Here at AAC we have been writing about anchoring and anchors for some 15 years, as well as reading and answering thousands of related comments. And, between Colin and I, we have a good century of anchoring experience in every substrate type and circumstance imaginable.
We applied all of that experience to our anchor reviews of SPADE and SARCA Excel (last two chapters). But that leaves two questions:
- Are there other anchors as good or better than the SPADE or SARCA Excel?
- Which is better, the SPADE or the SARCA Excel?
Nice. I wrote a book on anchoring, and for most part, intentionally, avoided the “which is best” debate.
A few years ago the “one anchor for all purposes” mantra was hot. Roll bar anchors had hit the scene and they solved all problems, and if you suggested that carrying multiple types had merit, you obviously had not drunk your cool-aide. Then folks started noticing problems with clogging with weed and trash, and balance being affected buy gobs of mud. And yet, by an large, they were better than what we had before.
And then my new-to-me trimaran arrived with a really shallow anchor locker that would only take pivoting fluke anchors. I pulled out an old folding Northill Utility Anchor that had been decorating the front yard, pull tested it several places, and found that it had far more “utility” on assorted bottoms than any pivoting fluke anchor. It also had as much raw holding power and reset capability as the NG anchors, pound for pound. It bites fast and is strong in sand, weeds, soft mud, and rocks. Unfortunately, It has one damnable flaw; the other fluke is sticking up, ready to foul the rode in a 360 degree swing.
What it showed, very clearly, is that we aren’t there yet.
As you say, not there yet. Probably never will be either. (I base that partly on the excellent paper over at PS that I suspect you wrote on how a given fluke angles can’t be perfect for all conditions). And anchors that allow fluke angle changes have their own issues.
Other problems with the Northill anchor, at least on larger boats, would be bow roller stowage and small fluke area. Same problems as the Luke that we used in the North for many years prior to getting our SPADE.
Actually, my point was that it DID have as much sand and soft mud holding capacity, pound-for-pound, as a modern roll bar style anchor I would rather not name at this moment. The fluke area is less, but the angle is greater, it is driven in deeply by the design into where the bottom is twice as dense, and it also gains area when the cross stock buries. I was sure the old Northill would not hold as strongly… and I was wrong.
No, Northill would not be my choice for a roller or on most boats. This was only an odd example intended to demonstrate that much of the geometry was worked out long, long ago, and yet perfection eludes us. For now, roll bars are fashionable, but who knows where we will go next.
I agree with you and Drew that there’s no such thing as a perfect anchor – but boy, haven’t we come a long way. With the addition of the SARCA last year that made 5 anchors we had aboard, which even by my standards seemed to be getting excessive. So I retired our old fisherman (like a Bruce) and will probably retire another (perhaps the 25Kg Rocna) to leave us with three. Our 33Kg Rocna will stay for sheer straight line tenacity, the SARCA as a great all-rounder and a Fortress as kedge and stern anchor. Let’s hope I’m right. Until the next ‘next big thing’ comes along” I think we’re really well served.
Colin, I hope you are onto something, because that’s how we operate: anchors of different design for different situations. I have a Fortress and a SPADE at the bow and a second Fortress at the stern, but will drop the bow Fortress as a “lunch hook” in benign circumstances, particularly in the sandy or muddy bottoms in which I know it will do well for the limited period I’m talking about. It’s just easier to handle (by hand, in fact, as I did on our previous, smaller boat) when conditions allow.
But we don’t sleep on it! And our 45 pound CQR is looking for a new home.
I used to be “an anchor for different bottoms” advocate. At one time we had a CQR and a Bruce on the bow, a Danforth on the stern. Then there was the Luke as a great “pick”. And, of course, the Fortress came into the picture with great creds in certain conditions.
However, at this point, I have a big SPADE on the bow and a rusty old SPADE one size down taken apart in the bilge. There is a Danforth on the stern, but I believe it has migrated into the realm of decoration as I am unable to remember the last time I have used it. And I think if I were stern anchoring, I would likely take the Fortress FX 37 for the added security it would have.
I jones’d after a Luke for years, again for its being good in different bottoms, and carried one for more than a decade. I spent considerable time figuring how to actually use it as an anchor getting it from the bilge-to-deployed without damage to boat or person, and was very glad to sell it in the UK. I figured a 66 pound rusty well-used SPADE was way better as a back-up and storm anchor in way more varied bottom conditions than an 80 pound Luke. Stored better also.
I guess also, in practice, I do not consider the Fortress as an anchor, though of course it is. I think of it more as utility gear, like a grapple, to use as a kedge or other unusual circumstances, which, in my cruising life have fortunately rarely come up. I would never use it as a lunch hook for example, the bower on the windlass is just way to convenient, easy and fast.
