A 4-prong grapnel with triangular edges welded on.

There probably is no other device that has the ability to keep you safe than an anchor. Of course its primary use is to keep your boat in just one spot in order that you can fish. But if you are ever unfortunate enough to have an engine conk out at a critical moment, then the use of the anchor could just save your bacon. It was discovered back in the tombs of Egypt that model boats had anchors made from stones with holes drilled in, or were the more traditional; “T” shape that is the foundation design of the modern anchor. If they knew the importance of the anchor as long ago as 2000b.c.,then as a small boat owner you should not only have one, but familiarise yourself with all the patterns available. They will all hold your boat in one position, but only dependant on the type of seabed you are over. It was on some Greek coins of some 300 B.C. that designs of anchors were as we know them today. Some Athenian vessels of that period were reputed to have iron anchors weighing over 400lbs.There were also wood sheathed iron anchors that weighed in at 1000lbs, and a massive 16-foot, wood-clad, iron anchor was found when a lake in Italy was drained before the Second World War. But it was in 573A.D. that the first forged iron anchors were made in East Anglia. While many of these early iron anchors were made to hold the vessel by weight, it was not until the mid 1800’s that the British navy started experimenting with the “tripping” of anchors, which basically made them easier to bring up. Dropping a 1000lb iron weight to the seabed is easy. Finding enough manpower to haul it back up was something else. The early American Navy liked their anchors to have a broad blade to give a wide area to dig in the seabed.                     

A good 10-12 feet of chain will help drag those prongs in.

There is a basic range of patterns which are classed as “Plough”, “Fluke” and “Hook” designs. The hook design is used for problem seabeds that are rough, rocky or snaggy. Two rough ground patterns would be known as the “Fisherman” and the “Grapnel”. If you think of a farm plough drawn by a carthorse then you have the basic conception of the “Plough” anchor. They are designed to drag over any seabed of soft mud to rock, with the point burying itself first, and then pulling the area of the blades deeper into the seabed. The “Fluke” is an excellent load bearer, once one of the flukes has taken hold. But they can be dragged some way along a seabed before they find something to lever against, and are hit and miss at holding quickly. Thereby giving us the name of something when your best friend catches a 40lb Cod or a 9lb Black Bream. Obviously no skill, so it must have been a “Fluke”.                         

A shackle at the end can be used to trip the anchor using cable ties.

The list of different early pattern anchors is endless. There was the 1894 “Brown” anchor, the “Hartress”, and in the early 1920’s, the stockless anchor was invented. Then, as recent as 1949 the Baldt lightweight stockless anchor was developed, and has such significant holding power that it is used by oil exploration companies for securing their drilling rigs. With the use of chain, the actual length of the anchor shaft got shorter, and the blade designs also moved to other patterns. As a guide, the Scottish anchor approved by Lloyds shipping in London weighed only 45lbs, but is alleged to have a holding power of a staggering 4000lbs.One of the best small boat anchors is the “Bruce”. Invented by Peter Bruce from the Isle of Man, he developed it from the claw anchor as recently as the 1970’s.              

Keep all loose rope coils in a bucket or bin.

Another relative newcomer in marine terms is the Danforth. Another small boat favourite developed by American Richard Danforth in the 1940’s, it is still recognised as one of the best general purpose anchors. The Danforth is easily recognised by its two long, sharp pivoting flukes, and long shank. If it doesn’t have a “head eye” just drill one out for tripping. This anchor stores easily on a small boat and grips into the sea bed in seconds, but only providing you use a good length of chain to drag those flukes along the seabed, plus plenty of anchor rope. They can come in 2, 3 ½, 5 and 7kg classed weights for small boating. You can also buy completed anchor kits from many chandlers. They generally come with 30 metres of 8mm rope, 2 metres of 6mm chain and shackles. For a 2kg Bruce complete anchor rig expect to pay about £40-.Of course the 30 metres of rope isn’t going to do you much good, as you are supposed to put out up to three times the depth you expect to fish. I have seen 7 times the depth quoted, which I feel is way too much rope. A general rule with anchoring is that you need 1lb of weight for every foot of boat length. So for a 17-footer you need a 7kg anchor.However, if the boat is a heavy wood displacement hull, you might need to up the anchor weight a couple of kilos. 

Our own Hi-Sea Drifter's rough ground Anchor made of scaffold tube and threaded stud bar.

The traditional shape of the “fisherman’s” anchor is also known as a “Kedge” has one of two prongs, but only one will hold the bottom, the other remained opposed, and off the sea bed. They are supposed to be excellent in storms, which is no doubt why they got the name “Fisherman”. They are not easy to store as the blades can scratch decks and paintwork, so are generally hung off the bow before being released, the traditional anchor shape that most of us know. The smaller folding galvanised grapnel anchor that you often see at boat jumbles are, for general offshore dinghy work, pretty useless. They are OK for holding a small 8-foot dinghy, rib, or jetski, and the four grapnel prongs can be pressed into use as an expendable rough ground anchor, but if your boat is 13-feet or over, go for either Danforth, or Bruce.                      

