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Anchors Aweigh - A How To For Caribbean Sailing
There is something magical about chartering a boat and sailing the clear, turquoise blue waters of the Caribbean. There is no finer way to get a break and relax than to sail from island to island. At some point during your Caribbean sailing experience, however, you will want to stop. Whether you want to fish, swim, snorkel or dive, have lunch or stay overnight, you will need to find an anchorage and either anchor or use a mooring ball. Anchoring a boat securely is one of the most basic skills in boat handling. The key is preparation and slow maneuvering.
If you miss the first time, do not be embarrassed. There is not an experienced sailor afloat who has not encountered this problem. Just go around and start again. The important thing is to have it right! By anchoring poorly, not only are you endangering your boat, but also the other boats anchored nearby. By following these suggestions and techniques, you can feel confident that you will have safe, hassle-free anchoring.
Selecting the Anchorage The first step in anchoring is to pick an anchorage. Try to arrive at your anchorage relatively early enough in the afternoon. This allows you enough light to avoid any shoals or other hazards like rock/coral heads, fish nets or boats, ferries, freighters, mooring balls, crab pots and cables. In addition, during peak season (December to April) many popular spots throughout the Caribbean become very crowded. By arriving early enough, you have extra time to go somewhere else before nightfall. When choosing an anchorage, there are several things to consider. For instance, is the anchorage protected? A good anchorage offers protection from the current weather conditions and will also offer protection from the expected weather. Are there any local weather (wind) conditions or exposure to swells that could make the anchorage too rolly? How well is the entrance and anchorage area charted or marked? How good is the holding? Charts should indicate the type of bottom. Generally speaking, most anchors will hold well in sandy bottoms. Rock, coral and shale prevent anchors from digging in.
If possible, avoid grassy bottoms, where it is very difficult to set the anchor. How crowded, noisy, dirty or smelly is it? Is the band from the beach bar going to keep you up until the wee hours of the morning or is the diesel smell of the inter-island ferry going to detract from your ideal scent of paradise? How pretty is the anchorage when you sit in the cockpit enjoying the dawn or dusk? How long a dinghy ride is it to shore and is there a decent place to dock the dinghy? What amenities are available on shore? What is the depth and tidal range? Enough depth is needed so that low tide does not present obstacles your boat might swing into and it is also important when determining scope. Finally, is there enough room? No matter where your boat is anchored, the largest possible swing range should be considered. Getting Ready Once you have decided that the anchorage is the perfect spot to stop on your Caribbean sailing adventure, there are several steps to take before actually anchoring. Before doing anything else, work out a system of communication between the person at the helm and the crew member dropping the anchor. Remember that your engine will be running and therefore you will be unable to communicate verbally. Hand signals usually work best. Furl the sails and generally make the boat shipshape before entering the anchorage. Also, shorten the dinghy painter (the line that attaches at the front of the dinghy) if you are dragging the dinghy behind you. This prevents it from being sucked into the prop when you put the engine in reverse.
Open the anchor locker hatch, and if your anchor has a safety line attached to the chain (usually found only in mono hulls), untie and release it. Get the anchor ready to be dropped by disengaging the anchor from the bow rollers. This is done by using the remote control windlass (found in most Caribbean sailing charters) to lower the anchor about two to three feet. Make sure all fingers and toes are away from the chain! Finally, take a tour of the anchorage at very slow speed to get a sense of where you would like to be. Dropping and Setting the Anchor After your tour of the anchorage, pick your spot. As the newest arrival in an anchorage, you must anchor to keep clear of boats already at anchor. Allow for any change in wind direction. It is always safer to leave extra space around your boat. Make sure you will have enough room to fall back on the anchor without lying too close to any vessel anchored behind you once you have laid out a 7 to 1 scope. In normal conditions, if you are using all chain, a safe minimum anchor scope ratio is 5 to 1 (chain length to depth).
In heavy weather, the scope ratio is 7 to 1. Depth is the depth of the water at high tide plus the height from the water line to the bow roller. Scope is the actual amount of anchor line (chain) paid out when the boat is safely anchored. For example, if high water is 20 feet deep and your bow roller is 5 feet above the water, you need 125 feet (5 x 20 + 5 feet) of scope to anchor if using all chain, or 175 feet if using a 7 to 1 scope. Remember, putting out too little scope is one of the most common mistakes cruisers make when anchoring. With the bow to the wind, slowly motor up to the desired spot. Stop the boat exactly where you wish the anchor to lay and take note of the depth. Remember that if you are chartering a catamaran, a cat offers less resistance to the water than a mono hull and thus takes more time to slow down than a mono hull. Make sure the catamaran has completely stopped.
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