April 16, 2011

It Wasn't a Drag

In the previous post I described how anchoring used to be done with lighter weight gear due to the lack of electric windlasses. I remarked on how we didn't drag back then any more than we do now, but I didn't explain why.

First, let me describe a typical anchoring situation we find in crowded Cuttyhunk harbor every summer. We manage to find a spot in the charted dredged square, but it is short on space and depth, and offers iffy holding in spots due to weed. Towards late afternoon more and more boats pack in, and many of them sport the latest in anchoring gear: all chain rode, electric windlass, and most frequently it seems a Delta anchor, but more and more we see these supposed "new generation" anchors on the higher-end boats, along with plenty of old standbys (probably in the majority) like CQRs or other plows and Bruce anchors. In any case, it doesn't matter too much because the anchoring process is almost universal. Use the windlass to lower the anchor and chain over the side, either by the dog-pile method or by lowering it to the bottom using the machinery. For those not in the know, the dog-pile method, which is quite popular, is to release the windlass brake so that the anchor drops into the water unimpeded followed by a bunch of chain rattling over the side into a big pile on the bottom. Then the engine is thrown into reverse and the mess is straightened out, often resulting in the anchor being dragged over the bottom because nobody has bothered to mark the chain for length and nobody has a clue as to how much scope is out. Besides, they've ordered a huge anchor and all that chain and they've been told it holds great at only 3: 1 scope!

Usually, it really doesn't matter what they do, because the wind in the harbor is less than 20 knots and since the bottom is mostly mud the anchor probably gets a decent bite, but nobody really knows until the frequent midnight or thundersquall wind shift sends half the anchored fleet dragging away to the edges of the dredged square where they go aground long enough to sort out the anchor and using the motor proceed to try again. Needless to say on windy nights nobody sleeps much in Cuttyhunk!

Stay tuned to see how it used to be done.