4 Vital Anchor Selection Criteria and a Review of SPADE

Nothing like being anchored in Greenland in storm force winds with hurricane strength gusting to make us glad we have the right anchor.

Obviously, when thinking about anchoring, the first step is to select a good anchor.

So I’m going to use our experience with our favourite anchor, the SPADE, to highlight the four things that really matter in anchor selection, and then move on to a detailed review of the SPADE.

That said, if you prefer other anchors, that’s just fine with us. This is not about trying to push anyone into buying a given anchor, but rather about setting a standard for what good anchor performance looks like.

And later on in the book we will cover strengths and weaknesses of other anchors—all have both.

What Anchor Success Looks Like

Phyllis and I have owned SPADEs for 19 years. In that time we have cruised over 100,000 miles and set the SPADE well over 1000 times in every bottom type imaginable:

  • The rock-strewn and kelp-encumbered coves of Greenland and Baffin Island.
  • The hard sand of the Bahamas.
  • The thick mud of Britain and Nova Scotia.
  • The thin soupy mud of the Chesapeake Bay.

We have lain safely to a single SPADE while:

  • Hurricane force gusts, varying in direction by over 100 degrees, came screaming off the Greenland Icecap, slamming us back and forth across anchorages, only to come up short with bone-shaking impacts, despite having a long nylon snubber.
  • Cold fronts came through crowded Bahama anchorages, causing as much as half of the other boats to drag by.
  • Late fall storms blew steady storm force with higher gusts in anchorages like Great Salt Pond at Block Island that supposedly have poor holding.
  • Anchored off islands and in open roadsteads where few other yachts dare to anchor—we have a thing about exploring offshore islands.

In all that time, and with all those sets, we have never, not even once, dragged once set.

The Vital Four

…Wait, let’s think about what I just wrote.

#1 Never Drag

This is the single most important thing to focus on when buying an anchor. Every other strength or weakness that an anchor may or may not have is insignificant if it drags, even once, and puts us on the rocks.

#2 Setting Reliability

The next most important criteria is setting reliability across a wide range of bottom types. Here again, SPADE excels: we have only had ours fail to set on the first attempt less than 20 times in all those years and only been forced to find a new place to anchor with a better substrate less than 10 times.

#3 Resetting Reliability

Note how the SPADE can remain balanced in its setting orientation. And even this 55kg model can be tipped into this position using a little finger at the chain attachment—a useful test to perform on any anchor being considered. (The use of two shackles is suboptimal. We have fixed this since the photo was taken.)

Our SPADE has never failed to reorient and/or reset in a wind shift, even a radical one. My theory is that because the lead-weighted tip and hollow stock provide very high tip weight percentage, it orients into the setting position regardless of how much crap may have stuck to it, and also because the clean design allows debris to exhaust off the fluke as it digs in anew.

#4 Strength

Unlike most anchors, the SPADE stock—the most vulnerable part of any anchor to failure—is made of three pieces of metal welded together into a triangle, with a hollow in the middle, resulting in far higher strength than any other anchor.

Here’s a quote from a study done by Mantus anchors comparing the stock strength:

The HT-Steel Spade is not shown and only because its predicted Bending Strength is twice that of the highest ones shown so it falls far outside chart boundaries.

Yup, twice as strong as the next best, and that from a study done by a competitor.

And this is not just theory. On at least five occasions over the years we have brutally ripped our SPADE out of obstructions by pulling in the chain until it’s vertical, locking it off with our massive chain stopper, and then surging our 25-ton boat back and forth with the full power of our engine—when you are in Greenland and your best bower (primary anchor) looks like being lost, you do whatever it takes. None of this has damaged our SPADE.

A cruising boat’s best bower must be able to withstand terrible abuse, including high off-access loading—a bent primary anchor is a cruise ender and in a remote place could be a boat wrecker.

Not Just Our Experience

And it’s not just us. In the some 15 years we have been writing and hosting thousands of comments about anchoring, we have never had a SPADE owner say that the anchor has let them down.

Secondary Selection Criteria

But what about the secondary stuff? Glad you asked:

Fast Setting

Not only does the SPADE set reliably, it sets fast. When we got our first SPADE I dove on it after pretty much every set to find it fully buried in less than its own length from the landing mark. And this was in the hard sand of the Bahamas.

These days we always set a waypoint on our GPS at the drop point and the SPADE (except on the few occasions where it has failed to set) always ends up setting on that point.

(We check by measuring the chain veered and then checking the distance to the waypoint while setting—surprisingly accurate with a modern WAAS-equipped GPS.)

Not only is fast setting comforting, it also dramatically reduces the chances of the anchor fouling on something on the bottom, and ensures that we end up where we intended to in crowded or small anchorages.

We Love The Way Our Anchor Drags

Now there’s a counter-intuitive headline. Let me explain. On the few occasions that our SPADE has failed to set, it has only dragged back very slowly and never at less than 450 pounds (204 kg) of rode load.

By the way, a useful, albeit rough, rule of thumb is, assuming a reasonably efficient propeller:

rode load in pounds=HP x 22.5

rode load in kg=kW x 13.7

Note that the HP and kW variables are measured at the shaft, so we need to use our engine power curve to arrive at that from RPM (except at wide-open throttle.)

So if our SPADE ever did start to drag once set, it would do so slowly, probably at less than a knot, even in gale force winds, giving us time to deal with the situation.

An anchor that drags quickly with little resistance, or worse still skips along the bottom, has no place on a cruising boat, at least as best bower. More on that in a later chapter.

Easy to Stow

The SPADE is much easier to stow securely on a bow roller than anchors incorporating a roll bar.

And, better yet, it can be disassembled into two parts by undoing one bolt, making stowage below much easier.

By the way, there was a lot of hullabaloo about this last feature some years ago, after a boat was lost off New Zealand when the SPADE she was lying to came apart. I’m not sure what happened there, but I’m as certain as I ever am about anything that the fault did not lie with the anchor, since the bolt is not load bearing in use.

Anyway, SPADEs are now shipped with an aircraft nut, which can’t back off, and said nut and the bolt are drilled to take a split pin—if there ever was a problem, it’s solved.

