We Love The Way Our Anchor Drags 

Now there’s a headline to make a cruiser’s brow furrow. Let me explain.

A few days ago we came into an anchorage here on the Quebec North Shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence after a long, although not particularly demanding, two days transiting the Straits of Belle Isle—always nice to have that body of water behind us—to get snugged in for a bit of weather, only to have our SPADE anchor drag when we tried to set it.

On the second attempt, when the somewhat tired and crotchety skipper was a little more patient with the throttle in reverse, thereby allowing the anchor to work through the first thin layer of mud to the good thick stuff underneath, it set fine.

Not Frequent

The first thing to know is that our SPADE refusing to set is an extremely rare occurrence. I would guess less than a dozen times in our twenty years of using this anchor from the Bahamas to Greenland and a huge number of places in between.

We Set Hard

And the second is that our idea of setting means really leaning on it to the point that our chain rode is bar straight and the water boils under the transom. Having watched the rode while anchored in heavy weather many times, I would estimate that our setting load is higher than our anchor experiences in strong gale, or even storm force, winds.

Reliable

And finally, in all those years, our SPADE has never dragged once set…touch wood! No, not once:

  • Not when our boat was being slammed back and forth across an anchorage in East Greenland by storm force gusts shifting through over 120 degrees.
  • Not when clinging on with just 3:1 scope to a small 100-foot deep ledge on the side of a fjord in west Greenland while steady storm force winds, gusting much higher, tried to prise us loose.
  • Not in the hard sand of the Bahamas when the wind shifted 90 degrees in a cold front and we watched as half of our fellow harbour occupants dragged past.
  • Not in a late fall storm at Block Island as the wind howled across the treeless low coast between us and the sea.

But then you long term readers have heard all that before, and anyway, it’s not the point of this post.

Dragging to Love

The point is that even when we have managed to drag the SPADE with our storm-force-equivalent engine setting, we have only gone backward very slowly, at less than half a knot, with the SPADE fighting the engine every step of the way. No jumping. No skipping. Just a steady and high load on the rode.

Even in:

  • The thin mud of the Chesapeake Bay. (This is probably the most difficult bottom type for the SPADE but, even here, good setting technique, read slow and gentle increased load to work the anchor in, most always works.)
  • An anchorage in Iceland that turned out to have a bottom comprised exclusively of small round rocks. (We still call that “the ball bearing anchorage”.)
  • An anchorage in Baffin Island that, judging from what came up on the anchor, must have had a 20-foot thick pad of kelp, some of it with trunks an inch thick. (We managed to work the SPADE through to mud on the third attempt.)

Not a Common Talent

Contrast this to:

Why It Matters

Now let’s think about what this really means. Suppose one day our anchor does drag…when we are asleep…in the dark…with it blowing stink and raining?

We want that anchor to be one that drags slowly so that when our drag alarm—we always set one—sounds, there will be time to save the situation before we buy the beach, or in the places we cruise, the boat-wrecking boulder-strewn sharp-rocked shore.

The point being that there’s a lot more to picking a good anchor than setting or ultimate load tests, and how an anchor performs if it does break loose should be an important selection criteria.

Now you know why we love the way our anchor drags.

Where’s The Love?

And yes, I know I have written a bunch of these fan-boy posts about the SPADE, but that’s only because Phyllis and I think that the SPADE anchor is one of the most underrated pieces of gear in the cruising world.

And that the more people who know what a great anchor it is, the fewer people who will have cruise- or boat-wrecking anchor failures.

By the way, I totally get why the SPADE is so under appreciated. SPADEs are:

  • More expensive than other anchors. (If you are an AAC member, you can get a discount that will at least help a little.)
  • Have been less well and aggressively marketed than many competitors.
  • Not stocked by large internet merchants like West Marine and Defender.
  • Generally more difficult to source.
  • Sold by a US distributor that can be unresponsive.
  • Built by a factory that raises unresponsive to an art form.
  • Coated with a yellow paint on the upper face of the fluke that comes off the first time you use it.
  • Manufactured with galvanizing that is not as good as many of its competitors’ (better in recent years).

Not What Matters

For us at least, none of that matters, and I bet it certainly won’t matter to anyone at oh-dark-thirty when the wind is howling and they suddenly start dragging toward the rocks at three knots because they let the above disadvantages influence their buying decision.

Further Reading

Disclosure

As many of you know, SPADE gave us an anchor some years ago—we  bought our first two SPADEs at the same price anyone would pay—and the US distributor is a long time corporate member at US$50.00 a month.

That said, if you think that support influenced our decision to trust our boat, and probably our lives in some situations, to the SPADE anchor, there is probably not a lot I can write that will fix that misconception.

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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.

60 comments… add one
  • Calin Sep 4, 2017, 8:05 pm

    Hi John
    I can endorse your view on the Spade after testing our new 35kg Spade this year along the Norwegian coastline and Svalbard. We did drag twice since April:
    – on the first drop in Svalbard(Hornsund south side..); although we had a 4/1 scope in about 5-6m of water, it was my bad for backing down too fast on it when setting. Kept an eye on it and sure enough we started slooowly pulling Zs 2 hrs later when the 30 knotter started coming through. Kelp. Lots of it.
    – Second time was in the Lofotens, super shifty from 90 more than degrees angles, 5-35kts, again 4/1 scope. Tricky for any anchor given the directions and strenght of gusts. However, when the Spade drags on the rare occasion, it does it very ‘sweetly’. That only helps with the piece of mind that’s for sure.
    I hope this post doesn’t put me in even more trouble with Peter Smith. Met the man up here this summer, I drooled over Kiwi Roa (just like anybody would..) but had lots of laughs and shared a few good yarns with the legend.

