meta Dalu and many others.

    The way one beaches a boat such as this is while approaching the shallows to drop a stern anchor. While paying out rode, the boat is motored slowly at high tide towards the previously scoped out sandy beach. Sometimes it takes a cycle of low tides to make sure this is the best place to do this task.

    Once grazing the bottom with the bow the bower is lowered with enough chain to reach dry ground. This usually requires some physical strength to move the bower and chain to higher ground. But it essential that the boat does not go broadside to the waves. Waders or hip boats very useful here.

    As the tide goes out the vessel will find its resting place for the next 4 hours or so. And now the fun begins or whatever hull chores you have planned. The boat is not going anywhere.

    This is how you beach a flat bottomed retractable keel boat. I could show you pictures.

    And that is the reason we carry around a substantial stern anchor on a stern roller with 30 meters of chain and another 30 meters of three stand ready to launch at a moments notice. These are some of the very reasons one has an aluminum flat bottomed retractable keel boat to begin with. Enjoy the fact that the boat will not being moving at all for many hours.

    • John Sep 11, 2015, 8:29 am

      Hi Victor,

      That makes sense and I can certainly see the benefits of a stern anchor in this special case.

      Having said that, it is important to understand that anchoring bow and stern imposes a huge additional load on all the gear if the boat is caught with by the wind on the beam. This load increase is much, much larger than most sailors realize. Matt has calculated it at a jaw dropping 14 times larger than the load on the anchor gear of a boat anchored by the bow that can swing to the wind.

      • Victor Raymond Sep 11, 2015, 11:04 am

        John & Matt,

        I wonder what the additional loading is placed on the primary when for example a ketch sets up a mizzen to steady the boat into the wind that may be contrary to the current or when shore tied and the vessel could be contrary to both wind and current. There are many scenarios that could increase the load and the prudent sailor either has to avoid them or at least know they exist to prevent a failure of either gear or holding.

        What this comes down to is personal comfort or convenience should be sacrificed when above normal holding is required.

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