Florida Anchoring Battle Continues

In mid-November 2011 the FWC approved St. Augustine's restrictive anchoring ordinance, but didn't allow the 10-day anchoring limit, which was replaced with a 30-day limit. In Stuart/Martin County rules that would have eliminated all anchoring in Manatee Pocket seem to have been shot down. But, both areas continue to move forward with ordinances that will both confuse boaters and law enforcement and limit anchoring opportunities.

St. Augustine has all sorts of set-back rules for how close you are allowed to anchor to maritime infrastructure and channels, while Stuart/Martin County are pushing no anchoring within 300 feet of shore, infrastructure, or the moorings in the St. Lucie River and not within 1000 feet in the Jensen Beach area. In all cases the laws are so poorly worded that even those of us in the know are not sure exactly what they mean, and once they are enacted many anchorers are bound to get caught up in a snarl of red tape. I strongly suspect it will take a court of law to sort it all out, at further cost to the taxpayers and boaters in these areas.

One nice piece of news was the creation of a website [NOTE: Not sure if it still exists in 2018] showing precisely where you can anchor legally in St. Augustine. The site also provides lot of great information for boaters on the area. As these communities write up ever more restrictive ordinances you will find boaters adapting and innovating like this in order to continue to enjoy cruising as we know it, despite official efforts to chase us away.

Over in St. Pete there is no good news. The Vinoy Basin is now closed to anchoring while the mooring field is built there. This will eliminate the only sheltered anchorage convenient to downtown St. Pete, unless the weather cooperates enough to allow you to chance anchoring east of the waterfront out in Tampa Bay. The city is also exploring the idea of limiting or prohibiting anchoring in other nearby anchorages.

The Sarasota mooring field fiasco continues, with something in the nature of $500,000 + already spent on getting permitting, engineering studies, failed mooring experiments, and a pumpout boat. By the time all is said and done the city will have spent close to $1.5 million and will have 35 moorings to show for it. The current plan sounds dubious to this sailor: steel H beams will be driven into the limestone substrate in lieu of the helical screws which can't penetrate the bottom. This will be a very noisy and environmentally dirty project in creation, and I am uncertain what projected longevity it will have. An active group of local sailors is working with the city to try and prevent onerous anchoring ordinances designed to drive boaters onto the pay moorings or away from the city.

Unfortunately, the average taxpayer in these Pilot Program cities and counties has no idea of these machinations and the costs involved, because the entire fiasco is being driven by a few well connected businessmen, some disgruntled waterfront homeowners, and a few others. If these expensive and controversial projects were presented to the voters I am sure they would be soundly rejected, but they won't be. Instead those pushing these laws continue to ram them through despite vocal and strong opposition from boaters, who will be the ones impacted.

Florida Set to Restrict Anchoring

Once again the anchoring war is heating up in Florida. Under the guise of the Anchoring and Mooring Pilot Program, called just the "Pilot Program" by most, five areas in Florida were given permission to come up with regulations on anchoring in conjunction with permitted mooring fields. Sounds harmless enough, right? Wrong!

The first problem came when the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) allowed the borders of the five pilot areas to expand vastly. Here's a link to the FWC site. With permitted mooring fields in Key West and Marathon in the Keys, the entire area of Monroe County became a pilot area. This covers most of the Florida Keys! In conjunction with a mooring field in Stuart the FWC allowed Martin County to be included. The cities of St. Augustine, Sarasota, and St. Petersburg round out the five trial areas.

Despite the wording in the statute, which says in part that the program will allow for regulations governing anchoring of non-liveaboard vessels "outside the marked boundaries of public mooring fields," the law is being interpreted to mean almost anywhere within the entire jurisdiction of the permitted cities and counties. In other words, St. Augustine is now pushing for laws to limit anchoring within the entire city limits, and Monroe County is considering anchoring limits in Key Largo, some 40-50 miles from the nearest mooring field. Sarasota, like St. Augustine, is also considering anchoring restrictions everywhere within city limits. Same in St. Pete. Martin County wants to limit anchoring at Jensen Beach, many miles from the moorings at Stuart. Talk about taking a mile when you're given an inch!