    • John Sep 5, 2017, 8:49 am

      Hi Calin,

      Good to have the confirmation on the slow drag we have seen, thanks.

  • Tristan Mortimer Sep 5, 2017, 6:17 am

    I just invested in a 20kg spade. The first thing to strike me is the way in which this anchor wants to self right. I don’t store the anchor on the roller when at sea (or on my swinging mooring for that matter) so intended to store the spade lashed on it’s side where the CQR used to lie. Its almost as though the thing is alive with its desire to position itself in preparation for penetrating the ground. I haven’t actually used it yet as I’m still trying to sort out the shackle arrangement but fingers crossed it will serve me well.

    • John Sep 5, 2017, 8:58 am

      Hi Tristan,

      Good observation. The SPADE has the highest tip weight percentage of any anchor made.

      • Chad Sep 6, 2017, 7:30 pm

        Nit picking I know, but According to SV Panope, the Spade has 42% tip weight ratio. While the Mantus has 50%

        Either way they both seem like great anchors

        -Chad

        • John Sep 7, 2017, 7:58 am

          Hi Chad,

          That’s interesting. I got my data from an english magazine. Might have been PBO, although I don’t remember for sure, and they were pretty insistent that the SPADE had the highest tip weight, but maybe they didn’t test the Mantus.

          Be that as it may, I prefer the SPADE’s way of getting high tip weight—fabricated construction and lead in the tip—to the Mantus very large, and rather fragile looking roll bar.

          • Chad Sep 7, 2017, 1:24 pm

            Sailing Panope also selected a Spade as his main anchor because of it’s robustness. I am not an experienced sailor at all! just an avid internet researcher, And I can imagine that the roll bar may possibly prevent penetration in deep kelp beds possibly. But the thing that appealed to me most about a Mantus is its amazingly fast resetting ability in low scopes on hard turn arounds. It just made me feel like if the winds or currents made a 180 overnight I wouldn’t worry as much about it dragging. (same reason we decided against a Rocna although we considered the Vulcan due to it’s spade design)

            My thoughts on the possibly weak structure of the Mantus, I’m sure the boat would not shear the metal, If anything happened it would just bend. In which point upon retrieval I would think to myself… Time for a replacement. (So not a catastrophic result)

            Full disclosure: After contacting Mantus, they sponsored us our anchor because of our YouTube channel.

            I’m sure I would sleep just as well with a Spade as well. (not that I sleep very well at anchor yet) 🙂

          • John Sep 7, 2017, 3:47 pm

            Hi Chad,

            I can’t agree, if you are out on an extended cruise and bend you main anchor that’s a pretty serious problem.

            Also, the Vulcan is not a SPADE, except superficially, or even close. See this chapter: https://www.morganscloud.com/2016/08/13/anchors-resetting-failures-with-rocna-and-some-thoughts-on-vulcan/

  • Richard Dykiel Sep 5, 2017, 9:25 am

    I am now using a SPADE but on my previous boat (catalina 30) had a rocna. It was setting so well that I guess I had become complacent. Anchoring off Saquish neck at the entrance of Plymouth bay, I had a good night and went for a stroll on the beach. A gentleman walking there pointed to my boat, which was noticeably dragging slowly in the current. I scampered back to hightail off. The current was very, very strong: it was actually pushing the boat so hard against the rode that I had to use the engine to swing the boat in order to retrieve the anchor (no windlass, all by hand). My analysis (beyond the poor anchoring choice) is that the strong current at this place somehow loosens the sand. But I can testify that the rocna was fighting it and to this day am happy for the slow, slow drag.

    • John Sep 5, 2017, 10:27 am

      Hi Richard,

      That’s interesting. I do wonder if your Rocna drag event may have been caused by the switch in current direction. This seems to be weakness, in an otherwise very good anchor, of the Rocna and some other roll bar anchors. See this chapter for more:https://www.morganscloud.com/2016/08/13/anchors-resetting-failures-with-rocna-and-some-thoughts-on-vulcan/

      • Richard Dykiel Sep 5, 2017, 11:32 am

        Ah yes, actually. I had anchored late at night and the issue occurred early morning. So definitely after 1 tide cycle.

  • Bill Balme Sep 5, 2017, 10:06 am

    I like the yellow paint! It allows me to see how much crap there is on it while still in the water and I get rid of all of it by shaking the chain with the boat hook. The paint lasted through 18 months continuous usage before really wearing out, but we gave it another coat (Neon green Rustoleum this time!) a couple of months ago and we’re back to loving it!
    Love the anchor.

    • John Sep 5, 2017, 10:32 am

      Hi Bill,

      Sounds like they have improved the paint since I bought mine.

  • Shane Brooker Sep 5, 2017, 10:51 am

    John,
    I just bought a SPADE 140 to replace my 45lb CQR. I went one size up based on their estimated sizing scale for a 46′ 17ton… was set on a ROCNA but based on your comments and observations I changed my mind. Only complaint is it does not sit on my roller assembly too well and I will have to modify, but looking forward to using it.

