Voyager conducts informal anchor survey

Anchor tests are fraught with variables. Do you compare like weights? Do you compare manufacturer recommended sizes for a particular length? Is the bottom consistent, and are the results repeatable? Can a steady pull with a load meter duplicate real-world anchoring stresses, including waves, wind shifts and different boat types? The list could go on and on.
Despite the results of any supposed “scientific” test, anchors will encounter non-scientifically designed bottoms when used by voyagers. I think a more practical way to choose anchors is to see what works in the real world.
To conduct this unscientific test, I recently strolled the docks at Shelter Bay Marina, located in Colon, Panama. I looked at the bow of every cruising sailboat tied to the dock, and all of them had come from foreign ports. Several of the boats were European, many were from the West Coast, and some sported more than one anchor on the bow. Many of these anchors were rusty, bent and worn, reflecting hard usage over many thousands of miles.
There were 54 anchors on the bows of 35 boats. I ignored stern anchors and anchors that appeared to be stored rather than ready to go. My assumption was that the most accessible anchor is probably the owner’s favorite and most trusted. A quick glance at the results indicates that plow-type anchors are the most popular by a better than two-to-one ratio, with the CQR brand dominating the plow category. I lumped all the plows of the CQR-type together, but I used a separate category for the Delta anchor. The Bruce and Bruce-type was second, with Fortress aluminum anchors trailing a distant third.
So-called “new generation” anchors were in the distinct minority, though as a group they were more prevalent than the Danforth-type anchors, indicating a possible trend. I lumped the Spade, Super Max, Bulwagga, Buegel and the one mystery anchor into the new generation category.

Interestingly, many voyagers are so wedded to their favorite anchor that they carry two of the same type on the bow, often on side-by-side rollers. One boat had two rather new-looking Spade anchors, accounting for the only ones of that type observed. Several boats had plows side by side on rollers. Only a few boats seemed to follow the conventional wisdom calling for more than one type of anchor for more than one type of bottom. Does this mean that plows are good all around anchors, or does it indicate misplaced loyalty? One boat had the classic combination of a CQR, a Bruce and a Fortress, but the plow took the place of honor based on the anchor chain leads.

Fortress aluminum anchors (based on the Danforth design) and Danforth steel anchors appeared to be rigged purely as secondary anchors as they were often lashed off to lifelines, stanchions or deck chocks. Most of the Fortresses sported large mud flaps indicating that may be the preferred type of bottom for them. (However, in my own experience, they work well in sandy bottoms if the direction of pull remains constant.)

In the interest of full disclosure, I counted my Bulwagga anchor, which is mounted on a bow roller. I also carry two Fortress anchors to use as kedges or as secondary anchors, though I didn’t count them in the survey, as they don’t appear on our bow. I did not count a backup CQR anchor we carry on the side deck, either.

The prevalence of brand-name anchors on bows seems to be justified based on my casual observations. Most of the bent and damaged anchors were off-brands or knock-offs, despite the fact that these appeared to not be primary anchors in most cases. The higher cost of the name brands apparently purchases higher quality materials and tighter standards. There were three stainless steel anchors, but most were traditional galvanized steel. Several anchors had been repaired or painted, indicating hard usage.

This informal survey may give a clue as to why I hear more grumbling about plow anchors than about any other type — there are simply more of them out there to complain about. And the more the plows are used, the greater the chances of encountering poor holding ground, a storm or a foul bottom. Despite this unrest, many long-distance cruisers are sticking with the tried-and-true plow, or possibly switching to the less ancient Bruce design. However, the Danforth-type, once seen on many cruising boats, appears to be losing favor. There were no fisherman anchors observed.

By Ocean Navigator