Streamlined

The SPADE is streamlined when viewed from ahead of the boat. Don’t underestimate this benefit: The loads that some large fluke area anchors will subject the bow roller to when the bow is driven into green water are pretty impressive.

Deep Setting

Even with this much kelp our SPADE regularly burrows through to the bottom and holds.
Even with this much kelp our SPADE regularly burrows through to the bottom and holds.

There are two other benefits to this clean design:

  • In kelp-encumbered bottoms, where many other anchors fail, the SPADE just burrows through to the bottom below—we have tested this in Baffin Island and North Labrador where the kelp beds are so thick that the fronds often break the surface in 20 feet of water.
  • In very soft bottoms, where many anchors will skid along the soupy surface, a gentle hand on the throttle while setting can work a SPADE through to the thick mud deep down. This is, I think, why we have successfully anchored, through gales and even storms, in places that have bad reputations for holding.

No Roll Bar

Roll bars have long been touted by the manufacturers of anchors that have them as a desirable feature. And, yes, they do help the anchor orient into the setting position reliably without the need for ballasting the anchor much, or even at all.

That said, I now believe that roll bars are probably more a bug than a feature, since they:

  • Increase the chances that the anchor will foul with a rock or other piece of debris.
  • Add resistance that will prevent the anchor digging into the bottom as deeply.
  • Will make an anchor less effective in thick kelp—this is backed by substantial anecdotal evidence in the comments.
  • Will, I think, particularly very large ones like that on the Mantus, subject their mounting points to huge leverage loads in a fouling situation. So, particularly if bound for the high latitudes where rocky bottoms are the rule, we recommend an anchor without a roll bar.

Yes, I know, many of you who love your roll bar anchors are now severely pissed off. Sorry. When you have had a chance to cool off, do think seriously about whether your belief in roll bars is based on logic or simply because you have been told they are great for years by the companies that make roll bar anchors.

Bottom line, the roll bar anchor manufacturers, starting with Rocna, have out-marketed SPADE by a huge margin for years. And, further, because so many roll bar anchors have been sold in recent years, confirmation bias will be what is primarily shared on forums—understandable, but not the basis for good decisions.

All that said, if you decide that roll bars are great, particularly for your usage, that’s just fine with me. My purpose here is not to stir the shit, but rather to make sure we have all really thought about this “feature” and not just assumed it’s a good idea.

Downsides of SPADE

So is the SPADE perfect? Of course not, nothing is. Let’s take a look at some negatives:

Expensive

The fabricated construction that contributes so much to the SPADE’s functionality also makes it expensive to build. So the SPADE price is typically substantially more than most competitors.

Poor Availability

Particularly in the early years, SPADE did a poor job of distribution and product delivery. The result is that major chains like West Marine stopped selling them and most marine stores don’t stock the SPADE.

For example, here in Canada there is only one dealer that actually sells the SPADE—others claim to but will try to sell you some other anchor if you call.

The result is that a buyer will be faced with shipping charges on top of the already higher price of a SPADE, as well as the hassles and expense of cross-border clearance in countries with no dealer.

Poor Galvanizing

Over the years SPADE anchors have had galvanizing quality control issues ranging from mild to severe. And the yellow paint “feature” is, in my opinion, just plain silly because it only lasts for a few months of real cruiser use.

The galvanizing problem was exacerbated by SPADE going through a period where they sold a paint kit as a suggested solution to this problem. Of course this did not work worth shit, and only served to make already pissed-off owners of rusty SPADEs understandably incandescent after the paint failed—they still sell the kit, but I understand no longer push it as a solution to the rusting problem.

And, if all that were not bad enough, getting a SPADE re-galvanized is a royal pain since the lead ballast in the tip must be melted out first and then replaced afterward.

The good news is that the US distributor has a very generous warranty replacement policy.

The bad news is that the European distributor’s warranty is not nearly as good. What the heck does “The galvanisation of the steel version must be kept in right order” mean? Sounds like a cop out to me.

Having said all of that about rusting, in my experience, and we had a bad one, the issue is cosmetic only. It does not affect the strength or function of the anchor.

And, frankly, I think getting worked up about a few rust spots on the deck is a mistake, since the first few feet of chain will have rust spots on any boat that has really been out there cruising—banged-up anchor gear indicates real experience.

Short-Scope Performance

The SPADE is not great at setting in difficult bottom types on a scope of less than about 4:1, particularly in relatively shallow water.

That said, recent testing has shown that the SPADE holds well on shorter scopes after being set. However, I have never personally tested that since we generally prefer larger anchorages where we can use at least 5:1 scope.

Further, we feel that being anchored in a tiny anchorage on short scope is one of the more dangerous compromises a cruiser can make—if the anchor does move, even a little, there will be no time to react before buying the beach.

(If forced to use a very small anchorage, we prefer to use shorefasts and longer scope, rather than anchoring on short scope.)

Also, be aware that some interesting analysis in recent years seems to show that some of the attributes that contribute to exceptionally good short-scope setting ability may have downsides for general use.

Bottom line, beware of fixating on a secondary benefit like short-scope setting when selecting an anchor.

Thin Mud

We have had occasional problems setting the SPADE in very thin mud, like that in some parts of the Chesapeake Bay, particularly on short scope. That said, the problem can usually be managed with good setting technique. And, once the SPADE has burrowed through the thin stuff, it holds great.

In fact, we have ridden out two gales securely anchored in the same creek where Fortress did their much-ballyhooed testing that purported to show that the SPADE, and most all anchors other than Fortress, were dangerously useless in soft mud—the setting protocol used in the test was badly flawed and skewed the results.

Once again, we need to be careful about prioritizing thin mud holding too much, since the fluke angles required to score well in that bottom type can result in an anchor that performs poorly in harder bottom types. For example, a Fortress set at its high fluke angle is near useless in hard sand.

Also, very large fluke areas can, I think, reduce the anchor’s ability to bury itself really deeply and, counter intuitively, actually result in lower ultimate holding—see Colin’s SARCA Excel review for some experience that seems to support this.