All that is to say that one could argue that I only have one style anchor on Alchemy in 2 different sizes for all sea bottoms. The Fortress is used primarily as gear for kedging (luckily rarely), the Danforth has been mostly decoration. Both could, of course, be used, in a pinch, as anchors.
So the SPADE is my go-to anchor for all bottoms.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy
Dick, I listen to you closely, and not just because of your great taste in boat names. I haven’t used my SPADE in any real test as of yet, so I’m basically hedging my bets. I have an FX-21 and an FX-37; thanks to doing some marketing for Fortress, they were free to me. As I said, they are basically lunch hooks; were I to seriously anchor, the 30 kg. SPADE gets the gig.
Understood. I wrote, in part, as I was interested in the changes in what I consider my personal “best practices” over the years.
My best, Dick
Our experience exactly. Despite carrying a Luke and a Fortress, as well as two SPADES, in the past 19 years we have used the Fortress twice and never used the Luke. More on that in an upcoming chapter.
I hope to see my own best practices evolve so well. Thanks.
Hi Dick, What size spade do you have on the Valiant? We have a Delta 55 on the new boat and want to add a new primary.
That’s such a good point about how far we have come. Sometimes I feel like I’m splitting the hair in four with chapters like this when compared to the bad old days of trying over and over again to get a CQR to set, and then, even when it did finally set, sleeping with one eye open waiting for it to drag. I think that if suddenly I had to give up every gear advance of the last 20 years, but one, that one would be a modern anchor. Yes, even if it meant giving up GPS.
And yes, I think your new array of three anchors will cover just about any contingency.
As you said in the article, every situation is different. We keep our boat in a marina in North Carolina off the Nurse River. The 80-90 boats are required to evacuate during hurricanes. Most choose to anchor in the creek using the marina recommended rig- fortress with 10 feet of 3/8 cable and 100 feet plus of 3/4 nylon rode.
My boat has weathered three storms, swinging on this set-up, without moving and I don’t recall anyone else dragging.
This just reinforces your comment that every situation is different, that there is no “best” anchor, just good choices.
I think this is a great site and have enjoyed all the content.
That is really interesting.
Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy
That makes sense given what we know that seems to indicate that the Fortress is the highest ultimate holding option in soft mud.
Thank you for a very thoughtful and well-reasoned article. One type anchor does not fit all needs, same as with the sailboat itself. But familiarity may also breed complacency, and this article adds to my wondering whether I am falling prey to that.
Frolic is a 36 ft sloop and weighs about 15,000 lbs. When I acquired and began cruising her in the Santa Barbara channel in 1996 she had a 22 lb Bruce with 150 ft chain rode. It wasn’t long before we were blown out of a protected island anchorage in a 40-50 kt gale, in the wee hours, of course. I was unable to re-anchor so headed out. Unexpectedly sailing in those conditions made me think: “I need a better ground tackle system!” Somehow I came across Earl Hinz’s “Complete Book of Anchoring” and consumed it. I went to a nearby sand anchorage and set the 22 lb Bruce with 150 ft of chain in ~30 ft of water. And, as Hinz’s formulae predicted, I easily dragged it around the anchorage in reverse (3,000 rpm).
That was 20+ years ago. Since then I have used that system several 100’s of times in along the CA coast, Baja/Sea of Cortez, and several Hawaiian islands, several times with winds well into the 40’s and low 50’s, without any misfortunes. All of these anchorages were various types of sand and/or rocky. I’ve never anchored in mud, but do carry a Viking (Fortress predecessor) as one of my spare hooks. Articles like the ones on this site have me wondering if I’m just lucky, and whether I should blow a boat buck on a newer anchor design, such as those discussed above and elsewhere. So far I’m reluctant because I haven’t had any trouble (yet?), I’m cheap, and another sail, or newer radio, or even new chain, seem like better ways to use the budget. But I’m listening and appreciate the wide range of good info here.
I think your experience illustrates that skill and the right bottom substrate can go a long way to make up for the fundamental weaknesses of any anchor. That said, I would replace the Bruce sooner rather than later since it’s well documented weaknesses, particularly in smaller sizes, make it a potential boat wrecker. That, to me anyway, would put a new anchor at the top of the budget. See my comment in answer to Colin further up.
Thanks John. I look forward to your updated “Specifying Your Primary Anchor Size” chapter.
