Field testing the Ultra anchor

Sunset in Corsica

One of our winter projects was to upgrade our 35kg Spade anchor to a 45kg Ultra. After 3 weeks of cruising and anchoring with the Ultra, I feel like I can give some feedback on how it’s going. Although we haven’t had any really strong winds at anchor so far this trip (the top was around 20-25 knots) we have had no trouble setting and holding in many different bottom types, including weed, rock and sand. The Ultra has worked perfectly for us in all the conditions we have encountered. It definitely sets better on a short scope than the Spade. We can reliably set on 3:1 scope on the Ultra, where we needed 4:1 scope or more on the Spade. This may be due to the extra weight, but in any case, the Ultra is definitely better.

I nearly always dive on the anchor after we drop to check we are set well, and I really like the shiny stainless steel finish of the Ultra, which makes it easier to spot when we are setting in weed bottoms.

Here’s a video of our Ultra in a sand bottom in Sargone Bay, Corsica. The anchor reset overnight after a 90 degree wind shift. You can also see our anchor roll in the video, which is a really handy little buoy that makes it easier to drive towards the anchor when raising it.

What we learned crossing the Med

On this last trip, we crossed the Mediterranean sea from the south coast of France to the north coast of Africa and back again. We sailed for 30 days, and encountered a variety of conditions from dead calms to 35 knots of breeze and everything in between. We were at anchor for 29 nights and in a marina for 2 nights, and since it’s just over 1 year since we took delivery of Wildling, we are still learning how she behaves in different situations. Here are a few things we learned on this trip:

We need storm sails

The current sailplan is great up to about 30 knots, but over that things get out of balance. Since I posted about the sailplan balance, I have been in contact with the Outremer factory and with Philippe Escalle at North Sails in Marseille. I’m closer to a decision about changes to our sailplan, and I’ll cover that soon in another post.

Our anchor seems a bit undersized

We have a 35 kg Spade anchor, which if you follow the sizing guidelines published by Spade is the correct size for our boat. Our Spade set and held well in most conditions, but during this trip I had two issues with the Spade.

  1. In shallow water (5-8 meters) if the scope is less than 4:1 it will not set. This is part of the design of the Spade, and it makes it very easy to retrieve, but in crowded anchorages, 4:1 is sometimes a bit difficult to achieve as there’s not enough room to swing.
  2. We had an experience where at 5:1 scope in shallow water on a sand bottom the anchor would creep backwards in gusts over 25 knots.

There’s a lot of windage on the 5X, and it is lighter than most boats of the same size, so maybe sizing the anchor based on boat length and weight alone is not sufficient. If I go through the sizing process with a Rocna anchor it tells me I need a 55 kg anchor for our boat. The Rocna and the Spade are very similar designs, so I’m not sure why there is so much difference in their sizing recommendations. Rocna says their sizing is conservative and is based on 50 knot winds and moderate holding bottoms, so perhaps that’s the difference. In any case, I feel like we need to go up to at least a 45 kg Spade for our primary anchor and I’m inclined to go to 55 kg to be safe. I need to do more research on this and also see if I can fit a larger anchor on our bow roller.

One engine is usually enough

I experimented more with engine speeds and combinations during this trip, as we had a few days of dead calms and some days of very light headwinds where we had to motor. There is not much difference between running one and two engines. Here’s what I recorded in calm conditions:

  • single engine at 1,900 rpm = 5 knots
  • single engine at 2,500 rpm = 5.8 knots
  • both engines at 1,900 rpm = 6 knots
  • both engines at 2,500 rpm = 7 knots

If we add the sails and use the apparent wind created when motoring, we pick up an extra 0.5 to 1 knot, so even with one engine at 1,900 we were doing 6+ knots most of the time. I found 1,900 rpm to be the best setting for our engines as they are running smoothly with no vibrations and are quiet, and they use much less fuel. We used less than 1 tank of diesel per engine for our entire trip.