Update July 2021 Not Stainless

Everything I have written above only applies to SPADE anchors made from galvanized steel. We strongly recommend against buying a stainless steel SPADE for the following reasons:

  • It will come as a surprise to many, but stainless steel is substantially weaker than the high quality galvanized steel used by SPADE and, yes, even a bit weaker than the SPADE made of aluminum.
  • We have also received a disturbing report of setting failures with a stainless steel SPADE.

Summary

OK, clearly we love our SPADE anchor. But that’s not the point of this chapter. Rather, the takeaways for all of us, no matter what anchor we end up with, are that it must have the following four attributes, listed in order of importance:

  1. Reliability: An anchor that drags, once properly set, even occasionally, has no place on a voyaging boat.
  2. All-round setting capability: A voyaging boat needs a best bower that will set reliably in a wide variety of bottom types: hard sand, rocks, thick kelp, weeds, and on it goes.
  3. Resetting reliability: A cruising boat’s best bower anchor must dig right back in again after a wind shift, no matter how radical, regardless of how much crap is stuck to the fluke.
  4. Strength: When far from home, a bent best bower is at best a cruise ender and at worse a boat wrecker.
That’s it. Everything else, including rusting, short-scope setting, ease of stowing, and anything else we can think of, is secondary and should only come into our selection process after the above big four have been satisfied.

Comments

I’m pretty sure I will have upset some of you with this chapter, particularly with my thoughts on roll bars, and it may even cost us a few members, but before you go off angry, or tear me a new one in the comments, let me say, once again, that this is not about trying to sell you a SPADE.

It’s about highlighting what really matters in selecting a voyaging boat anchor. So if you feel that your present anchor (or a different one you plan to buy) satisfies the important criteria above, even if it has a roll bar, by all means say so in a comment. I may not agree, but you have every right to your opinion. Let’s not fall out over it.

Further Reading

Disclosure

I really liked and had a huge amount of respect for the late designer of the SPADE—we bought our first two directly from him and we paid the same price as anyone else.

But then, ten years ago, the North American distributor for SPADE gave us a brand new anchor to replace our battered and rusty old one.

I assure you that this did not influence what I wrote above…the price to corrupt me is way higher than that! 🙂

Finally, the fact that I always write SPADE in caps is not some devious attempt to influence you. The reason is that SPADE is an acronym, although I have to confess I no longer remember what it stands for.

Like what you just read? Get lots more:

Learn About Membership

  1. Introduction
  2. 4 Vital Anchor Selection Criteria and a Review of SPADE
  3. SARCA Excel Anchor—A Real World Test
  4. SPADE, SARCA Excel, or Some Other Anchor?
  5. Rocna Resetting Failures and evaluation of Vulcan and Mantus
  6. Some Thoughts On The Ultra Anchor, Roll Bars and Swivels
  7. Specifying Primary Anchor Size
  8. Kedge (Secondary Anchor)—Recommended Type and Size
  9. Third Anchors, Storm Anchors and Spare Anchors
  10. Anchor Tests—The Good, The Bad, and The Downright Silly
  11. Making Anchor Tests More Meaningful
  12. We Love The Way Our Anchor Drags 
  13. Things to Know About Anchor Chain
  14. Selecting a Chain Grade
  15. Anchor Chain Catenary, When it Matters and When it Doesn’t
  16. Anchoring—Snubbers
  17. Anchor Rode Questions and Answers
  18. Q&A: Hybrid Rope And Chain Anchor Rodes
  19. Anchor Swivels, Just Say No
  20. A Windlass That Makes The Grade
  21. The Perfect Anchor Roller
  22. Install A Wash-down Pump—And Save Money!
  23. Anchoring—Kellets
  24. Anchoring—Chain: Stoppers, Termination and Marking
  25. 20 Tips To Get Anchored and Stay Anchored
  26. Choosing an Anchorage
  27. Choosing a Spot
  28. 15 Steps To Getting Securely Anchored
  29. One Anchor or Two?
  30. Two Anchors Done Right
  31. It’s Often Better to Anchor Than Pick Up a Mooring
  32. Yawing at Anchor, The Theory and The Solution
  33. Yawing at The Anchor, an Alternative Cure
  34. How To Use An Anchor Trip Line
  35. ShoreFasts—Part 1, When to Use Them
  36. ShoreFasts—Part 2, Example Setups Plus Tips and Tricks
  37. ShoreFasts—Part 3, The Gear
  38. Gale And Storm Preparation, At Anchor Or On A Mooring
  39. Storm Preparation, All Chain On Deck
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Dick Stevenson

Hi John,
Your survey matches our experience with SPADE anchors over 12 years and 2 anchors (and appreciate being told why SPADE is written the way it is: I have wondered).
When looking at gear, I look at quality and I look at the company and people in the company.
Our first anchor was very well used and developed the impressive rusting mentioned in the text (which we also considered cosmetic, but annoying). A nice piece of coordination between the US SPADE people allowed me to upgrade to a new larger SPADE with the Europe SPADE people paying only the difference between the sizes (and this was a SPADE initially bought in Turkey).
I consider that excellent product support.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

William Balme

John, I also have a SPADE and like it – and although I find my Manson Supreme to be just as good in your 4 major attributes. It sets more easily – especially on a shorter scope – but it doesn’t fit quite so well on the bow. (It doesn’t fit very well in the sail locker either!!!) The SPADE is on the bow.

However, one aspect that really troubles me when reading this piece – your disclaimer… You said you’ve used SPADEs for 19 years – but you’ve had to have 3 of them in that time??? That’s quite the nut! Did you screw up the initial purchases or did the anchors go bad? Since you’re not worried about rust, I assume it wasn’t the ‘not looking pretty anymore’ issue…

Bill

Gavin Daniel

What size SPADE anchor would you recommend for a 15 ton 44 ft Cruising Catamaran – any suggestions ?

Marek Nowicki

What about Vulcan? Seems robustly made and Well galvanized….