For the record, I just noticed that I screwed up my posting, above, and somehow left out most of the center paragraph which should’ve read:
“Frolic is a 36 ft sloop and weighs about 15,000 lbs. When I acquired and began cruising her in the Santa Barbara channel in 1996 she had a 22 lb Bruce with 150 ft chain rode. It wasn’t long before we were blown out of a protected island anchorage in a 40-50 kt gale, in the wee hours, of course. I was unable to re-anchor so headed out. Unexpectedly sailing in those conditions made me think: “I need a better ground tackle system!” Somehow I came across Earl Hinz’s “Complete Book of Anchoring” and consumed it. I went to a nearby sand anchorage and set the 22 lb Bruce with 150 ft of chain in ~30 ft of water. And, as Hinz’s formulae predicted, I easily dragged it around the anchorage in reverse (3,000 rpm).”
Steve, I don’t get it – both “versions” of said paragraph are identical to the word? What is it you left out?
I’m seeing the full comment too. All I can think of is that your browser is cacheing an earlier or incomplete version of your comment. I’m pretty sure that if you clear your browser cache you will see the complete comment.
This is all really interesting. Thanks for the excellent review.
I used a Max anchor on my first cruising boat and thought highly of it. Does anyone else have any thoughts/experience with that type of anchor? It looks like a beast but it set and reset reliably in both mud and sand.
My boat (27 years old) came with the CQR. The second owner bought a Bügel. I bought a Spade 3 years ago as bow anchor and I am very happy with it. (Though there are already some spots of rust at the galvanized shaft. A problem you mentioned in your previous article.) Additionally I have a Fortress (Aluminium). Which of the old anchors should I keep? Currently they are all stowed at the bow. And what is the best way to get rid of the anchors I do not need anymore? Best – Daniel
I would definitely get rid of the CQR. At to the Bügel, I would probably get that off the boat too. That said, that would only leave you with two anchors. Fine for local cruising, but if you want to go farther afield we have some thoughts on spares here: https://www.morganscloud.com/2015/06/10/third-anchors-storm-anchors-and-spare-anchores/
With plans to sail to Greenland, Iceland, Faroe Islands,Shetland Islands and on to the French canals this summer, I want to upgrade my anchors and have selected a Sarca Excel. Rover’s length suggests a #4 and it’s cruising weight a #5. The suggestion is to go two sizes up for a storm anchor and piece of mind when used as the regular anchor. The question is it to be the #6 at 30 kg for $987 Cdn or the #7 at 36 kg for $1,316 Cdn?
Rover (Iqaluit, Canada) is a 36 foot aluminum hull centreboard (and daggerboard in front of the rudder) cutter, beam 12′ 3″ draft 3′ 8″ to 6′ 9″ built in 1979.
As per the builder’s plate, displacement is 7.3 tonnes. At the end of a delivery cruise from Florida to Nova Scotia, it registered on the crane at haulout in 2015 at 9.5 tonnes.
More information and photos at https://krazysailing.wordpress.com/saturos-2/which-sarca-excel-anchor/
Appreciate our thoughts.
Better to use weight, so assuming Sarca recommend a #5 I would, as I say in the article go to a #7, particularly given your cruising plans. That said, if it were me and I was heading for those places I would buy a SPADE, not a Sarca. Point being we know, based on our 20 years of cruising those places, that a SPADE works and is almost certainly the best option, so why go with a less proven anchor?
Some interesting new testing by Steve over at SV Panope of Rocna/Mantus/Excel/Spade in mud during a veering test. While the Spade was not the winner in mud, it did substantially better than the Excel. It seems plausible because the back of the Spade is more spoon shaped.
Thanks for the reminder, I definitely need to put some time aside to catch up with Steve’s efforts.
Having been mulling over the various anchor options for a while now i got a real world demonstration a couple of weeks ago.
Running in a strong southerly gale in the Irish Sea and having suffered various gear failures stemming from an u/s electric furling motor on the in-mast mainsail the skipper decided to shelter in Carnaerfon Bay. We dropped our 44 kilo Spade on a 7 to 1 ratio of chain. No engine was needed to set the anchor; 45 knots of wind at the masthead took care of that. 12 hours of 40 to 50 knots of wind with the chain bar taut and we moved not at all. The only casualty was the snubber which parted near to hook just before the wind dropped. Admittedly the wind veered little and waves and swell were insignificant.
i had been inclined towards purchasing a Sarca Excel as they are significantly cheaper than the Spade in the Uk but there is nothing like a test drive to make you see the light. I am a Spade convert.
The boat is a Discovery 55. High topsides, deckhouse and double furler solent rig adds to the windage the anchor has to deal with. I’m not sure of the chain size but it didn’t look over specced.
Thanks for a great comment that really puts all of this in perspective. Your one experience should be balanced against all the anchor tests in the world.
We have had the same sorts of loads on at least 20 occasions, probably more, without any problems at all, and yet the market still seems to discount that far more than it should.