  • Charles L Starke Sep 5, 2017, 11:55 am

    We love the 99 lb Spade after switching from (and dragging with) an 88 lb Rocna. We also carry the larger 66 lb aluminum Spade as a storm anchor and the Fortress 37 as a kedge. Very happy with the choices and haven’t dragged (yet)! But our anchoring is not as challenging as John’s.
    Best wishes,
    Charles Starke
    s/v Dawnpiper (47 ft, 40,000 lbs)

  • Lee Edwards Sep 5, 2017, 12:36 pm

    I just bought a S180 (99Lb) for my 60ft. schooner (50,000 lbs.). This is the correct size recommendation for my boat, but I would have gone up one size but couldn’t fit it properly on my bow. I ordered it direct from Spade http://www.spadeanchorusa.com I tried ordering it online, but was unable to. I called and the guy who answered the phone took the order and could not have been more helpful or knowledgeable. He said they were having some problems with the website and hoped to have it solved in a few days. It arrived a week later on the day he said it would. All in all a great experience. Also they are having a sale, so I saved a couple hundred bucks!

    • John Sep 5, 2017, 2:51 pm

      Hi Lee,

      Great to hear that you had a good experience. Over the years their responsiveness has been up and down, very good to hear that we are in an up phase.

  • Marc Dacey Sep 5, 2017, 2:14 pm

    I also bought, based on these sorts of recommendations, a SPADE S140 for our 41 foot steel pilothouse cutter (circa 16 tonnes). Now I just have to source a Beta Marine starter to give it a try…I also have two Fortresses, an FX-37 for kedge and an F-21 for stern, and am keeping a Bruce for “other” duties, as it’s in good shape and I just removed 200 kilos of lead shot trim ballast in anticipation of more chain below.

  • Dick Stevenson Sep 5, 2017, 6:50 pm

    Hi John and all,
    The recent writings on anchors and the size chosen for the given boat gets me wishing to put out a couple of things. My choices reflect the fact that I occasionally end up in marginal anchorages.
    I sailed my 40 foot 16 ton boat for 6-7+ years with a 30kg Spade: I loved it but it developed some impressive rust. Spade was good enough to replace it for free: they even allowed me to step up to the 35kg and just pay the difference which I thought was very accommodating of them. I did some figuring back then and felt that the blade area/weight difference etc. probably increased my ground tackles holding power geometrically (30-35%). I consider the 35kg about right now after 2 years with it.
    I consider, after anchor design, anchor weight to be far the most potent factor in keeping anchor stuck in the bottom. Choose chain by strength, choose anchors by design, then weight. Putting extra weight on the bow is anathema to many sailors, but the additional weight we are talking about is not a big deal. The bigger problem will be how few boats (rollers and bow structures) are designed for big anchors.
    My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

    • John Sep 6, 2017, 8:22 am

      Hi Dick,

      I don’t thing that anchor weight has much to do with ultimate holding, rather I think that’s a function of fluke area. On the other hand, I do think weight helps with setting, at least if that weight is balanced on the tip as it is with the SPADE.

      That said, I totally agree: chain by strength, anchor by weight: https://www.morganscloud.com/2015/04/08/specifying-primary-anchor/

  • Lars Erik Karlsen Sep 6, 2017, 4:30 am

    I am very pleased with my Spade anchor. Have used it for 6 seasons now, and never dragged.
    There are some problems with rust and this season I had to paint it.
    On soft bottoms its important to og back slowly so the anchor have time to go down. It feels like it is not holding properly, but when taking up the anchor in the morning, I have to lift it 2-3 times with the bow to clear it. Its always full of mud or sand when it comes up.
    My boat is 10 tonnes and the anchor is 20 kg. Maybe I will go up one size, but has never dragged. Mostly my anchoring takes place in northern Norway.
    SY Sula Bassana

    • John Sep 6, 2017, 8:37 am

      Hi Lars Erik,

      Good point on the slow backdown on soft bottoms. Pretty much all anchors need that, but I do think that the SPADE might need it a little more than some, particularly when the bottom is very soft.

      By the way, it was anchoring in North Norway, or rather dragging in North Norway, that made us junk our CQR and by a SPADE.

  • Eric Klem Sep 8, 2017, 1:26 pm

    Hi John,

    Agreed that this is a very important characteristic and that the Spade is one of the best if not the best performing in this regard. This goes hand in hand with how much distance you can have to the next obstruction. While I love the short scope abilities of our anchor and utilize them often in very tight spots, if we are expecting weather, we head for a spot with plenty of room to drag while I feel like many people head for very small spots. Some of this may be a holdover from when I worked on much larger vessels and some is likely due to having had to scramble to get underway while dragging multiple times when using old gen anchors. While I still like a lot of space to drag, I have become more comfortable with less space thanks to our anchor’s characteristics, largely related to not suddenly releasing. This has proved handy a few times including just recently when I misjudged and showed up late in the day to an anchorage when expecting weather that night only to find that numerous other boats had picked the same spot. Rather than anchor downwind of other boats, we moved to a smaller less protected spot right next to it and were glad as boats dragged past where we otherwise would have been in the middle of the night.

    Eric

    • John Sep 9, 2017, 5:27 pm

      Hi Eric,

      I’m in total agreement about preferring a larger anchorage when it’s going to really snort: https://www.morganscloud.com/2011/11/04/choosing-a-storm-anchorage-part-one/

      And, like you, I would rather be a bit more exposed than to leeward of a slew of other boats. That said, we are lucky here in Atlantic Canada in that it’s very rarely a problem.