Don’t arrive in “unknown” destinations at night

We crossed into Tunisian waters late at night, and spent a lot of energy and stress avoiding fishing boats before reaching land at sunrise. It would have been better to time our arrival for the afternoon, when there are few other craft around, and visibility is much better. Sometimes this can’t be avoided, but I could have planned better on this trip.

Furl the gennakers by hand

Our Code-0 and Code-D gennakers are removable sails that attach to a continuous line furler on the bowsprit. The furling line is run back to the cockpit and can be driven by a winch, but I have found using the winch to furl and unfurl is not a good system. It’s too easy to put too much stress on the furler, the sail and the halyard when furling, and its more difficult to unfurl at the correct speed when unfurling. When the join in our continuous furling line was damaged by too much winch force, I started doing it by hand, and found it was very easy to operate and worked much better than using the winch. The sails also furled much more cleanly and evenly when furling by hand.

I also rigged a pulley block in the cockpit to keep constant tension on the end of the continuous furling line. This made it much easier to operate the furler by a single person. I’ll post some photos of how this works soon.

Carry more spares

I’m still organizing my spare parts inventory, and didn’t have the things I needed to fix a few of the problems we had onboard. Both of our pump issues (seawater and shower drain) could have been easily fixed if I had some spare parts. There are very few places to buy parts once you leave the mainland, so we had to go the entire voyage without some of our systems working.

We love our boat

I know I write a lot about problems we have, but the fact is, we really love our boat and we trust her more and more as we get to know her better. A 59 foot catamaran is big, and it’s pretty cool that a regular family can sail her without the need of a large or professional crew. We got a lot more practice at sail-handling maneuvers of all types on this voyage: reefing, gybing, tacking, raising, lowering, furling, helming, etc. and it was great to see how well we were working together as a team by the end of the trip as we all learned our roles for each maneuver. This was also the first trip where both Lindsay and Gavin were doing night watches (2 hours for Lindsay and 3 hours for Gavin), which gave Robin and I a lot more sleep during passages.

Although Wildling is not a difficult boat to sail, it is really important to think through each maneuver, anticipate conditions and be conservative when cruising as a family. The forces onboard this boat are massive, and you can do a lot of damage very quickly if you’re not careful!

Perfect sailing in Corsica

We left Sardinia yesterday, and had two perfect days of sailing up the west coast of Corsica. Winds were 8-12 knots and we were close reaching a little under the true wind speed. 

Aside from the rolly sea between Sardinia and Corsica, the water was very calm. Ideal sailing conditions!

The southern coast of Corsica, the city of Bonifacio on the headland

Close reaching in 12 knots of breeze

We decided to spend our last few days in Corsica at Sargone beach, about halfway up the west coast of the island. The wind is forecast to start blowing 30+ knots in the northern part of the island this afternoon, so we will wait here until it calms down a bit before sailing back to the French mainland. 

Our anchorage in Sargone Corsica

As usual, while I was writing this post in our peaceful anchorage, some dude shows up and decides he has to anchor RIGHT NEXT to us, while there’s plenty of space all around.  This happens so often that Robin and have started placing bets on how close someone is going to get to us. 

The sand on the bottom must be much better right next to us!

Updates to Ground Tackle Post

A big thanks to Ksenia and Maurice for pointing out some errors in my recent Ground Tackle post. I had identified the anchor we were selecting on Wildling as a Delta, which is incorrect. It is in fact a Spade. I’ve corrected the post and added some anchor comparison test data at the end, to help explain the differences between the various anchor options.

Maurice explained some of their challenges with the Delta anchor they have on their Catana 472 catamaran in a recent email he sent me, an excerpt of which I am including below. (I hope you don’t mind Maurice!)

— We have a Delta 25kg on our 472.  I’ve not been at all happy with the anchor. We’ve had too many instances where setting the anchor takes 2-3-4 attempts … sometimes more… to get a solid hook. We’ve also had the bad experience twice of breaking free after several hours’ worth of moderate wind/chop. It’s worth mentioning that our setup is nearly identical to what you’ve outlined in your post (50m of chain, plus another 90m of rode). —

The updated post with additional performance data is located here

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!


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.



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


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.


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.