Pierre Mitham

We would love to have a spade on our boat, but its just too expensive! I honestly think that is the only really drawback to the anchor! A few years ago we rebuilt our anchoring system (new chain, windlass and Anchors) and honestly I really like the design of the SPADE, the Engineering is excellent, but they really have to do something about the price. For me a Spade is over $1300 CAD, or the same price as my windlass! In the end we accepted the compromise of a Mantus anchor (which is still an excellent anchor) but it cost us $700 less (or the price of our anchor chain) .

Price is my only really complaint about the SPADE anchor. If it was more in line with its competition, there would without question be one hanging on my bow!

Todd Smith

We used to be a Rocna user with no complaints except excessive mud build up on the rollbar upon retrieval. It was Light Years better than the CQR or Delta. Since John is a Spade Disciple, last year we contacted the US Spade distributor when they were offering some specials, and actually managed an even better deal on an unused returned anchor. It had been the wrong size for someone. We received great service from him on that and on getting them to supply extra bolts for it and a like model in Aluminum. Our sunsequent anchoring experience is limited, but we also found poor setting in some shallow situations with short rode, but no problems in 15+ feet with standard rode length deployments. We often need to break it free with the engine when getting underway, which is actually just the confirmation of holding power that we like to see!

Tom Rairdon

Hmm. Am I looking at the wrong anchor. For me the recommended anchor for my boat and getting one size up from recommended, the SPADE anchor is about $400 cheaper than the Mantus. Although maybe I don’t understand the sizing. The recommended size for SPADE is the 66lb S140 vs the 125 lb Mantus. I guess being in the US it’s cheaper or am I reading the recommendations wrong?

Pierre Mitham

Guess it Depends on the sizing guidlines. For me my 41 sailboat displaces 30,000lb so I would need the S120 ($999USD) The correctly sized Mantus for my boat is the 55lb model ($585 USD) quite the difference in price. John is right. In the long run the difference isn’t that much! But for me at the time (new Anchor, chain, windlass, etc) the difference was palatable!

Dick Stevenson

Hi Pierre and all,
There are a lot of variables that can go into choosing the size anchor that works for a particular boat and its cruising habits. I am not sure where formal recommendations come from or what criteria they entail. Mostly, I believe them to not reflect cruising on a more ambitious scale or where moderately challenging to marginal conditions may be found (they under-size).
On my similarly sized sailboat (40 feet on deck and ~~16 ton live-aboard cruising weight) I used an S140 (66 pounds) for 10 years (with 5/16 HT chain). Then I had the chance to go to a S160 (77 pounds) and have been very happy to have the extra size/weight for 3 seasons now.
A little extra weight in the anchor goes a long way toward sleeping well.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Tom Rairdon

Ok. That’s making more sense if I go by weight instead of length. Then it’s coming out about 15-20% more for the SPADE.

Dick Stevenson

Hi all,
To those who are looking askance at the price of SPADE anchors (or ground tackle in general), John has already spoken to the modest cost per year as a way of challenging this hesitation. Let me also ask, how many have gone ahead with instrument packages, IPads, chart plotters and laptops without much hesitation and not really considered where the money is better spent.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Brent Cameron

Dumb question….. does your rule of thumb for rode load work with the propeller in reverse? Most propellers are no where near as efficient in reverse as they are in forward… and especially with some of the folding types.

Marc Dacey

I actually just flattened the pitch of our four-bladed VariProp (a feathering type) in forward because I wasn’t getting to the proper revs. But I left it untouched at its rather torquey original pitch in reverse because I really like the ability to stop the boat enthusiastically, and because of the good, steady pull I get astern. Not all props have this ability to have their pitches set differently in forward and reverse, but for us it was part of the ground tackle equation.

Jack Webb

Your references seem to be pretty good. But, I keep asking myself why it is that every time you add a new section to a book, you feel compelled to renumber and/or rename every chapter in the entire book. If one assumed that every reader was viewing the material for the very first time, this might be logical. But what about the rest of us?

If you were an author that wrote conventional print books, would you call your publisher in the middle of the night with a request to recall every distributed (and/or sold) book, because you added a chapter in the middle of the book that required a rearrangement of entire book, including the index and table of contents.

Personally, I seldom live such a sedentary life that I can afford to drop everything just to read your recent posts and/or modifications. So I tend to create local PDFs that allow me to review the material when I have time. This works incredibly well for me, because when it’s convenient for me to read the material, it is typically NOT also convenient for me to access it online (like when I’m sitting on the hook in a serene harbor or in the middle of a watch during a crossing).

Just sayin’.

Reed Erskine

Have always admired the aesthetics of the SPADE, but got married to a homely ROCNA about 13 years ago, which, on the few occasions it budged, reset quickly. In good holding and decent weather, 4:1 scope is dependable. Got a nice re-galvanize in Turkey a couple of years ago, so she looks like new.

I like the roll bar, as it makes handling the anchor easier, especially when recovering from a foul bottom. Here in Mediterranean harbors, Med Mooring on crowded wharves means frequent fouling on other people’s chain rodes, in which case you haul the whole mess up close to the surface, catch the roll bar or offending chain with a trip-hook to free the snag, et voila, pas de problem. Just wish the Rocna wasn’t so ugly.

Grinnell More

We upgraded from a 44lb claw type Bruce to a 55lb roll-bar type Rocna several years ago. We were expanding our cruising range and sought faster, more reliable sets and greater ultimate holding. These goals were largely achieved and our normal experience has been reliable fast sets on as little as 3:1 scope. However, based on our experiences over an 8 month cruise from Maine to the Bahamas and back, I have come to share John’s apprehensions regarding roll-bar anchors. These center around specific roll-bar related weaknesses. Twice, the Rocna completely failed to hold due to material becoming trapped on top of the flukes by the roll bar. In one case it was a largish oblong limestone rock that simply skidded along on top of the anchor while preventing the flukes from meaningfully engaging the sandy bottom. In both cases the Rocna had to raised and manually cleared before it could be set again. And based on repeated dives on our own and on neighboring boats’ anchors I came to the conclusion that a roll-bar can function as a “brake” that prevents an anchor from diving as deeply as it would without a roll-bar.