  • Shane Sep 10, 2017, 11:20 am

    Hi John,

    Regardless of anchor, two things that struck me about your article have to with the value of experience and good seamanship:
    1) Knowing you’ve deeply/securely by powering down strongly -and I appreciate the comments added about the backing down rate when setting as anchor types do seem to vary in their ‘preferences’. For me, not only does sitting on higher rpms confirm to me we are set, it lets others anchored around me know as well.
    2) Understanding how the type of seabed effects how your set feels -I have limited experience here (but gaining!). Your ‘ball bearing’ gravel comment struck home as we experienced that this summer in a small, tight anchorage that had a deceptively strong toilet bowl current that would change in the wee hours. I awoke to adjust scope as planned, but was instantly alerted to what I was initially considered could be dragging. After staying up on watch for a couple hours over the peak current times, I can confidently say what I was feeling/hearing was the anchor chain resonating as it swept across that ‘ball bearing’ bottom (over a field of 210 degrees). Having confidence in our strong anchor set procedure allowed me the patience to observe. Thanks for sharing your insight and knowledge.

  • Drew Frye Sep 13, 2017, 9:53 pm

    I see a shackle on the heel of the fluke. What do you use this for? Tripping?

    One of my theories for anchor testing is that testers should report the poorest result where the anchor “felt” set. In other words, the poorest set that exceeded reverse thrust. Instead, they report the best set. However, some anchors are consistent, and some are occasionally brilliant but sporadic. I want the anchor that when it feels set, is set.

    Your criteria fits well with this. When the anchor begins to move, the drag should remain significant for some distance.

    • John Sep 14, 2017, 8:16 am

      Hi Drew,

      Yes, the shackle is for a trip line. More here: https://www.morganscloud.com/2011/01/28/anchor-trip-line/

      And good point on anchor testing.

    • Eric Klem Sep 14, 2017, 1:35 pm

      Hi Drew,

      I share your feelings that anchor testing should not just report the best results and needs to given an idea of the distribution. One thing that I found very interesting was to look at the raw data from one of the anchor tests where they had pulled each anchor 5 times. Some anchors were so inconsistent even though they set each time that they were less than 2 standard deviations away from no force which is shocking while others had much narrower spreads. Obviously, 5 data points is too few to draw any conclusions on specific spreads but it did show that it is an important factor that is not properly reported.

      My theory on anchoring in general is that it needs to be looked at from a probabilistic viewpoint. Using the expected spread of holding power and load, you can figure out how often you are likely to drag with a given setup. Thankfully, the loads are usually pretty low so dragging is not that common.

      Eric

    • Dick Stevenson Sep 16, 2017, 12:26 pm

      Hi Drew,
      Yes, that is a very good idea for anchor test reporting: or for any report pertaining to tests of design parameters. I always appreciate your thoughts and contributions. Thanks.
      With regard to the shackle on the end of John’s anchor: a suggestion.
      I generally abhor trip lines and feel that getting one’s anchor trapped on the bottom is partly technique, but mostly bad luck. I use trip lines when I know of reports of a foul bottom, rarely in other words. That said, I also wished for a plan for when the anchor does become stuck and there is no trip line.
      I will describe something I do which can make attaching a trip line easier when the anchor is down and stuck without one. Sometimes the anchor is sitting proud and accessible (say, it is caught on a 2 ton mooring left in years past). It is also possible the anchor is buried deep and/or tangled in a stump or some discarded appliance and getting at the end of the anchor could be difficult or take time. In warmer waters, I would be doing this free diving and only had seconds to attach the trip line, so I wished to make the finding and attaching quick and easy. Even if I put on a tank, and dive gear (say it was quite deep) I would want it easy to attach the trip line.
      I also have a shackle on the end of my anchor which may be hard to get to in the seabed or tangled in whatever has you caught. So, attached to this shackle is about 6 feet of nylon 3 strand with an eye on the end and a brightly colored small commercial fishnet float (shaped like a small football, the US game) with a hole going through it. The float is small enough not to interfere with anchoring at all, but large enough to float free above the anchor. In clear water, I can often see the float from on deck if not too deep. All I need to do to attach a trip line is dive down and attach a spring-loaded shackle. Then from deck it is easy to pull the anchor up backwards.
      The 6 foot line serves a secondary purpose of always being there to tie the anchor off on the roller.
      My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

      • John Sep 16, 2017, 12:51 pm

        Hi Dick,

        I agree with everything you say about trip lines and very rarely use one.

        A request: It would be great if these off topic discussions could end up on the appropriate post. We already have one on trip lines that I linked Drew to, or that could have been easily found using the search box.

        So far on this post we have had an interesting discussion on trip lines and dry suits, but said discussion will very quickly become lost and gone where it won’t do others any good because it’s not on the relevant post.

        And, as I have said already a couple of times, the plugin I used to use to move comments no longer works, probably because of the huge number of posts we have (over a thousand) so I can’t fix this.

  • Jamie Gifford Sep 19, 2017, 4:01 pm

    Anchor designs have pros and cons, but so subtly different between similar designs that any debate is emotional investment more than reality. Your Spade anchor’s slow drag (while backing down) theory didn’t hold true for a catamaran I rescued in Mexico. It was zipping across Bahia de Navidad in 35 knots of wind, with a Spade anchor. Our primary anchor on Totem (Stevens 47) is 33Kg Rocna; and have anchored 523 times (as of today) in 41 countries around the world. Despite the roll bar we’ve not experienced what you say – and let’s just say we’ve been in a lot of different conditions. It could happen I suppose, just as a Spade or Mantus or Mansun Supreme struggling to reset after unsetting from radial direction shift and load. Only once did our Rocna not set – in very thick eel grass of Pittwater Australia, though we’ve anchored in eel grass on other occasions. We’ve dragged 3 times (all very slowly I might add): In Indonesia, Mexico, and Grenada – each time because of unknowable reality on the bottom, such as plastic bags that wrapped the anchor. My point isn’t to say Rocna is the best any more than I believe your Spade is. We would’ve had similar results with ANY of the anchors I’ve mentioned. I’ve used Bruce and CQR in the past, and don’t care for them. Danforth/Fortress are fine in the right bottom, for stern anchor or tandem anchor rig. Technique matter at least as much as the anchor, most of which is simple to enough to learn and understand.

