Anchors have changed dramatically during my sailing lifetime. When I started out, plough type CQR anchors had already largely replaced the old fisherman type and for a long time ruled the roost, with the only challenger being the claw type Bruce.
Having owned or run a range of commercial sailing vessels that were equipped with one of all three of those types, I can confidently say that I wouldn’t want to return to relying on any of them, although I retain respect for larger Bruces (say 35kg and upwards) as tough and versatile anchors, at least if you can find a genuine one anywhere these days.
The CQR’s plough shape always looked like it should work well and, indeed, with the use of careful setting techniques (slow and steady) and the right substrate (mud, clay, soft sand), they held well once dug in.
But in some substrates (soft mud, rock, hard sand, weed) they were pretty much hopeless at setting and were prone to drag even if they did set. And in the event of the CQR dragging, the chances of it digging in again were slim or zero, in my experience.
I have also extensively used the Delta, that largely superseded the CQR, and found that, while it was certainly a better all-rounder than the CQR, it still struggled with some substrates (hard sand and weed), and I was never fully confident in its holding capacity.
Then, in the early-2000s, came the introduction of the ‘New Generation’ anchors, like the innovative SPADE, Rocna, Manson Supreme, and others. None of these were convex plough types, and they finally gave those of us who anchored on a nightly basis a real choice of excellent fast-setting anchors that stayed firmly put in a wide variety of substrates—a revolution, for which I was (and remain) profoundly grateful!
And then along came the SARCA Excel, which certainly looks like a plough type, but seems to behave quite unlike one.
Made in Australia by Anchor Right, the SARCA Excel—not to be confused with the Super SARCA, also made by Anchor Right—is a relative newcomer in the European and US markets, so it’s up against quite a range of established products. Although it certainly looks like one, Anchor Right insist that the Excel is not a plough anchor:
Excel is not a plough anchor there are no plough sheers, in their place is what are called single plain concave flukes, this being the greater part of its concave arrangement, rather than plough the substrate this new fluke arrangement is designed to compress, then directs the material-substrate over the rear of the Excel forcing itself deeper as more load is applied.
Given that and that the SARCA has been granted Super High Holding Power (SHHP) status, as well as the number of positive reviews, this may be an anchor with many of the attributes AAC members need.
So when we were offered a SARCA Excel anchor to test this season on Pèlerin, we snapped up the chance to see whether this anchor with its “old school” appearance, would perform anything like as well as the other anchors we’ve come to know and trust.
Not Just Maximum Holding
But before we get into the details, is maximum holding the be all and end all?
No, not in my view. It’s a key factor, but not the only one. We already have two anchor types on board with high holding power that we hold in high regard:
We know from many years of experience that with its huge surface area our current Rocna 33kg has exceptional holding power in most conditions.
But the Rocna is big, the roll bar gets in the way of our bowsprit, it’s hard to stow, and we have concerns over its ability to set again after big wind shifts. (See Further Reading below.)
Although we have only had this last problem occur on two occasions—both during really violent thunderstorms in southern Brazil—it’s not an experience we wish to repeat in the future, to say the least.
We also carry a Fortress that has regularly demonstrated remarkable holding power in straight line pull tests.
But we wouldn’t want an aluminum Fortress as a bower anchor, as to be of sufficient size for Pèlerin, it would be both huge and awkward to handle; also, we’d have lingering concerns over the aluminum construction reducing its overall robustness for daily use.
The Ideal Anchor
So, in our ‘ideal anchor wish-list’ criteria we want an anchor that will:
- Resist failing in any way under extreme loads, which means robust construction in high strength steel.
- Set fast to ensure that we anchor where we intended to, not where the anchor finally deigns to dig in.
- Hold well in a wide variety of substrates.
- Stay put in big wind shifts in strong winds, or reset quickly after the shift.
- Set on short scope.
- Fit the bow area neatly and be easy to use and handle.
But Nothing Is Perfect
Now I realise it’s near impossible to get all of the above in one anchor, although some do come close. Even the best anchors usually have at least one weakness as there are always trade-offs between ideal-anchor characteristics.
For example, we carry our Fortress as a second anchor where its light weight makes it easy to use. It is also our first choice for soft mud when set to the 45 degree fluke angle, when it performs wonderfully well. But it is all-aluminum, so is therefore vulnerable to bending shanks and flukes, so wouldn’t meet my criterion #1.