Eric Klem

Hi John,

Good selection criteria.

On reliability, we can’t expect 100% success but 99.9%+ should be achievable with some tight distribution right around that. If we truly want 100%, then the only anchor that I know of is a multi-ton granite block which is obviously not acceptable for other reasons. I get uncomfortable when people argue that an anchor that hasn’t dragged once in 1000 sets is better than one that has dragged once in 1000 sets as I doubt it is statistically significant. What is hard is figuring out when it is in fact statistically a different rate, is 5 drags enough to justify it? There are localized bottoms where despite our best efforts, any anchor will drag if the conditions change in the right way. Drew has spoken a bunch about debris and this is a classic example, if you get unlucky once and hit that debris while another anchor hasn’t, you can think it is a worse anchor but the answer is actually that your sample size is simply too small. Every time I think about the statistics of this, I come back to the raw data that I have seen for some of the anchor tests and the distribution of holding power for a single anchor on the same bottom is all over the place which shows just how much variability there is.

Strength is a tough one to gauge for me, in a vacuum more is better but that ignores the other effects. Like reliability, to expect a 0% failure rate is not reasonable, we end up with a granite block again but maybe 0.01% instance of visually detectable damage and a 0.0001% chance of a failure that results in the boat dragging is acceptable. I think that it is fair to say that when Rocna had their steel alloy scandal, those anchors were in fact too weak but I am not sure that the extra strength of the SPADE over a Rocna with the correct alloy actually makes a meaningful difference to overall anchor reliability. Looking at the chart you linked to, it is interesting to note that in a truly worst case scenario, the anchor would begin to yield in a little over 40 knots steady (using 0.3* ABYC loads) with most of the new gen anchors and it would be a little over 60 knots for the SPADE. The chance of this worst case scenario is very low but certainly the chance of 60 knots is higher than the chance of 40 knots. It seems that the shank geometry of most anchors is adequate for most cruising provided a full backup is carried but more strength is always better if there are not other consequences. For all the analytical tools that engineers have at their disposal, one of the hardest things is figuring out the boundary conditions and this is an example where it is tricky as they are related to a fouled anchor, the actual structural analysis isn’t that hard.

Regarding the roll-bar, I agree that they are not optimal but I think that we should look at them from the standpoint of a design element rather than a requirement not to have them. The requirement is that the anchor takes on the setting position and there are a few design concepts for how to do this: a roll bar, ballasting, having more than 1 setting orientation (danforths, fisherman, bulwagga, northill) and anchors with unique geometries like the Bruce. Roll bars and ballasting seem to be the 2 best options when combined with the other design elements. As you have stated well, roll bars have some issues. The other issue that I would highlight is that the implementation of the Rocna and Manson Supreme seems to have issues with clogging. Having owned a Rocna and currently owning a Mantus and a Manson Supreme, the way they perform is very different and material seems to flow through the Mantus roll bar much better than the other 2. Going to ballasting, in addition to the re-galvanizing issue you mentioned, there are issues with the tip shape of the anchor. My experience with the SPADE is more limited but the little bit of diving on them that I have done has shown that they pile up material around them much more than I have observed with a Mantus which I believe is attributable to the wedge shape they are driving in the bottom. This may also explain why I have found small SPADEs to be challenging to set in some difficult bottoms where a similarly sized Mantus can cut right through. Since geometries often don’t scale well, this could be an example of where one design concept is better for one size range and another for a different range. I am no lover of roll bars, especially certain implementations but I am also no lover of ballasting and definitely don’t like anchors with multiple setting positions.

After all of this, I still don’t know what the “best” anchor available is. The SPADE is definitely a contender but I also like the performance and short scope abilities of the Mantus with the knowledge that it is less strong and may have issues in kelp (we have had no issues to date but also have not anchored in a really thick kelp bed).

Eric

Eric Klem

Hi John,

Good point about the failure mode, that is certainly important.

Eric

Richard Elder

Hi John & Pierre,
May I suggest an alternate mode of comparison?
It seems common knowledge that weight is one of the important factors that determines anchoring performance. Even a CQR will securely anchor your 8,000# 40 footer if it weighs 200#! So, if we compare price to performance rather than comparing the performance of equal sized anchors, which would you rather be hooked to in the face of an oncoming hurricane—- a 60# SPADE or a 100# Mantus, Sarca, or other Gen II design?

Not the whole picture for sure but a valid way of looking at it.

Rob Thompson

Hi John, just a suggestion when referring to the Anchor Rights anchor that Colin reviewed,i.e. the Excel, that you don’t refer to it as a SARCA. It is confusing because Anchor Rights original anchor was a convex fluke, roll bar anchor, the Sand And Reef Combination Anchor or SARCA. It is still a current model. The newer Excel is a different animal, and superior, in my opinion and more suitable for cruising sailboats, as it buries much deeper & being made with shaft of Bisalloy steel, is stronger.
RobT

James Ferguson

John, I changed out our 75lb CQR after 10 years including including two year sail to Europe and one to Alaska. I tried to buy a Spade, but the large curve in the shank wouldn’t clear my furler. My 44kg Rocna has served us well in Alaska, Labrador, Newfoundland, and the last 10 years between Norway and the Med. so far no problems either setting or breaking loose in a blow. I do think I would prefer a roll bar setup though. Good article, thanks.

Bill Wakefield

Not Bill, but Donna, his partner. Everyone is so serious, I thought I would provide a slightly humorous anecdote. Several years ago, Spade offered a sale price just before Christmas, and we jumped at the chance to have one. We bought a 45kg Spade, at 25% percent off and free shipping to the 48contiguous states. No shipping to Alaska, but my son was living in El Paso TX, and so we had our new Spade shipped there. My son, and his family were traveling, (by air), to Alaska to come visit us the day after Christmas, he was active military, and was treated to unlimited number of pieces of baggage by the airlines. He took the 2 pieces of the Spade, wrapped them up in bubble wrap, and tape, and checked them as baggage to Alaska. The airline agent at the counter, not knowing what this odd package was, grew indignant, with what is that, and you can’t check that as baggage. My son says, “we’re going to Alaska, and it’s HOCKEY ART, so it must go!” So now we have our beautiful hockey art hanging off the bow of our boat, and we love it.

