To Anchor Oneself


It’s only an anchor how complicated is an anchor? But laying an anchor took me about 6 hours of total concentration today! Laying an anchor consists of tying the end of the warp securely to the end of the anchor and throwing it over board when the time comes to lay it, making sure that the free end of the warp is connected to the bow of the boat, simple. The problems come with imagining how it all should be on the day when I am alone in the cockpit.

Before the invention of the outboard motor anchors were a very important part of the sailing manual, with different styles and different usages. In the ‘seamanship’ books of days gone by (and even good present day books) anchoring was an art and a skill. Anchoring was essential for stopping a boat, positioning the boat, and mooring. Kowing what anchors to use at different sea-states with different sea bottoms was important, as well as knowing what sizes, thickness and lengths of warps to use. Today it is less important, I know of a fellow sailor securing his grapnel anchor to the deck of his boat and leaving it there, never to be used. Motors make life easier (if they work when needed) and a helmsman can motor up to a mooring and position his boat relatively easily. But I did not want to use a motor except in emergencies so I wanted to use the anchors as I learn how they might be used.

I arrived at the boat when the tide was out, after uncovering the tarp that covers the cockpit, getting into the cabin and having a coffee (an essential part of the operation) and changing into something more appropriate it was time to unlock the hatches and look at the mess I had left it in on the previous occasion. Sailors are supposed to be neat and “ship shape” but in fact a lot of sailors are quite disorganized, I am one of them. Warps, lines, sheets, pieces of string and rope, what ever you wish to call them, all lay in a tangled mess at the bottom of the hatch. I picked up the lump of tangled lines and tried to unravel it, not an easy task at the best of times but when there is 30 meters to one piece of rope and 3 ropes to one mess it can take an IQ of 3000 to fathom it out. Since I have an IQ of 2 and ¾ (on the best of days) it took me some time to find the end and pass it through the many varied conglomerates of knots. In fact I am sure I invented a few good knots with my knotted problem and it did not help having the same coloured rope for all 3 pieces. I will now try and buy different coloured types of rope so to make identification easier.

You often see on films sailors neatly rolling up a 30+ meter length of rope over ones elbow and hand without the least bit of fuss then tying it securely and releasing it with out it tangling. It never happens to me, I forget which end I am supposed to let it out and the whole thing gets tangled and knotted. I did have an anchor system that worked quite well before but I had recently bought a new warp to make the length longer as the longer the warp the more chance of it holding on the sea bed, the shorter it is the more likely it will lift and drag and that could be very dangerous in a fast tide race.

I have 2 anchors; one came with the boat when I bought her. It is a grapnel anchor not a lot of use for the type of sea bed in my area as it does not dig in very well to the shingle and sandy bottom, but I intend to use it as a ‘break’ to slow the boat down and to turn the bow so it points into the wind and up stream/tide. My plan is to throw the grapnel over board and let the boat drift backwards with the tide, as the grapnel tries to dig in it will pull the bow up and keep her in that position until I am ready to use the other anchor. The grapnel will generally not hold as its ‘legs’ construction is not as good as other anchors but it will drag and stall and will slow the boat up enough to prepare for the real stopping anchor the ‘Bruce’ anchor.

This ‘Bruce’ anchor, so the sellers website information tells me, is used to anchor deep-sea oilrigs to the seabed and its holding power is immense. My little boat must be more problematic as an oilrig as the Bruce slips and slides at first but it does dig in and take hold eventually. And here is one of the problems: I have to estimate when to throw the grapnel (to slow the boat down) and when to throw the Bruce allowing for a slight slipping before it takes hold, I have also to allow for tidal flow that will direct the boat as it ebbs. Ideally after dropping both anchors I need to position the boat very near to the mooring buoy so I can take hold of it and fasten the mooring chain to the bow. If all fails and I miss the position of the buoy I will have to wait until the sea gets shallow enough to jump over board and position the bow of the boat to where the buoy is, so it is important that the anchors hold. If I have positioned wrong and can not manually secure the buoy to the boat I will have to let the boat dry out and try again when the tide returns.