And, although we have great respect for the Rocnas we carry, after fifteen years of experience we have discovered criterion #4 (failure to set after big wind shifts) to be their occasional weakness, plus the roll bar does makes it difficult to stow (criterion #6).
Also, a number of long-term SPADE users have told me that they feel that setting on very short scope (criterion #5) may be that fine anchor’s one shortcoming.
So our eternal dreams of finding the perfect anchor are dashed again, and we’re left to evaluate what compromise suits us best, or needing to carry and (being prepared to) change to a different anchor in certain circumstances—and, in all honesty, how often do we really want to do that?
With all that out of the way, let’s dig into our SARCA Excel review:
Construction and Features
The anchor is fabricated in one piece, with a shank of high strength Bisalloy 80 structural steel welded to a mild steel fluke, equipped with a 316 stainless steel cutting toe (which can be re-sharpened if necessary).
(The SARCA Excel is also available in all stainless steel; however, we do not recommend that option for any anchor.)
The fluke section is slotted at the construction stage, permitting the shank to pass through it, thus allowing it to be welded on both sides during fabrication.
This, in turn, apparently allows the right grade of filler rod to be employed in each place, which is important when welding these different grades of steel effectively.
All of the welding appears to be well executed and the galvanizing on the anchor supplied was thick and tough. In all, the anchor looks and feels to be well made and finished to a high standard. It certainly attracted attention in the boatyard once we’d hauled out!
The flukes are convex and feature concave ‘ears’, which are designed to assist resistance when dug in.
The fluke features a V-shaped ballast chamber on the bottom, which is designed to assist the anchor to set fast by orienting the anchor into the correct plane when tension comes on to the rode. The ballast also increases the tip loading (20%).
A sharp ‘droop snoot’ cutting toe to improve substrate penetration is also incorporated.
The ballast is steel, which, although less dense than lead (used by SPADE), will certainly make life easier if/when the anchor needs re-galvanizing.
The only downside of ballasting an anchor is that some overall surface area must be sacrificed, compared to an unballasted anchor such as the Rocna that can put the weight saved into maximizing the surface area of the flukes and so theoretically increase maximum holding power, but see further down for why that might not actually be so.
A useful feature is a notch in the throat of the shank that enables the anchor to sit neatly on a bow roller in a stable manner.
Having selected the nearest size as possible to our Rocna 33kg (Excel No. 6 – 30kg galvanized steel) we swapped the anchors over and pledged that, if at all possible, we would use only the Excel for our planned cruise from Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia, up via Cape Breton, and along the southwest shore of Newfoundland, and back.
As such, we could expect to be at anchor for the vast majority of nights, in a variety of substrates and facing sometimes windy conditions in remote anchorages.
We would continue to use our normal anchoring procedures and equipment (unless we found the need to modify them), with a scope of 5:1 lying to an all chain rode (10mm).
We would only anchor in what nature had provided, so there would be no preferential selection of seabed substrates. This seemed like the fairest way to conduct a short ‘real world’ test and compare how well the anchor performed relative to our well-understood Rocna.
We spent 46 nights at anchor during the cruise. Here are the stats down into the type of bottom substrate we anchored in (as far as we could tell!):
A few comments on the above chart:
The re-sets were in two anchorages with really soft, soupy mud bottoms where most anchors (except perhaps a correctly adjusted Fortress) would have struggled.
That said, this is one area that we believe our Rocna, with its larger surface area, might well have coped better. The only other reset for the SARCA was when we fouled a branch on the bottom and had to lift the anchor and clear it from the flukes—something that would likely have been necessary with any anchor.
One particular anchorage we often use has a mixture of boulders with patches of kelp and mud, where we generally have to drag the anchor around a little to find a patch of good holding.
In the past, with the Rocna, we’ve had to reset several times, lifting the anchor to clear it of kelp after each attempt. But, in the same anchorage, we had no issues with the SARCA on any occasion, although it did drag a bit before setting, probably across an area of smooth rock, as any anchor would—impressive.
We had only one anchorage with hard sand, which was a pity, as we would very much have liked to try this anchor more extensively in this difficult substrate, where many anchors (in my experience) often struggle to set and are prone to drag even if they do set.