Already St. Augustine has drafted ordinances including a 10-day anchoring limit, requirements for boat inspections, and other ordinances that not only infringe on boaters' traditional rights of navigation, but are actually in direct contradiction to the goals stated in the ordinance itself! One of the stated goals of the Pilot Program is to "Promote public access to the waters of this state." It is impossible to see how anchoring restrictions accomplish this goal. 

How will boaters in the future know that anchoring regulations vary from municipality to municipality and from county to county? It will be impossible to put signs all over the waterways indicating the hodge-podge of anchoring zones, time-limit zones, etc. Boaters will inadvertantly break these laws. It will be an enforcement nightmare for authorities and boaters alike.

These new laws are not needed to take care of the derelict, improperly stored, and abandoned vessels cited in the law. Florida's listings of these vessels indicate that the vast majority are not even at anchor. Plus, there are existing laws on the books that if properly enforced can take care of these problem boats. Already jurisdictions around Florida are removing derelict vessels and disposing of them using existing programs. There are existing laws requiring boats to be registered, properly equipped, and using pollution prevention devices. It is already illegal to dump sewage into the waters of Florida.

The Pilot Program has allowed five counties and cities in Florida to create restrictions on anchoring that are not needed due to existing ordinances, will not accomplish the goals of the program, and are going to limit how and where responsible boaters can anchor.

I recommend if you are a member of BoatUS you should write a letter or send an email to their Government Affairs office (govtaffairs@boatus.com) and to their magazine (LettersToEditor@boatus.com), and maybe we can utilize the clout of 650,000 boaters to stop these laws in their tracks.

And here's a link to another great site discussing this issue.

Anchor Connection Wrinkle

With an anchor that only allows me to put the pin of the shackle through the shank, I was forced to use a second shackle in order to connect the anchor chain. This resulted in an awkward set of shackle pins that were oriented at right angles to each other, meaning the heads of one or the other pin would often hang up on the roller, making retrieving the anchor more difficult. In fact, this system meant that 50% of the time there was a good chance that one anchor pin head or the other was going to catch.
I contemplated replacing this awkward linkage with a stainless steel anchor swivel, which is seen on many boats these days. However, having read reports of some failures of these items, particularly under side loading, and being rather wary of putting dissimilar metals together immersed in saltwater, I wanted to stick with tried and true galvanized steel fittings.
The solution that came to me was to purchase a Crosby welded master link, as can be seen here. The 3/8" link matched up nicely with my 3/8" shackles and the working load was higher, so this would not be "the weak link."
As can be seen in the photo, adding this one extra link allows the shackles to lay in the same orientation, with the heads of the pins on the same side. This reduces the chance of one of the pins hanging up on the roller since 3/4 of the four possible orientations are free of catch points.

In practice the new arrangement does come in over the roller very easily and so far (knock on wood) I have lucked out and not had a catch this season. Of course it is still possible for the chain to come in with the pins facing down in the catching position, but in practice I find that the assembly seems to flip onto the flat side very readily, allowing the chain to come in. In the past that first flip often meant it would then hang up on the second shackles pin (at least 50% of the time), which it no longer does.
This is a cheap, simple, strong, and effective improvement to my anchor system.

The Good Ol' Days?

Some would have you believe that anchoring in the old days was a harrowing experience due to the lack of reliable anchors and gear, but that was not the case. Sure, we had different equipment and systems, but we also used it differently and I really don't think we had any more problems than today's cruisers at anchor--in fact, I'm pretty sure there were less issues. The reason? People had to learn the craft and did so because they didn't have push-button windlasses that allow huge, heavy anchors and chain. Without a windlass even boats up to and beyond 40 feet usually relied on muscle power to handle everything, and that often meant a short length of chain, mostly nylon rode, and something like a 20-35-pound Danforth anchor on the end. Having to lower this by hand meant that someone was up on the foredeck carefully lowering the thing over the side, feeling when it touched bottom, and then gradually easing out rode, snubbing the anchor periodically as the boat drifted back. Then, because we didn't have all-chain rode we put out 5:1 or 7:1 scope, checked that the anchor was really well dug in by backing down while feeling the rode and watching, and anyway a Danforth beats any modern anchor for sheer holding power in a straight line according to almost every anchor test ever done.