Richard Elder

Hi Bill
I was walking along the Fraser River promenade in Steveston when the Canadians defeated the Americans for the Gold Medal in Olympic hockey. The entire 1/2 mile of condos erupted in cheers. You must have been flying on a Canadian airline. I really can’t see Americans understanding HOCKEY ART like the Looneys do!

Bill Wakefield

Hi Richard-

You are probably right…

Except in Alaska [and Alaska Airlines] there is an affinity for hockey— perhaps one reason is we think of Canada as family… [We are joined at the hip afterall…]

richard e stanard

bad anchoring dream just the other night…was adjusting chain on bow roller when it broke but grabbed it b4 deep sixing…then big blow came up and sudddenly on lee shore…anchor not holding…boat carreening all around…still holding chain…seeing bottom all around…wondering why am not aground…still careening…wondering how still have chain in my hands…feeling quite shook up…have had similar dreams before but thankfully not often…sometimes boat takes flight and i am looking over the rail at the treetops going i estimate 40 or 50 knots…anybody else?

Carter Brey

I’ve had a SPADE on my Sabre 38 MkII for three years and have nothing but praise for it. More good things about the lack of a roll bar: on some boats the roll bar blocks bow-mounted nav lights and makes running an asym tack line more challenging. I had these problems with a Manson and they were solved with a SPADE.

Chuck Batson

Hi John, I’d love to see/hear details on your chain stopper. I didn’t find anything when searching your site but perhaps I’ve overlooked it.

Best,
Chuck

P.S. My SPADE is two sizes up, but I haven’t gotten any comments about its size, so maybe I should go up some more. 😉

Roland Olsson

Hi John,

Thanks for the article. The new generation anchors are a game changer. I have used Bruce, CQR and Delta before the change to Rocna. The big difference is how easy it is to set the new generation anchor. If the anchor is properly set, it takes a lot to make it drag. Have been in big blows with CQR and Delta and have not expearanced any problems if the anchor is properly set. Cheat a little bit and you are in trouble. The new generation anchor are much more forgiving when it comes to setting the anchor.

We have similar expearances with our Rocna as you are reporting with your Spade. Have anchored in many different locations including Baltic, West Coast of Norway, British isles, Mediteranean and the Caribbean. In all +1200 nights on anchor over 12 years.

It have never draged when set. Knock on wood. I do not any anchor is immune to draging.

Only once in Sicily I was not able to set the anchor due to the substrate. Many other boats tried in the same spot. Not one boat was succesful in that location.

It has not been damaged even if we have had to break it out on numerus occasions.

I’m very impressed how the anchor sets. Most of the time it is set whitin 1 m from where it landed. And it is always a textbook set horisontal. I can not remember once when it was set lying on its side.
The fast setting I love as it reduces the risk for fouling the anchor. It also makes it much easier to position the boat in relation to other boats if you know that the anchor will set where you drop it.

Can not say I love the rollbar. Had to shorten the bow sprit for the gennaker to accommodate the rollbar. After that I have learned to live with the rollbar. It is actually useful to be able to grab the rollbar when the anchor sometimes need guiding in to the anchor roller.

It is hard to judge the resetting capability as it never have draged to my knowledge.

We have never expearanced any problems in 180 degrees windshifts. Fortunatly they are not very common. I did dive once to see if the anchor had draged after the wind shifted. It had not. Instead the anchor just turned 180 degree in the substrate but remained set.

The Rocna is due for regalvanisation after 12 years. I´m actually surprised how good the galvanization have been holding up. Luckily it is an easy anchor to regalvanize.

Off all the things we upgraded on the boat, Rocna is the one we would not want to be whithout. It is very comforting to have an anchor you trust 110%.

If the Rocna had to be replaced and the chandlery would not have one in stock, I would not have any problems going with another make out of the new generation. Ultra, Spade, Mantus, Manson, Rocna are all good anchors with happy owners and similar features.

Steve Wrye

Hi John,
Good to be back on AAC. We loved our Spade on our Boreal 44. Never had a better anchor in 45 years of sailing. One thing all must watch out for is what you mentioned about setting anchor with less the 4 to 1 scope. Does not set well at 3 to 1. If you need to anchor in a small cove or many boats then just set at 4 to 1 or larger and after setting bring scope back to 3 to 1. Never fails always holds. But be aware if you anchor in big tides like the Northern French coasts 20 foot plus tides your anchor will not hold as tide rises. We made that foolish mistake once and thank god for anchor alarms on windy nights. Cheers.

Terence Thatcher

We too like the Spade. But I need some advice. After three years of regular use, I feel I should replace the stainless bolt holding the thing together. I have heard enough stories about failed stainless fittings. But when I contacted Spade USA, no one responded to my emailed queries. So: how often should I replace that bolt? And how do I get Spade USA’s attention?

Richard Dowe II

I was fortunate to find out Spade had a discount sale in February of 20%. I than contacted West Marine and they purchased the anchor for me at the discounted price and shipping was free.
I put the anchor together and was amused they included a spring pin instead of a cotter pin for the bolt. A spare cotter pin is now installed.
I can’t wait to try it out. Tired of dragging the delta.

Ernest E Vogelsinger

Hi John, you mean something like this?comment image

Bob Buck

John,
About a year ago (I think) I posted a comment about the rust problems with the Spade and with your help Spade USA replaced my old anchor at no charge. As I mentioned in the original post the Spade is definitely a great anchor. Sets quickly, digs in and holds. I sleep well with it. I don’t think my old Spade’s rust had gotten beyond the cosmetic stage, but the severe rust at the end of the stock around the shackle hole was beginning to worry me. After one season the new anchor still looks great with no visible rust. Even the silly yellow paint is still visible. I think the galvanizing is better than on my old anchor, but still not great. I suppose the hollow stock and lead in the tip make galvanizing almost as hard as regalvanizing. I’m not expecting it to be rust free forever. Do you know if Spade has ever considered program for refurbishing anchors? Seems to me it might be cheaper than replacing them. But who am I to complain?

