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Skipper’s Tips

Get the Measure of Your Anchor  –  Anchoring is hardly the most difficult manoeuvre for even a novice sailor.  The principle is simply to drop a hooked, pointy object of some heft onto a soft bottom, be it sand or mud (in these parts, sand), and let the weight of the boat drifting back with the wind or under power dig the hook into the bottom.  The biggest concern is limiting the amount of chain or nylon rode to let loose.

In many cases, charter boats come equipped with chain or rode marked with coloured tape, cable ties or lengths of cloth.  Some chains come painted at regular intervals, say 25, 50, 75 and 100 feet, et cetera.  It’s a pretty clear system, although not every yacht comes so equipped.  The largest charter companies in the BVI seem reluctant to provide this information to their customers, preferring to advise that the windlass aboard the yacht will pay out chain at, say, one foot per second.  Now, this is hardly a scientifically sound measure and it often leads to confusion on the part of the desperate sailor caught on a darkening afternoon trying to dig in between myriad other vessels.


An obvious solution might be to let out every inch of chain or rode no matter how deep or shallow the water.  Even with this approach some doubts can linger.  How can you be sure you’ve put out sufficient gear to handle a stiffening breeze? Particularly when the water depth is around 30 feet, the limits of the charter-company supplied gear might be reached.

One simple way to get peace of mind is to swim over the anchor, both to check that it’s set properly and to get a sense of how much rode has been deployed.  The best way to do this is to swim to the anchor and then methodically swim back to the boat, counting the number of strokes or kicks it takes to get there.  Let’s say you count 30 kicks or strokes to reach the bow of the boat.  Now swim from bow to stern counting strokes or kicks again.  Let’s say the boat is around 50 feet in length and that it takes 15 strokes or kicks to reach the stern.  The conclusion might be that there is at least twice that length of chain—say, 100 feet—holding the boat.  In 20 feet of water, that’s good enough.

In settled conditions, good enough is often, well… good enough.  If in doubt, you can let a little more out but at least with this method you will have a good approximation of the amount of rode in the water. 

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