In short, better technique meant that we used what gear we had to the fullest instead of relying on some miracle design to just work. But, but, what did we do when the wind shifted? We often used two anchors in a Bahamian moor, as was taught by Robert Danforth Ogg in the little booklet that generations of boaters got when they bought their anchors. Pick up a copy of Anchors and Anchoring by R.D. Ogg if you ever find one. There were many generations of this booklet published, but they still provide some of the best basic anchoring advice and information ever published. Plus, Ogg backed up his advice with what is probably the most extensive testing program any anchor design has ever gone through because of the original requirement to create an anchor that would allow landing craft to winch themselves off of beaches. Today, an aluminum Fortress anchor does even better, but it is nothing more than a refined version of the original Danforth made of a different material.

How good were these ol' school anchors? We rode out Hurricane Gloria on two Danforths and a CQR set in a star pattern, and sat in one place while most of the mooring field dragged by and went ashore on Long Island. Two Fortress anchors helped hold our boat on a mooring in Cuttyhunk Pond during Hurricane Bob--it took most of a day to dig those anchors back out of the bottom. Short of something breaking there was no possibility of those anchors dragging. When hit by a tornado in the Chesapeake a CQR and a Fortress held our catamaran in wind estimated to be over 100 mph. The force of the wind took one boat's Avon complete with outboard and blew it through the air and up into a tree ashore, where we later found it. Just anecdotes, but to me they have proven that anchoring technique is more important than having the latest and greatest gear.

It Wasn't a Drag

In the previous post I described how anchoring used to be done with lighter weight gear due to the lack of electric windlasses. I remarked on how we didn't drag back then any more than we do now, but I didn't explain why.

First, let me describe a typical anchoring situation we find in crowded Cuttyhunk harbor every summer. We manage to find a spot in the charted dredged square, but it is short on space and depth, and offers iffy holding in spots due to weed. Towards late afternoon more and more boats pack in, and many of them sport the latest in anchoring gear: all chain rode, electric windlass, and most frequently it seems a Delta anchor, but more and more we see these supposed "new generation" anchors on the higher-end boats, along with plenty of old standbys (probably in the majority) like CQRs or other plows and Bruce anchors. In any case, it doesn't matter too much because the anchoring process is almost universal. Use the windlass to lower the anchor and chain over the side, either by the dog-pile method or by lowering it to the bottom using the machinery. For those not in the know, the dog-pile method, which is quite popular, is to release the windlass brake so that the anchor drops into the water unimpeded followed by a bunch of chain rattling over the side into a big pile on the bottom. Then the engine is thrown into reverse and the mess is straightened out, often resulting in the anchor being dragged over the bottom because nobody has bothered to mark the chain for length and nobody has a clue as to how much scope is out. Besides, they've ordered a huge anchor and all that chain and they've been told it holds great at only 3: 1 scope!

Usually, it really doesn't matter what they do, because the wind in the harbor is less than 20 knots and since the bottom is mostly mud the anchor probably gets a decent bite, but nobody really knows until the frequent midnight or thundersquall wind shift sends half the anchored fleet dragging away to the edges of the dredged square where they go aground long enough to sort out the anchor and using the motor proceed to try again. Needless to say on windy nights nobody sleeps much in Cuttyhunk!

Stay tuned to see how it used to be done.

What Happened to Lightweight Anchoring?

Read any cruising boat forum and the subject of anchors and anchoring will create a lot of heated debate--actually that's just a nice term for arguments! What ties floating boats to the ground is a very important topic because we all know that 90% of cruising is spent in harbor, even on a circumnavigation. And that topic was just as important decades ago, as evidenced by a look back at boating books and magazines. There was Don Street touting his beloved Herreshoff pattern, fisherman-style, traditional anchor, while the Hiscocks, Roths, and Pardeys were all advocates of CQR plow anchors.

