(Originally published in the May 2019 issue of SKI-BOAT)
By Anton Gets
NINE out of ten boats that turn over at sea do so because the skipper is not completely in control and is not checking the anchor rope position to ensure it’s lying in front of the boat and not under the boat.
Bearing in mind that I’m a practical skipper examiner, I implore you to take note of what’s discussed in this article — it is integral to your safety at sea.
When at sea one must always be prepared for the unexpected. As an example, in recent times there was a skipper fishing in a competition at Sodwana Bay who lost both motors (engines cut out) in a strong 28 knot north-easterly wind with all electronics including the radio rendered useless. The skipper used his head and decided to throw the anchor to hold the vessel back from entering the surf zone.
However, although this seemed like a good idea, throwing the anchor is dangerous in this scenario. The skipper threw the anchor overboard but the rope itself was tangled up in the anchor hatch and he had a serious bunch up when he tried to let the rope out as the anchor was going down.
The skipper tried to loosen the knots in the rope, but his hand got entangled in the bunch up when the anchor hit the sea bed while his hand was still entangled. He was pulled overboard, dragged under and caught up in the rope.
Fortunately he only lost a finger and thumb in the accident, not his life. The crew swam to shore, with the boat ending up upside down in the surf. Both crew also had serious injuries and ended up in hospital late that night.
All of this could have been avoided if proper care had been taken in maintaining all the safety equipment. Make sure that your safety equipment is all operational so that, when you really need it, it works. In this case it was the anchor and rope set up that was incorrect.
Whatever you do, do not fold the anchor rope into a roll like you do with a ski rope, because it twists and picks up loops that cause it to bunch up. In that way it’s similar to your garden hose or electrical extension leads that do exactly that when you want to stretch them a distance. Remember that any knot in the rope reduces its strength by 50%.
Rather simply drop the rope into the anchor hatch so that it will come out the way you put it in.
Tie the loose end of the anchor rope on to your anchor bollard and run the full length of rope away from the boat in a long line. Then, from the bollard, you pull and drop the rope into the anchor hatch as it comes so that you can have it on your deck or place it where you want it. Sometimes we use a milk crate as a rope container.
This way, when you let down your anchor the rope will automatically unfold out of the hatch or crate without it snagging. The anchor will descend slowly and you have control of it, ensuring that it is going out in front of the boat diagonal to the vessel.
“Throwing” the pick or anchor is the last thing you want to do.
Also remember that the folding or Danford anchor that was used to pass your vessel COF is for safety and not for fishing. It remains on the boat as an integral part of your safety equipment. If you are going to anchor on reefs for the purpose of fishing then you must have a separate reef anchor and a spare rope.
Let’s dive into the detail …
“THROW the pick,” shouts the skipper with his eyes glued to the fishfinder. “Throw the bloody pick!” Not a sound is heard; the distinctive rattle of chain over the gunnel is absent. With smoke pouring out of the skipper’s ears and his red, scowling face turning purple, he drags his eyes from the huge plume of fish visible on the sounder over the fast disappearing pinnacle he can see on the screen.
Words turn the air blue and curses only old sea-salts would understand are totally lost on the new crew who were experiencing deep sea fishing for the first time. Cowering in the transom area, wide-eyed and speechless, they focus on this raging monster — their skipper. “What’s a pick? What would we do with a pick and why or where would a pick be kept on the boat?” they ask, bewildered.
Sound familiar? Been there done that? I bet you have — either as a skipper or a crew member. And you know what? Anchoring is one of the most dangerous aspects of ski-boating. Despite this, very little attention is given to doing it properly and safely.
Anchoring at sea is not just “throwing the pick” — there is far more one should know about how, when and where to drop an anchor. Thereafter the retrieving of the anchor is the most difficult and dangerous aspect of the procedure and we will cover that in the July issue of SKI-BOAT.
In this article I will detail the most commonly used anchors, how to rig them and how they should be deployed.
Before we get to discussing the anchor, we need to take a look at another very important aspect — using the correct rope. The correct anchor rope to use is 10-20mm nylon, polyethylene or similar with as little stretch as possible, ±1 000kg breaking strain or more.
