Anchors: The never-ending story

Practical: Anchors

John Neeves explores changes in anchor technology and provides some surprises about what is - and should be - on the market in Australia.

It was 3am and I received a sharp dig in the ribs: Jo had heard the anchor alarm. By the time I was on deck, had the instruments on and engines running, we had moved from 6m to 2m of water, with the beach and some unforgiving rocks pretty close astern.

We were in Recherche Bay in Tasmania at the wrong end of summer - Easter in fact - the forecast southwesterly had come through, gusting to 45 knots, and the tide was high. We had all 30m of our chain out, and it was dark, cold and windy. Jo, wearing minimal clothing and working on the bow, assured me later that there was nothing warming that wind between her and the South Pole. At this point the drama ended: we (she) got the anchor up, re-anchored and went back to bed (though a glass of whisky may have been introduced somewhere in the sequence of events).

We had befriended a local cray fisherman who was going into the Southern Ocean to catch emperor crabs and I asked him how much chain he used. His answer was succinct: "All of it - there's no use carrying it if you do not use it!" He carried and paid out 70m (he was anchored alongside us). Chastened, we went back to Hobart and bought 50m, and later built a 12kg anchor angel, and since then have had a more serious interest in anchors and anchoring Ð and have not dragged. I have also learned of some important testing which has been done, with some challenging results.

Latest designs
The most recent development has been the introduction of roll-bar anchors, the German Bügel, the NZ Manson Supreme, the NZ Rocna and the Australian SARCA. These have a roll bar to allow them to self-right but unlike the CQR they have no articulation or ballast weight. Another design, now well accepted in Europe, is the Spade, which has a concave blade (scoop) and a removable shank: thus easier to stow but hardly handy to use Ð and it has been known to disengage.

These new anchors tend to rely less on weight and more on design to penetrate and set quickly and then to hold with a tenacity undreamt-of in the old-fashioned ploughs. These quick-setting anchors can set easily, even with short scopes, and they often have a sharp and hardened tip, which aids penetration in weedy anchorages.

Jo and I have seen the SARCA in use and we trust the roll-bar concept. We had seen roll-bar anchors both at Sanctuary Cove and the Sydney boat shows and tried to buy the display model - but it was already sold. This was fortunate because we then found it would not fit onto Josepheline's current bow roller assembly. Fortunately most monohulls would have little difficulty in accepting the new roll-bar designs on their bow roller.

The Australian scene
A very subjective survey at Clareville Beach, RPAYC and RMYC, Pittwater, showed an almost exclusive use of articulated ploughs (i.e. CQRs) and a few non-articulated anchors (i.e. Deltas). Deltas, one of the cheaper quality brands, are supplied as original equipment by a number of dealers - Bavaria, Hanse etc. There was one SARCA, two Manson Supremes, one Bügel and a number of Bruces.

Australia is blessed with a number of anchor manufacturers. Higwood Anchors of Queensland produce CQR, Admiralty and Danforth types (and possibly others) and these are available through AMI or chandleries. Industrial Springs of SA make a stockless Admiralty variant, which they sell direct to the public. The SARCA anchor, developed by Australian Rex Francis (an acknowledged expert on anchors and anchoring who sits on Australian committees on the development of anchoring legislation for vessels in survey), is locally made and distributed by Anchor Right of Victoria. Then we have the Manson range and the Rocna from New Zealand. This latter was developed a few years ago by sailor Peter Smith, the founder of NZ's Cavalier Yachts. The Manson Supreme, which was developed later than the Rocna, shows remarkable similarity to its "countryman".

Recent tests
West Marine, the US chandlery, has conducted tests in on 14 anchors in California on three different sand/mud seabeds and a chain/rope scope at 5:1 and 3:1 scope:depth ratios in 6m of water, using an anchor for a 35'-40' yacht. The tests were made by imposing and increasing the load on the anchor to breakout or 5000lb load, whichever came first. Ease or speed of setting the anchor was assessed and a veering test was made. The tests are hardly conclusive and different seabeds may produce different results.

Strangely the Lewmar Claw would not set at all: the team concluded it were not sharp or weighted enough to penetrate. The CQR achieved a result of about 1700lb, though it did not set easily. The team tested two Danforth types, one from West Marine (and recall they were part of the test team) and one from Fortress. The Fortress was the best anchor tested: it set instantly and easily held a 5000lb load at 5:1 scope and 4,500lb at a 3:1 scope. The West Marine Danforth achieved 1300lb. Interestingly the Fortress was one of the lightest anchors tested: it's made from an aluminium magnesium alloy, weighing in at 10kg vs 17.24kg for the CQR, 16.3kg for the Claw and 11.9kg for the West Marine Danforth. The Delta, 16.3kg, was the best-performing of the older-style anchors: it set quickly but did not perform well at short scopes.

More positively, and good for Australia and New Zealand, the SARCA, Manson Supreme and Rocna gave superb and remarkable performances. They all set extremely quickly. The SARCA, 14.8kg, was the least of good performers but the Manson, 16.3kg, and the Rocna, 14.5kg, both held 5000lbs at 5:1 scopes, and the Manson was exceptional on veering tests.

Reporting on the tests, Yachting Monthly said: "the ideal anchor will hold in every seabed and the SARCA certainly deserves credit for coming close" - by implication the Rocna and Supreme come even closer to the ideal. Other good performers were the French Spade, 15.6kg, and the German Bügel, 14.5kg, though they do not seem to be sold in Australia (and are quite expensive in Europe).

