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Cruising by sail in the Pacific NW


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Thoughts on Anchoring and Anchoring Etiquette…or lack thereof

Pirate's cove november

Pirates Cove without the crowds

I wasn’t really planning on writing about anchoring, but I like stories that come from our time on the water, and this one was a surprise no-brainer.  Why a surprise?  It was November.  Who goes out in November?  And with the lack of competition for anchoring spots, how could there possibly be anything to elicit a story about anchoring?

Cruising in the November…on average, it rains 21 days out of 30, and the odds of getting three warm, sunny days in a row on a weekend are not good.  Previous to this year, I crossing the strait novwould’ve claimed that it was a statistical impossibility.  This year, the stars aligned and we we were able to enjoy 3 amazing days cruising the Gulf Islands a month after we normally put the boat to bed for the winter.  We took the opportunity to visit a couple of places that we’ve missed over the last few years:  Princess Cove on Wallace Island and Pirates Cove on DeCourcy Island.

Princess Cove and Pirates Cove are popular places.   Princess Cove is one of the few places that we’ve abandoned in the summer due tobreakwater nov crowding.  Both anchorages are beautiful but exposed to North Westerlies – neither is bombproof.  To add to the mix are the stern ties that require that boats lie beam-to the prevailing winds.  Most of the time in the summer, the winds die overnight and issues are rare.  However, when the combination of crowding and boats stern-tied beam-to the wind is coupled with a fresh, unpredicted overnight wind, it creates a panic that has given both of these anchorages a bit a of a reputation.  Given the lack of boats and benign weather, there were no issues this time out.  But we were lucky that the weather held overnight as there were a few silly decisions made on other boats that put people at risk.  It’s not a wise thing to rely on weather forecasts for your safety – sound decision making, good gear and proper technique help keep us safe when the weather forecast is wrong, which is surprisingly often.  The following are our thoughts on anchoring safely, repeatedly.

Picking a place to drop your hook

Good practice is to pick a spot that won’t put others at risk if you drag – don’t anchor directly upwind of another boat.  Yes, it’s possible to choose well and then have a little shift in the wind put you upwind of a boat that was anchored before you, but you can use this idea to help pick good spots and eliminate poor ones, especially in uncrowded anchorages.  In the Gulf Islands, the winds blow SE or NW pretty much all the time, making following this rule even easier.

Rafting

Rafting is loads of fun.  We love rafting and do it frequently.  But…both of the times we’ve been involved in a dragging episode, we’ve been having fun rafted.  Dragging doesn’t make the fun better.  The first time, we dragged a couple of hundred feet through a very crowded False Creek at two in the morning.  We were ridiculously lucky to drag through the fleet and miss everything.  The second time, we were anchored in a very remote anchorage on the west coast of Vancouver island.  We weren’t even on the boats when they went walkabout and were lucky to escape with nothing but bruised egos.  We’ve learned this one the hard way: rafting is not without risk.  If you choose to raft, you’ve got to be extra vigilant and have a contingency plan for if the wind comes up.

centennial raft pirates

A club raft in Pirate’s Cove

Tying Ashore

It’s very common to tie a line ashore in BC.  It’s an easy way to increase the number of boats you can cram into a small anchorage, and the only way to anchor in a small nook with no swinging room.  If you do it poorly, it’s a great way to entertain your neighbours.  However, in many cases, as practiced in BC, it does not increase your security.

When they tie ashore, most boaters, us included, tie one lie ashore to stop the boat from swinging on the anchor.  In many anchorages though, the lay of the land and the shore-side anchor location result in your boat lying beam to the wind.  I’m not sure what the math is, but there is no doubt that wind on the beam creates far higher loads than wind on the bow.

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No swinging room here!

We hate stern tying.  In crowded summertime anchorages or tight spots it has it’s place, but generally we avoid it like the plague.  It’s a bunch of work that isn’t always easy and the whole wind on the beam thing is stressful.  If there is room to swing on the hook, we swing on the hook.  Still, we see people that tie ashore as a matter of course regardless of where they are – it’s a part of the routine that they follow for no reason other than that’s just what they do.   I suppose that leaves more room for me to swing in the middle, so…thank you?

What’s everyone else doing?

Often, this is an issue in places where people drop two anchors to reduce swing.  There are at least three other factors to think about.  The first is that if the wind is light, boats on a chain rode move differently than boats on a rope rode.  This has caused us grief in the past and now we try to anchor amongst other boats with an all chain rode.  The second is power vs. sail.  The windage of many powerboats coupled with the lack of a deep keel mean that they are usually more affected by the wind and less affected by current than a sailboat.  The last is that boats that tie ashore don’t swing.  The rule here is to try anchor and near boats that are similar in type and anchoring technique.

Not everyone uses these guidelines.  Anchoring on our cruise in November – Why, why, why…

We pulled into Princess Cove fairly early, and anchored just off the port quarter of one of three boats already there.  The boat downwind of us was a couple of hundred feet back, and tied fairly tight to the shore.  The third boat was 5 or 6 hundred feet behind us, deep in the bay.   We set the hook, and went for a walk, just as a power boat was dropping the hook upwind of the boat in front of us.  Not the best, but it what are you gonna do.

When we got back an hour or so later it was a different picture.  The boat we’d anchored behind was gone, and the lone power boat was now a raft of three, all on one hook, having fun directly upwind of us.  Why???  What was their plan if the wind came up?  How much fun were they planning to have?  Would they be OK at 2 am?  The forecast was incredibly benign, but I still wondered…why???  Did they even consider what would happen if they dragged?  Unlikely.  I definitely did.  It doesn’t take much wind to create problems with 3 boats on one anchor.

Things got more interesting at about 9pm when the last boat pulled in in the dark.  They also anchored in front of us, closer to us than where the boat that had left earlier was.  Then they tied ashore.  Why?  What was their rationale for all the futzing around in the dark?  No one else in our neighbourhood was tied ashore.  Did they even look?  What would’ve happened if we’d  swung to a SE wind or a drop in the tide?  I called over and told them that no one else was stern tied, but they were tired, busy, and not interested.  I shook my head and went to bed, hoping that no one was going to learn anything new about anchoring etiquette overnight. Thankfully it was quiet, and we didn’t.

poor anchoring

What are these people thinking?  Thankfully the weather cooperated and there was zero drama.

Anchoring well is probably the most important skill needed to cruise the way we do.  We’re lucky in BC – there are thousands of safe harbours with all around protection, most of which have good anchoring depths and a mud bottom.  This is not the norm in other places on the planet.  But even with our mostly easy conditions, anchor choice and technique can be controversial topics.  What do you think?  What are your favourite anchoring stories?  If you’ve spent any time anchored out on a boat, you’ve seen people having trouble on the steep part of the learning curve.  Please leave a note in the comments section.  Thanks!