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Anchoring Made Easy Chapter 2 of 37

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.

All that said, I will return to thin mud, and what to do about it, in a later chapter.

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.

Coming Next

In future chapters I will:

  • Tackle the thorny and always controversial issue of whether or not cruisers should replace the anchor they already own with a better one.
  • Compare the SPADE and SARCA Excel.

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 influenced 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:


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.

69 comments… add one
  • Dick Stevenson Mar 28, 2019, 10:41 am

    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 Mar 29, 2019, 4:59 am

    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

    • John Mar 29, 2019, 7:54 am

      Hi Bill,

      No, no problems. We started off with a smaller SPADE as a secondary anchor to our then CQR bower. Once we found it was so much better than the CQR, we bought a larger SPADE as bower. And, as related in article, the US distributor replaced that one because of the rust. That said, it still worked just fine, the rust was only cosmetic. And we still have the smaller SPADE as a secondary.

  • Gavin Daniel Mar 29, 2019, 5:42 am

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

  • Marek Nowicki Mar 29, 2019, 9:14 am

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

    • John Mar 29, 2019, 12:03 pm

      Hi Marek,

      We have an article including our thoughts on Vulcan. We are currently editing it, but will republish it soon.

  • Pierre Mitham Mar 29, 2019, 9:14 am

    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!

    • John Mar 29, 2019, 10:37 am

      Hi Pierre,

      Yup, it’s true. That said the cost of building the SPADE is just higher than the Mantus so I can’t see it get fixed any time soon. So it comes down to how much a better anchor is worth to each of us. The way I look at it is a $700 increment is cheap insurance. And spread over 19 years $36/year is really cheap insurance.

      • Todd Smith Apr 1, 2019, 9:12 am

        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!

        • John Apr 2, 2019, 8:16 am

          Hi Todd,

          Good to hear that you got good service from SPADE USA. Over the years said service has been a bit spotty, but it does seem that it has got better lately.

    • Tom Rairdon Apr 9, 2019, 3:19 pm

      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 Apr 9, 2019, 3:37 pm

        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 Apr 9, 2019, 3:57 pm

          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 Apr 9, 2019, 4:20 pm

          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 Apr 9, 2019, 4:43 pm

          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

      • John Apr 10, 2019, 8:34 am

        Hi Tom,

        I’m no expert on the Mantus, but I find it hard to credit that they would spec one double the size of the SPADE for the same boat. Must be something wrong somewhere. (See Pierre’s comment.) We are just updating our anchor size recommendations chapter and will republish it in the next few weeks.

  • Brent Cameron Mar 29, 2019, 9:37 am

    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.

    • John Mar 29, 2019, 10:33 am

      Hi Brent,

      Not dumb at all. Said rule is for props in reverse. That said, as I wrote, it does assume a reasonable efficient prop, so a folding prop in reverse would probably not qualify, although a feathering one should be fine.

      • Marc Dacey Mar 30, 2019, 5:49 pm

        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 Mar 29, 2019, 11:09 am

    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’.

    • John Mar 29, 2019, 12:01 pm

      Hi Jack,

      Sorry that this is causing you grief.

      I guess all I can say is that the agony of change is the price of improvement.

      The point being that often when we update a chapter those changes affect every other chapter. And that sometimes leads to us rewriting the entire book, which is analogous to issuing a complete new edition in print, with the attendant changes of chapter titles and order.

      So, I can see how this can be irritating, but I could never see holding back good new information, or even just better writing (we learn every day) so as not to disrupt the book.

      Bottom line, online books do have their drawbacks, but on the other hand they have advantages too. For example if we issued a whole new edition of a paper book you would have to pay for it again, including paper and printing, instead of just getting it including in your modest membership fee. For example in the last year we have done complete rewrites of four of the books. Seems like a good deal for $24.00.

      And we continuously do small updates and improvements that would be impossible with a more traditional publishing model.

  • Reed Erskine Mar 29, 2019, 11:48 am

    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 Mar 29, 2019, 12:48 pm

    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.

