From the Drawing Board
Occasional ramblings from
a Small Craft Designer

by John Welsford

Connections with Mother Earth

Getting the anchor over the side is a job that is often undertaken with a sigh of relief. The day is over, perhaps it blew a bit or the tide was running so the prospect of a rest is welcome, the memories of work and everyday things are receding and the song of the big old bird in the trees on the beach is the best music you’ve ever heard.

But the weather here in the bottom of the South Pacific is changeable, at two in the morning its blowing hard, the wind is howling in the rigging and someone is sounding one of those damn freon hooters, but hey? Those waves sound loud! When you stick your head and see the shore only a boatlength away out the hatch the mood changes to panic, your anchor has dragged!!!!

The one thing in life you really want to believe in is that your boat will stay put when you put it there, Cars are like that, pull the handbrake on and walk off, barring joyriders car thieves and towaway zones it will be there when you come back, right? Boats should be like that so you can sleep tight at night, right?

So you mention to your friends that you’re off down to the chandlery to buy an anchor and then the trouble starts. Everyone you speak to seems to have a different idea as to what you should buy, people who’s opinion you value seem to have very differing thoughts on what sort of anchor and ground tackle is best for your vessel and you are getting more confused by the minute.

Plough, Sand, Danforth, CQR , Folding, Grapnel, Rond, Admiralty, Mushroom, Fisherman , Bruce, Delta, Grapnel, Herreshoff, Stockless and more!

What to do? Which one is right? How do we choose?

Lets have a look at this, the selection of a suitable anchor depends largely upon the type of work it has to do. All of them are required to keep the boat parked until you wish to take it somewhere else, but some are sitting there fishing with several lines over the side and a group of fairly alert people aboard who will notice any unplanned drift.

Trying several fishing spots in quick succession means a light anchor and convenient stowage , getting the thing on deck and down again is a priority so your other extreme “ theres a hurricane coming so we have to save our sailing home from being wrecked on the reef that is just down wind of us” will require a very different anch , one where security rather than convenience is the overriding consideration.

In our usual boating environment we have a lot of the first, and a surprising desire to have the second available if needed, so the first consideration is the “style” of use, second of course is the “quality of bottom” ( I can never quote this without remembering the wicked grin of our “Coastguard” tutor when he introduced the topic).

Different anchors have different abilities to hold in different bottom materials, some are “general purpose” but with a trend toward a bottom type common in an area and some are very specialized, but lets return to the list above. We can divide those into groups, assuming that our boats are going to be primarily pleasure, and mostly under 15 metres long , that the anchors are not for permanent or long term use and that there is enough space for a normal four or five to one scope on the anchor warp.

Some of these anchors are named by brand, some by a generic name and a few by tradition, some are useful for our target group and some are so specialized that they are not relevant.

First, lets knock out the “odd ones”. The “Admiralty” and the “Stockless” are in spite of the small examples to be found in second hand shops, big ship anchors which are dependent on being very heavy for their holding power. They do self stow in purpose built “hawsepipes” but are only viable in really large sizes .

The “Mushroom” is again, a specialized anchor, normally found as a long term anchor used in large sizes to provide a mooring on a very muddy bottom, small ones are sometimes used where the boat concerned spends its life over tidal estuary mud but here in New Zealand it is uncommon.

Grapnels, both folding and non, are useful for holding your “skiff” in place while you put a line over the side, with many points and not much weight they will usually pick up some crevice in a rocky bottom in which to wedge itself, but are not so effective in mud or hard sand, short on weight and fluke area they tend to drag even if they don’t pull out. That said, the cast “folding” grapnel is a lot better in most cases than the old type made up by a handyman from reinforcing bar and waterpipe, and the handyman job is usually easily enough bent to heave it free if stuck under a rock. Again, look at the environment before making your choice.


Tattooed on the sailors arm, or lately on the behind of some of the more daring young women is an anchor. One we recognize immediately as such but one which has somewhat gone out of favour ( the anchor, not the young woman) “Fisherman” anchors have a lot going for them, I use them in most of my smaller boats, they hold well on a short scope, will hold in almost any type of ground and the folding cross arm allows the unit to stow flat . It does need to be heavy though, I don’t think a fisherman anchor less than about 12 lb is worth scrap metal, there has to be enough weight on the point of the anchor to drive it into the bottom and a light one is about as much use as a lightweight steam roller (in my opinion this applies pretty much to all anchors).

A disadvantage though is that one arm of the anchor sticks up off the bottom and can be fouled by the anchor line as the boat swings with the tide. Use lots of chain!

