During the three months since we left the UK we have spent many weeks at anchor swinging off our 25kg Spade. This is for several reasons:
With marina prices topping 50 euros a night in Portugal and being higher in Italy and the south of France, being able to spend nights at anchor for nothing is very satisfying.
When it is windy in a marina, the squeaking of ropes and fenders can be very noisy so we prefer to be anchored with a snubber. In high winds we don’t suffer any noise from the anchor, despite sleeping in the bow cabin just next to the anchor locker.
We trust our spade anchor and have tested it in gusts over 40 knots. Picking up mooring buoys may seem easier and safer but we have no knowledge of the condition of the mooring buoy connections on the seabed or state of the rope/chain, so it may not be the safer option. I used to worry about anchoring overnight until a friend asked me why. If you have stayed put all day, why would you drag at night unless the wind increases he asked and since then I haven’t worried at all. In fact the wind usually drops at night so the boat just bobs about on slack chain.
Ease of Use
With just 2 of us onboard it can be difficult berthing in a new marina, getting all the fenders out on both sides (which is over 90 feet in all) and securing all the lines.
We have painted the anchor chain with enamel paint in yellow, red, black, green, and white at intervals of 5 metres, but with 1 colour denoting 15 metres. So, at 5 metres there is 1 yellow chain link, at 10 metres there are 2 links of yellow and when we have 3 yellow links out we know it is 15 metres. When there are 3 black links the length of chain is 30 metres.
The first thing is to check the anchorage for depths, rocks and seabed material to ascertain whether or not we will be safe there. We haven’t always anchored in areas marked on the chart but look for a sandy or muddy bottom with minimum weed, away from rocks and lobster pots or other obstructions. We motor slowly in, look at the other boats (if there are any) and see how they are lying and how many anchors they have out for indications of what conditions are like there. Whilst motoring around we check the depths and seabed if possible.
We always look for a large gap and drop our anchor well ahead of where we want to end up. We have found some skippers drop their anchors far too close to us, reversing to within feet of us (see photo below!) but nobody has yet hit us. We have seen boats dragging just off Muros but their skippers were onboard so they just re-anchored.
We work out the current depth, add the draught of the boat plus a metre for waterline up to the anchor and then keep in mind the expected depth and add just over 4 times that to take into account the drop or rise from the current depth. Once the boat is stationary we let out enough chain so the anchor reaches the bottom. This is also easy to see as the chain goes slack. We then start slowly going astern laying out the chain so it lies along the seabed for several metres and then stop the chain running so we can dig it in with the engine. Continuing to lay out chain until it reaches the correct length, we then connect the snubber rope onto the chain with a large shackle and tie it off on a bow cleat. The engine is run hard astern to ensure the anchor is properly dug in and we then take a couple of transits and keep an eye on our position for a while to check we aren’t dragging.
Leaving the Anchorage
When we are ready to leave, we undo the snubber and motor as slowly as possible towards the anchor, pulling in the chain to avoid it rubbing against the hull and marking the paint. On occasion we have motored past the anchor to ‘break it out’ but we have never had any issues with raising the anchor. Our spade does carry a lot of the seabed up with it due to its shape but the windlass has coped so far.
We have a remote control handset to use at the bow plus controls at the helm, so in theory it is possible to drop the anchor from the wheel although you couldn’t see how much you have let out.
Although I haven’t personally been in a boat dragging its anchor, I understand the noise is unmistakeable, like a rumbling sound from the chain. If this happened we would re-anchor elsewhere or go back to sea. We always check our exit route from any anchorage, lights, course and any obstacles. If the wind picks up we have a 20kg Delta and a 20kg Danforth in reserve and would have to deploy a second anchor. We should also look into installing a stern anchor roller for the kedge.
We have seen others use a variety of different techniques, such as just drop a pile of chain with the anchor and turn off the engine, not digging it in at all. Others rely on the wind to dig the anchor in rather than motor hard astern but we were told that motoring back at high speed is equivalent to a Force 7.