    • John Mar 30, 2019, 8:37 am

      Hi Grinnell,

      Thanks very much for that report. Nothing more useful than actually diving down and taking a look.

  • Eric Klem Mar 29, 2019, 1:44 pm

    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

    • John Mar 29, 2019, 3:17 pm

      Hi Eric,

      Great analysis, and nothing I disagree with. In fact that’s why, in this newer version of our SPADE review, I have moved away from any flavour of “best anchor” to “favourite anchor” and what we have learned from that “favourite”.

      On reliability. Again, I agree that 100% is not achievable. Note that I write no failure after being set, and that has indeed been our experience. But then we still set a drag alarm every time we anchor, a reflection of our understanding that there is no 100%.

      One other thought on reliability: failure modality matters a lot. For example the Rocna tendency to fail to reset after a big wind shift is a particularly dangerous modality. Ditto the tendency of the Bruce to skip when dragging. On the other hand, our SPADE has never dragged (after a failed set) at less than about 400lb steady load with no skipping, no matter how poor the holding, and never failed to reset after a wind shift. Therefore, I class it as a far more “reliable” anchor than the other two.

      Are there are anchors as reliable as SPADE for our usage profile? I simply don’t know, and never will since there is no way to know, other than changing anchors and cruising for another 20 years to all the same places. Not likely since I’m 67!

      • Eric Klem Mar 30, 2019, 6:06 pm

        Hi John,

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

        Eric

  • Richard Elder Mar 29, 2019, 4:57 pm

    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.

    • John Mar 30, 2019, 8:42 am

      Hi Richard,

      Sure, I think that size to price is an interesting metric. That said, It’s a complex one since although weight does seem to help with setting, fluke area is more important for ultimate holding. And then to mix things further, Colin’s testing of SARCA seems to indicate that its ultimate holding may be higher than Rocna, even though its fluke area is smaller, because it digs in further.

      • Rob Thompson Apr 2, 2019, 5:26 am

        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

        • John Apr 3, 2019, 10:19 am

          Hi Rob,

          I do try to always write SARCA Excel, but maybe I missed. I will check and fix it. Thanks.

  • James Ferguson Mar 29, 2019, 5:08 pm

    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.

    • John Mar 30, 2019, 8:44 am

      Hi James,

      No question, the Rocna is a good anchor. We have only stopped specifically recommending it because of the 180 degree wind shift reseting reports. More on that in an older post I’m currently updating.

  • Bill Wakefield Mar 29, 2019, 7:50 pm

    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.

    • John Mar 30, 2019, 8:46 am

      Hi Donna,

      That’s a great story and just the thing to lighten the tone. Made my morning.

    • Richard Elder Mar 30, 2019, 11:33 am

      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 Mar 30, 2019, 2:36 pm

        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 Mar 30, 2019, 10:11 am

    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 Apr 1, 2019, 8:51 am

    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.

    • John Apr 2, 2019, 8:14 am

      Hi Carter,

      Good point on the obstruction of the nav lights, and not one I had thought of, thanks.

  • Chuck Batson Apr 2, 2019, 2:16 am

    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. 😉

    • John Apr 3, 2019, 10:17 am

      Hi Chuck,

      Yes, definitely need to do something on that. Will fit in well with snubbers.

  • Roland Olsson Apr 4, 2019, 9:22 am

    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.

    • John Apr 4, 2019, 1:52 pm

      Hi Roland,

      A good overview, most of which I agree with. Where I differ a bit is on the idea that all of the modern anchors are much of a muchness. More on that in a post I’m working on.

  • moc.liamg@eyrwevets Apr 8, 2019, 5:41 pm

    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.

    • John Apr 9, 2019, 7:42 am

      Hi Steve,

      Good to have you back. Good point about the tides. Also, I think that if shortening up after setting, it’s a good idea to check the set again after so doing.

  • Terence Thatcher Apr 8, 2019, 9:04 pm

    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?

