Anchoring on Barren River Lake by Lee Huddleston

If you are sailing on a hot day and decide to go for a swim, do one of two things: leave at least one adult on board while everyone else is swimming, or anchor the boat. If everyone gets into the water without dropping the anchor, you can be surprised at how fast a boat can drift away from you in the calmest wind. Even if you survive, it is quite embarrassing to have to flag down a motorboat to help you chase down your boat.

In some places, the Lake is surprisingly deep. Right off the Yacht Club Cove, at summer pool the Lake is 70 feet deep. The old river channel runs right through that area. Farther out from the Cove the Lake averages 50 feet at summer pool. When travelling between the Peninsula and Mason’s Island with a depth finder, it is fascinating to watch the depth get progressively shallower until it is about 15 to 20 feet. Then suddenly the depth will jump to 65 feet. That was a cliff that overlooked the old river channel.

The point is, the depth can cause problems in anchoring. As you know, “scope” is the ratio of the anchor rode let out to the depth of the water (and the height of your bow above the water). The normal recommended ratio is 7 to one. In other words, 7 feet of rode for every one foot of depth. The reason for that ratio is to make the anchor lie flat along the Lake bed so that when it is pulled it will dig into the bed. With 70 feet of depth or even 50, that scope is not practical. Few of us want to carry 490 or 350 feet of rode. Nor do we want to swing in a huge circle.

So, is it possible to anchor in the middle of the Lake? Yes, it definitely is. On a regular basis I anchor Orion in the middle of the Lake and only use about 100 feet of rode. One reason is that I don’t often anchor in the middle when I anticipate a very strong wind. Another reason is my ground tackle (anchor, chain and rode).

I have anchored Orion more than two times in winds exceeding 60 knots. Once just last year. Many years ago I saw a storm coming over the Dam and got in behind the eastern side of Mason’s Island (toward Bailey’s Point). I put the bow up close to the Island and dropped the anchor into the old river channel. When the wind pushed me back, the anchor dug into the relatively vertical eastern side of the channel. It was exciting (I’ll have to tell you the whole story at a later time). The other time was just last year. Nicole and I were just day-sailing and ignoring the warnings of remnants of a 90 knot storm in Indiana. We came around the southern end of Mason’s Island and there was the big, black, monster coming over the Dam. (Maybe the Dam just generates these storms.) I could see a whole herd of white horses bearing down on us. I told Nicole to go below and hold on. I then headed up and dropped the anchor and fell back on all of my 150 feet or rode. I then quickly got my sails down and secured (barely in time). The wind and rain hit like a full-force fire hose. In the short fetch between the Dam and our location the storm had kicked up waves about 3 feet high. I was proud that the ground tackle held us as if we were glued to the ground. The only problem was that I have needed to replace the port lights in my windows. As a result, we sat there laughing while the rain poured in on us. After the storm it took a lot of patience to get the anchor back on board. It had dug half way to China. I pulled up the rode and snugged it to the bow and then waited for the wave action to slowly work the anchor free. With repeated pulling and snugging the anchor finally broke free. When I tried to pull it up to the boat, it was a gigantic ball of mud, rock, and gravel. But after a few minutes of dunking it I was able to get it clean.

When I first started sailing Orion I purchased a 13 pound high-tensile Danforth anchor from West Marine. It has worked exceptionally well. You will recall that a Danforth anchor has a shank in the middle and triangular “flukes” on each side of the shank. When the anchor is on the bottom the flukes drop down somewhat. As the anchor is pulled by the shank the flukes dig into the bottom. The more the anchor is pulled, the deeper the flukes dig (which is why I got such a huge ball of Lake bottom in the last storm). If the anchor is not lying flat, the flukes can flip up and the anchor will just drag across the bottom. There are many types of anchors (Bruce, claw, Delta, CQR, plow) all of which can work well in the Lake.

Anchors do not hold due to their weight. They hold by digging into the bottom. And they dig into the bottom because of their shape. Accordingly a mushroom anchor or any variation of it is completely worthless. To be held by weight alone you would probably need to get an old engine block.

After the anchor, you need to get a chain to go between the rode and the shank. On Orion I have a 6-foot length of 5/16 inch chain. That is a relatively heavy chain on purpose. A light chain will not accomplish the purpose. And that purpose is to help keep the shank along the bottom when the rode is pulled. The difference between an anchor without a chain and one with a chain is dramatic. Any old rusty chain will do, the longer the better.

When I first started sailing Orion, I wanted to get the best for her. So for my rode I purchased 100 feet of ½ inch braid-on-braid Dacron line. Bad idea. When I sailed with Karl Millen in the Bahamas on his much larger cruiser, the Succubus, I noticed that his rode was smaller than the one I had purchased for Orion. When I asked him about it he pointed out that the breaking strength of his smaller rode was strong enough to lift his boat out of the water. He also pointed out that a smaller, twisted (rather than braid-on-braid), nylon line would stretch and absorb the jerks from waves that can pull an anchor free. So, I purchased 150 feet of twisted, nylon, 3/8 inch line. Since then my anchor has held much better even in the strongest winds.

One more technique that I have used on Orion occasionally and almost every time on the Committee Boat when I am running races can multiply the holding power of your anchor many fold. It is called a “sentinel” or a “kellet.” It is a weight that you run down your rode after you have set your anchor. On the Committee Boat I just use a concrete block. I run a line through the holes in the block and then around the rode. I tie another line on the block and secure the tail to the boat. I then push the block over the bow and slowly lower it with the added line. I lower it until it is about at the depth of the water and then I tie it off. At first the line from the block to the boat will be vertical. The line from the block to the anchor will be horizontal along the bottom. If the wind picks up and the boat tries to move aft, the rode will try to straighten out. To do that it will have to lift the block. As it does so, the force will be transferred to the anchor horizontally along the bottom, digging the anchor in deeper. Plus, due to physics beyond the scope of this article, the force necessary to raise the block is exponentially greater than the mere weight of the block.

I hope this has been useful to you. See you on the Lake.




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