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I have also extensively used the Delta, that largely superseded the CQR, and found that, while it was certainly a better all-rounder than the CQR, it still struggled with some substrates (hard sand and weed), and I was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: