The first time we tried anchoring manoeuvres with Adhara was in July 2020 in Helford River in Cornwall, UK. It was a few weeks after we had bought her and we were finally ready to leave the marina and start exploring the glorious English South Coast. Adhara was still very new to us and so was her anchor. We picked a calm day and dropped the anchor a couple of times to see how it would behave. On the third try I noticed that the anchor wasn’t holding so we reeled the chain back in to set it again. When we came to the end of the chain though, in the place where the anchor should be there was nothing – our anchor was gone (more on that later)! Not having a second anchor onboard (not a good idea) meant that we had to go back to Falmouth and missed our weather window to the Isles of Scilly.
Since leaving the Canary Islands on December 11th last year we have spent only 3 nights in marinas. Two nights in Mindelo in the Cape Verdes before our Atlantic crossing and one night in Antigua. Funnily both times it was to say goodbye to Jessie’s mom and make the disembarking easier for us.
We try to anchor as much as possible. First of all, it is cheaper but secondly, we enjoy being on anchor much more. There is usually a nicer breeze and you are out there in the most beautiful spots after everyone else has gone home. We have had our greatest sunsets, moonrises, shooting stars, and bioluminescence on anchor, away from light pollution and isolated with only a few other boats. It is just magical to wake up next to huge cliffs and starting the day with a dip in the ocean.
Of course, over the past few hundred nights on anchor we have learned a thing or two. That of course doesn’t always help and there are still those rolly nights (yep, bit of envy to all the catamarans out there) when you wish you were living on land. In fact, as I write this I’m recovering from a bit of that as the swell wrapped around the bay slapping against our hull where our aft cabin is. That sound makes you think you are sleeping in a percussion’s rehearsal room. This usually leads to a migration of Jessie and I moving to the salon or the front cabin. Gotta love the boatlife J
But let’s start with the basics: On Adhara we have a 30 Kg Bugel anchor on 80 meters of stainless 10mm chain. We added a swivel (Amazon: Mantus Swivel) between the chain and anchor to help not twisting it as much when we move around (not sure if it helps a lot though). We are very happy with the anchor as it works well on most holding grounds. The type of anchor is one of cruisers’ most passionate talking topics and it seems like everyone knows best. But that’s for another time. We use a snubber line to take the load of our anchor winch plus we have a chain stopper mounted in front of the winch. At the beginning we used a bridle setup but we found that it made us surf from left to right in the anchorage more in higher winds (that bridle also snapped during a Mistral in Corsica).
Basically, apart from the equipment, there are 4 points to consider when anchoring:
1. Wind and Swell
When we arrived in Formentera in the Balearic Islands (Spain) last year in May we got a first taste of the ever-changing winds in the Mediterranean. We were finally close to home and friends started to come visit. To get the most of our friends short vacation we decided to celebrate the first day/night on the beach in Formentera. We knew that the wind would do a 180 degree turn early next morning leaving us exposed but figured we’ll then just leave in the morning and go to the other, more protected side of the island. We were reassured by a few other boats staying too. However, things didn’t go as forecasted. As we found out throughout the season the wind usually arrives earlier (and often stronger) than predicted which meant that we had onshore winds of 18 knots from 3:00 am instead of a gentle forecasted 10 knots at 7 am. Jessie and I did turns in the cockpit throughout the night (still the only time we had to do an anchor watch). One of our friends got so seasick (ON ANCHOR) that he fed the fishes with last night’s dinner. Needless to say, that the next day was a bit of a lost one (it didn’t help that it rained for the next 24 hours). The rest of the season in the Med we always made sure to get at least a few hours ahead of weather changes. It’s the same as with reefing: If you think about it once (changing anchorage) you should do it.
On the other side of the Atlantic things have really changed though. Although it is sometimes quite windy, in the last 4 months of being in the Caribbean the direction of the wind has only changed from NE to SE which makes picking anchorages much easier. You could literally stay in one anchorage for 6 months and not have to move.