    • John Sep 19, 2017, 5:05 pm

      Hi Jamie,

      Welcome to AAC

      You are certainly entitled to your well informed opinion and I appreciate your thoughts and deep experience.

      That said, my thoughts and experience with the SPADE are not “emotional investment more than reality” they are, like yours with the Rocna, based on deep experience and thought and deserve the same respect.

      The Rocna is a fine anchor, but there is no question in my mind that the wind shift dragging problem exists and that the SPADE is not as prone to the same problem: The evidence is here: https://www.morganscloud.com/2016/08/13/anchors-resetting-failures-with-rocna-and-some-thoughts-on-vulcan/

      And since we published that post, several people have commented and/or written to confirm that they have experienced a wind shift induced fast drag with the Rocna. And of course the video testing shows the modality that causes this, so doubly convincing.

      By the way, I have always liked the Stevens 47 since I raced against the prototype years ago in Antiqua…we didn’t win.

  • Jamie Gifford Sep 20, 2017, 9:00 am

    John, I’m glad to hear that the comment section allows other opinions.
    You wrote, “the evidence is here” with a link to your article stating “reports” of Rocna issue, but no anecdotes. And surely you know of heard of other anchor drag fails – such as the Spade anchor on the catamaran I mentioned?
    You also use the video test to make your point, while stating the test is “albeit in a much more aggressive way than would normally see in the real world”; and, “I have no faith in testing to determine an anchor’s all-around reliability and versatility”. The test was a joke. You can plainly see that the anchor is NOT properly set before reversing pull direction. I’ve seen well set Rocnas, up close (a few hundred times!). Further, the Rocna was the lightest anchor tested and with a short scope of 3.5:1.
    Again my point isn’t that a Rocna, Spade, Mantus, etc are clearly better than the others, because that false. Rather I find it worrisome to posit that ANY anchor design is infallible to dragging catastrophe.

    • John Sep 20, 2017, 12:16 pm

      Hi Jamie,

      I guess we will have to agree to disagree. Nor do I agree that “the test was a joke”. The point being, as I have said many time before, if it were the test alone I would not be convinced, but in fact the test shows the modality that explains the many (well over 20) reports of sudden and fast dragging with Rocna after a big shift (current or wind).

      Now I need to go back to the weather post I’m working on.

      • Jamie Gifford Sep 20, 2017, 6:58 pm

        Guess, so! A test to show how an anchor resets, when the anchor is not set correctly to begin shows nothing.

  • Dick Stevenson Sep 20, 2017, 10:35 am

    Hi Jamie,
    I am curious about whether the Spade anchor you report dragging on a catamaran was, in fact, an aluminum Spade. Many catamarans choose aluminum for weight considerations and they have quite different set/holding characteristics than the steel anchors.
    I can contribute anecdotal evidence to Rocna’s occasionally not re-setting after a wind shift. Two friends have had that happen to them and 2 others have reported same. Neither, to my knowledge, has changed anchors because of this issue, but I know that at least one considered it. All are wary of it happening again and I know from one, that he will lift and re-set after a significant wind shift.
    As someone who occasionally has differing opinions from John, I can certainly attest that the comment section allows for this.
    I do not consider the videos of anchor sets “a joke”. Nor do I consider the videos of wind shift re-sets a joke. Especially when repeated tests showed similar results that some anchors did far better than others. I agree that anchor testing is often quite limited in its applicability and inflated in reporting results, but the videos of anchors and their setting etc. I found quite informative and, while not definitive, a good jump forward in ground tackle knowledge base. Especially when test results go hand in hand with anecdotal field reports.
    And finally, you emphatically say that no anchor is infallible to a dragging catastrophe. With that, I agree. But I am not sure to whom you are saying that as I have neither heard nor read anyone on this site contending that any anchor is infallible. I believe what is being said by John is that he has never dragged catastrophically. In that I agree. In thousands of anchor sets over the 10 years I have had Spades, I have never dragged. In fact, I do not believe I have even tested the “slow” drag that John has recently written about. I have always stayed put.
    I suspect there will be a time when I drag, because that is life on the water, but it has not come yet.
    My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

    • Charles L Starke Sep 20, 2017, 11:13 am

      I agree wholeheartedly with Dick and John. I found my 88 lb Rocna (on a 40,000 lb Trintella 47) did not set at all if I was going over 1.5 knots, and I dragged twice with a tide shift.
      I sold my Rocna and now have a 99 lb Spade and have had no problems.
      On my previous boat with a 66 lb aluminum Spade, it took me 1/2 hour of motoring around with bow down and chain up and down, to break free in mud in northwest Rockland Harbor Maine. Boy, was it set! I’m lucky I’m not still there!
      Charles L Starke MD
      s/v Dawnpiper

      • John Sep 20, 2017, 12:42 pm

        Hi Charles,

        Thanks for the field report, always the most useful. Some time, when and if I have time, I must try and tally up these drag reports.

        And I know what you mean about Rockland Harbour. Now that place has HOLDING!

    • John Sep 20, 2017, 12:17 pm

      Hi Dick,

      I’m guessing you are right: aluminium SPADE. As you know, not something we recommend for a best bower. Thanks for the support on this.

