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. By anchoring poorly, not only are you endangering your boat, but also the other boats anchored nearby.
Selecting the Anchorage
Rock, coral and shale prevent anchors from digging in. If possible, avoid grassy bottoms, where it is very difficult to set the anchor. No matter where your boat is anchored, the largest possible swing range should be considered.
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.
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?
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. 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.
Dropping and Setting the Anchor
When the anchor is firmly set, look around for reference points in relation to your boat. If not, you are probably dragging the anchor.
Despite the term, “dropping anchor”, you never want to throw the anchor over the side or let it run free immediately, because the chain will run out at a tremendous speed and pile on itself rather than laying out straight on the sea bed. A piled anchor chain prevents the anchor from setting properly and may actually foul the anchor. Put on your snorkel gear and visually check the anchor to ensure your boat is secure.
Stop the boat exactly where you wish the anchor to take and lay note of the depth. You can keep a cat straight into the wind by using both engines at idle speed. Once your vessel has lost all forward movement, it is now time to set the anchor and drop.
As the newest arrival in an anchorage, you must anchor to keep clear of boats already at anchor. 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).
Scope is the actual amount of anchor line (chain) paid out when the boat is safely anchored. Remember, putting out too little scope is one of the most common mistakes cruisers make when anchoring.
Dealing With the Dragging Anchor
If your boat is dragging anchor during the day, it is not a major problem. Try to let out more chain and wait to see if the anchor resets itself. If nobody is on board the dragging boat (they are onshore drinking at the local beach bar), you can either get aboard their boat and reset the anchor, or if you are not comfortable doing that, you may have to move your own boat.
The Mooring Ball Option
To leave a mooring ball, make sure the dinghy is again on a short painter. Un-cleat the line( s) and simply let go of the pennant. Take care not to run over the mooring buoy and pennant as you leave for your next Caribbean sailing destination.
You do no have to go to the bother of using your anchor. Second, the mooring’s anchor probably is never going to drag. And third, because the mooring’s anchor is so heavy and deeply imbedded in the sea bottom, less scope is needed and, therefore, the boat will swing around in a tighter radius than it would on its own anchor.
Have a crew member ready with a boat hook at the bow to direct you and to pick up the mooring pennant (a line with a loop at the end). Point the bow of the boat into the wind and slowly approach the mooring ball. Shift into reverse to stop the boat as the crew member lifts the pennant on board and passes the free end of the line( s) through it.
By anchoring poorly, not only are you endangering your boat, but also the other boats anchored nearby. As the newest arrival in an anchorage, you must anchor to keep clear of boats already at anchor. Scope is the actual amount of anchor line (chain) paid out when the boat is safely anchored. A piled anchor chain prevents the anchor from setting properly and may actually foul the anchor. And third, because the mooring’s anchor is so heavy and deeply imbedded in the sea bottom, less scope is needed and, therefore, the boat will swing around in a tighter radius than it would on its own anchor.
Make sure the helmsman stops the motion of the boat before overshooting the anchor. At one point, you will find the boat straight above the anchor. Reattach the safety line to the anchor chain if it has one, stow the remote control and secure the anchor locker hatch.
Anchoring is among the most important activities you will do while cruising. Anchoring is as much an art as a science. Even the most experienced sailors have difficulty anchoring at times.