The ski-rope that is often used is adequate for shallow water, but stretches and carries air within its twines.
This stretch makes it difficult to retrieve in deep water, particularly in strong current situations, and can be dangerous. The air in the twine causes the anchor to lift, and hence you will have difficulty staying in one spot.
TYPES OF ANCHORS
Sand anchor: Ideal for anchoring on sand, particularly when you have engine failure and are drifting towards the breaker line or if you want to fish a small wreck and want to avoid losing your anchor in the rigging. The sand anchor also allows you to anchor ahead of a particular spot where there is no reef structure. However, it is not advisable to use it for anchoring on a reef or metal structure. It has the advantage of folding away for easy storage.
Grapple anchor: Ideal for anchoring on reefs. One should use an anchor with four tines, between 10- and 15mm thick, depending on the size of the craft. Tines with a diameter of 10mm are normally sufficient for a craft of approximately 5m, and 12-15mm for a craft over 6m in length.
The shaft of this kind of anchor is usually 35- to 40mm in diameter, and round or square in cross section. It should be 250- to 400mm in length.
An anchor with a 35mm shaft, which is 250mm long and has four 10mm tines will weigh approximately 6kg and an anchor 400mm long with a shaft of 40mm and four 15mm tines will weigh about 10kg.
GETTING INTO POSITION
Anchoring effectively, be it on sand or rock, is vitally important. Ideally, one wants to anchor in the right place the first time the anchor is dropped. Believe it or not, the chain between the anchor and rope is what makes your anchor hold — it is not just a precaution to stop the anchor rope chaffing on undersea rock ledges.
The anchor chain should have an overall length of at least ten metres, with the first two metres being of 8mm short link heavy chain and the remaining length of lighter 6mm chain.
THE ART OF ANCHORING
While it is the skipper’s responsibility to locate the correct spot to anchor and where exactly to drop the anchor, it is also his responsibility to ensure his crew are totally au fait with all the practical aspects of dropping anchor.
The colloquial term “throw the pick” is wrong. An anchor is never thrown — it is lowered until the anchor is suspended from the craft’s side by the full length of the chain. Once the rope is in the hands of the crew member he can release it and let the combined weight of the anchor and chain, aided by the drift of the boat, descend to the bottom without the anchor entangling itself in the chain. If the anchor and chain are merely tossed overboard they are highly likely to tangle, and a tangled anchor will never hold.
When anchoring remember to ensure that the full length of rope not only uncoils evenly, but that it is also situated so that it doesn’t snag rods, reels or even crew members’ limbs. The anchor rope whips out extremely quickly, so beware! A soft rope also tends to snag or knot far more easily than the stiffer harder rope mentioned earlier.
The skipper must locate his reef then ascertain the position of fish in relation to the pinnacle before he considers anchoring. The whole reason he is anchoring is to ensure that the craft is positioned in such a place that, when the effects of the current are taken into account, the anglers are able to drop lines into the area where the fish are congregating.
To achieve this, he has to consider the wind direction, the current flow and strength, the depth of the water and the structure or sand in which he intends getting his anchor to hold. To complicate this equation, he may be steaming into the current and/or wind and therefore has to judge the distance from the reef that he will have to set the anchor while the craft drifts back towards the reef and the fish he has detected on the sounder.
This is without a doubt the most difficult aspect of bottomfishing. It takes years of practice and experience. Getting on top of fish is essential; ending up 10- or 20 metres off the fish is useless and the anchoring procedure will have to be repeated.
Many skippers use a marker buoy to indicate the position of the fish. This buoy is usually a light float attached to thinnish nylon or old spider line and a few heavy sinkers, which is dropped on the reef near the fish. Once it has positioned itself the skipper can then more accurately determine the exact position of the fish in relation to the settled marker buoy. This information will give him a better idea of where to end up after dropping anchor.
Depending on the strength of the current and wind, one can adjust the position of the boat in relation to the reef or fish by tacking. To tack, the anchor rope is cleated off to either port or starboard of the front bow anchor roller.