Anchoring In Severe Conditions

Anyone spending time cruising will, at some time, find themselves anchoring in severe conditions. For me, severe conditions means being stuck away from the docks in winds exceeding 20 to 25 Kts.

When I’m close to home and planning a day trip it’s easy to be back in my slip long before bad weather arrives. When we were cruising the California coast and exploring the channel islands the weather was perfect when we arrived. Then, after three days of playing and exploring, everything went horribly wrong!

Because the weather was beautiful and we were focused on having fun I was not paying attention to the weather reports. On the morning of day three we weighed anchor, left our safe anchorage and headed farther west along Santa Cruz Island. We were headed for this small cove that, according to Charley’s Charts, was protected from most weather conditions.

We arrived at this beautiful little cove in good weather conditions, dropped the anchor and began to settle in and get ready to go ashore. Thankfully, conditions started changing before we left the boat.

Within an hour of dropping anchor the wind started picking up and the swells began to gain strength. This was a small cove with little room for maneuvering. The swells were pushing toward the rocks behind us.

Decision Time

We were now watching the sea conditions intently. I realized that as the intensity of the surge and wind intensified the risk of our anchor letting go increased exponentially. And, there was no room to react if it started dragging or let go all together.

Conditions were intensifying and showed no sign of letting up. We decided to weigh anchor and head for a safer haven to wait out the storm. The closest spot I could find meant that we had to head into the wind and swells that were now approaching 10′ to 12′.

The safe haven I chose had two elements that were very appealing considering the conditions we were facing. It had a breakwater that held back the rising sea and it had plenty of room to react if our anchor lost it’s grip.

Hunkering Down

Our refuge was everything I was looking for. We were now in calm water and had lots of room behind us. But the storm persisted.

We were in about 20 feet of water. I let out about 200′ of line. One hundred feet of chain and 100′ of rode. The scope recommended by USCG, ten to one.

I set the anchor alarm and we waited. The first day and night passed without incident. The wind speed was in excess of 25-30 Kts, gusting to 40 plus.

The second day didn’t let up. in mid-morning the anchor alarm sounded and we were drifting. Before I could get the engines fired up the anchor grabbed hold. Mai Tai jerked violently as the anchor line tightened.¬†Damage to the anchor roller was not to bad. It was bent but still serviceable.

Once we re-set the anchor I let out all the line we had, 300′.

Breaking Out

I noticed on day two that the wind subsided for a short time in the early morning. On day three I was ready to make a run for Santa Barbara at daybreak just in case the same lull happened again. And it did!

The wind was around 20 Kts and swells were between 6′ and 10′. I wouldn’t go out in these conditions for a pleasure ride but it offered an opportunity to break out and head for a safe harbor.

Lessons Learned

You can never have to much anchor line! The USCG guidelines are adequate for most normal condition, depending on sea bottom. But, if you’re out in foul weather put out as much line as you have.

Next, I intend to replace the rode on my anchor line with chain. There are two reasons for this. The first is that it is very difficult to weigh anchor using rode. Constant tension has to be maintained on the line around the windlass. And in severe conditions this is very difficult.

The second reason for an all chain anchor line is that with chain you can set up a bridle that can be secured at points, like deck cleats, and will distribute the load and take a lot more stress than the anchor roller and windlass.

Watch a demo here:

Every serious cruiser should carry this kind of anchoring gear.

Check out our epic adventure Cruising The California Coast here.