    • John Apr 9, 2019, 7:49 am

      Hi Terence,

      Sorry to hear that you did not get an answer from SPADE USA. Their responsiveness seems has been variable over the years. It had been better lately, but guess they have slipped again.

      Anyway, I would not worry about the bolt since it doesn’t take any appreciable load so there won’t be any issues with flexing or wear. We have a 20 year old SPADE and 13 year old one with in excess of a 1000 sets on it, and neither show any signs of problems with the bolt. I have also never heard of one of these bolts breaking, and I’m sure I would have if it had been a problem.

  • Richard Dowe II Apr 10, 2019, 7:52 am

    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.

    • John Apr 10, 2019, 9:18 am

      Hi Richard,

      Great that WEST would do that, but the spring clip is scary. Years ago I was walking down a wharf and noticed a SPADE assembled backwards. When I gently pointed this out to the owner he said “Oh no, you are wrong, I got the anchor like that from West marine, it must be right”.

  • Bob Buck Oct 5, 2019, 7:08 pm

    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?

    • John Oct 6, 2019, 8:42 am

      Hi Bob,

      No, I don’t think they have ever had any sort of refurbishment program, other than the paint they sold at one time that did not work well. Shipping costs and hassles would always be a problem in such a program.

      Bottom line, all anchors gets banged up and tend to rust because of that, but I have never seen a SPADE where that was bad enough to be a structural issue. Even our old one, that was a mess of rust after 10 years of brutal Artic use, still worked fine and showed no signs of deep pitting.

      • Bob Buck Oct 9, 2019, 6:19 pm

        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.

        • John Oct 10, 2019, 8:44 pm

          Hi Bob,

          That makes a lot of sense. I really never liked the paint idea, and now I like it even less.

  • Gary Moxon Nov 18, 2019, 4:01 pm

    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.

    • John Nov 19, 2019, 8:53 am

      Hi Garry,

      I know the Sigma well, nice boat. You can find our anchor size recommendations starting here: https://www.morganscloud.com/2019/04/24/specifying-primary-anchor/

      • Gary Moxon Nov 19, 2019, 4:00 pm

        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 Dec 5, 2019, 1:31 pm

    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.

    • John Dec 5, 2019, 3:10 pm

      Hi Scott,

      That’s interesting, even if it’s a limited time solution since it sounds relatively easy to do. Thanks for the tip.

  • Scott Launey Dec 5, 2019, 7:23 pm

    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 Dec 31, 2019, 7:34 pm

    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

    • John Jan 1, 2020, 11:04 am

      Hi Evan,

      Yes, I hear you on the galvanizing and paint. As far as I know there is no way to galvanize without removing the lead. If you do decide to go that route make absolutely sure that exactly the same amount of lead is put back. I met a guy who had replaced the lead with zinc and the anchor went from great to near-useless, including reset fails in wind-shifts. For this reason Phyllis and I have decided that putting up with the rust is better than the hassles of re-galvanizing.

      • RDE Elder Feb 14, 2020, 12:47 pm

        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!

        • John Feb 14, 2020, 9:08 pm

          Hi Richard,

          Not really. This always comes as a surprise to people, but I really don’t find a bit of rust objectionable, particularly on expedition sailboat like “Morgan’s Cloud”. So, to me, the trouble and possible unexpected consequences of such a step would just not be worth it. Also, while I know that powder coating is tough, I would be surprised if it were any tougher than galvanizing, so I would probably have to redo it regularly. And, as the aging owner of a 56 foot boat the last thing I need to be doing is adding non-vital tasks to my already long required maintenance list.

          But that’s just me. Maybe it would be a good idea for those who are more sensitive to cosmetics than I am…but then there’s always the unintended consequences issue to think about.

  • Michael Cohen Feb 14, 2020, 10:11 am

    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

    • John Feb 14, 2020, 8:59 pm

      MHi Michael,

      Thoughts? Sounds like a classic case of confirmation bias at work. Given the the failure modality of the Rocna, how could whether it’s a motorboat or a sailboat matter?

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