March 20, 2011

What Happened to Lightweight Anchoring?

Read any cruising boat forum and the subject of anchors and anchoring will create a lot of heated debate--actually that's just a nice term for arguments! What ties floating boats to the ground is a very important topic because we all know that 90% of cruising is spent in harbor, even on a circumnavigation. And that topic was just as important decades ago, as evidenced by a look back at boating books and magazines. There was Don Street touting his beloved Herreshoff pattern, fisherman-style, traditional anchor, while the Hiscocks, Roths, and Pardeys were all advocates of CQR plow anchors.

And then there were folks like Robert Danforth Ogg, one of the co-creators of the Danforth anchor. He was an advocate of lightweight, high-holding power anchors, combined with mostly nylon rodes and maybe a six-foot piece of chain near the anchor. Ogg famously used two 12-lb. Danforths and mostly nylon rode to routinely anchor his 64-foot powerboat, often with others rafted alongside. Bob Bavier, an editor of Yachting magazine, championed the same system for his heavy cruising sailboat that he took all over the Bahamas and Caribbean.

What happened to this lightweight school of anchoring? Judging from the current recommendations of most manufacturers and the online words of most cruisers you would think it is mostly dead with the exception of Fortress anchors and their champions. However, my non-scientific reading of the current wisdom is that most cruisers recommend you only use a Fortress as a kedge anchor, or maybe a back up, and possibly carry an extra big one for your ultimate storm anchor. The currently in-vogue anchoring system, seemingly recommended by everybody, is to go with an all chain rode, and lots of it, plus a huge primary anchor, at least one or two sizes too big, and in some cases twice the manufacturer's recommended weight. The often-repeated joke is that you know your anchor is the right size when people walking down the dock point and laugh at it because it is so huge. "Size matters," is the current mantra.

I would argue that one of the main reasons for this current love of weight and chain is that it is now possible to think this way due to the wide use of electric windlasses. Back in the '60s it would be rare to find a windlass aboard even 40+ foot cruising sailboats, and in most cases that would have been a slow manual windlass. A typical cruising boat did not have a bow roller either. Lightweight anchors and gear were a necessity when you had to pick the anchor up from its chocks on deck and carry it to the bow, where you had to work it through the bow pulpit and over the side. No roller meant that you had to have nylon rode to run through the bow chocks. That was the exact set up on my 1967 22,000-lb. cruising sailboat that was sailed all over the place from Canada to Antigua, and out to Bermuda more than once.

Did this mean we dragged anchor all the time? No! Why dragging was not a problem will be the subject of my next installment.