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Anchoring Problems

Michael Peters

Sightlines - April 2015

Anchoring Paranoia

Sometimes the last thing you want is to be let off the hook.

Chareese and I were married in September 1992, and I had convinced her to honeymoon on my beloved Catalina Island. Southern California was not an easy place to rent a boat without a captain, but we managed to find a friend of a friend in need of cash to rent us his 26-foot Grady-White for the week. As we left the Long Beach breakwater, the fog was so thick we could hardly see 50 feet ahead, but I told my bride that all was fine, assuring her I had made this same crossing many times. In the dense fog, we never once needed to use our fog horn, as Reese yelled at me during the entire crossing. It was the start of a long week without much sex.

After spending our first few days in Avalon, we took the Grady-White around the East End and headed west towards my favorite secluded spot at Little Harbor. I felt one with nature as we passed the cliffs around Silver Canyon and headed up the backside, never seeing another boat. We anchored in the basin between the reef and shore, with enough room to free swing in the empty harbor. Later that night Chareese frantically woke me up because of some swishing noise around the boat. When I finally got out of bed to check things out, it turned out to be a seal swimming around the boat leaving a trail of phosphorescence in the pitch-black water. How romantic! I went back to bed. Reese couldn’t sleep as she wondered if I got rid of my first wife this way.

Santa Catalina’s Little Harbor

A few hours passed and she woke me up again, more frantic than before. “We are drifting out to sea toward the reef!” she shouted. Annoyed and sure that I might someday refer to her as Wife Number Two, I went back to sleep, but she persisted. When I did get up to check, it turned out that she was right. The wind had shifted offshore and we had dragged anchor dangerously close to the reef. I started the engine and reanchored in total darkness. My new wife was not impressed with my seamanship.    

I really should have known better than to honeymoon at Little Harbor, because I had lost a boat there before. During a school break back in college at USC, a friend and I had taken my 15-foot plywood skiff around to Little Harbor. As we slept on shore, a storm kicked up in the middle of the night. By morning Desiree lay on the beach filled with water and sand after pulling her anchor in the wind and surf. I walked barefoot to Fisherman’s Cove to get help from the USC Marine Lab and by the time I got back my outboard engine had been stolen and the first boat I ever built lay in ruins.

So years later, here I am with our new boat Adele (see Sightlines, January 2015) and I have developed a bit of paranoia about anchoring. Our first run to Catalina didn’t help my confidence any when we performed a trial anchoring with the boat’s polished stainless steel 55-pound claw, and the windlass wouldn’t retrieve the line. The rope was slipping around the capstan, requiring a deckhand to reach under and tension it by hand. Not something I could ask my wife to contend with, so we decided to switch to all chain to solve the problem permanently. “All chain” in California means 300 feet for anchoring in deep water with plenty of scope. The old rode on Adele, with 50 feet of chain and 250 feet of line is now relegated to a spare anchor stored in the lazarette. For a spare, I will probably carry a 21-pound Fortress, although an aluminum anchor seems like an oxymoron to me. For the stern anchor I will carry another Fortress or Plow with another 300-foot rode. Our Zodiac dinghy will carry its own anchor for snorkeling.

These days, almost all of the suitable anchorage spots on the leeward side of Catalina are furnished with moorings, but they still don’t have any on the windward side except at Cat Harbor. Our first trip this summer aboard Adele is planned for Little Harbor, where Chareese and I will relive many memories. But after all these years, I am still a bit freaked out after losing a boat there, so just to be on the safe side, I am thinking about carrying a spare anchor for the dinghy, too.

Got an anchor-related horror story of your own? Let us know in the comments.

This article originally appeared in the April 2015 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.