Low-tech anchor watch

Modern technology, from composite materials to weatherfaxes and electronic charts, has certainly revolutionized sailing, and in many respects, sailing is easier and safer. However, I think there is another aspect to high-tech gear: an over-dependency on electronic equipment. This dependency has introduced a new kind of nagging discomfort aboard: I have met many skippers who are paranoid about, or practically enslaved by, their laptops, batteries, generators or GPS units — paradoxically the same equipment that was supposed to make sailing more enjoyable.

What is more disturbing to me is that the unquestioning pursuit of high-tech “improvements” has made many of us forget some traditional sailing techniques that I feel are still highly valuable. The article for a high-tech anchor watch in the July issue (Marine Technology Notes Issue 139, July/Aug. 2004) could illustrate this point. In our boat, the traditional way to alert for anchor drag consists of a thin line, a weight (a sounding weight works great, but diving weights will do, too) and a kitchen pot or pan. We tie the line to the weight and lower it overboard to a spot near the anchor. We then tie the free end to the pot or pan and place it on a spot where a tug from the leaded line will make it drop, for instance, nested near the handrail on the cabin top. When our anchor drags and the line trips the pot, the noise of the falling pot has proven to be a most reliable anchor-drag alert system.

Furthermore, dragging a properly set anchor is not a common problem during our typical cruise routine. The more frequent problem is the boat swinging in an undesired direction. Many GPSs can be set to trigger an alarm if the boat drifts beyond the radius of a preset circle, regardless of drift direction or anchor location. An anchor motion detector does just that and ignores boat location or rode condition. A “two-channel” low-tech system solves the shortcomings of both high-tech approaches. With a second leaded line thrown to a side, the lines trip the pot if the anchor drags, the rode fails or the boat swings toward the wrong sector of the circle.

Manuel Pastor lives in Berkeley, Calif.

By Ocean Navigator