2. Holding Ground
The second thing you want to consider when choosing an anchorage is what the of the ground looks like. Simply put: only sand is great! When we pick our spot for the night, we always make sure that the anchor lands in a nice patch of sand. To help it dig in we always reverse on our anchor and check if it is holding by picking targets on land or watching the chain. If it rattles, moves or shivers – the anchor is probably not getting a good grip. We found that although mud is ok the anchor does slide through it if the wind picks up. It is also important that there are no corals or big rocks around the anchor. The chain can wrap around these and not only precious marine life but also potentially damage the chain. Countless times we have picked our anchor up again if we felt that it wasn’t holding properly or if the chain was rattling. Although you know that half the boats in the anchorage are watching you and wondering what might take you so long to decide where to drop the anchor. For us, it is definitely worth the time and effort. One less thing to worry about. Finally, we always dive on the anchor to check if it dug in properly and the chain is free. And I mean it when I say we do this every single time!
3. Depth and length of chain
Contrary to a what a lot of people may think, if you anchor correctly most of the load is taken by the chain and the anchor keeps it in place. Check this also with other boats around. There should always be quite a bit of chain on the ocean floor. If the chain goes straight down and the anchor is barely dangling on it… something is not right. So, how much chain is the right amount then? As a rule of thumb, you can say that you should put out at least four times the depth of the water plus your freeboard height. That means in 5 meters of water plus 1,5 meters of freeboard (eg. Adhara) you want to have at least 26 meters of chain out. However, you also have to consider how much space you have around you and if there are any other boats. If we have the space we let out more chain. The same goes with the expected wind speeds. The more wind you expect the more chain you should have out.
4. Other boats
Ok, not only do you have to worry about your own anchor and it holding properly but you have to consider the boats around you as well. This is especially true in the Med where anchorages are more crowded and the wind does crazy things at night, spinning boats around in different directions. Also, we found that many boats put out very little chain (I mentioned above, the tip of the anchor barely touching the seafloor. But even 10m of chain in 5m of water is not gonna be enough). If now the wind changes direction boats don’t move the same anymore and sometimes an already crowded anchorage just becomes too tight. We were anchored off Tavolara (a tiny kingdom (not kidding) just off the coast of Sardinia) last summer when suddenly at night katabatic winds of up to 35 knots came blasting down the cliffs. What used to be a very calm night just seconds ago turned into a very stressful experience when all of a sudden, we got too close to a neighbouring boat. We all obviously had different amounts of chain out and when the wind turned, we were right on top of each other.
We have also watched a few boats dragging their anchor and thus either crashing into other boats or drifting out to sea. A couple of weeks ago we were in the north of Guadeloupe anchored in a bay called Deshaies which can get quite gusty at night. We were sitting in the cockpit and just after the sun had set I saw an anchor light wandering out towards the open sea. We immediately got our flashlight and alarm horn out to try and make people aware of a drifting boat in the anchorage. A superyacht which was anchored further out also blasted their horn (jeeez those things are loud!!) but no one seemed to be on board. So, Jessie and I jumped in our dinghy to try and save the boat. 4 crew members of the big yacht were also on the way to the dragging boat and when we arrived, we agreed that the two of us would head back to shore to try and find the owner while the crew would try and keep the boat from drifting out further. We were just turning around when the lights went on inside the boat and a sleepy guy emerged in the cockpit. Somehow, he managed to sleep through all the noise and movement, bless him even the horn of the Superyacht. Well, I wish I could sleep that well 🙂
So, back to the very beginning of my story: What happened to anchor in Cornwall? Well, it turns out that you should also check that the anchor is properly attached and you should also use a safety wire to keep the shackle from loosening. It took us countless attempts to get our anchor back. The water wasn’t deep but it was really cold and zero visibility. In fact, we asked a guy with an echo sounder to drive across the area where we had lost the anchor. We marked the sport where we thought it might be but it took us another 2 weeks before the weather conditions allowed to go back and try and find it again. A tide of 5 meters and poor visibility don’t make it easier. We already set our minds to the fact that we would probably never retrieve the ancho again but when Jessie took her first attempt to dive down on a spot, she found it and immediately put a line around it. We were so happy that we got our anchor back and, yes we now also keep a spare one on board!
We love the freedom of being on anchor. We can move our home to a new spot whenever we want, be all to ourselves or among other cruisers, go close to nice dive spots or beautiful beaches. Life is good on the hook!