A Brief History of the (Pleasure) Boat Anchor
By Daria & Alex Blackwell
Much has changed in the technology of anchoring a boat safely in recent years. So much so that any prudent mariner, either leisure or professional, would be wise to review what they have on their vessel, gain a better understanding of what an anchor actually does, and see what characteristics are important. Anchors used to be gauged by their weight, but is that still the case?
Ever since man ventured out onto the water using water craft to fish, travel, transport goods, or (in more recent times) for pleasure the most important thing he or she had to be able to do was park the vessel. Of course, initially, this simply meant dragging it up on a beach, but the time soon came to stop (anchor) while on the water. Looking past the development of ropes, chains, cables and other ancillary gear needed to connect the anchor to a boat, let us take a look at where we started and where we are today.
At first there was the stone on a rope. The first innovations and improvements soon followed. Someone thought to drill a hole in the stone to make it easier to tie the rope to it. About 2,000 years ago someone else encased a stone in a wooden framework adding the first flukes to improve holding. Today we call this a killick anchor. Another innovation was drilling further holes in the stone to attach flukes directly to the stone. Of course there were many permutations of this, but they all meant that boats were anchoring ever more securely.
It literally took millennia to move from such a rock on a rope to the admiralty pattern anchor introduced in the 19th century. In the meanwhile, the Romans developed an anchor somewhat reminiscent of it, though lacking the necessary steel forges they made the collar and stock out of lead with the shaft and flukes still being made of wood.
In the 1940s Richard Danforth redesigned the fluke ship’s anchor to have wide sharp triangular flukes and a stock at the crown for use on sea planes and military landing craft, which had been using the more cumbersome Northill anchor prior to that. Much lighter than the stockless fluke, his steel Danforth anchor has a high holding-to-weight ratio and soon found its way into the pleasure boat market. At about the same time the Brittany anchor was introduced in Europe. It too is a derivation of the ship’s anchor. It has wide, flat, and pointy flukes, and has no stock, though some newer versions do. Lighter versions of the Danforth followed and today the aluminium Fortress anchor is one of the more popular brands. This is a very good anchor for muddy bottoms.
As one might suspect, there are many variations of the scoop type anchor available today. We selected the above three as these are anchors we have actually taken out cruising for extended periods. There are several others already on the market, such as the Manson Supreme, Manson Boss, Spoon, Seablade, etc. We have found that the scoop type anchors outperform all other anchors in our collection when comparing all-around performance in different bottom substrates (sand, mud, shell, weed) using different rodes (chain, rope, or combinations) and under varied conditions (high wind, reversing current or wind direction, etc). These anchors veer well, hold reliably, and dig ever deeper as the wind increases. One observation of differences is that the Spade may need a bit more scope than the Rocna and Ultra. Other than that, the Ultra sets the fastest and all three hold very well.
The new design anchors do introduce a modern challenge. They come up with so much muck in their scoops that they can be difficult to weigh without a windlass. A wash-down hose or multiple buckets of water are therefore necessary to clean the anchor and rode. That said, we would much rather endure the difficulty in weighing an anchor than getting it to set in the first place, or for that matter worrying about its holding ability. We are converts to the new generation scoop type anchors and have retired our CQR as well as our Admiralty type anchors from active duty.
In fact, we are so convinced about the setting and holding ability of these newer anchors that we are intending to help re-write many of the cruising guides. Where anchorages are rated as having poor holding, we believe that they may have been rated with poor anchors, as we have personally found the holding to be good. So if your anchor is not holding as well as you might like, consider your options. The insurance of having a good modern anchor may just let you sleep peacefully through the night secure in your chosen anchorage. It’s up to you!
Alex and Daria Blackwell are the authors of “Happy Hooking - The Art of Anchoring.” It covers every aspect of anchors and anchoring in a fun and easy to read format with lots of photos and illustrations. It is available from good chandleries, Amazon and on our publishing website.
For more information on this subject or on anchoring in general, please see our book:
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