One anchor is much like another, right? Maybe that was once the case, but it’s certainly not any more. While it’s easy to see that anchor technology of the late 20th century was a lot better in terms of potential holding power for a given weight than the old-fashioned fisherman’s anchor, development has not stood still over the past few decades, with the past 10 or 15 years witnessing a period of rapid evolution.
Perhaps more than any other subject anchoring has the greatest potential for après-sail argument, yet often there is merit in many sides of the argument. It’s certainly true that technique has as much bearing on successful anchoring as choosing a top-quality in the first place – make sure you use a generous amount of anchor rode, don’t lay it in a big heap on top of the anchor and dig the anchor in well using the engine in reverse. However, a well-set latest generation anchor will out-perform a well-set older model, usually by a very considerable margin.
The anchor rode (chain or combination of chain and rope) is also a crucial part of the system – if the scope is too short, or if there’s insufficient length and weight of chain, then even the best anchor will be compromised. At the same time, beware of the myth that says that an anchor doesn’t do much work and that it’s primarily the rode that holds the boat. That may be true in benign conditions, but in a big wind the hook at the end that secures the chain to the seabed is also of paramount importance.
In the mid to late twentieth century anchors such as the CQR (plough), Bruce (claw) and Danforth and that offered much higher holding relative to their weight than previous models became almost ubiquitous among a wide range of cruising yachts and motor boats (see Choosing the Right Anchor which outlines the main traditional anchor types. However, they are certainly not infallible and there’s been plenty of time since then to improve anchors.
Some of the next generation of anchors focussed on reducing weight, while maintaining or improving holding power, including lightweight aluminium anchors such as the Fortress that gained massive holding power at least in part thanks to the very large surface area of the flukes. However, they were also cumbersome and didn’t gain widespread adoption, other than in fast multihulls, where the reduced weight was seen as a bonus and there’s a lot more deck space.
Advantages of the latest generation of anchors
The current generation of anchors – such as Bügel (Wasi in north America), Manson Supreme, Rocna and Spade – were developed from the late 1990s onwards and readily set deep into a range of different types of seabed. They are also capable of holding significantly higher loads than earlier generations of anchor without dragging. Crucially, the ability to set quickly also means that most new generation anchors will reset more easily should it break out when pulled from a different direction, such as when the tidal stream changes direction, or after a significant wind shift.
In many cases, a self-righting roll bar helps these anchors to set easily, ensuring it lands on the seabed with the tip pointing downwards. The blade(s) are also typically a different shape to previous generations – they resemble a shallow scoop that has considerable resistance to being dragged through the seabed.
One of the biggest downsides of the new generation of anchors is the cost – they are relatively expensive, especially compared to unbranded older models of similar weight that are often available for only a small percentage of the price. Given that the weight of an anchor has a huge bearing on its efficiency in theory it would be possible to achieve good holding by buying a cheaper model in a larger size than your existing anchor. However, as it’s never worth skimping on anchor size, almost every boat owner that anchors regularly has over-sized tackle, and an older-generation anchor two sizes larger than standard is likely to be too unwieldy to be feasible for regular use.
In any case, before buying a new anchor it’s also worth checking whether it will fit your bow roller without fouling the hull – not all arrangements, especially those on older boats, or those with a vertical bow will accommodate all anchors. If necessary in most cases this can be adapted by a marine engineering workshop to take a larger size of anchor shank, or a different shape of anchor.