Thank you (and Colin) for all great reviews and updates on Sarca Excel and Spade anchors.
Could you help me to understand a relative difference between them, S120 (55 lb) Spade and 65 lb Excel for how fast and easy they set in similar conditions? I sail in Southern California
This is important issue for me as I single-hand my Peterson Cutter 44 (30 000 lb), and my experience was limited to 45 lb CQR, w/300′ 3/8 BBB chain. Setting fast on the first attempt, with the limitations of a single-handling, would help a lot!
They are both good anchors and both will be a huge improvement from your CQR. (This I know since I had a CQR and still remember, the horror, the horror, (Apocalypse Now) of getting the thing to set).
That said, I’m a huge Spade fan boy and would, if it were me, based on 25 years of great service, go for a Spade. I also think, but do not know for sure, that it sets a bit faster than Excel. And finally I think the Spade is less prone to be fouled and tripped by its own rode.
Thank you John and all who responded. The Peterson owners group survey (11 people responded) brought back 1 negative (dragging) experience with Excel and 2 positive with Spade….and the rest were for Bruce and Rocna. I lean to the Spade.
Makes sense. That said, be careful about putting too much weight in a survey of an owner’s association. More about why here: https://www.morganscloud.com/2021/09/21/helping-a-member-choose-an-anchor/
We have a 30,000 lb. 40 foot steel full keeler, with 3/8″ BBB and a 30 kilo (66 pound) SPADE. Despite having a fair bit of windage (there’s a pilothouse and a solar arch), we have yet to drag or obviously budge at all. We will, however, consider installing a deck wash for the anchor as we frequently get a 25 kilo sea bottom sample when we haul in, which can be reassuring in one sense as the anchor clearly buries itself, and annoying in another, as much swearing and vigorous poking of mud with boat hooks is heard from the anchor well.
A deck wash is, indeed, a marvelous addition. It is my take that it can be hard to go too big with a deck wash: a firehose would be nice.
There is, of course, the mud on the chain and anchor, but also there is the occasional wish to use it on the deck and to reach far corners.
I am thinking of upgrading and would appreciate your reporting any researches in this area (or others experiences).
As an aside, my chain and anchor are always quite free of mud and seaweed etc. when entering the locker and I have wondered whether my chain has lasted much longer than expected, with the use its seen, because of this.
My best, Dick
Stevenson, s/v Alchemy
Hi Dick and Marc,
On deck wash set ups. https://www.morganscloud.com/2014/10/01/five-ways-to-save-big-money-while-cruising-part-1/
Lots of good comments on it too.
Thank you, both, and thanks to John for revisiting the topic, which indeed has much wisdom in the comments; I have only TruDesign on my standpipe T-offs and nary a drop in three years has been seen. And the Amazon link to that “hose wand” is still alive.
I will check out that Groco pump model. “Obtain and install deck wash” is now on my winter to-do list. My needs here are coloured by the fact that we don’t have an anchor locker, just a slightly lowered anchor well in which we work. The anchor itself stays on the roller, locked in by a chain brake. Only the chain, of course, goes into the forepeak straight into a large rubberized basket. Disliking on our steel boat new deck perforations, my initial take is to install a pump in this anchor well’s aft and to draw water for it directly from the sea…it would be essentially only in use to wash off chain and anchor and adjacent deck. When not in use, the pump itself could be protected under a removable cover. We would use fresh water to rinse down the rest of the deck if rain wasn’t in season.
That means I only need a gland for the 12VDC leads from inside the forepeak, which is readily available. Alternatively, I could simply mount the pump in the forepeak itself and add sealed hose bibs in the anchor well aft wall. Screw in hoses, flick breaker.
To run a hose from, say, our existing standpipe or to T into a galley or head drain would be a large and fraught job as we have a collision bulkhead between the forepeak and the saloon.
Any comments would be welcome. The mud aspect, for which I certainly don’t blame the SPADE, is pretty annoying and worth solving.
My take is that all the new gen anchors bring up a lot of the seabed.
On days where the mud is thick and sticky and I do not even see the chain till after a few minutes of spray from the deck wash and I am loosing patience: once the anchor clears the bottom (and I have a few feet of clearance and know my surroundings) I have Ginger back our way out leaving a stream of mud along with our wake. One minute of this or so and all is clean. I would like to do so going forward, but worry about the stream of muddy water going past the engine intake thru-hull.
My best, Dick
We did this last time we anchored in late October: backed out of the anchorage at about three knots with the SPADE hanging about two feet below the surface. Clean up was much easier. But I wouldn’t try that without pretty benign conditions, a clear view of the anchor (and that view looks like an outtake from a war movie) and local knowledge of potential “snags”. Gets much of the job done, however.