Vessel anchoring technique
All of you seasoned sailors know that sailing is not just about sailing, good food and good company, but also about exploring nature. Finding those emerald green and secluded bays where you can dive, swim or read a book without being bothered. But to really enjoy the view of the sun setting behind the ocean without anxiety, you must be absolutely sure you have anchored your vessel securely. Of course you can always spend the night in a marina or tied up to a buoy ,but we all know that is no fun. There are no marinas or buoys in those hidden bays… They wouldn’t be worth it if that was the case.
Here are a few tips and tricks that will help you to anchor in a secure and stress free fashion.
Probably the most important piece of information you will need is a good weather forecast. It will dictate the bays in which you will be able to safely put your head to rest. Make sure you use local meteorological services, since they will provide you with the most accurate data and prognosis. In Croatia that will be DHMZ (Državni Hidro-Meteorološki Zavod), in Slovenia ALADIN, developed by ARSO (Agencija Republike Slovenije za Okolje) and in Greece HNMS (Hellenic National Meteorological Service). You will find these services all around the world. Each country with access to the sea will have one, it will surely be the most accurate weather report you can get. You can also acquire data from services like “Predict wind“, “Windy” and “Lightningmaps“, but they should be your secondary source of information. If the forecast seems to be alright, pick a bay that is sheltered from the predicted wind (and consequently waves). For inexperienced sailors we advise against anchoring if the forecast predicts 20+ knot winds. Many different problems can occur in high winds, so make sure you know your boat as well as the bay you are anchoring in. Due to their natural geography it is common for winds to rapidly change direction in archipelagos with tall islands (most Croatian islands), or blow from an unpredicted direction. If you still decide to anchor in 20+ knot winds, do so with caution. Make sure your anchor is well set, you have put out a sufficient length of chain and that an anchor watch has been organized.
You have now chosen the bay where you want to anchor. This was done on the basis of the weather forecast and the depth of the bay. You can find depths (and other useful information) for each bay in most electronic chart-plotters and pilots for cruisers. Make sure you do not pick a bay with depths greater than 18 meters. Now let’s get ready to anchor.
Get the boat in shipshape
Before entering the bay make sure your boat tidied up and all pathways are without obstacles, the dingy is either stowed or tied up to the side of your vessel. This will make your life easier in case anything goes wrong
Most vessels have an electric windlass (anchor winch) for anchor operation. Make sure you know how to operate it. Try it out before entering the bay, and leave it hanging just a little over your bowsprit or bow roller. This way you have made sure the anchor will go overboard when you want it to.
Turn on bow thruster
Most vessels will automatically turn off the bow thruster since you do not need it when sailing. Don’t forget that it might come in handy in a tricky situation and turn it on before entering the bay.
Prepare the ropes
Some sailors like to tie up to the shore when anchoring. This can provide additional security in strong winds, but can be dangerous when facing changing winds, or winds coming at you from the side. Only attempt this if you are sure of the forecast and can be sure the wind will be hitting you from the bow or the stern. When preparing for such an anchoring technique make sure the stern lines are untangled and secured to the cleat. Lines should be prepared in such a fashion that they won’t fall in the water and won’t tangle up when the bitter end is carried to the shore. Catching a line in the prop can be an inconvenience at best and an expensive repair at worst.
CHECK OUT THE BAY
Even before entering the bay in question, one has to acquire information about its depth, types of seabed and the kind of winds it is protected from. You can do this by consulting a pilot for cruisers and your electronic chart-plotter device. After doing all this, we recommend that you first check out the bay in person, taking a slow cruise around and making sure how deep it is, what types of seabed it has and finding possible shore based mooring points. In this way you are much better prepared to make a decision where to put down your anchor. Do not try to anchor on rocks or seaweed and instead choose sand, mud or silt as your preferred seabed. Anchors tend to grab very well in the last type but won’t hold in rock or seaweed. Make sure the place where you intend to drop your anchor is obstacle free since you will most likely be swung around when the wind changes direction. Depths should be sufficient in all directions from where you intend to anchor in both tides.
