Ground Tackle

[UPDATE Dec-7th, 2014 — I made a mistake in my original post about the 5X anchor options. Outremer does offer the Delta anchor as standard, but the anchor fitted on the 5X that I test sailed (Addiction) was a Spade anchor, not a Delta. When I talked with Outremer and the owner of Addiction, they were both very positive about the performance of Addiction’s anchor, particularly in the Mediterranean Sea. In addition to their recommendations, I did some research into the comparisons between Spade, Rocna and Delta anchors. The data is pretty consistent and clear. Delta anchors do not set easily in most conditions. Rocna and Spade anchors both set and hold very well, with a pretty even split between reviewers on which is better. I’ve updated the following post to correct my previous errors. I’ve also added some performance comparison charts at the end of the post, that show the differences between the 3 anchors that we considered.]

I’ve talked a lot about how we are designing Wildling to be fast and comfortable, but I haven’t yet discussed the equally important topic of keeping her stopped.

Dragging anchor is never good!

Dragging anchor is never good!

The equipment onboard a boat that keeps it attached to the bottom of the sea is called ground tackle, and deploying this ground tackle is a major source of stress! Not only do you have to find a good place to anchor, with the right amount of depth at high and low tide, and with good bottom conditions that allows the anchor to set and hold, but you also have to worry about swinging into other boats with changes in wind and current, or dragging out to sea, or dragging onto the shore.

For Robin and I, the process usually goes something like this:

  1. Approach the anchorage and figure out where we want to drop
  2. “Discuss” the pros and cons of different options
  3. Drop the anchor, let out the scope and then “discuss” whether we like where we ended up
  4. Attach the bridle, set the anchor and wait to make sure we aren’t dragging
  5. Repeat steps 2, 3 & 4 if we’re not happy
  6. Get in the dinghy to go ashore, then hope and pray that our most prized possession in the world is going to be safe dangling at the end of a piece of chain attached to a small steel hook

After a while, we got more confident in our anchoring ability, and were able to relax a bit when leaving the boat unattended, but the moral of the story is: Don’t skimp when it comes to ground tackle!

We had a Rocna anchor on our last boat, and it worked great!

We had a Rocna anchor on our last boat, and it worked great!

Here are a few things we have learned over the years about anchoring that we are applying to the ground tackle on Wildling:

  • Install a high quality, modern anchor – We had a plough anchor on our last boat when we purchased it, and it dragged routinely. We replaced it with a Rocna anchor which made a huge difference. We only dragged a couple of times with the Rocna, once in poor holding, and the second in 50knot winds, where we had to let out more scope to stay put
  • Use all chain rode of the correct size – For some reason our last boat had 5/16″ chain, which was too light for a boat that size, we should have been using 1/2″ chain. Heavier chain keeps the anchor at the correct angle to maintain the set
  • Use a manual system for marking the amount of chain down – We use colored markers on the chain every 5 meters. I have tried an electronic chain counter and had two failures. When the counter failed, the controller would no longer raise or lower the anchor. This is not OK!
  • Use a simple windlass control switch – The fancy electronic chain counter systems are fine in theory, but not in practice. The ability to raise and lower the anchor when required is critical to the safety of the vessel. Any controller that locks up when there is a sensor or communications fault is unacceptable
  • Install an anchor watch system – Once the anchor is down, use a GPS based system to track the movement of the boat and alarm if it moves out of the swing radius. This is especially important at night so you can be woken up right away! We have found that unfortunately, anchors only drag when the boat is unattended or at night!

GPS ANCHOR WATCH OPTIONS

On our last boat, we used the Anchor Watch feature built into our Vesper Watchmate 850 AIS system. I had it rigged to sound a loud buzzer if the boat dragged, and it worked great. Because it was a stand alone system it used very little power, so we could leave it turned on without draining the batteries.

I liked the anchor watch feature of the Vesper Watchmate, but the AIS took way too long to lock onto the GPS satellites. We had to wait over 15 minutes from the time we turned it on, until it started reporting AIS data. Vesper Marine may have addressed this in the more recent models, but we are going to use the B&G AIS system on Wildling to get maximum integration with the rest of our B&G instrumentation. B&G doesn’t have an anchor watch feature, so we need to find an alternative solution.