In a small or medium sized boat where space allows stowage and the boat is stopping over a wide range of bottoms a fisherman with good sharp flukes of large area is as good a bet as you will find.

Herreshoff (I forget which one) reworked the “fisherman” to stow better and to give better holding power, I’ve never tried a genuine one but the forged shank and blades with their square socketed cross arms look like a significant improvement on the more common and often rough original, and in sizes over 20 kg are legendary for their holding power. They need to be heavy though and a winch or big shoulders are a help. “Luke” is another variation on this theme that is common in the USA and those are anchors with a really good reputation in sizes above about 35 lbs, not for us unless we get to own that dreamboat.

A “Rond” anchor is one specialised item that might, now that I think of it, have a place in many parts of the world, we have many boats active on lakes and rivers. “Rond” anchors, shaped like a pick with one leg, were developed to secure canal and riverboats to the banks, are ideal when tying up to the shore in a tideless environment.


Sand anchors, “Danforth ” and the several others similar (many of which are advertised as having unique features but most of which operate on similar principles) are good in sand, mud and will usually get a point hooked into a rocky crevice if necessary, They are good general purpose anchors for harbour or coastal cruisers. Their holding power in softer surfaces can be very good for the weight. They stow flat and are easily handled, a particularly good anchor for smaller and medium sized craft, but don’t rule the type out as a primary (the main “bower”) or second anchor in bigger craft as its many virtues make it a favourite. Again though, (and you will hear it again) buy a big one rather than a small one!


From here the shapes appear to the uninitiated to be pretty odd. The “ Bruce” appears like a three fingered hand with its wrist bent under and the C Q R (Coastal Quick Release, see, I did know!) looks like a refugee from Grandads farm and there are several lesser known breeds such as the “Delta” which appear to be cousins to the CQR and plough family. All of these are good in almost any circumstances, again they need to be as big as you can conveniently handle, and on bigger boats that means a good bow roller and a winch of some sort, (I said WINCH, forget I ever mentioned that tattoo!)


Bruce anchors were developed to hold floating Oil Rigs over their wells in the stormy North Sea, I’ve seen photos of these eight metres high, impressive and our little boats would be most unlikely to drag one, but they perform well in the smaller sizes as well. On a wide range of bottoms those odd shaped flukes dig in and roll the forged steel anchor upright allowing the near horizontal pull of the boat to dig it in, hanging onto rocks seem to be within it skills and the long arm helps the boat to pull it up and out of the mud from directly overhead.

While you will find small ones in the shops I have some reservations about them, but once the boat is 6 metres long or over the appropriate sizes are very effective almost anywhere.

Bruce anchors, in spite of the slightly other world appearance are deservedly popular with long range cruisers and look like becoming much more a familiar sight. I cant see anyone tattooing a pikkie of one on their arm though.

Back to the “Plough” in its various incarnations, here in New Zealand “Manson” make a particularly good one. CQR is the original and one of the few forged from steel rather than cut from steel plate. I like the plough, have used them on my bigger boats for a long time and have very seldom felt insecure. Able to hold well on almost any surface and stowing well in a bow roller or in an anchor well these have for years been the most favoured of all anchor types by the long range cruising fraternity. When buying look at the limit stops and the “ wrist” action which should move very freely . Those stops have to be extremely strong and that freedom of movement is critical to the anchors function. In my experience not so good under about 8 kg the medium and bigger sizes of plough anchor in a reputable brand are to be seen on a wide range of “serious” boats and are still my own anchor of choice for larger boats.

“Delta” anchors fill pretty much the same slot as the “plough” and “Bruce” anchors, and have a passing resemblance to the former but without the “wrist” action that allows the CQR and its brothers to get the anchors point down into the dirt, they use instead a crossbar to roll the unit nose down and are claimed to have exceptional holding power in most surfaces. Weights and boat sizes on the Delta selection charts suggest that the manufacturers are prepared to back this up with a lighter anchor recommended for the boat size. Stowage in a bow roller is fine but they are a peculiarly spiky thing to secure on deck. I don’t have any direct experience of these but am impressed by the quality of some of those who recommend them, I’ll leave this one up to you.

Anchors need weight, don’t be kidded otherwise. Even a sharp point needs weight to drive it through a weedy bottom, or to dig into hard sand or gravel, weight is insurance, strength and security and I am an unashamed advocate of big, heavy anchors with lots of chain on and an anchor warp at least five times the depth of water. I like to sleep comfortably and undisturbed, to go ashore unworried and to know that my pride and joy will be there when I return.

John Welsford
Designer, and not often enough, sailor.