Anchoring for the Racing Sailor

By Tom Burden, Last updated: 8/7/2019

Do you know how to anchor properly?

Sunset over Hanalei Bay

Going walkabout in Paradise: Many competitors in a singlehanded Hawaii race sailed 2,120 miles and battled a tropical storm but had trouble anchoring successfully in Hanalei Bay.

Sailboat racers possess highly developed skills in boat handling, navigation, tuning and rigging. Most of us think nothing of carrying a spinnaker in a 25-knot breeze, climbing a mast or threading our way through a fleet of starboard tack boats as we approach the weather mark. But do we know how to safely anchor? Do we have adequate ground tackle? Is it accessible and ready for immediate use?

I pose these questions after completing the 2016 Singlehanded Transpac ocean race, sailing from San Francisco Bay to Hanalei Bay, on the island of Kauai, Hawaii. Our fleet included a mixed group of ultralight racing craft, “plastic classics” like Cal 40s and heavier cruisers like Pacific Seacraft 37s and Westsail 32s. As the exhausted solo voyagers crossed the finish line, some disturbing trends revealed themselves, most alarmingly at the “high-performance” end of the fleet.

Many boats carried inadequate ground tackle. I saw one 34' ultralight with what appeared to be a 13-pound West Marine Traditional Anchor that would be appropriate for a 25’ boat. Another heavier 30' boat was using a tiny 3/8" rode, which also is very marginal.

Many of the racers set their anchors without adequate scope, often letting out only a 3 to 1 scope, when the local cruisers, and standard anchoring practice, were recommending 5 to 1. This combination of undersized gear and inadequate rode length produced results that were easy to predict.

Scoop style Rocna Anchor

Scoop anchors from Rocna Anchors offer excellent performance.

Avoid Driving Your Neighbors Crazy

Our Race Committee, a group of volunteers onboard a small runabout, repeatedly chased down unoccupied boats that were “going walkabout” and drifting out to sea. One liveaboard cruiser named Emile rescued several of our boats, including mine, a Cal 40!

I helped rescue an Olson 34, after watching it go drifting by my Cal and T-bone a Capri 30. Sorry about the bloodstains I left on your genoa and bow pulpit! The scars on my hand are nearly gone now.

A cruising couple posted this on their wonderful blog: “Here in Hanalei we watch the TransPac single-handers arrive from San Francisco after battling the remnants of tropical storm Celia. They glide into the bay, drop an inadequate anchor and make their way to the nearest pub. We then watch their boats wander around the bay looking for good holding.”

Racers, we need to do a better job with the basics of anchoring! It’s elementary seamanship, and could save your boat and your crew. I have learned MY lesson, and that’s why I have added a decent-sized 35-pound scoop anchor to my Fortress FX-16, and have a reasonable-sized rode with some chain. Mea culpa, but I promise to do better, for my boat, my crew and my neighbors!

For the basics on how to anchor, see our West Advisor articles: How To Anchor Securely, Selecting The Right Anchor and Selecting an Anchor Rode.