The Supreme and SARCA both have slots up the shank to allow the rode to be slid to the head to allow lifting from rock anchorages. Advantageous though this is, it also means that if the wind or tide shifts markedly, the anchor could self-trip and in anchorages that are tight or busy one might be embarrassed before the anchor could re-set.

Before these tests, Manson had gone a step further and had their Supreme tested by Lloyds (I believe this costs $30,000): and it was rated super-high holding power (SHHP), while their claw type (the Manson Ray) and their plough type (the Manson Plough) are rated high holding power (HHP) anchors. Lloyds ratings imply that a lighter SHHP anchor has as good holding power as a heavier HHP anchor. The genuine Bruce, Lewmar Claw and Delta, genuine CQR and the SARCA are all Lloyds-rated HHP anchors.

However, the absence of a Lloyds rating does not mean an anchor is no good: it may simply mean the cost of testing is prohibitive for a small manufacturer.

Summarising: the traditional anchors we see in every marina - CQR, Bruce and Danforth (unless it's a Fortress) - performed pretty poorly compared to the newer designs. If you want something that performs well, think of a roll bar, think local, and think of a SARCA, Manson Supreme or Rocna.

Our experience
We have always used CQR anchors. On our 10m LDB, Joxephine of Hong Kong, we used a genuine CQR with 15m of chain and 40m of nylon - it was a racing boat - and though we occasionally had difficulty getting the anchor to set, it never dragged, even in ocean anchorages in the Philippines. On Josepheline, our Lightwave (we estimate our cruising weight at 6.5t and as a cat we have high windage), we use a 40lb Manson CQR, with all chain (50m now Ð but we also carry 40m x 12mm hawser-laid nylon and our 12kg anchor angel), and have never had a problem in getting the anchor to set, except in Tasmanian weed beds, and once set for a few days it is sometimes difficult to break out. Our second anchor is a 20lb genuine CQR, which we have used to great effect alone with 20m of chain and 40m of nylon.

Consequently we would question the difficulty the test team had with getting their CQR to set, though it's a bit of a worry they found a sand seabed in which they could not set a Bruce, CQR or Danforth (lesson: check with West Marine if you need to anchor in California).

Today the Admiralty pattern anchor is defunct, or almost defunct, on yachts. Its sole application seems to be in anchorages with weed beds, though the Industrial Springs Stockless may perform equally well, whereas most anchors without a sharp point and a wide surface area (i.e. anything except an Admiralty pattern) will skate over the surface. On the other hand, an anchor capable of penetrating weed may have a low surface area, and thus questionable holding power compared to, say, a Danforth, plough or roll bar.

The Danforths and Admiralty can be "folded" flat, and can therefore fit into a locker, but most people want quick and easy access to the anchor and that means having the anchor supported on the bow roller and permanently attached to its chain, which is the only easy place to stow a CQR, Bruce or roll-bar type anyway.

Make your choice and pay your money
Being happy with your existing ground tackle does not mean that there is not something better: I cannot think of any other item of yachting equipment based on 70-year-old technology that we - and the boatbuilders and dealers - so blindly adhere to). The tests certainly imply that the new generation of roll-bar anchors is a quantum leap forward in anchor technology. They do a number of things better than the traditional CQR/Bruce: they set quickly and they have higher holding powers - or if you do not need the high holding power, you can carry a lighter anchor.

Which is the best? Look at the websites, make your own judgments. The roll bars stand out at the top of the lists; they are not expensive. If you are offered a yacht with an old-style anchor, question how carefully the supplier has researched the rest of the inventory, yacht build etc. After all, he does not sail: he's too busy building or selling yachts. It's you who will need to get up at 3am - not he.

Anchored in the past

To the end of the 19th century a recognized anchor was Admiralty-pattern (also known as a fisherman's or The next development was the introduction in 1972 of the Bruce anchor (known also as the claw or ray anchor) produced to secure static oil rigs with multiple anchors in the North Sea. These are sometime seen as primary anchors on yachts. The final development in the 1980s of the old-style anchor was the non-articulated plough, originally introduced as a Delta anchor, but now with many copies. Neither the CQR nor Bruce was developed with any idea for their use in, say, coral sands Ð or any other Australian seabed.

With most of the older anchors well out of patent, there are many copies and variations. Manson and Higwood, for example, produce a CQR, and many companies supply Danforth types, for example West Marine, Higwood and Fortress. Lewmar and Manson produce their own versions of the Bruce. Some chandlers sell anchors without indication of manufacturer: the fact that they look like, say, a CQR or Danforth does not mean they perform like a CQR or a Danforth. As the old designs have been copied, so have the new versions but to overcome patent issues the copies often have differences that might not be obvious. Most well-known anchor manufacturers are vetted by Lloyds Ð do not expect too much sympathy from your insurer if you use a non-vetted anchor and it fails.

facts and further info
Delta, CQR and Claw: Lewmar at www.lewmar.com or Barlow Distributors, Sydney: Barlow@hotkey.net.au

* Ray, Supreme, Plough and Sand: Manson at www.marinewarehouse.com.au or AMI, www.amisales.com.au

* The Spade Anchor: www.spade-anchor.co.uk

* SARCA: Anchor Right, Victoria: www.anchorright.com.au

* Fortress, www.fortressanchors.com contact AMI, see above

* Higwood Anchors, Queensland: www.higwoodanchors.com.au

* Industrial Springs, SA: www.industrialsprings.com.au

* Rocna, New Zealand: www.rocna.com

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