Arriving in a crowded anchorage can be a daunting challenge. The degree of apprehension skyrockets while you bumble about trying to find that perfect spot while the skippers of the surrounding boats look on with that disapproving “stay away from my anchor” look. You study all the clues: whether they are using rope or chain rode, the angle of the rode from their bow, the wind direction, current direction, etc. Most often these indicators will give you a good idea but sometimes they can be deceiving. The last thing you want to do is cross another boat’s anchor cable or end up sitting over your neighbor’s anchor, because dollars to doughnuts, he’ll be weighing anchor before you and you’ll be forced to move out of his way. How many of us have settled into our spots, opened the long awaited cool one only to get hailed by your neighbour that he is concerned that you may have fouled his anchor?
A tool rarely seen these days and considered a courtesy by many is a float to mark the position of a vessel’s anchor. I have not always used one but I have seen the advantages of an anchor marker over the past few years, especially in the crowded anchorages of Mexico and Central America. The technique has paid us dividends in crowded anchorages like Playita on the southern side of the Panama Canal and all through the San Blas Islands on the Caribbean side where jockeying for positions with European boats is always an adventure.
Not only does the marker advise other boaters but it can be a real lifesaver when the unexpected happens and you lose your precious anchor or get it snagged and find yourself unable to recover it. That expensive piece of steel and chain is very hard to replace in most of the exotic places we find ourselves. Friends who lost their new Manson anchor in the soft mud of the Barra De Navidad lagoon years ago through a faulty swivel would have benefitted from the line attached to the anchor and used as a tripline. For that matter, yours truly could have retrieved the flukes of our Danforth anchor when they suddenly detached from the shaft in Bahia Ballena, Costa Rica a few years ago but I didn’t think I would need the float there, being the only boat. Bad decision…
An anchor marker is a simple, inexpensive tool. Sure, it can have its moments but I find that I am more comfortable with it than without. While in the Sea of Cortez this past season several boats asked about my setup and our Commodore, Jennifer, asked that I submit an article on my arrangement, so here goes.
My existing float system consists of a 10-inch hard plastic fishing float, 45 feet of ¼ inch line, a stainless shackle on one end of the float, and a 5 lb diving weight (which is really too heavy and will be changed to a 2 lb downrigger weight next season). One end of the line is attached to the anchor on the recovery/tripline eye, the strong eye on the crown that most anchors have so that, if fouled, your anchor can be pulled in the opposite direction of the way it was set. The line is fed through the shackle and the weight is attached to the end. The shackle must be sized so that the weight will not pass through but the line will slide freely. On the upper eye I have rigged a vertical 10-inch stainless wire ring to aid in recovery.
The length of the line is dependent on your boat length. Our boat is 42 feet, with the prop at about 38 feet from the stem, so we use 45 feet of line. The line with float attached will never foul the prop. The weight, on the free end of the line, allows the line to adjust itself for the depth of the anchor, thus, if the anchor is in 30 feet of water, the weight will drag that extra 15 feet down through the shackle so that the slack is not floating on the surface and causing a hazard to passing dinghies or European cruisers. The line should be strong enough to be used as a tripline. Weighted crab trap line should work too. Note: We rarely anchor in depths greater than the length of the line. When we do, I add more line to compensate for the depth at high water.
When deploying the anchor, the cord and float should be allowed to slip freely as the anchor is released. Recovery is done by retrieving the float first using the wire eye or snagging the anchor line with the boathook and then bringing the cord in by hand as the anchor is recovered.
We have used this system a lot in the past years but this past season in the Sea of Cortez I did experience some problems. In a calm anchorage, where the boat is subject to slight current, the boat can float over the ball causing it to slide down the hull or, if drifting broadside, it can be dragged from one side to the other, passing under the keel. The hard plastic knocking against the hull during the night will drive you nuts so I have a rubber inflatable buoy for next season.
Another issue is, in an anchorage where the current causes the boat to drift around the anchor, the pennant will twist around the anchor chain necessitating remedial action and a delay when raising the anchor. Note: We have never had the cord foul the prop even when the boat floated over it.
Don’t forget to mark your float with your boat name and an anchor symbol for the passers-by who think it is a freebie floating by.