Ground Tackle

Ground tackle is probably the single most important system on the boat in terms of safety, comfort, and peace of mind. Our approach is based on a steep learning curve-which we survived-but which we would not want to repeat. The bottom line is this: we assume that we’re stuck in an anchorage where we cannot leave, the winds have put us on a lee shore, and bottom holding is poor. Our ground tackle systems are engineered to give us the best chances of a happy outcome in this type of scenario. The side benefit is that we are totally secure in anything less than awful conditions, and we can anchor on much shorter scope the 99% of the time conditions are favorable.

We favor the Bruce type of anchor because it works well in a variety of bottoms. The worst situations are thin sand over coral (typical in the tropics) soft mud (river mouths), and rock- or coral-strewn bottoms (common in high latitudes and some atolls). The Bruce seems to do a good all-around job in each of these situations. However, it is not as efficient for its weight as some other designs. This is easily overcome by going up a size or two in anchor.

We’ve been using all-chain rodes since we started cruising. The last 20 years we’ve used ACCO schedule seven (heat-treated) chain. This is far stronger than normal high tensile, and allows us to use a lighter weight (3/8″ on SUNDEER, BEOWULF, and the new FPB-with a breaking strength of 26,000 pounds). The weight saved goes into the anchor where it does the most good.

A strong bow roller system, capable of taking the full breaking strength of the chain in a straight downward pull, is next. We want to be able to take at least 1/3 of the chain’s strength in a sideways pull too. The bow roller diameter is as large as practical to reduce chain friction-typically six to eight inches-and made from UHMW plastic.

Next comes a chain stopper, to take the chain load when anchored. Whatever the chain stopper is bolted to needs to be capable of taking the load. With fiberglass decks, large backing blocks or a solid laminate is required to spread the load.

The anchor windlass needs to be muscular enough to get the anchor up in adverse situations. Think of this in the context of 30 to 40 knots of wind, a four- to six-foot sea, and the bow blowing back and forth as it pitches wildly. The shock loads during this sort of situation can be huge, and powering up with the engine, assuming that’s possible, will only partially alleviate the strain. So, an oversized windlass is better than one that is undersized! And if the budget is tight, the first “option” we’d go for is an electric windlass (which can also be used for kedging and going aloft).

If the chain is properly stored, it will self-stack, without the need of a crewmember periodically knocking down chain castles. This required a nice straight drop, and good volume into which the chain can self-store. While we love the concept of bringing the chain weight back towards the mast, we’ve never seen a chain pipe system that worked properly.

How much chain do you need? This depends on where you are anchoring, and the size of the anchor. Our approach, with really big anchors, means short scope anchoring is a viable option. We’ve found that we can get our Bruce-type anchor to hold weld with 2-1 scope. This means with 250′ of chain we can anchor in 125′ of water. On SUNDEER and BEOWULF we carried 240′ of chain. The new boat, which is not as weight-sensitive, has 325′.

Secondary anchors are carried for kedging and the rare occurrence where we might need a stern anchor or Bahamian style moor (we try to avoid anchoring on more than one hook). For the last 20 years we’ve used the Fortress aluminum anchors for this duty, although they have rarely been in the water. On all three boats we carried their largest as a backup storm hook, and then the next-to-largest size for use as a kedge. In the olden days we also carried a Luke anchor for emergencies. But as this was never used, we’ve stopped carrying one.

Rodes for the backup anchors consist of a 25′ piece of chain, and then polyester brait on BEOWULF and a spectra blended dual braid on the FPB.

How big do you need to go? When the folks on the dock are laughing at you because of your anchor, you know you are about the right size. The Sundeer 56/60 were supplied with 110-pound (50kg) Bruces. The Sundeer 64s carried 176-pound (80kg) Bruces. BEOWULF and the FPB use the 240-pound (110kg) anchors.

Posted by Steve Dashew  (March 10, 2005)

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