As surely as sailors seek a brisk wind, they look for peace at anchor. It seems odd, then, that the simple act of dropping an anchor can provoke such conflict and consternation among cruising sailors.

"I can't believe it!" our friend Larry exclaimed on almost a daily basis in George Town. "Weíre in a harbor that's four miles long, and boats keep anchoring right on top of us!"

Of all the mistakes sailors make in anchoring, the unpardonable sin may be to anchor close when thereís no reason to. Cruising sailors are a tolerant lot, but as Larry will tell you, nothing makes a neighbor quite as grumpy as being forced to keep an anchor watch all night.

Europeans seem to be more comfortable in close quarters than Americans. Regardless of nationality, vessels that anchor first have right-of-way over later arrivals, who should always give them as much privacy and peace of mind as they can. Inevitably, however, there will be times when you have to consider anchoring five boat lengths or less away from a neighbor. In that case, here are some ideas to ensure your arrival is welcomed rather than feared:

  1. Talk to your neighbors, preferably before you drop the hook. Ask how much chain they have out and whether they are comfortable with your intentions. If necessary, dinghy over later to introduce yourself and make sure everyone is content.

  2. Be sure to match the scope, number of anchors, and type of anchor rode (chain or rope) of the neighboring boats. If not, the vessels will swing differently and may well meet in the night.

  3. If a boat that was anchored before you questions whether you are too close, don't rationalize--move. If you've created enough concern to make someone ask, you're probably too close.

  4. Allow lots of extra room for changing tidal currents, since boats may go every which way as the current switches.

  5. Drop your anchor to the stern and off to the side of the other boats in the traditional checkerboard fashion, rather than directly behind. The offset minimizes the chances of impact if the wind shifts or a boat drags. Itís especially rude to anchor directly in front of another boat.
How do I know these things? Unfortunately, Iíve learned them the hard way: a beautiful Hinckley kissing us in the solar panel (St. Augustine, panel destroyed), a thirty knot squall in tight quarters (Oriental, scratch on hull), powerboats tangled in our anchor (No Name Harbor, another scratch), a forty foot ketch riding just a boat length off our bow (George Town, mental trauma).

Standing on the bow of your boat yelling and blowing an air horn, as I did in the case of the forty foot ketch, is probably not the best method for establishing a productive dialogue with your neighbors. A few weeks later at Normans Cay, I listened to a boat make contact the right way. When a sailboat seemed to be anchoring a bit close, one of the boats already in place called them on the radio and said, "Welcome to the anchorage...we're glad to see you! We wanted to let you know that all the boats around you are on two anchors, and you'll need to give us a lot of space or use two anchors yourself." Instead of feeling intimidated or embarrassed, the new boat seemed grateful. In fact, I believe I saw both crews having cocktails together later that evening.

Although itís not mentioned in most textbooks, communicating with your neighbors just might be the most important thing you do in a tight anchorage. After all, who ever had too many friends?

Copyright © 2008 by Rodger Ling. All rights reserved.