The Truth Is Out About Old Style Anchors

There is an interesting comparison test of anchors in the October 2007 issue of SAIL magazine. All the usual anchor suspects are put through their paces but what stands out is the very poor performance of traditional anchors, particularly the CQR, against more modern designs like the Rocna and SPADE.

The testers at SAIL were surprised. We were not, having dragged a CQR anchor around half the periphery of the Atlantic basin.

If you are using an old design anchor and particularly if it is a CQR, we strongly recommend that you upgrade to one of the newer designs. It is one of the easiest, cheapest (in comparison to many other upgrades), and most effective ways to increase your safety and enjoyment of cruising.

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Meet the Author


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.

13 comments… add one
  • Jon Feb 4, 2011, 8:07 am

    Thank you for bringing this up. It will take a generation to get rid of the “truth”.

    Can you agree with me when I find Bruce and all its copies as bad or worse than the CQR?

    I turned my Bruce in for scrap-metal price. Did not want to think about selling it to somebody.

    • John Feb 4, 2011, 9:39 am

      Hi Jon,

      I don’t have any first hand information on the Bruce, since I have never owned one. But reliable second hand information is that the ultimate holding on the Bruce is very poor, even when compared to the CQR. The other big danger with the Bruce, as I understand it, is that when it does break out, it tends to skip and not re-set.

      Having said that, many experienced voyagers made Bruce anchors work well by massively over sizing them and loved them for their quick setting, which is much better than the CQR.

      But now that we have much better anchors like the Rocna and SPADE, I see no reason to keep a Bruce or a CQR.

  • David Head Feb 11, 2011, 9:51 am

    An even more recent article compared all the more common of the anchors on the market and the results were a big surprise. Of note was the incredible holding power of the ‘Fortress’ aluminium anchor. It held at over ten times the holding power of the competitors, and they were not using the largest variety available. This subject needs more airing, with as many anchor examples as possible, to bring dubious anchor holding claims into perspective. Let’s see some independent testing by a qualified reputable body such as ‘Quinetiq’. They undertook the radar reflector tests as a result of the Ouzo tragedy, and the results were an eye opener. See link on MCA website to Ouzo and the test results.

  • Kettlewell Feb 14, 2011, 2:44 pm

    I have to throw in my two cents in any anchoring thread (love ’em!). The Fortress anchor, IMHO, is absolutely the best second anchor to use when doing two-anchor sets, due to its light weight vs. holding power. I can easily take one of the 15-pounders (FX-23) out in a dinghy, or snorkel one out in warmer water, and they have the proven ability to hold my 38-footer. In crowded East Coast anchorages I frequently use a two-anchor set to limit my swinging room and keep my boat away from shoals or other boats. People are unjustly worried about tangling warps, which do not cause any holding issues, just adding a few minutes to untwist now and then. I keep the anchor rode of the second anchor in a sail bag so I can just pass it around the main rode to unwind the two.

  • Kettlewell Feb 17, 2011, 3:12 pm

    Another thought on these “new generation” anchors. In a lot of places I anchor along the East Coast of North America the holding ground is dense black mud, that comes up in huge globs on the anchor. In some areas this mud is more claylike and must be knocked off the anchor with a boathook or even a spatula. It doesn’t wash off easily. Do the concave, bucket-like shapes of the Spade, Rocna, Manson, etc. end up catching a giant ball of mud in situations like this? I have had mud-encrusted traditional plow anchors and Danforth shapes get so encrusted with heavy clay that they don’t want to set or reset. I would imagine this could be a real problem with the new generation anchors in certain anchorages. I picture this round ball of mud being dragged across the bottom.

    • Nick Kats Feb 17, 2011, 5:15 pm

      Good question; I wondered about the same thing.
      I have 2 Rocnas, x 2 & 3 years each, not very long. Your Q requires anchoring in mud, dragging, and pulling up the anchor to see a full scoop of mud. No I have not seen this.
      Colin Speedie has more experience using his Rocna in mud. Over to you Colin…

    • John Feb 17, 2011, 7:36 pm

      Hi John K.

      We have been using a SPADE for 15 years in just about every bottom type known, including really thick mud and clay, and have not had this problem. The thing to realize is that the fluke is not at 90 degrees to the angle of pull, or even close. The result is that the mud just exhausts off the top of the fluke as the anchor digs further in. The same would happen if it dragged. Note that in hundreds of sets over that period we have never had the SPADE drag once set.

      I have no first hand experience with the Rocna, but would expect it to behave the same way as the SPADE, although I suppose there is a remote chance of a piece of debris getting caught in the roll bar on the Rocna.

  • Colin Speedie Feb 18, 2011, 10:46 am

    Hi guys

    In my experience the Rocna can bring up quite a bit of mud with it, but with its shape you’d expect that. I’ve certainly never experienced it becoming clogged with clay, or anything of that nature.

    I’d agree with John that the Rocna and the Spade probably behave in a very similar way, as many of the principles involved are the same.

    One of the best tests to me is how an anchor behaves in soft mud, which is truly a rotten holding medium, and I’m very happy with the Rocna in those conditions – it just seems to keep digging in.

    Best wishes


  • Kettlewell Feb 18, 2011, 11:19 am

    Thanks guys, good to know about the mud issue. I certainly read enough favorable reports about Rocnas, Spades, and Manson Supremes to think they must be pretty good, though I think it is interesting that Beth and Evans Starzinger aren’t sold on them.

    • Colin Speedie Feb 18, 2011, 1:50 pm


      I don’t think that Beth and Evans are necessarily down on the Manson and Rocna – in fact, I think they have kept the Rocna from the Practical Sailor test. They simply believe that the Bruce type Manson Ray suits their type of sailing best.

      The point made in the test (and very fairly) was that in extreme circumstances (mixed, poor holding, very short scope) the Ray performed best (in that test), and that sometimes in very remote areas that’s the daily deal, and you don’t have a choice.

      But the recommendation in the test also suggested that a Bruce type should be one to two sizes larger than an equivalent roll bar anchor, and I’m afraid that might well be beyond even my enthusiasm for big anchors!

      Big Bruce’s work well, and in the past were very popular with big charter boats in places like Scotland, but in my experience (like many others) the smaller sizes just didn’t cut it.

      For all round use, I’ve got no complaints with the Rocna, and I don’t doubt we would be very happy with a Spade, either. John and Phyllis have more experience than anyone else I know of with the Spade in remote places, and their opinion would be good enough for me.

      And as an interesting aside, I’ve met people who swear by their old generation anchors, wouldn’t buy a Spade, Rocna, marketing hype etc., but I’ve yet to meet one who has bought a new generation anchor and then changed back to their old one – funny that!

      Best wishes


  • Kettlewell Feb 18, 2011, 2:19 pm

    Some of these folks with big boats and huge anchors are awfully dependent on their windlass functioning properly. I’ve run into some folks who were in real trouble because their windlass failed in a remote area and they couldn’t physically manhandle the anchor and chain up off the bottom. They needed help to weigh anchor and then had to make a beeline for the nearest port, some 100 + miles away, and hope that they didn’t have to anchor on the way—they would only have one chance at it. I’ve met a lot of folks with broken windlasses.

    • John Feb 18, 2011, 2:27 pm

      Hi John K.

      A really good point. If you are going to have heavy anchoring gear, you need a really good quality and over-sized windlass. Our Ideal has never let us down in 20 years of use. However, we do have it rebuilt by the manufacturer about every eight years and carry a spare motor. It also has a hand crank capability that would work in a pinch, although I’m in no hurry to be reliant on that feature!

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