Bob Buck

John,
Of course, shipping a brand new replacement anchor ain’t cheap or hassle free either. I’m beginning to suspect that sandblasting (which they recommended) and applying their “paint” (seemed like epoxy thickened with zinc powder) may have made my rust problems worse, and what was in fact merely cosmetic became a possible structural issue.

Gary Moxon

Hi John,
I have been a subscriber for a little time now and have found your insights to be invaluable as we are getting ready to join the cruising world. We have a modest Sigma 36 built in 1985, so one of the last before the changed to the 362. Having read your articles on anchoring and alot of research we are interested in your opinion on the size of spade anchor and chain size and length for cruising around the med and maybe the Caribbean eventually.
Thank you for producing such a knowledge base on all thing cruising.

Gary Moxon

Thank you John,
I was considering going one size above the manufactures recommend size but as I am re designing the anchor locker and bow roller I should be able to accommodate two sizes up.
Thanks for the quick response
Fair winds
Gary.

Scott Launey

I have an old 45 # CQR (hope it’s OK to refer to CQR) that was looking ragged and I used R-M 801 metal conditioner on it. Just washed the anchor, let it dry and brushed on the 801 with a disposable brush and left it to dry. On application it looked like thin white water consistency but it dried/etched into a hard dark brown coating that I think looks good and stopped any rust and really adhered/combined well to the galvanized metal.
This could be the answer to old rusty SPADEs.
Be prepared for your anchor to change colors from normal galvanized to a dark brown though. I will get a SPADE one of these days as I’m tired of the CQR dragging.

Scott Launey

The material I used is Proline 801 rust conversion.
Works great and seems to hold up well after anchoring a number of times and would be easy to do a yearly brush up to keep rust at bay.

Evan Effa

Our S120 Spade anchor has been quite fantastic and has shown significant improvement in performance over the similar sized Rocna it replaced. We have anchored out with this bower at least 120 nights and it’s never let us down.

I realize that it is mostly a cosmetic issue but the only downside of this anchor is the quality of the galvanization. ( I won’t comment on the auto-peel yellow paint… 😉 ) We now have a multiple areas where the galvanizing has eroded away and been replaced with rust. I am concerned that not only is it ugly but over time will compromise the integrity of the anchor.

(I’ve been touching it up with some Ospho and cold galvanizing spray paint but recognize that this is only a stop-gap answer.)

I am thinking that I would like to take it to a local Hot-Dip galvanizing service to be re-galvanized.

I understand that the lead in the tip will have to be replaced if we go this route.

Can anyone share their experiences, good or bad, in getting this done? Is there a way to seal the lead in the tip so that it does not need to be removed and replaced?

Any comments welcome.

-evan

Richard Elder

Hi John
Have you considered having your SPADE powder coated? Cheap, easy, and readily repeatable. The key variable would be the temperature of the curing oven vs. the melting point of the lead.

ps: One could even do the entire anchor in YELLOW instead of the little bit of cosmetic color that comes from the factory!

Eivind Haugan

A old thread, but I touched up my Spade anchor with Hammerite paint from AkzoNobel ( https://www.hammerite.com/products/ ). I have since sold the boat but it worked fine for the two seasons.

Michael Cohen

Hi John,

It seems most of the Nordhavn and Kadey Krogen communities have chosen the Rocna over the Spade, and when I mention your analysis, they say that your advice is geared toward sailboats and doesn’t apply as well to trawlers. I’d love your thoughts on this.

Thanks!
Mike

Peter Griffiths

Hi there
thanks for the review.
I want an oversized anchor I can trust in a storm. (my last anchor was an oversized Mantus that performed extremely well).

I have a question on sizing the spade.

My boat is a 72 ft boat, approximately 50 tons imperial which I make
112,000 pounds.

If we now look at the sizing chart it’s not at all clear (to me at least) what the right anchor should be.

I called Spade who informed me that for sailboats they recommend you go by weight not length because of windage.

But looking at the chart it skips from
98 ft boat weighing <88,100 pounds
to
unspecified length weighing <330,900 pounds.

Speaking to Spade there is nothing between these two.

This seems bizarre.
According to their sizing chart there is no anchor properly sized for my boat.
But surely a 72 ft boat weighing around 50 tons is not that unusual?

What gives?

thanks

Peter

Timothy P Lamarre

Hi John,
The aluminum version is more expensive–but greatly reduces weight needed. Any thoughts–Spade aluminum vs. galvanized?
Regards,
Tim

Jack Mahoney

John,
Great thread. We’re very happy Rocna people but it’s great to hear the range of perspectives and pros and cons. That said, I have a question regarding scope and depth. At the beginning of the article you mentioned “The SPADE is not great at setting in difficult bottom types on a scope of less than about 4:1, particularly in relatively shallow water”. Question: how does shallow water change the effectiveness of the set or hold any differently than the same scope in deeper water? Isn’t 4:1, 4:1?!
Thanks,
Jack

Daniel Frey

Hello John
 
May I ask a question about my (galvanized) Spade?
 
It is 5 years old and the end of the shaft is rusty. Please see the attached picture picture. 
On AAC I have read that the Spade has a quality problem. (I just learned, it is produced in Tunisia.) My dealer told me, the rust has developed, because the shaft was or has hit hard on something, what damaged the galvanic surface. What do you think? It also seems to be rusty inside the “eye”, where the shackle is attached, what I find somewhat strange, as it always will a strong contact point.
Possible solutions from my point of view:

  • I put some “rust transformer” on the shaft and I can paint it with some protection colour.
  • I could also get a new galvanized shaft for 300 USD, but if I do not understand, how the damage has occurred, I am a little bit reluctant to spend that money, as the new shaft could get damaged soon again.
  • Could I also get a stainless steel shaft, which seems to be more robust, for my galvanic shuffle or can these two metals not be combined?

Maybe you find time for some advice for me.
 
