A Lesson in Anchoring

To my fellow skippers. What can you determine about anchoring conditions when you look at this picture? Would you feel this beach offers good holding? What would you want to check before anchoring? It’s probably deceptive, but 10 meters from the beach what looks like a nice sandy bottom is actually only a light covering of sand over a solid, slick rock reef. Without a good anchor there’s not much chance of holding here.

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Last weekend on my way out to the boat I walked along the aforementioned beach near the marina as usual, admiring the view and checking the sea conditions. This time however, I was surprised by the unusual site of a large motorboat washed up on the beach, apparently abandoned, and pounding in the shore break perilously close to the seawall, outboard engine down with prop in the sand.

Walking along the seawall a bit closer I saw the skipper and a friend come running down from where they’d been having a BBQ out on the point, and start trying to push the boat back into deeper water. I could see that they’d been at their BBQ for a while with plenty of beer already consumed, and neither thought clarity nor physical performance were at their peak. It was about a 26 foot cabin cruiser  and there was no way two people were going to push it against the pounding surf. I called down to ask if they needed help (in Japanese). They answered no, but after a moment it was clear that they didn’t have all that much boat knowledge. I noted that they had a fairly strong looking electric windlass, so I shouted down for them to give up pushing, walk or swim the anchor out, and swing the bow off the beach that way. The tried that, and managed to get the bow into the waves which lessened the pounding the boat was taking, but it was obvious the little anchor they had was not large enough to get a good hold and pull them off the beach.

The wind was rising as well as the tide, and is was only about 30 mins before the boat would be pounding against the concrete seawall rather than the sand. I shouted down for the skipper to follow me, and as he climbed up the seawall I explained that my boat was in the harbour nearby and I had a large emergency anchor and rode which he could borrow. He came to help carry the 20 kg Danforth back, and on the way I explained that he needed a much larger anchor to get a good purchase and pull the boat off but once off the beach he’d be fine. Back at the boat I soon determined that they were neither very proficient swimmers nor did they have much idea how to set the anchor. Telling the skipper to take the rode and man the windlass I walked/swam the anchor out about 20 meters and found a deep sand pocket on the reef where I got a good purchase. I swam back and told the skipper to take just a few centimetres at a time up on the winch, each time a wave came in. I reckoned the rising tide would eventually float her enough for the windlass to pull her off. He was a bit panicky and tripped the breaker a few times cranking on the winch, but I finally got him to calm down and take it slow, and after about 15 mins, with several passerby helping push it worked and she floated free. An inspection of the prop showed a bent blade on the trolling outboard and several light gouges on the main, but he said he had a file in the car and would file it out well enough to get back. I told them they could borrow my anchor for their duration of their BBQ, and being very friendly sorts they shared a few beers and BBQ with me before I headed back to my boat to get to back work.

What could have been avoided in this situation? Well, first of all their anchor was way too small for the weight of the boat. They had about a 5 kg Danforth, about the size I would use for a 2 m dinghy 😛 Their windlass could easily handle an anchor 3 times the size, so no reason not to carry one. Furthermore it was on a rope rode only, the skipper explaining that they’d hung up and lost the chain on a previous trip. If they’d had at least 10 m of chain it would have allowed the anchor to sit parallel to the bottom and dig in better. At the least they might have caught an edge of the rock reef. Next they should have checked the holding by backing up on the anchor to ensure it was set, or even better by diving down to check it. A visual inspection of the bottom would have shown that the sand was only a few centimetres deep and that they were essentially trying to dig into a solid sheet of rock. Finally they should have been aware of that the incoming tide combined with increasing wind was causing the boat to drag and waded/swum out to reset the anchor before she went on the beach.

In the end not much damage was done and I was happy both to help out and to have a good reminder of the importance of good anchoring practices and ground tackle. Hope that skipper learned a bit too 🙂

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