    • Jamie Gifford Sep 20, 2017, 9:09 pm

      Hi Dick – don’t know if the Spade was aluminum or not (and speculation doesn’t answer, it was a big cat). I arrived at the boat and found a big Fortress on the bow, set to go. This set and stopped the dragging. Later, I spoke with the owners, and heard about the anchor brand but not specifics. I remember this one well because of how fast the boat was dragging – really got the heart rate going!
      In 10 years sailing Totem (only 523 sets, jeez you move a lot to have thousands in the same 3,650 days!), I’ve seen and assisted in many boat dragging events around the world with all types of anchors, including Spade, Rocna, CQR, Bruce, and even a fisherman anchor. This content that I read makes no mention of any Spade anchor faults. My word, reports of Rocna failures everywhere, including wild speculation regarding a boat lost in Greenland. But no mention of any Spade fail… Those without much experience may interpret this tragically wrong.
      Too often, the anchor gets blame when technique is at fault. John is spot on, in explicitly writing about backing down to the point of chain being bar tight. And this is just one small part of technique! Still, focus falls to the anchor. Testing give some information but falls short because of so few variations, to be of real world value. Regarding the video test – how can it possibly have validity showing anchor RESET when the anchor is NOT set to begin with? Please, convince me otherwise! When my anchor is set (which is the goal every time it goes down!) I have to work hard to get it out of the bottom. It doesn’t just pop out and zip along. But then, I haven’t experience the issue “proven” by the test.

      • John Sep 21, 2017, 9:52 am

        Hi Jamie,

        If you read our anchoring online book you will find that I discuss weaknesses of the SPADE extensively. The most important of those is that its not, I’m pretty sure, as good on very short scope as the Rocna. No anchor is perfect, we all know that.

        That said, the reseting weakness on the Rocna is a particularly dangerous one and so it was important for me to highlight that.

        Not sure what you are seeing in the video, but the SPADE passed that resetting torture test and the Rocnna did not. Whether or not the anchor was set properly in the first place is, as I see it, immaterial since in most cases with all anchors the reset test pulled the anchor right out and then the SPADE reset and the Rocna didn’t.

        Of course this video is not conclusive by itself, but in conjunction with the many wind shift drag accounts that we have been getting over some 5 years, most from very experienced cruisers, in my opinion at least, it does become conclusive and therefore I had a responsibility to warn people of the problem.

        One other thing, you are new here, so perhaps you have not had time to read our comment guidelines: https://www.morganscloud.com/2013/11/10/aac-comment-guide-lines/

        Please do so with particular attention to #4

        For example, talking of my thoughts on the boat loss in Greenland as “wild speculation” is not the way we do things around here. Feel free to disagree, but please imagine that you are at dinner with Dick, Charles and me…on Dick’s boat and then use the same polite tone of disagreement I’m sure you would use in those circumstances.

  • Marc Dacey Sep 21, 2017, 5:50 pm

    I’m too green in terms of serious anchoring to comment here save for the observation that I do think technique (the way in which one backs down, sufficient scope, snubbers/bridles, etc.) and having a separate anchor of an opposing type (Spade or Rocna plus Fortress, for instance) is prudent and brings up the likelihood of a successful set. I hope to anchor hundreds of times in order to test this hypothesis more rigorously.

  • Evan Oct 1, 2017, 11:50 am

    I’m a little late to this discussion as we’ve been out on the boat for the past 4 weeks outside of cell range.

    We replaced our 25 Kg Rocna with a 25 Kg Spade (S120) early this year. We have anchored out now approximately 50 nights.

    We cruise the waters around Vancouver Island in a Nordic Tug 37 (~ 40 ft LOA & ~22000 lbs or 11 Tonnes) and anchor out as much as we can.

    Apart from the yellow paint flaking off the Spade in pretty short order, we have noticed a very significant difference in the setting characteristics of this anchor compared to the Rocna. It sets more quickly and when we power down to confirm the set it does not let go in a pulsatile fashion like the Rocna did. Maybe we should have been more gentle with the Rocna on the initial setting process but the Spade inspires confidence in a way that the Rocna rarely did.

    We had at least 2 occasions with the Rocna where we had strong tidal shifts and I was sure we had dragged before resetting. The anchor alarm woke me both times. Both times, I found us sitting in a new position with no evidence of further movement. This is Not science and simply anecdote but these experiences were enough to erode our confidence in the Rocna. We’ve anchored in many of the same spots this season without any issues with the Spade.

    In light of the Panope videos of resetting failures, for tight anchorages with menacing rocks, I have taken to doing a second test of our set by backing the boat down in the direction I least want to go to ensure that it will hold on that direction as well.

    – evan

    • John Oct 2, 2017, 8:17 am

      Hi Evan,

      Thanks very much for that information. With your experience, and many others listed here in the comments, I feel even more confident in our assessment of the Rocna wind shift drag problem. Just too much evidence to ignore.

  • Bob Miller Oct 1, 2017, 12:08 pm

    After using a CQR with no horror stories for the past 26 years and chatting with the Spade anchor guys at boat shows the past 3 years, we purchased a Spade S120 for our main anchor this summer. Used it on our 5 week cruise to Maine and back. We are very impressed with how quickly it sets and once in, you don’t seem to budge at all. The only disappointment was that a section of galvanizing flaked off on the top of the shank near where the shackle attaches. And then it immediately began to rust. Never had that happen with an anchor before. When we contacted the US distributor, they suggested we coat the anchor with epoxy, offering to send us a kit to do it. Also offered to exchange the entire anchor or just the shank. Fortunately, the shank can be removed and we have it with V & S Galvanizing to get it re-galvanized.