And then there were folks like Robert Danforth Ogg, one of the co-creators of the Danforth anchor. He was an advocate of lightweight, high-holding power anchors, combined with mostly nylon rodes and maybe a six-foot piece of chain near the anchor. Ogg famously used two 12-lb. Danforths and mostly nylon rode to routinely anchor his 64-foot powerboat, often with others rafted alongside. Bob Bavier, an editor of Yachting magazine, championed the same system for his heavy cruising sailboat that he took all over the Bahamas and Caribbean.

What happened to this lightweight school of anchoring? Judging from the current recommendations of most manufacturers and the online words of most cruisers you would think it is mostly dead with the exception of Fortress anchors and their champions. However, my non-scientific reading of the current wisdom is that most cruisers recommend you only use a Fortress as a kedge anchor, or maybe a back up, and possibly carry an extra big one for your ultimate storm anchor. The currently in-vogue anchoring system, seemingly recommended by everybody, is to go with an all chain rode, and lots of it, plus a huge primary anchor, at least one or two sizes too big, and in some cases twice the manufacturer's recommended weight. The often-repeated joke is that you know your anchor is the right size when people walking down the dock point and laugh at it because it is so huge. "Size matters," is the current mantra.

I would argue that one of the main reasons for this current love of weight and chain is that it is now possible to think this way due to the wide use of electric windlasses. Back in the '60s it would be rare to find a windlass aboard even 40+ foot cruising sailboats, and in most cases that would have been a slow manual windlass. A typical cruising boat did not have a bow roller either. Lightweight anchors and gear were a necessity when you had to pick the anchor up from its chocks on deck and carry it to the bow, where you had to work it through the bow pulpit and over the side. No roller meant that you had to have nylon rode to run through the bow chocks. That was the exact set up on my 1967 22,000-lb. cruising sailboat that was sailed all over the place from Canada to Antigua, and out to Bermuda more than once.

Did this mean we dragged anchor all the time? No! Why dragging was not a problem will be the subject of my next installment.

Are New Generation Anchors Any Good?

They sure have promise, judging from the many comments I read on the forums. But, I have to caution that I believe there is a strong tendency to want something to be really good once you've spent a fair bit of money on it. It must be worth what you spent, right?

And there are a few questions still out there. As I noted in my last post I have not yet seen enough testing to come to any definite conclusion, especially in comparison to anchors like the Danforth, the Fortress, the CQR, and the Bruce that have not only been through numerous tests over several decades but have also been in continuous use throughout the cruising world by many experienced boaters. Evans and Beth Starzinger did some unusual testing down in Chile where they found that their anchor favorite, the Bruce type, still performed better than the new generation anchors in the rocky shale found in those waters. There have also been some soupy mud tests done by other manufacturers indicating that there might be some doubts about new gen. anchors in those bottoms. Plus, I have witnessed a big boat having trouble with his Spade in a hard-mud-weedy bottom where my Bulwagga bites in fast every time.

Other boats have problems dealing with the roll bar not working properly in their anchor roller set up. Another interesting thing is that the new gen. anchor folks are all quite conservative on their recommended anchor weights. In the past, anchor manufacturers all seemed to compete to claim the crown of lightweight champion, but today everyone seems to be conceding that point to Fortress, which is basically a Danforth design from 1939. I now see anchor weight tables suggesting I add ten pounds or so to what the leading anchor companies suggested 10 years or so ago.

Am I interested in new gen. anchors? You bet! Am I sold yet--No.

New Generation Anchors?

Anchor talk in the boating forums is usually heated and opinionated, and lots of fun too! There is lots of discussion right now about what some are calling the "New Generation" anchors, and how they compare to what I guess we must now call the "old generation" anchors. Putting myself into that old generation, some of us feel a bit defensive about the term--they're not old, just well tested! And that is what sets the old generation from the new. Yes, there have been a few well-publicised anchor tests in recent years that were apparently won by the new generation anchors, but if you take a close look at these tests they have some critical flaws.