So getting back to my knotted problem. The length of warp is important because the longer the warp the more holding power it has, the warp will stretch and this will help to hold the boat and to let the anchor dig into the sea bed. After sorting the mess of ropes out I lay them on the sand and look at them. Which one to use for which anchor? They are all different lengths and are all different thickness. Having a strong piece of warp is useless if the other warp is weaker. After some trial and error I choose a thick 15-meter warp for the Bruce, but it is not long enough as the required length for my boat and anchor weight (7.5kg) is 30 metres or more. So I have to connect one of two thinner warps to the thicker, both of them being 30 meters in length. At the end of the thicker I have a ‘D bolt’ and this I thread the end of the thinner warp, but I would like it double stranded so the warp does not fray and break so easily so I try and retry to make the bowline knot secure, but it is not doing as it should and I do not know enough sailors knots to make the join work. I was imagining letting out the warp to its full length and then the weaker snaps, as it is not think enough to hold the boat, of course it might be strong enough as it has a breaking strain of over 80kg. But with out trying it I have no idea.
After these musings I double the thinner warp over and pass it through the ‘D bolt’ this is certainly strong enough but makes the full length of the warp 35 meters not 45 which would be a lot better.

After a little more pondering I say enough is enough and turn my attention to the remaining Grapnel anchor and the other 30-meter rope. This is less of a problem, as it is not meant to hold anything for long.
So I thought I had 2 anchors ready to use so now to the problem of how to secure them to the bow of the boat. Easy I hear you say but how do I release the anchors at the bow of the boat when I am in the stern of the boat taking charge of the tiller, main sail and foresheet? I needed to work/control everything from the cockpit and not to go forward with a flapping foresail and the boat being out of control in the mercy of a out going tide; as a single handed sailor I have to do everything and everything is best done from the cockpit.

I had my old system of fastening the end warp to the mooring post at the bow and bringing the warp back to the stern cockpit by the side of the hull and letting the anchor sit on the cockpit floor. This worked fine, as soon as I threw the anchor over board the line paid out and held fast to the bow bollard. But now I would have 2 longer lengths of warp sitting on the floor of the cockpit and visions of ‘a tangled mess’ crossed my eyes and my legs getting caught up in it as the boat drifting towards the harbour wall (!) So I tried doubling and redoubling the length of warp from the bow to the stern and laying it along side the hull. This was fine but when I tested it by releasing the rope at the stern and pulling the anchor forward to simulate the boat moving backwards the line at the bow would not pay out, it was fixed to the ‘mooring post’ at the bow and this meant that it would remain only 1 length of the boats length and not the required 30 meters.

This experiment seems very simple but when I am moving 2 anchors weighing about 10kg back and forwards over 30 meters and retrying experiments that do not work it is began to get tiring. I thought to abandon the whole experiment and to fix a roller to the bow and roll up the warp after it had been paid out to keep the warp nice and tidy, this I could do from the cockpit, but my erecting of a make shift pulley did not work out so well and to roll up the warp was very time consuming and in the end it ended up a tangled mess once more.

The system I had of having the length of warp alongside of the boat worked well all I needed was a secure/fast releasing method at the bow. This is found in the ‘arms’ at the end of the bow mooring post. By looping the warp around the bollard’s front arm and holding it in place by the tension from the stern (secured to the stern post) I was able to triple the warp length along side the boat. When I threw the anchor over board the tension (as the boat went backwards) released the warp from the bollards arm, as it paid out I released the warp again from the stern post and let it pay out again. This worked fine.

My final experiment was to revisit the problem of the warps and connecting the 15 meters to the 30 meters so it holds and does not chaff and can be connected quickly with bad weather.
Having a small boat there is not a lot of room on deck, so having a lot of warp lying around is dangerous. I had the thicker warp secured to the bow mooring post and letting loose the free-end with the ‘D bolt’ attached to it so I could attach the extra thinner warp if/when it is needed. As time is precious when at the bow with the sea, wind, and foresail trying to knock you over board all one wants to do is get the task over and done with as quick as possible.
I tried having a single strand and the full 30 meters, then I doubled the warp to have 15 meters, but there was still a risk of getting it all tangled and a mess. In the end the 2 and ¾ I.Q. must have ignited as I decided to put another ‘D bolt’ on to the end of the thinner warp and double it over to make it a double stranded knot. If it is needed I would simple attach one ‘D bolt’ to the other D Bolt with no knots needed. Another version was to do away with the ‘D bolts’ totally and use have knot on knot.

As the light was fading I quickly threw all the warps, lines, sheets, and rope in the cockpit’s hatches as I had found them and thought to sort them out another day.

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