    So far, we’re happy with the Spade.

    Bob

    • John Oct 2, 2017, 8:20 am

      Hi Bob,

      Glad you like the SPADE. That said, I’m sorry to hear that they are still having the problems with poor galvanizing quality.

  • Svein Lamark Oct 1, 2017, 1:23 pm

    I must confess I love the Spade anchors I have got. They never drag. I use a 55 kg and a 20 kg. Unlike many yachtsmen I believe that the length and the weight of the chain is of importance. Some fifty years ago I learned at captains school the formula to calculate this: FN=Ft x sinus alfa. FN is the horisontal force on the anchor along the bottom while Ft is the real pulling force on the anchor and alfa is the angel between the chain and the bottom. Ft will always be bigger than FN. So it is best to have a long chain and a heavy chain. I use 10 m of 1 inch thick chain first, than 60 m of 13 mm chain and in the end I have 200 m of wire. This way i can anchor almost anywhere any weather. The winch can lift 6000 kg pluss another 5000 kg. Sometimes I have lifted with more than 6000 kg to get it free from the bottom. As you may understand I never pull the Spade in to settle it better because of the risk to never get it free again or to brake the chain. This way I sleep well when at anchor.

    • John Oct 2, 2017, 8:22 am

      Hi Svein,

      Welcome back.

      Our CQR is part of a garden anchor sculpture in North Norway too, at a friend’s cottage, must be a Norwegian art thing!

    • Dick Stevenson Oct 5, 2017, 10:49 am

      Hi Svein,
      You and John should send pictures of your yard sculptures to Spade. Mercenary that I am, I just sold mine.
      Your system clearly works for you but for readers who may not have your experience, I wish to convey a thought. I totally agree with your points with the exception of choosing chain by weight, by length yes, long chain length increases options and allows for ample scope, especially when anchoring deep. But for weight, I would suggest that for best ground tackle effectiveness, weight distribution should go in the anchor and chain should be chosen for strength. Pound for pound, you enhance ground tackle effectiveness by far the most from weight/size in the anchor. Further, in gale conditions and commensurate seas, in my experience, most chain rode (at least that able to be carried reasonably on recreational vessels at reasonable scopes) will become 2-blocked, tight link to link, upon occasion. Chain weight will not much matter on these occasions. When that occurs the dampening effect of catenary will disappear and the load dampening will be borne solely by the snubber.
      I suspect your 10m of 1-inch chain right next to the anchor serves to be almost like anchor weight and, as you said, makes the Spade very aggressive. I wonder whether that additional weight in the anchor itself (or at least some of it) would not do the same or better. One would then not have the issue of hauling chain/wire etc. of different diameters/types.
      I also feel that, for most of us, backing down on the anchor after letting it settle in for a bit, is wise. I know it enhances my feeling of security and allows me to sleep better. There may be a bit more work in getting it up, but the windlass is up for it. Backing down not only sets the anchor, but gives me a feel for the bottom, which I find helpful.
      As always, I find your thoughts/procedures wonderfully stimulating.
      My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

      • Svein Lamark Oct 9, 2017, 3:49 pm

        Hey Dick! I think we agree on this matter, but we both come from different maritime traditions. Mine is the traditional Norwegian influenced by great sailors like the vikings, The Royal Navy and specially Colin Archer. Yours is more what I call The Bermuda Rig tradition. In The Bermuda Rig tradition the anchor, the winch and the chain are placed on the front tip of the boat. From a stability point of view it is not good to put a heavy object at the far end of a boat. So the anchor system has to be as light as possible.
        My tradition was based of the vikings and The Royal navys use of a big anchor and a long rope. Eilert Sundts study “On the Ocean” 1864 showed that the death rate among Lofoten fisher men between 15 and 65 years of age was 25%. 1 of 4 died at sea. This dramatic figures started a debate and a clever constructor Colin Archer produced several solutions like safer fishing boats, rescue boats and expedition ships. Archer advised the use of a big and long chain. The chain must be stored around the main mast foot and the winch placed behind the main mast. This way the anchor system would improve the stability of a heavy weather sail ship. Archer was a great success.
        As a kid I learned that if the chain swims close to the anchor; it is too light. Change it to something bigger. Than you do not have to use a snubber as the chain will never be straight. I think this is the best and safest way to anchor, but most of our boats are constructed in the Bermuda tradition like yours. Than you and John are right: The Spade of some seize is a formidable solution. If you sail in The Arctic in winter times
        I still believe that the recipe of Colin Archer is safer.

        • Dick Stevenson Oct 9, 2017, 4:09 pm

          Hi Svein,
          I always learn something from you. I think another contributing piece is the design evolution over the last century or two of anchors. Way-back-when, anchor design was certainly superior to the rock tied onto the rode, but not by a lot.
          Thanks for your reply, Dick

  • Dick Stevenson Oct 1, 2017, 8:01 pm

    Hi Svein,
    Nice to read your contributions again. Not many have wire, but I suspect that you do, indeed, sleep well. My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