Decide on who among your crew will be the winch-man and agree on hand-signals before you start anchoring. This way, you as the skipper can communicate with the winch-man despite the loud sound of the chain going through the bow roller. Gestures should be agreed upon for the following commands: 10m, 20m, 30m, 40m, etc, of chain out, stop the winch, let go of more chain, pull back the chain. The chain should be colour coded at 10 meter marks. Give your winch-man an estimate of how much chain you anticipate to drop. The length of your chain should be between 3 – 5 times the depth of the water below your boat at the time of dropping the anchor.
Just the anchor
In case you have decided to drop the anchor without the additional stern lines, follow this procedure.
The Winch-man should take his position on the bow, with the windlass remote in hand, and stand by for the skippers command.
The skipper should then manoeuvre the boat into position. You need to make sure to approach your desired spot windward. This will give you more control over your vessel and insure the anchor will set in the desired orientation. Stop the boat and give out the command: “Anchor down!” After 1x the depth of the chain has been called out, you can start to slowly reverse your boat. If the wind is stronger than 5 – 10 knots, you do not need to reverse your boat just yet. Let the wind do its work and wait for it to slowly push the boat back. After the desired length of chain is out, it is time to make sure the anchor is well set. The skipper should let the boat turn windward and then reverse the engine. Do this with grace and don’t use high RPMs. If the boat seems stationary it is time to make sure the anchor is holding well. Give your engine some power and back down on your anchor one more time. While your engine is pulling back on the anchor check your surroundings to see if the boat is moving. Go to the bow and get a good look at the chain going from the windlass to the anchor. If the angle between the sea surface and the chain is not changing you can assume the anchor is holding well. You can also put your bare foot on the chain and feel for any vibrations. If there are none, it means the anchor is holding. However if the chain is vibrating it means the anchor is dragging and you will have to repeat the manoeuvre. Additionally, you can dive down to the anchor once the boat has stopped and see for yourself. Do not turn off the engine until you are sure the anchor has set,
Tying to the shore
When tying stern lines to the shore (and anchoring) the procedure is very similar, with a few additional steps.
First you will have to find an appropriate spot to lower your anchor. This will be determined by the maximum length of your chain, the depth beneath your boat and the distance from the shore. You will have to eyeball the length of the chain in such a way that the anchor will set before you come too close to the shore but not too far, so you can still tie the stern of the boat. You also don’t want to use up all of your chain. Make sure you leave a couple meters in the locker for final adjustments. Pay close attention to the depth sounder as this manoeuvre can cause you to ground the boat if not done with care.
The bitter end of both stern lines can be brought to the shore via tender or a designated swimmer. If you decide to use your tender make sure to get it ready before starting the manoeuvre. Make sure that whoever you send to do this job can actually tie a bowline and drive a tender. It is best to tie up your lines to smooth/dull rocks or BIG trees a couple of meters above the sea surface. Sharp rocks can cut through your ropes in a swell and smaller trees can be uprooted. Remember that you will adjust the length of your stern lines on the cleat and not with the knot on the bitter end. If the lines end up being too short you can always extend them with another line. This can be done with a double sheet bend. Do not use a bowline-bowline configuration as you are running a risk of the knots cutting through each other.
After making sure your anchor is set, first tie up the windward side. This will make sure your boat can’t drift freely. Whether using a tender or a swimmer, make sure you operate the engine carefully and as little as possible, to prevent any type of damage. The downwind line comes up next.
At this point when the boat is anchored end tied up securely it is wise to keep the engine(s) running and observe what is happening with the boat. Make sure everything is tied down and the boat is not moving. After you are sure everything is in order, switch off the engine(s).
Now it’s time to enjoy beautiful carefree sunsets, a glass of wine and good food. If you do not feel like doing this every evening of your well deserved vacation, feel free to contact us and we will take you on an unforgettable experience with a professional skipper, who will take care of all of this. An experience you deserve.