Thank you and kind regards – Daniel

Spade3.jpg
Daniel Frey

Thank you, John. However, I am confused in three points:

  • “You can’t order another stock.” – My dealer is offering me a new galvanized stock as special production right from the Spade factory in Tunisia. Price: approx. 300 USD.
  • “I have never seen or heard of a situation where the rusting causes and performance or strength issues on a SPADE.” – My Spade dealer says explicitly, the rust is weakening the stock. As would re-galvanization and as would a “protection coating”.
  • “how sensitive one is to cosmetic issues” – My dealer says, it continues rusting as ist is “open” iron now. He also says, “dammaged” galvanized spots must always be treated immediately – regalvanized or re-painted.

As a non-expert I was curious to hear what the professionals say about it. As a first step I will apply “rust converter” and as a second step I will paint the spots with some “protection coating”. Best – Daniel

Stefan Laxhuber

We have had a 35kg (that’s 77 lb) in the MED, the Carrebean, Bahamas and now along the US East coast.
It had been a galvanized one and this one never let us down, not a single time!
Of course one has to choose the right bottom and get the anchor set etc. We are live-aboards and would say we learned how to do that.

Due to quality issues (one of the welding of the shaft cracked apart so 1 of the 3 plates the shaft is made from separated) we could get a replacement under warranty from Spade US.
I opted to pay the surcharge and go for the stainless steel version. Same size, same weight, just stainless instead of galvanized.

And since then:

We drag and drag. Multiple times. While other boats don’t. I am getting desperate and have lost all my trust into this anchor.

Stefan Laxhuber

Amendment: It sounds not logical that only the switch from galvanized to stainless can be the reason. Can it be that the galvanized does have a totally different weight balance?

Colin Bevan

I Stefan, may I ask how you got on?( we where considering the SS ( moving away from Delta) but are having 2nd thoughts. /) Colin

Daniel Frey

Hello John. My Spade S 125 (25 kg) very often comes up “the wrong side”, meaning the pike of the anchor showing forward. When in a bay, I go backwards with the boat a couple of meters and then it turns around. Anything I can do about it? Best. Daniel

Douglas Leathem

I’ve decided to upgrade my old Bruce anchor to a Spade. I’m in B.C. The only distributor I can find in Canada is Crafts Cove Marine on the other side of the country. Are you aware of anybody closer?

Kevin Williams

Hello Doug, I am a great lakes sailor, and ordered a S80 through Crafts Cove before this past summer season. 100% good experience with the purchase and delivery…and as for the difference between the bruce and spade…I only wish I had upgraded years ago!! Kevin

Douglas Leathem

Thanks John, and good luck with your purchase

Neelo Elham

I thought I can read the book offline! So I paid so I can read it in my shack! Any book especially a book about boating need to be downloadable, so you can read it in your boat! I live in Nunavut, don’t even have internet everywhere.

Peter Sweitzer

Hi John,
While the individual who posted that picture had no problem with me using it, I can not verify weather he is the individual who took the picture. Please remove my post, I apologize, it won’t happen again.

Eric Klem

Hi All,

I just came across this video on galvanizing repair from Mantus: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Kan2Pfj61k . It uses the products found here: https://www.kappalloy.com/solder-alloy/kappaloy-solders/kapp-galvanite/ . I have never heard of this technique before but if anyone has any experience with it I would definitely be interested to hear if it actually works as claimed? Of course it combines more alloys underwater which is always scary. I wonder how it would work on a SPADE? It looks like the melting temperature is slightly below lead so maybe a skilled person could apply it near to the ballast and anyone could do it far away?

Eric

Robert Berlinquette

Enjoyed reading about anchors, 100% going with a spade anchor. Thx for all the information as we just recently purchased our liveaboard sailboat and will be upgrading her over the next 5 years before setting out.
Here is a review I found about a Spade anchor in which they rated it behind the Rocna & Mantus after admitting it preformed better, simply based on price point. Crazy!!! How much did our boats cost in comparison to an anchor ?
I hope people do not put cost before performance.
Cheers

20437CBD-45BD-4E51-91F1-A98D19103F84.jpeg
David McKay

I looked through the posts about Spade but could not find what size Spade you had on Morgan’s Cloud. I am wanting to get one for 48 ft 20 metric tonne steel Van de Stadt. What size did you have?

Charles Starke MD

Hi David
I have a 47 ft Trintella, 40,000 lbs, and have a 99 lb steel Spade. The most important criteria is whether it fits and deploys properly on your bow and does not interfere with other gear or the roller furler. I believe the 120 lb would also fit, and also carry the 120 lb size in aluminum as a spare and extra storm anchor that I could deploy from my dinghy.
It would be nice if there is an easy way to borrow one and try it out on your bow.
Best wishes,
Charles
Charles L Starke
s/v Dawnpiper

Ken Austin

I like the arguments for the SPADE and wanted to check if anyone has experience with them in the S Pacific islands as I don’t know the most common seabed composition in that region? Tk you

Rob Gill

Hi Ken,

A common sea bed in the South Pacific Islands in tropical waters is coral sand. This mainly comes courtesy of the parrot fish which eat the live coral, and chewing it so roughly it tends to be coarse grained on the sheltered side of the atolls, and so with only moderate holding. Anchor size and the ability for the anchor to set deep are therefore both important, but we found AAC’s recommendation of +2 sizes worked for us.

One difficult scenario is where we can have a thin layer of coral sand over flat rock ledges. Here anchor size and scope is absolutely critical.

Another factor is the incredibly sharp edged coral heads which can grow anywhere, and mean you need a minimum of 70 metres of chain, preferably 100 metres.

I have no personal experience with Spade, but believe they would perform as well as most anchors in these tricky conditions, and better than most.

One thing to be aware of is New Caledonia has a number of popular anchorages with old (and some new) mining tailings dumped on to the seabed courtesy of the French. Due to the metal extraction processes used, these tailings are highly acidic and will still strip the galvanising off any steel anchor within a few days. I understand that re-galvanising the Spade anchor isn’t easy.

Ken Austin

Thank you , very helpful to know about the bottom and the other items as well.