  • John Burton Oct 2, 2017, 1:22 am

    This is another testimonial for a Spade S80 which I have used for the last 13 seasons with faultless results.
    My favourite anchorages on the planet are the coves at the entrance to Endeavour Inlet, Queen Charlotte Sound, Marlborough, New Zealand. The official Cruising Guide says “In the coves leading out to Bottle Rock there is shelter from N to NE winds if pulled close to shore with a stern line, but holding can be difficult”.
    Yes , holding is difficult, partly because it’s necessary to drop the anchor in deep water (usually 50-60 feet ) and motor astern close to the shore to be able to row out the stern line(s) . There is still 15 feet of water within 25 feet of the low tide mark. The anchor is being pulled slightly “downhill” towards the shore as the yacht goes astern. And the mud is not the thick gooey type found in shallower depths.
    As a consequence, during the first 10 years of my yacht’s life, I persevered with a CQR attempting to anchor in these coves where the anchor rarely set first time – more often requiring 2, 3 or 4 attempts.
    Since buying my Spade, the anchor has set first time , every time. Nor has the anchor ever dragged – anywhere – even with the shorter scope ratios that deep water anchorages impose. Most magazine tests seem to conclude that the Rocna should be the anchor of choice but, having read this post and viewed the re-setting failures shown in the SV PANOPE video, I will happily stick with what I’ve got.

    • John Oct 2, 2017, 8:48 am

      Hi John,

      Very good point about the challenges of anchoring on steep sloping soundings and how well SPADE does. We have had the same experience in the North, and like you, found those sorts of anchorages near-impossible with a CQR.

      As to the magazine tests love of the Rocna this highlights the weaknesses of most tests where only ultimate holding gets evaluated.

      More here: https://www.morganscloud.com/2015/10/09/anchor-tests-the-good-the-bad-and-the-downright-silly/

      We all owe a big thank you to the owner of “Panope” for taking testing to a new level.

      More here: https://www.morganscloud.com/2016/08/13/anchors-resetting-failures-with-rocna-and-some-thoughts-on-vulcan/

      • Marc Dacey Oct 2, 2017, 3:01 pm

        Just a note that the purchase of my new SPADE S140 was fostered by this site, but it wasn’t cooked to serving temperature until I saw all the relevant S/V Panope videos. Even though I found SPADE the most appropriate choice, his head-to-head testing showed that other types were nearly as good in most situations, and that there were clear problems or shortcomings with some of the older types.

        Now, I have to set up a decently sized snubber: I wonder what you think of the “answer” suggested here? Even as a rule of thumb? http://oldsaltcruising.com/2017/10/01/answer-question-week-5/#prettyPhoto

        • John Oct 2, 2017, 5:16 pm

          Hi Marc,

          Might be time for a reread of our comment guidelines, with particular attention to guideline numbers 1 and 2. If you want to discuss snubbers we have a post on just that, that you can easily find by using the search box.

  • Svein Lamark Oct 2, 2017, 3:55 am

    Thanks Dick! It is when I use the heavy chain that the Spade will dig in so deep. This way the Spade becomes very aggressive. What happens if the Spade is deep in the bottom and the wind turns around? Nothing. I once anchored in a bay open to north. The wind was a SW gale. 2 o’clock in the night the wind turned to N storm. I got up and watched the change. The Spade did not move.
    I have also tried to anchor the Spade with a light 8 mm chain or just a rope. Often this is good enough, but the Spade will not dig in so deep and it does not drag.
    Based on my experience I have put all my old anchors ashore (Bruce, Danforth etc.) and made a sculpture of them in my garden. If you visit my home again I will show you my anchor sculpture called maritime history. You are welcome.

  • Dick Stevenson Oct 2, 2017, 4:51 pm

    Hi Marc,
    Lots of in depth analysis there, but they end up with larger diameter snubbers than I prefer. Just to be clear, snubbers, in my use of the word, are for use when I am on the boat or off on a day hike. Longer periods and an un-attended boat start to move toward mooring pennants, a quite different challenge.
    My anchor snubber (40 foot boat, 16 ton live aboard loaded) is a 35 foot 7/16 inch piece of high quality nylon 3 strand. It stretches like a rubber band in the gusts that accompany gales. There is some worry on the parts of experienced skippers that too much stretch induces a “bounce back” that may give the the boat more distance to gather momentum in the next gust. I have watched for this and have not felt that to be the case. My snubbers last 3-4 years of moderate use and have never been retired for chafe. Nor have I noticed deterioration after a gale from being well stretched out. I use one rolling hitch (slightly modified) to attach and feel chain hooks have too many problematic elements to recommend them when a rolling hitch is so simple and checks all the boxes.
    My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

  • Michael Kornfeld Oct 8, 2017, 2:09 am

    I have used my 55kg Spade for the last 3 years of cruising the island coastal and Great Barrier Reef areas of Qld Australia. It is our main anchor with 100m of 13mm chain, holding a 16m long, 30 ton sailing catamaran with flybridge and windage that “feels like the sail is up when it is down”. Most of the time anchored in sand. It dragged only once in the early days in shallows with a rode of 3:1. Since then preferring a rode of 5:1 (7:1 in large thunderstorms),I have never dragged even through 180 degree changes in wind or current. This is also true when I used 4:1. In 3 days of sustained 55 knot winds it did not budge. If there is any weekness in the spade (and probably most other anchors), it would be using a 3:1 rode in shallow waters. I have no affiliation with any manufacturer but experience with many different types of old and modern designs for over a decade and I can say the Spade has been spectacularly reliable and has a quick set. I have also had good experience with an Ultra and would appreciate hearing comments on an Australian anchor called the Sarca Excel, both of which are not mentioned. Without a doubt the problems I have personally whitnessed at various anchorages are almost always related to poor anchoring technique often with inadequate awareness of tides and chain length.

    • John Oct 8, 2017, 8:16 am

      Hi Michael,

      Thanks for the real world experience. Like you we have found that the SPADE prefers 5:1 scope over 3:1, particularly in shallow water.

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