SPADE Anchor

We think this anchor is the next best thing to sliced bread! We like the SPADE so much, we have a 120lb as our bower anchor and a 66lb as our secondary anchor. The SPADE has replaced the Luke as our primary high latitude anchor because it is the only stockless anchor I know that will set reliably in thick kelp, it is more versatile than the Luke and of course easier to use.

I think that much of the SPADE’s success can be attributed to how fast it sets, so it has no time to foul with weed or rock. We were using a SPADE as a secondary anchor in the hard sand of the Bahamas some years ago, together with a CQR as primary. I dove on both anchors several times and found that the SPADE had dug in right at the point it landed with NO dragging at all. The CQR would drag at least 20′ before setting.

We have never had trouble with the SPADE dragging due to change of pull angle even though we are often in areas that experience rapid wind shifts due to frontal passages or katabatic gusting.

The SPADE works great in soft mud, even in the VERY fine mud we found off glaciers in Svalbard (Spitsbergen). I think the key is the concave shape and very high fluke area.

The SPADE does not seem to get fouled by rocks or boulders, unlike what I have been told (second hand information only) about the Bruce. In one anchorage in north Iceland, the bottom was rocks ranging from grapefruit to melon size (shallow clear water) with NO mud. Though the anchor could not grip, it did not foul. Instead it just pulled back through the rocks very slowly as I applied substantial reverse pressure (120 hp motor at 1800 rpm before dragging started).

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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
  • Martin Oct 15, 2010, 5:13 pm

    Hi John,

    What are your thoughts on the Rocna compared to the Spade?

    We used to have a 66lb CQR which performed average and replaced it with a 30kg Bruce. At first our intention was to upgrade this to a Rocna when we could buy one. But the Bruce never failed once, even in tidal areas where you more or less ”re-anchor” 4 times a day.


  • Colin Speedie Oct 16, 2010, 5:04 pm

    Hi Martin

    Like you I gave up on CQRs some time ago. Great anchor in its day, but there are far better options out there now, in my view.

    Again, like you, some years ago I tried the Bruce, in my case a 15kg on a 34ft boat. 9 times out of 10 it worked fine, but the 10th was a disaster every time. However, most of the big charter boats in the areas I was working in (like Scotland) went for big Bruce’s (30kg upwards) and swore by them, so maybe (for reasons unknown) the smaller models may underperform.

    I’ve since been a major convert to Rocna – we have a 33kg and 25kg on board, and love them. But equally, I’ve no doubt that other ‘new generation’ anchors may be just as good, and that would definitely include the Spade – all the owners I have spoken to really rate them, and I know that John and Phyllis swear by theirs.

    If the anecdotal evidence on scale and the Bruce is correct, then maybe you are as well off with your current choice as with any other ‘new generation’ anchor.

    Best wishes


  • Martin Oct 17, 2010, 6:11 am

    I know that you should not try to save on anchor equipment, since your whole ”investment” depends on it, but a Bruce is 30-40% of the price of a Rocna or Spade.

    Nevertheless for our new boat a big Rocna is on the list!


    • John Oct 17, 2010, 9:54 am

      Hi Martin,

      As Colin says, I don’t think there is a lot to choose between the Rocna and the SPADE, despite the endless debates on the forums.

      On the Bruce. I have never had one, but have on good authority that the major drawback of them is that if they do start to drag they have a very hard time resetting. The SPADE and the Rocna do really well in this respect: Even if the bottom is very soft, they just drag back slowly with no tendency to skip.

      Also, the ultimate holding power of the Bruce in pull tests is substantially less, size for size, than the new designs.

      In summary, I think you are making a good choice in going to a Rocna for your new boat.

  • Martin Oct 17, 2010, 10:03 am

    Some interesting reading in this article, which has a different approach and conclusion then some of the recent boat magazine tests.

    Food for thought.

