Dragging Anchor

Stern Tie

I didn’t capture any images during the self-rescue of my boat, so you’ll have to be content with pretty pictures. Solace bobs here off the north coast of Cypress Island, with a stern tie to this log on the beach.

I was sitting on my girlfriends couch in Friday Harbor. I had just put in the first load of laundry. I was enjoying a cup of fresh brewed coffee and her high speed internet. I’d only been away from Solace for about twenty minutes and was just getting comfortable when my phone beeped with a voice mail. It was odd, I thought, that the phone hadn’t rang. I picked it up and as the message began to play, I froze in horror…

“Hi, my name is Julie. I’m anchored a little ways away from your boat. Your anchor appears to be dragging and you boat is heading for some rocks. I found your number in the window and decided to call you. I’m not sure what to do at this point…”

I raced out of the house and jogged the mile and half to the marina. I have my phone number posted in the window of Solace in case a problem arises while I’m gone. As I ran, I called this Julie person back and thanked her, between puffing breaths, for alerting me. I fired up the dingy outboard and raced back to Solace as fast as the little rubber boat could get there.

Sure enough, Solace was pinned to the cliff face, up against the rocks. The stern line I had tied to shore was keeping her from moving into shallower water and my outboard was beating against the rocks. The tide was going out and I had to act fast. The wind was blowing at 15 to 20 miles per hour. The chop was building and pushing Solace against the rocks harder and harder. The wind was forecasted to build even further.

Lions Mane Jellyfish

A Lion’s Mane Jellyfish that floated by my boat. Notice the tentacles? Yea. Don’t let those touch your skin.

As I ran around trying to assess the situation, another sailor rowed up. “I was just about to cut your stern line so she could swing around.” I shook my head. “No, I don’t think that would have been a good idea. Thanks though!” I shouted back. The stern line was the only thing keeping the boat in water deep enough to float in. I tugged on my anchor line and got nothing but slack. I could feel the anchor skidding along the bottom, not finding any purchase.

I made sure my anchor rode was untied and free to spool out. I hopped back in the dingy and brought up anchor. It was a wrecking ball of sticky mud and sea weed; a perfect snowball of gunk. I couldn’t even see any metal, it was buried so deep. The anchor had taken a huge chunk of earth with it when it drug, but that sticky mud had failed to fall out. It was clogging up every square inch of the claw. I shook and dug the debris out and brought the anchor into the skiff. With my rode spooling out while my dingy raced and splashed into the wind, I dropped the anchor about 200 feet away.

Back aboard Solace I tugged on the anchor line and the anchor immediately dug in. I began to take up the tension, but the boat wasn’t moving. I appeared to be stuck. Shit. Shit. Shit!

I ran to the stern and raised the retractable outboard bracket. My rudder appeared to be sitting on a rock, so I climbed onto the engine mount and pushed off with my foot. I slid on the slick mount and skidded a little ways into the water before catching myself. I used my extended posture to push the stern away from the rocks a little more before climbing back aboard.

Baby Seal

A baby seal, temporarily abandoned by its mother, came to visit. He kept trying to nurse off the pointy end of the dinghy.

I pulled on the anchor rode some more and slowly, ever so slowly, inch by painful inch, Solace began to move forward. After a couple feet she was free of all restrictions. I alternated between bringing in the anchor line and slacking off on the stern line until she was well clear of shore. I was exhausted and wet, and the danger was over, but I had more work to do.

I dinghied back to shore and untied the stern line from around the massive tree I had attached to. I used the rope to drag the dingy back to the boat in the now 20 to 25 mile per hour winds and chop that was continuing to build. I fired up the engine and tested everything for damage. Nothing appeared to be the worse for wear. I raised anchor and pushed back into the chop.

The night before I had set the anchor with a four-to-one scope in 12 feet of water, plus the stern line to shore. I had slept through the night and ferried two loads of laundry to shore without any sign of dragging. This time I dropped anchor in 40 feet of water, set the anchor, and let out about 150 feet of rode until I was sitting in about 10 feet of water. I was about 100 feet from shore after I reset my stern line and brought in the slack.

Beach Art

I love coming across cool beach art like this! This piece is composed of different colored stones found on the beach.

As the wind and waves continued to build that day I watched my position, but I didn’t budge an inch. I turned on the wind turbine and let this little squall charge my batteries. Eventually I ran back to shore to pick up the laundry I had been doing. I also stopped by the market to pick up a bottle of wine. I dropped it off with the Good Samaritan who had called me and raised the alarm.

The adventures never stop. Even at anchor. The lesson learned? …I’m not sure. Shit happens? I guess.

Four-to-one scope is usually adequate in my experience and this is only the second time my 16lb Bruce anchor has ever drug on me. The fact that it was fouled so badly was a fluke. It normally resets like a champ. I’ve heard it said that more scope is needed in shallow depths. I think I’m a new convert in this way of thinking now.