That said, the SARCA dug in and held well. Given our experience on this one occasion, and looking at some of the design features specifically designed to assist penetration (e.g. the sharp cutting toe and droop snoot), I suspect the Excel will cope much better than traditional plough types.
Not a Perfect Test
We would have preferred a wider variety of seabed substrates, thus giving us the opportunity for a better overview, but had to deal with what we found.
The maximum wind speed we had at anchor was in squalls of about 35 knots in a relatively exposed anchorage with a short steep chop. More sustained wind speeds would have given a sterner test, which would have been welcome.
SARCA Excel Measured Against Criterion
What about my list of ideals (above)?
We had no concerns with the construction of the anchor. I’d be confident that it is more than strong enough for heavy-duty use. (See Further Reading below for other test results.)
Apart from the few re-sets discussed above, the anchor never failed to set fast, first time. Perhaps not quite as fast as our Rocna, but very close.
Once set, the SARCA held on all occasions and we developed full confidence in it. To say that it digs in well in mud is an understatement. Even in moderate winds it was serious work for our powerful (1500W) Lofrans windlass to work it out of the bottom.
On two occasions, after a couple of days of strong winds, the windlass really struggled and put a lot of strain on all of the gear. So much so, that we took to motoring right up to and over the anchor and gently prising it out as a standard manoeuvre, something we have only ever had to do with the Rocna after sustained spells of really serious winds.
This generates the question of whether the larger surface area of the Rocna does indeed give it greater holding power over the Excel? Perhaps the Rocna roll bar creates resistance to the kind of really deep penetration that the Excel displays, which might in turn suggest higher holding power for the SARCA than the Rocna, at least in the substrate most prevalent in our trial.
To see how it would cope with big wind shifts, we entered a waypoint in the plotter at the same moment that we dropped the anchor, then set the anchor under power for the current conditions.
After allowing the boat to settle, we then motored the boat back in the opposite direction and checked the re-set for the ‘new’ wind direction. We tried this at 90 degrees to the original angle, then at 180 degrees, then returned to our waypoint to check for any obvious shift.
On the two occasions (at two different sites) that we tried this, we could detect no discernible shift of the original anchor position. In addition, we had several days of strong winds at Ingonish Harbour, Cape Breton, including gale force katabatic squalls that shifted our position through 180 degrees (and more) regularly, and we saw no evidence of any shift of the anchor throughout.
We anchored on 3:1 scope (out of necessity) in a couple of tight anchorages, albeit in only moderate to fresh winds, with no issues. (See Further Reading below for more.)
We followed our usual technique of setting the anchor with the maximum amount of chain out that we could veer (without going ashore!) and then shortened up and tested at the minimum scope by going hard astern—the anchor held solidly.
Stowage and Handling
The anchor fitted our bow roller perfectly and generally came up in the right plane so that it didn’t tumble when being housed.
And we were delighted to have an anchor that enabled us to set our bowsprit in perpetuity, as the roll bar on the Rocna means that we then have to take the bowsprit off before we can use the anchor. As a result, we were able to use our asymmetric spinnaker far more this season, which was good news as far as we were concerned!
Does it fit the bill for the discerning skipper?
We found the SARCA Excel to:
- Be a well-made, robust anchor.
- Perform strongly in a variety of seabed substrates.
- Set fast.
- Dig in really effectively.
- Hold well after big wind shifts.
- Hold well on short scope.
We developed full confidence in it over the time we used it and believe it to be a solid performing, good all-round anchor, well worthy of consideration as a bower anchor, or as one of a suite of anchors for a range of seabed substrates.
Price and Availability
The SARCA Excel No 6 (30kg/66lbs) retails in the North America at US$740, which seems to me to be reasonable value. In any case, as we have always argued here at AAC, skimping on spending for such a vital piece of equipment is far from sensible! Contact Ground Tackle Marine for more details.
- Resetting failures with Rocna anchors
- Video test of SARCA Excel short scope holding
- “Practical Sailor” testing of SARCA Excel shank strength
- Anchor Right certifications
- Video comparison of anchors, including SARCA Excel, by S/V “Panope”. This is well worth the 40 minutes it takes to watch. Highly recommended.
If you have first hand real world experience with the SARCA Excel, please share that in a comment. Ditto if you have questions for Colin about his review.
The SARCA Excel was provided free of charge, and they have not requested it be returned.