There are a number of applications available for smart phones and tablets that take advantage of their internal GPS to provide anchor watch capabilities. I like this approach as it provides more functionality than the system we used in the past, and it can also be configured to send SMS messages to you if the boat moves when you are ashore.

The My Anchor Watch smartphone application has a number of easy to use features to provide peace of mind at anchor

The My Anchor Watch smartphone application has a number of easy to use features to provide peace of mind at anchor.

 

GROUND TACKLE ON WILDLING

So with all the above in mind, here’s what we are installing aboard Wildling:

5X Delta anchor

This is the Spade anchor installed on 5X Hull#1, Addiction

  • 35 kg Spade anchor – The three anchors that I would consider are Spade, Rocna and Manson Supreme. I have heard that there were some failures of Rocna anchors in recent years after they moved manufacturing to China, but this seems to be sorted out now. Outremer offers the Delta anchor as standard, but based on my research this is a poor performer compared with the others – (see the test data below). Outremer owners have had a lot of success with the Spade, particularly in the Med.
  • 50 meters of 12mm (1/2″) stainless steel chain – This is the correct gauge chain for our sized boat. 50 meters is the minimum length needed, and may even be a bit short for deep anchorages, but adding more chain that is seldom used adds more weight, so we will use nylon anchor braid to extend the rode if needed.
  • 1,700 Watt windlass – For ground tackle of this size, 1,500 Watts is the minimum size windlass that I would install in order to have enough power to break out of thick mud bottoms and to be able to lift the weight of the chain and anchor in deep water. 1,700 Watt is even better, and that is what we are installing.
  • No fancy electronic windlass controllers with chain counters!
  • Simple up/down switches to control the windlass. Switches are located at the port helm (where we have a good view of the windlass) and next to the windlass on the foredeck. This allows either the helms person or the foredeck crew to operate the windlass, and gives a backup if one of the switches were to fail.
5X anchor chain and windlass

5X anchor chain and windlass

INDEPENDENT TESTING

Here are some results from comparison tests between the Spade, Delta and Manson Supreme (same as Rocna) anchors:

Spade anchor performance test results

Spade anchor performance test results – better holding then Rocna, but not as good in very hard and weedy bottoms

Manson Supreme anchor performance test results

Manson Supreme anchor performance test results – excellent holding in all bottom types

Delta anchor performance test results

Delta anchor performance test results – it’s hard to get this anchor to set, according to other sailors I have talked to, delta can take 3 or 4 tries to set, but it does hold well once it’s in.

CONCLUSIONS

From what I can determine from other sailors’ reports and the independent test results, the Rocna and Manson Supreme anchors are the best all around anchors. They perform better than the Spade in very hard and grassy conditions, but in any other conditions the Spade sets and holds the best.

I don’t think you can go wrong with any of the top three, but if you are mostly anchoring in hard seabeds and deep weed, then a Rocna or Manson is the better choice.

Since we are going to be cruising in the Mediterranean the next few years, I am going to install a Spade anchor as our primary and get a Rocna for our backup anchor.

2 Comments on “Ground Tackle

  1. One other thing I would consider is a good stern anchor system. In our travels there where many times when a stern anchor was necessary because of a tight anchorage with no swinging room and the other boats had stern anchors out. Or to keep the bow into a swell or chop when there is no wind, or wind is different angle to chop for comfort. There where also times when we could get ourselves into some magnificent snug spots that we would have to ourselves that would only be safe by using a bow and stern anchor. Having a long rode easily available from the stern can be very convenient in certain anchorages where you drop a bow anchor and back to a cliff or shore and tie off on a tree or rock. I wish I had a easier stern anchor system on “Sea Child” if I did I would use use a stern anchor a lot more.

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    • Hi Eric, thanks for the advice on the stern anchor, you make a very good point! We have been in situations where a stern anchor would have been a good solution, but I have never tried it. I’ll look into how we can configure Wildling to be able to use one.

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