One thing I know: I sure love having a small boat. When the shit hits the fan, docking maneuvers get messed up, or the boat runs aground, a smaller, lighter boat lends itself to self-rescue. I can sail with less wind, maintenance and modifications cost less, and moorage is cheaper. Despite looking at boats all summer, I didn’t see a single one that I would trade for Solace.

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The Gnomes of Stuart Island
How to Install a Raw Water Pump
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10 Responses to “Dragging Anchor”
  1. Emily says:

    Dude, one word: Rocna.

  2. Saffy The Pook says:

    Per the previous comment, a Rocna or similar won’t help if you don’t have enough scope.

    If that 4:1 scope in 12 feet was at low tide, you really had closer to 2:1 at high tide. If you don’t know where you are in the tide cycle, make sure to add about 12 feet to the measured depth (plus the height of your bow roller and the depth offset, if any, of your gauge) before calculating scope.

  3. Mike says:

    I’m not at all saying this is what happened in your case, but it might help to understand the math behind the recommendation that you “use more scope in shallow water”. The problem boils down to the fact that the easy estimate of scope has some errors in it, and those errors are greatly magnified in shallow water.

    Most folks use the depth reading on their sounder to calculate scope. But many depth sounders are calibrated “conservatively” to measure a shallower depth than is actual. Furthermore, scope *should* use the distance from the point where the rode attaches to the boat (often the anchor roller) to the bottom. If your sounder reads 3 feet shallower than actual depth, and your bow roller is 3 feet above the water line, the depth used for calculating scope will be off by 6 feet. If your sounder reads 40′ and you put out 160′ for 4:1 scope, your actual scope would be 160/46, which is about 3.5:1. Not too bad.

    But if your sounder reads 10′ and you put out 40′ of rode for 4:1 scope, your actual scope would be 40/16, which is 2.5:1, which will drag pretty easily.

    This was brought home to me when I managed to drag with my Rocna in shallow water (the only time that anchor has ever dragged). After accounting for sounder and bow height, I realized I had effectively used 2:1 scope instead of the 4:1 I had estimated. Fortunately, I was still aboard when I noticed I was dragging and learned the lesson without adventure or damage.

    Of course, all of this is assuming you also account for the tide cycle as suggested by Saffy The Pook.

  4. Wyatt says:

    Exciting story! Glad you were able to recover. Love the pictures.

  5. Doug Bostrom says:

    “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” goes the exhausted old saw, but it pertains here.

    Well-recovered, Chris. And thank you for stimulating the discussion revealing how sensitive scope is in shallow water, even if the fundamental issue wasn’t about scope.

    The only thing that really made me flinch in reading your narrative was the part where you were using your body as a boat hook to fend off. So risky!! Armchair quarterbacking but maybe a side-tie with the dinghy and motor like hell? Other risks there, though, and of course it’s speculation without having actually lived the moment.

  6. Steve A. says:

    I’m curious to know more about your anchoring setup: Do you have any chain on your rode? Or is it all rope? What is the design of the anchor? (Bruce, Plow, Danforth?)

    On my Hunter 326, I use a 35 lb. CQR Anchor, with 50′ of 3/8 BBB chain, with another 150′ of nylon. It’s heavy, so it requires an anchor windlass, but I guarantee you with the weight of the chain to keep the anchor level with the seabed + the hinged plow style of the anchor, it shouldn’t budge an inch in most anchoring situations in the Salish Sea. I highly recommend it.

    Also, whenever I’m anchoring for the night, I try to use 5-to-1 scope and then throw out another 10′ of line to put in a little wiggle room. That way, most tidal situations, and any minor squall will be accounted for.

    • Chris says:

      I’ve found everyone has their own preference when it comes to anchoring. Solace has a 16 lb Bruce anchor with 30 feet of 3/8 chain and 250 feet of rode. Keep in mind she only displaces 6,000 lb, so she’s a light boat, even compared to other 27 foot boats.

      I have no room for a windless on her, so I have to bring my anchor in hand-over-hand. The anchor and chain combination is as much as I can comfortably bring up without hurting myself.

      I recently purchased a 25 lb Mantus anchor and I’m toying with the idea of replacing the Bruce with it.

  7. Tony Bentley says:

    Strange. I anchor there all the time in the exact same place. Was just there on Thursday. I don’t stern tie though, but I have a deep draft of 6′. I think you just need more weight on the bottom. Maybe upgrade to 25 lbs and 30′ of chain. Also, I wouldn’t stern tie to avoid swinging. Better to hit bottom and lean over than to get pushed into the rocks.

  8. jon shavey says:

    As soon as he said “…it was clogging up every square inch of the claw…” I said to myself “gotta be a Bruce”. I wouldn’t use a Bruce for a wheelstop let alone an anchor unless, of course I was hoping that it would disassociate itself from the bottom and cause my boat to wreck itself on the rocks so I could collect the insurance.

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