Thursday, March 1, 2012

Hold fast...the religion of anchor selection.

How much would you pay for having the best anchor in the world? 

How much is a night of sleep at anchor worth to you?

How much would you be willing to pay, right now, to be held fast to the sea bottom, as your anchor is slipping in the middle of the night?

Those are all reasonable questions and well worth considering if you are on a cruising boat.  With that in mind we came across a variation of a new type (spade) anchor at the Seattle Boat Show.  We weren't planning on buying a new anchor at the time.  I had thought about it a little but, ruminations on anchors are different than actually purchasing one.

There are about as many opinions on what makes a good anchor as there are opinions on religions or politics.  This is so much so that almost any discussion of anchors and anchoring (a fine art in an of itself) can quickly devolve into statements that are hard to distinguish between opinion and fact.  People feel pretty passionate about their choices of anchors and how they use them.  Anything that questions that world-view can be challenging to whoever is the current *expert* expounding on the *right way* to anchor and which is the *right anchor* to use.

I don't have any specific religious beliefs when it comes to how things work.  I'm willing to have my techniques questioned by others, as long as the questions aren't loaded with the speaker's assumptions or accusations.  Who knows?  I might learn something and it might make a difference in my capabilities, the safety of my boat and the persons aboard?

The simple fact is there is no single anchor for every possible situation. Everything is a compromise.  What you do is ensure your boat has the right combination of ground tackle to handle most situations that you expect to encounter.

It was with that thought in mind that I started examining our anchoring capabilities.  Brigadoon's ground tackle consisted of three options.

There were two CQR anchors on the bow: a 45lb primary with a 35lb secondary.

The stern holds a lighter Danforth which can be used for stern anchoring or for dual anchoring.
The CQR is a fine anchor, with few drawbacks.  My 45lb CQR once held two other boats rafted to Brigadoon (that's 47,000lbs total) in about 10-15 knots of breeze.  It can also lift a six foot long stump from the bottom too, but that's another story.

My anchor gear was satisfactory.  I had the right amounts of chain and nylon rode.  I thought it performed pretty well.  So, why consider a better anchor?  Wasn't the CQR good enough?

The CQR does have one failing.  It can sometimes drag along a bottom, on it's side and not set. It can also do this if it is pulled out and tries to reset. Spade anchors tend to set quicker, deeper and if pulled out, reset again.  

With that improvement, I considered two spade anchors that received good reviews. 

The Manson Supreme and the Original Rocna.  They are similar in design. The Rocna is called the original.  This is for a reason. They are in close competition, with the usual back and forth between companies that can happen.  "He stole my design."  "I simply improved on it."  You know the drill.

Either anchor can be superior to a CQR.  The bail (the curved ring) encourages the anchor to turn and dig in. The spade has good holding power.  There are some other subtle differences but, when it comes down to it, they are very similar and both good.

However there is an alternative.  It's the one we chose.  The Ultra Anchor.

Ultra Anchor Web Site

Yeah, it's shiny and pretty and all but, that wasn't the reason we made this decision.

What were the reasons?
  1. It has no bail.  
  2. The bail is supposed to help right the anchor so it digs in.  It doesn't need a bail because the center of gravity, thanks to the lead filled tip, helps the anchor turn it's spade down.  
  3. The bail also makes it harder to stow in many anchor rollers.  
  4. The bail also can inhibit the anchor's ability to dig in and stay dug in.  It can lever the anchor out of the bottom.
  5. The shank is a hollow tube, instead of a flat piece of steel. This should make it stronger for a given weight and helps the center of gravity be concentrated in the spade: see point #1
  6. In my own tests, in the test beds at the show, it performed better than the scale model Manson and Rocna anchors.
We saw the Ultra at the boat show.  They have a demo booth where they compare scaled down versions of different anchors.  They place the scale versions in two large tubs, one filled with fine sand and the other gravel.  I carefully tried different anchors, ignoring sales pitch and seeing for myself the performance of this anchor compared to the Manson, Rocna and the CQR I currently have.  In ever test I saw, every one I tried, even tests they didn't show me, the Ultra set very fast, stayed buried, even when spun around 360 degrees and reset when pulled out.  I was pretty impressed.  But I wasn't ready to buy. It was expensive, almost prohibitively so.  I went home and did some research on-line.  I watched various videos of it performing under water on various boats and bottoms.  I read testimonials.  I read a lot.  The only thing I read that made me pause was the cost. 

Knowing that they were having a deal for the show, and knowing what my budget was, I returned to the show.  One demo model they had, the one I planned to buy, had been purchased just an hour before.  So there I was, with my cash in my pocket and no anchor to buy. 
I looked chest fallen. The salesman told me the new model in my size was at a price that I simply wasn't willing to spend at that time.  So I pouted a little, looking lost, having all this money in my pocket.  He went and talked to his boss.

Ten minutes later, with some hand-wringing on the part of the owner, I got the 46lb model I wanted for the money I had.  I saved literally *hundreds* of dollars.

Later, when I returned to the show, they cut me a deal on a shackle that allows the anchor to self-right when being pulled into the pulpit, and reduces the chance of the anchor pulling out when deployed due to the boat swinging in the wind.

So I brought it home and installed it aboard.  I removed the 35lb CQR and sold it quickly to the first buyer who called.  I moved the 45lb CQR to my secondary anchor position and placed my brand new 46lb Ultra in it's place. 

And here it is.

It fits pretty well next to the bowsprit and under the stays.  We are looking forward to trying it out on our anchoring adventures this spring and summer.

This just might contribute to a better nights sleep at anchor. 

If it does, it will be worth every dollar we spent.

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