The test that got these anchor wars rolling in the U.S.A. was the one conducted by West Marine and SAIL magazine, and published back in the fall of 2006. Results also appeared in Yachting Monthly in Europe, and in other publications, with varying degrees of quality in the reporting. The results have been argued about endlessly on the forums, but the general conclusion was that the new generation anchors, including the Rocna, the Spade, and the Manson Supreme, did significantly better than the old generation, except for the aluminum Fortress anchors, which I include in the old generation because they are closely based on the Danforth design.

However, I would argue that this major test was fatally flawed from the get-go, despite the best intentions of the testers and the organizations involved. For some reason unknown to me they chose a location with a firm, hard sand bottom, that was obviously highly variable based on the results. Now, there is nothing wrong with anchoring over sand, which many have to do while cruising in the tropics and other locations, and sand generally produces the highest holding power of any bottom material.

The problem lies in the difficulty in getting a proper anchor set in sand, particularly the hard kind like the type the test was conducted in. Those of us who have dove on anchors in sandy bottoms in places like the Bahamas, Florida, and the Caribbean know that it can be both the most welcoming bottom and the most problematic. Texture can vary from deep, soft, and accepting, to more like the compacted surface of a sandy airport runway, and practically everything in between. The former will produce outstanding holding with almost any anchor while the latter may not allow even the sharpest anchor to penetrate. Holding becomes more a matter of what you can get one point or another of the anchor hooked into.

I can vividly recall numerous anchor sets in the Bahamas, where the water can be crystal clear, where we could apply full reverse on the anchor, yet when I observed it underwater there was nothing hooked in but the tip of the point. To me that is not good holding, and anchor test results generally come to how sharp the anchor's flukes are compared to the competition, possibly how much weight is on the point, and also how lucky you are with where the anchor ends up on the bottom.

Back on that Bahamas bottom where the anchor was barely hooked in I could snorkel around and find a nice dip that might be filled with soft sand providing an ideal nesting place for the hook, once I dragged it over there. I might then sit out a tremendous blow in total confidence knowing the anchor is in a good spot with good holding, but if the boat next to me dragged I also knew it probably had very little to do with the holding power of the anchor and everything to do with the quality of the bottom and the luck of the drop.

This fatal flaw means that the West/SAIL test is near worthless in telling us anything other than the new generation might have some promise. I will take a look at more of these tests in further installments.

Can You Afford to Go?

During the winter, with my boat laid up ashore in Massachusetts, I tend to read the various sailing blogs and forums where I research gear ideas and try to be helpful to others with my suggestions. Constant refrains include all the questions from newbies and wannabees about various pieces of equipment. I participate in some of these threads, but what often strikes me is how people with very little experience weigh in on the merits or demerits of one piece of gear or another. Anchor selection is always a hot topic, often generating as much heat as light. The "in" anchors are currently the Rocna and the Manson Supreme, and by all accounts they seem to perform very well and have lots of avid followers. But, from what you read you would think that people are risking their boats and maybe their lives if they are using a CQR, a Bruce, or a Delta.

What people have to remember is that others before them, like the Hiscocks, the Pardeys, the Dashews, and the Roths all went around the world and to many places most of us will never visit, and they did not have the option of using a "new generation anchor" because they did not exist. The same can be said for many items that appear to be considered standard equipment by many new cruisers: SSB, GPS, AIS, radar, electronic charting, and even comfort item like refrigeration and DVDs.

I am not saying that this new gear is bad or wrong to have onboard, but that you may be focusing on the wrong questions before you go. For example, anchoring success is not guaranteed if you simply purchase the latest anchor design, electric windlass, and new type of anchor rode. Easily 95% of anchoring success is due to skill, with 5% due to equipment and dumb luck. Someone like Eric Hiscock could safely sail around the world numerous times with a CQR anchor on the bow because he knew how to use it safely, not because it was a CQR. And yet that particular anchor is condemned by many as worthless. Are we no saying that you can't safely sail with a CQR because it has been supplanted by superior anchors? Of course that statement is ridiculous, but you might not get that impression reading some of the forums.

So, do as I say and not as I do, and please read the blogs with a critical eye, and don't believe that just because everyone is doing something that it is the only way of doing it.