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The Tale of Two Anchors

Jordan & Judy Mills

Sea Turtle IV
Endurance Centre-Cockpit 35'
December 6th, 2018

It seems no matter how long you cruise and how many times you anchor, you may be improving or making mistakes, but you are always learning something new.

We have been sailing almost constantly for 9 years and have gone about 3/4’s of the way around our circumnavigation plan. Until recently, we thought we had experienced almost all types of anchoring conditions: sand; mud; rocks and coral; deep, shallow, and tides up to 25 feet.  Well, that is until we got to the Mediterranean. The Med is unique in more ways than one.

When we first showed up in the Med after our long passage from Thailand via the Red Sea and Suez Canal, we noticed that our old yacht, Sea Turtle, was distinct from almost all the other yachts, which were more modern and performance-designed or charter boats with the charter company logos pasted on booms or hulls. They all seemed to have bow thrusters. The other, at first curious observance, was that all the yachts were carrying copious amounts of ever-deployed fenders and they all had gangplanks hanging off the stern.

It should be mentioned that the tide range is only about 2 feet in the Mediterranean Sea, so berthing here is quite different from what we had ever experienced. Most harbours and marinas have yachts drop anchor, reverse into a stern-to moorage onto a concrete quay or wharf, and attach stern lines. Each yacht then makes minor adjustments to their gangplank as the minimal tides dictate. In most harbours, during the high season, space is limited and marinas are full. This is the situation where many fenders and a bow thruster were almost a necessity. Sea Turtle had few of the former and none of the latter.

The first time we tried this type of mooring was with a good measure of anxiety, in the packed harbour at Rhodos in Greece. You see, unlike modern fin keeled yachts that go astern with perfect control, Sea Turtle is a cutaway/full keeled boat with a mind of its own when backing up. The scene was this seldom-seen foreign boat meandering in reverse with intermittent prop thrusts, to kick the stubborn stern into submission, as it aimed for the impossibly confined space between two beautiful yachts, with frantic owners scrambling on deck with extra fenders to fend off this wretched, itinerant alien!

It all turned out okay and, in fact after that initiation, once we were securely in place, we were accepted. We prudently went to the local chandlery to stock up on fenders to supplement our four.

We quickly learned an unconventional technique to carry out this type of mooring with proficiency. We would come steaming straight towards the designated mooring spot, deploy anchor and chain and at the last moment lock the chain. Sea Turtle would spin around and reverse neatly into spot with maybe one or two quick prop blasts to keep it straight.

As I was doing this new-found maneuver into a tight spot at a small compact Greek harbour, with a flanking yacht frantically shouting at us, I calmly, yet unconvincingly, waved not to worry as Sea Turtle rotated around and backed in perfectly. At that point, no utterance was coming from the neighbour, who later laughed and said he had never in all his years of sailing, seen such a well-executed yet unconventional mooring.

Thanks to lessons learned in the Med, we now use this technique even when anchoring out. It’s done like this: While I am up at the anchor and Judy drops to an idle speed on the helm, I drop the anchor and Judy steers a straight course until I give a signal (based on distance to where we want to end up and amount of chain we need out). Judy turns the boat sharply to starboard (our active anchor and chain deploys on the starboard side of the dolphin striker) and as the boat begins to turn, I lock the chain. The anchor sets, spins Sea Turtle around to complete the turn and we are done.

Confined anchoring here is not just in the harbours and at the quays, but in some of the tight and busy coves where the common anchoring strategy is to stern tie to shore. Many times the entertainment is watching the mayhem as new boaters and holiday charters get out of control in the wind or snag other anchors and chains. I have had to come to the rescue of a few and have been rewarded with many thanks and bottles of wine!

Another first for us was bending an anchor. We have three anchors. The primary, and almost always used bow anchor is our reliable 40 lb CQR. The backup bow anchor is a Bruce of about 30 lbs. On the stern, we have a Danforth of about the same weight.

One narrow Croatian cove that we tucked into had one other anchored boat. We both deployed our anchors off the bow and, to keep us separated and in position, we each ran lines ashore. We have two stern lines; one is a ½” three-stranded line and the other, that we used this time, is webbing on a spool that effortlessly spins out and reels in. I attached the web line to the Danforth and wedged it into the rocks ashore. That night we had some intense gusts from over the hills and at times, was on our beam. The rocky shore was not far off our port, so it was a fitful night. I was up many times checking to see if we were dragging. Both anchors held, but, when I went to retrieve the Danforth, I discovered the sideways force had bent the thick shank. I now have no doubt as to the strength of that webbed line.

Another first, but is actually a second bent anchor, occurred after visiting Venice, where I naively hoped to drive the dinghy in the narrow back canals, only to learned it was prohibited. We did a three-day, nonstop trip down the east coast of Italy to the quaint port of Otranto, near the bottom of the heel of the boot. The small port, with a prominent old town, is protected from all but east winds by a breakwater. The marina is mostly for local boats and had no space available, so we anchored on the rocky bottom of the harbour with about four other boats. The first night, and most of the second night, was nice and calm. The forecasted northeaster came early, and by 4:00 AM, it had us bobbing on incoming waves.

We put up with it until daylight, knowing the anchor might be wound around rock rubble and it would be best to dive on the anchor and chain to determine the maneuver for retrieval. After jerry-jugging diesel in the dinghy, I dove to see the anchor situation. We had to motor up on the chain, turn to port, then drift down a bit over the big CQR to enable the chain to come free off the rock it had hidden behind. It went okay for the first part, but not the last. Just as the last of the slack chain was taken up and the bow of the boat had dipped down, it heaved up. Or attempted to heave up. The anchor remained hooked and the taut chain gave an unrelenting jolt that sent a shudder through the boat and my nerves. Fortunately, a second heave released the anchor and with relief, I brought it up and secured it for our departure. That was when I noticed that the very thick throat of the anchor was askew. This time, there was no doubt as to the strength of the chain.

After nine years, almost 39,000 NM under the keel, and hundreds of anchorings, we bent two anchors within a couple of months in this sea of anomalies. I wonder what other lessons or new experiences lay ahead?

Bluewater Cruising Association has a Bent Mast award. If I had a choice of experiencing a situation that resulted in a bent mast or one that resulted in a bent anchor, I think I would choose the latter (Hmmm, I wonder if Bluewater Cruisers would consider having a Bent Anchor Award!).


Cover image: Public Domain

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  1. Ann Lange s/v Cat’s-Paw IV says:

    Super story Jordan. Our bent anchor occurred on the ICW, in a marine firing range. I zigged when I should have zagged and we ended up hard aground, I think the boat actually hopped. Long story short we set our Danforth by dinghy and proceeded to winch ourselves off. Yup I think a bent anchor award is definitely in order!!