The Bruce Anchor.

A 10kg galvanised Bruce anchor will set you back about £40, but the shipping cost might be a bit painful. The shape of the Bruce also lends itself well to sit snugly in the bow roller eye, where it can be easily tied off for travel. Make sure it does not come loose in a rough sea, and double the security with a nylon cable tie if you expect a long run in inclement weather. Advised size of a Bruce is just 2kg for boats up to 16-feet as it has great holding power. But it might pay you to upgrade to a 5kg which rates as suitable for boats up to 23-feet.They will usually have an eye drilled at the top, so you can trip it with either a cable tie or some weak nylon twine.             

The Danforth Anchor

The anchor chain is also an important partner to the anchor, whichever pattern you choose. I have heard that you need as much in chain weight as the anchor you are using. The size of the 6/8/10mm chain links apparently not so important. A larger link is heavier, so needs a shorter length of chain. The shorter length of chain you are using means the more rope you must put out to compensate for the angle of pull on the anchor. As a rough guide, I would say 8 to 10-feet of chain would suffice, but many boat users will say more is better. That’s all very fine, until you have to haul it up and store it. Remember you should always carry a second anchor kit. That’s all the rope, chain, anchor etc as a backup should you have to cut the first one off (anchor grips too close to rocks, and you cannot free it, so have to cut loose).But with two sets aboard, with twin anchors, twin chains, and several hundred feet of rope you have an awful lot of extra weight to carry. I use one Danforth and 10mm anchor plait rope for my main line, but keep a smaller one, small chain etc and just 8mm polyprop rope as my backup. Quite honestly I have never had a problem with polyprop (OK so it twists and floats), but it’s strong, and cheap, plus easy to store as a backup.


The Fisherman's Anchor

For grapnel anchors, it really is sensible and extremely cost efficient to make up your own. An easy way is to cut up shaft sized lengths of scaffold tube. Drill holes one end, and four holes at the other, then slide in short lengths of threaded stud, held with bolts. Put them in a vice and bend a slight curve in them and they are ready for a length of chain and some polyprop rope. As cheap as chips to make, a labour intensive job for blown off weekends, but half a dozen will probably last you a season of rough ground work. If you anchor on prime reef you will generally get hung up as the boat swings over slack tide, then just cleat off and steam away steadily(Alderney ring optional).If one of the prongs comes back straightened just bend back into a curve again. If one of the studded lengths snaps, simply undue the bolts, remove, slide in another and tighten up. I used to have my grapnel anchors welded up, but using a length of scaffold tube and the threaded stud is much better. You can actually lengthen the prongs, or shorten them, depending on the terrain, with the longer prongs springing or bending out easier. As with all anchor retrieval in poor weather, just make sure the coils are put away as you bring it in. Try to avoid the rope going under the hull and especially round the back as you don’t want it fouling the prop.            

The main anchor rope should be 8-10mm anchorplait,but the same in polyprop will be a cheap backup.

If you don’t use the Alderney Ring and just like the exercise, make sure you run into any waves bow on, and as the anchor rope starts to get more vertical, bring the bow slightly off to one side of the rope, so you always have steerage, won’t run over it and tangle in the prop, and can make adjustments if the wind start blowing the bow off. On calm days you might get lucky just steaming straight up to the anchor, and when it goes tight, a few hard hauls and it pops clear. Better as far as safety, and retention of your digits is to cleat off on the bow or side sleat, and then steam it out with the boat. Without wishing to be melodramatic, just make sure you have a knife handy, and if it all suddenly goes pear-shaped in rough weather, cut the rope and go home. I remember once on Mark Gannon’s “Lady Patricia” charter boat out of Courtmacsherry. I was doing a story on the Lusitania wreck, and we arrived to find a tiny 16-footer anchored up on it congering. Mark mentioned it was a long way out for a small boat with an iffy forecast, and late afternoon when it started to blow, the anglers tried using the boat to rip their anchor out of the wreck. They drove so hard the entire bow went under as it tightened up, and we thought they were going down. We left them after they cut the rope, so beware. It should also go without saying that you should always start your engine and give it a good warm up before you start hauling. If you are fishing inshore in any sort of tide or wind, and after hauling the anchor you find the engine won’t start you will quickly realise how fast light fibreglass boat can drift towards the rocks.                

The Plough anchor.

Finally, we must all have hauled yards of rope around the deck without storing it. Many fatalities arrive in the commercial world by legs getting tangled in ropes just at the time as the boat suddenly drifts the wrong way. Better to put that rope away as you bring it aboard, so feet and legs are not treading on loose coils. You can coil it in a fish box, or get one of those large 5-gallon buckets and feed the coil round the edges. That way, when you come to drop it again, it will sink to the bottom trouble free. I find I always relax once I have a good anchor hold, as you know you are in one spot. Rods out, feet up, kettle on. It’s the only way to go.

COPYRIGHT: Graeme Pullen. All rights reserved.