This summer will remain in my memory as one for strong winds and great sailing. By the time we reached Scotland in early July we had just about seen the last of the light winds that we had enjoyed in West Cork, and a more mixed regime had set in. No matter—these were ideal conditions to get to know our boat better, and economize on fuel!
Plenty of anchor work, too, and several nights of winds that reached gale force let us test our anchoring system out in the real world. In nearly all circumstances we tend to lie to one big anchor and plenty of chain, and it has never failed us yet. But if we’re expecting really strong winds, in poor shelter, or expect a big wind shift, out will go the second set of gear.
When we planned the boat, we knew that we would have to work out a custom installation to handle the second cable and anchor. There was not enough room in the anchor locker for two sets, and the stemhead and rollers were not ideal to keep a second anchor permanently stowed alongside the bower anchor, a 33kg Rocna with a big rollbar.
So we had an additional tang welded to the deck and had a roller drum fabricated to handle the second cable, to be bolted in place on deck when needed. In normal circumstances this is lashed down in our stowage area forward, and is lifted on deck via the spinnaker halyard when needed. Once in place we can attach whichever anchor we want to the chain (25kg Rocna, Fortress or fisherman) and run it out either under our own power or via the dinghy, and once set up it all works really well.
So when we were preparing for the first big blow of the season we decided to set up the second anchor ready to face the worst of it. Working together in only moderate winds we were amazed at how much time it took to get everything in place and ready to go—well over an hour. Admittedly we hadn’t set it up for over a year, so we were out of practice and there was far too much time spent looking out the right bolts, finding the mousing wire and so on, but it was sobering to think how long it might have taken in wild conditions.
Now we do have a third cable that is simply coiled ready to go for our stern anchor, but it’s a lighter set up, and it wouldn’t be our preferred solution, so it’s going to be back to the drawing board this winter to come up with some effective ways of speeding up the deployment of our second system. And, once again, we were reminded how glad we are that our primary set up is scaled up so much.
Which got me thinking about the perennial question of how much anchor is enough? To my eyes so many owners err on the small side, and I can’t quite understand the logic of it. I know that there are negative cost and weight implications for going for (at least) the next size up from the manufacturer’s recommendation, but what else is gained? And when the wind gets up who is glad to be lying to a smaller anchor?
Going up a size offers so many benefits: A heavier anchor will set faster and dig through a hard substrate more effectively. Bigger size means more working surface area for more effective holding, especially with new generation anchors like the Spade and Rocna. And if, as far as our observations are concerned, most boats are nearly always anchored to one set of gear, doesn’t it make the most sense to scale it up, so that when the wind comes up unexpectedly you can face it with confidence and sort out the second set of gear? Running out a second anchor is often far more work than anticipated, and may have to be done in less than ideal conditions. I suspect that’s why so many people put it off if at all possible, and then end up having to set it when conditions are at their worst. Making your primary set-up oversized and bombproof has a lot going for it.
Like many others I suspect, I suffer from the syndrome called “anchoring insomnia”, sleeping with one eye open when lying to the hook in remote places—and rightly so. But I have to say that for me scaling up on our anchor and gear has had more beneficial effects in curing that affliction than all the pills in the world would, and so whatever the downsides to heavier ground tackle, I think they are a price well worth paying.