    • John Oct 17, 2010, 11:28 am

      Hi Martin,

      It’s a hard one, what with all the conflicting information. For example Beth and Evans are big proponents of heavy chain and Steve Dashew and I are not, preferring to put every pound in the anchor and use light high tensile chain. Is there a right and wrong here? Who knows.

      But given that Steve was for many years and 200,000 miles a big proponent of the Bruce (hugely oversized) and has now gone over to a Rocna with great results cruising from New Zealand to Greenland, I think I would still switch to one of the new pattern anchors from your Bruce.

    • Craig Smith Oct 18, 2010, 1:05 am

      Being familiar with the exact location Evans conducted his test above, I can make some comments.

      The photo of the Bruce copy totally failed to set 90 deg on its side with one fluke dug in, which Evans describes as set, should be enough to betray the bias – or frankly, poverty of knowledge – found in that article. That anchor is totally unbalanced and if pulled further is as likely to simply pop out again as it is to continue setting. It’s unconscionable that Evans uses this as an example by which the claw ‘wins’ his test.

      The rest of the conditions are not worthy of detailed analysis. The frozen dry ground he is using (mid winter Patagonia) is about as far away from the design intent of any anchor as Mars.

      The majority of magazine anchor testing (Evan’s example was eventually intended for Practical Sailor, indeed subsequently faithfully re-written by them to give the impression it was their own testing!) is heavily flawed. Proper anchor testing involves hiring expensive hardware and many man hours, raising the cost far beyond the value of a 4-page item in a monthly rag.

      In Patagonia and Antarctica, we found the majority of the ‘serious’ boats, e.g. the charter yachts which do multiple trips down to the Peninsula every year and endure repeated exposure to terrible conditions in bad anchoring grounds, either have 1) over-sized old ploughs (and they try to anchor as little as possible in the belief that the anchorages are impossible), or 2) Spades or Rocnas. (It’s true Peter and I are responsible for a few of the first group migrating to the second.) But the point is Bruces/claws were in short supply.

  • John Oct 18, 2010, 8:35 am

    Just so everyone is aware, Craig is a principle at Rocna. Having said that, I agree with much of what he says about this test. In fact I’m no fan of beach testing and that includes the ones conducted by Rocna.

    But, let us not forget that Evans and Beth are extremely knowledgeable voyagers who are entitled to respect for their opinions.

    Craig, the use of the word “unconscionable” was unfortunate and is not in keeping with the tone we set here at AAC. Normally I would simple delete a comment with that tone, but since this one has, I think, value, I will leave it. But please tone down the language in further comments.

    Also, I have found Practical Sailor to be a very useful publication—not at all a “rag”.

  • Nick Kats Oct 19, 2010, 12:02 pm

    Hi Martin & John

    My 2 bits on this.

    I have 2 Rocnas, a 25 kg primary and a 15 kg for kedging off, and 2 other anchors. This for a 39′ LOD Colin Archer, 15 ton, full keel, absolutely no sailing at anchor.

    (Sailing at anchor exponentially increases the strain on anchor gear. If sailing at anchor is unchecked, much bigger & heavier anchor & rode will be required.)

    I have never used a Spade so cannot compare with the Rocna. Various testings out there say they are pretty close.

    I find that the Rocs work very well. Limitations I have experienced with them are in heavy kelp & very soft mud.

    For heavy kelp, probably a small but relatively very heavy anchor, to punch its way thru to the bottom. Or a heavy fisherman with weight to compress the kelp layer, and a long arm/fluke to reach thru.

    On the Roc in soft mud. Here’s my experience on this.

    I used to anchor my boat in the bay near my home. The spot is enclosed (can’t see the open sea), overall a very good shelter, tidal flow in & out under a knot.

    I always set the anchor by going into full reverse.

    3 x the boat, anchored in the bay, dragged. Twice with the 25 kg Roc, once with a 25 kg Buegel. All chain was out – 210′ of 7/16 inch diameter, which I think is about 1200 pounds of chain.

    Once this happened in Force 6. The other 2 times in virtual calm in lovely weather.


    However, these episodes tell me several things.

    I can’t rely on the Roc, or probably on most anchors, in soft mud.

    There was 1200 pounds of chain out, 210′ total, most of it on the bottom (40′ deep at high tide/28′ at low). All that chain weight didn’t do a thing on those 3 occasions.

    Whenever I took in the chain in that bay, the chain was coated pretty solid in slick sticky mud. So, we have mud (encasing the chain ) sliding on mud (the bottom), which equals near-zero friction.

    Some people favour heavier chain for increased weight/friction resistance on the bottom. In the situation I just described, no way. In sand or rock, there will be friction of chain on bottom, but I would not rely on it.

    Heavier chain is also favored to increase catenary. That is true, but it won’t do. Several writers (Dashew, Smith of Rocna, & others) point out, that, in a gale or storm (which will happen sooner or later), the chain will be bar tight, with no further give. Any sudden stress at this point will shift or tear out the anchor, or snap a shackle or a chain link, or damage the bow.

    In short, heavier chain does very little.

    Which brings me back to your (John’s) point, to get hi strength & lighter chain, and to increase anchor weight.

    Steven Dashew has argued for this elegantly. If chain weight is a concern, G7 chain seems to be the strongest & allows one to reduce chain weight. And to use the weight savings to get a much bigger primary anchor.

    The ideal winching setup is to winch the anchor straight home, no manhandling involved. This likely means a boat with no bowsprit to complicate things.

    (My boat has a bowsprit & platform. These limit anchor size to the Roc 25 kg. Also, for heavy weather & offshore sailing, I have to manually pull in the Roc to fasten it on top of the bowsprit platform. 25 kg is a safe limit given my strength on a moving platform.)

    At 15 ton, my boat couldn’t care less if I’m standing on the bowsprit. I’m 210 pounds. So, in terms of weight, for my boat, it is no problem to mount a 100 or 150 pound anchor.

    Nick Kats

    • John Oct 24, 2010, 11:39 am

      Hi Nick,

      Great input, thank you. Lots of really interesting stuff.

      On the kelp issue. I wonder if the SPADE might not do better here than the Rocna? I’m thinking that the SPADE’s smaller size for a given weight might help it penetrate through weed.

      We used to use a 150lb Fisherman in kelp, but since getting our 55kg SPADE we have not used the Fisherman once. The SPADE has never failed us in kelp, even the really thick stuff that you get in Greenland and Svalbard.

      On the other hand, at least in theory, the Rocna should do better than the SPADE in very soft bottoms due to its larger fluke area for a given weight.

      Having said that, your experience seems to indicate the exact opposite. I’m as surprised as you that your Rocna dragged in thick slippery mud and not much wind—weird.

  • pete Oct 19, 2010, 6:05 pm

    Hi. All we have is a 15kilo Spade on our Colvic Watson M/S and are very pleased with it. We have used it on mud, sand & weed bottoms and it has never let go up to F11. We do use all chain and a nylon rope snubber which takes out the shock loads on it. We have friends who use a Bugle anchor and are pleased with it. It looks like a Rocna.
    All the best Pete

  • Greg Peterson Apr 7, 2015, 3:22 am

    Two anchors outdo the rest and invented by the same guy-The SPADE and The SWORD. The spade is stored alot easier on board as it comes in two pieces, has a weighted tip and tends to bury into anything including the stock as well so only the chain is showing after an hour or two in a breeze or tidal flow. Also it can turn without coming out -Look at these anchor types on youtube and you will see that looking at what goes on the sea bed should convince you.
    The sword is in one piece, alot cheaper and uses the poition of the stock to force the tip in and down.

    • John Apr 7, 2015, 7:46 am

      Hi Greg,

      Our latest thinking on anchors is here.

      We are with you on the SPADE but not at all convinced about the SWORD. Our recommendation is to spend the additional money for a SPADE. Bottom line, you get what you pay for, at least in this case.

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