Caribbean Sailing is one of the most enjoyable things in life. Chartering a boat and sailing the clear, vivid turquoise waters of the Caribbean and getting away from the stress of one’s life and relaxing on a yacht or a ship allows one to truly relax.
Selecting the Anchorage
Picking an anchorage is the first step in the anchoring process. Try to get to your anchorage relatively early in the afternoon. This provides you sufficient light to avoid rock/coral hazards, netting or boat tours, ferries, cargo balls, crab pots and wiring, etc. During peak season, or the tourist season, popular attractions become very crowded. Arriving early has the added benefit of having extra time to complete other tasks before it gets dark.
When selecting the best anchor, there are several things to keep in mind. For instance, to what extent are the anchor points protected? The location of the anchor should offer protection from the current weather conditions and could also provide protection from the upcoming weather conditions. There are local weather conditions such as wind, or exposure to nearby from the sea swells that would make the anchorage too rough. How well is the entrance and anchorage pattern charted, marked, and signed?
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How would you rate the holding? The bottom form should be shown in charts. Generally speaking, most anchors are going to hold well in sandy bottoms. Rocks, coral, and shale prevent anchors from digging into the ground. If possible, avoid grassy bottoms where it is very difficult to anchor. In what way is this store crowded, noisy, dirty or smelly? Are people going to keep the band playing at the beach bar until they are bored and are playing any old tune? Or will the smell of the ferry in the distance in the middle of the night bother you, keeping you awake?
The view that you have while sitting in the cockpit through the early day or night hours is stunning. How long a ride is it to shore, and is there a safe anchorage area? What are the popular amenities available at the shore? Describe the depths here, and the tidal ranges. Enough depth is needed to prevent the low tide from hampering your boat and it is necessary to decide scope. Finally, there is just enough space. Regardless of where your boat is anchored, the largest possible swing range is the one you want to consider.
Before actually anchoring, you need to figure out where you want to stop on your Caribbean sailing adventure, Figure out the winds and tides, and make sure the options of holding the desired location are there. Before anything else is done, the captain needs to figure out how to communicate with the crew. Always remember that engines running so you will not be able to communicate verbally. Hand signals often work best. You need to check the side of your boat and keep it tidy before entering the port.
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As well, shorten the painter line if dragging the dinghy. This prevents the emergency brake cable from becoming sucked into the prop when you put the engine in reverse. Open the anchor locker hatch and release the safety line on the anchor. Keep ready for the anchor to be off. Using the remote control anchor windlass, anchor must be dropped approximately two to three feet. Make sure all fingers and toes are far away from the metallic object! Lastly, allow yourself the time to look for a suitable anchorage on your Caribbean sailing adventure.
Anchor drop and positioning
Choose your place after your anchorage tour. In this way, you must anchor in order to stay away from other boats anchored in the same spot. Allow for any change in direction of wind. You must leave extra space around your boat. Make sure you have plenty of space to fall back on the anchor without lying behind a vessel, until the scope is 7 to 1. If you’re using the whole chain, the safe minimum anchor scope is 5 to 1 under normal conditions (chain length to depth).
The scope ratio is 7 to 1. in heavy weather. Depth is the water depth at high tide plus the water line height to the bow roller. Scope is the exact anchor line (chain) that is paid when the boat is anchored in a secure manner. For instance, you have to have 125 feet (5 x 20 + 5 foot) of anchor space if your bow roller is around 20 feet deep over the water or 175 feet (7 to 1). Note, too little space for anchoring is one of the most common mistakes made by cruisers.
Slowly motor up the target position by the bow to the wind. Stop the boat where you want to stop and note the depth of the anchor. Note that a cat gives less water resistance than a monohull if you charter a catamaran and thus takes longer to slow than a monohull. Ensure that the catamaran stops entirely. By using both motors you can hold a cat straight into the wind. Now it’s time to get down and put on the anchor until your ship has lost all movement.
Despite the term, “dropping anchor”, you don’t want to let the anchor chain run free out in the sea, because it will pile on itself rather than lie flat on the sea bed. The anchor can not be set correctly with a stacked anchor chain and it can actually fail. On the other side, lower the anchor to the bottom with the wind glass. Let the wind drive your boat back slowly – don’t try to turn around. Enable ample range as the ship moves backwards. Don’t worry if you’re on the wind side while you are in a mono hull. Once the desired amount of scope has been removed, snub the chain and allow the wind to straighten out the boat. When the boat is heading in the wind with its bow, gently put the engine back and throttle for around 15-20 seconds at 1500 rpm. This should set the anchor and begin to straighten the anchor chain. Let further scope out whether it vibrates or skips. Anchors must be set to prevent it from shaking the chain. When the anchor is set, switching the engine off. Add snorkeling gear to make sure your boat is safe and visual check the anchor. If the anchor is caught in coral or the chain is wrapped around coral, the anchor should be reset.
Look for reference points in relation to your boat when the anchor is fixed. It is possible that the navigation instruments include other boats or other fixed points such as a house, rock formation or tower. Relax and ensure these reference points are in the same position in your cockpit for the next hour. If not, you might be dragging the anchor.
Dealing with the Anchor Dragging
If your boat drags anchor during the day, it’s not a big problem. Start the engine and put it in the idle gear. Try to let out more of the chain. Wait a few minutes to see if the anchor is set. If not, you’re going to have to re-anchor. If you’re dragging a boat at night, it’s going to be a little more challenging. If you’re sleeping and you don’t bump into anything, you might not even know that you’ve been dragged until the next morning when you wake up in a different place. Even some extremely experienced sailors woke up in a completely different anchorage after a night of dragging. On the other hand, you might be aware of the night dragging when other people in the anchorage start screaming and flashing lights at your boat. Start the engine and keep it idling. Try to let out more of the chain and wait to see if the anchor is reset. If not, you’re going to have to re-anchor. Use your depth sounder to try and find another anchor spot. Keep all the lights off the boat to get the best night vision possible. Move slowly to another spot with extreme caution. If your neighbor’s boat drags during the day, try to get their attention. Remove the fenders to avoid damage to your boat. If nobody’s on board a dragging boat (they’re drinking onshore at the local beach bar), you can either get aboard their boat and reset the anchor, or if you’re not comfortable doing that, you might have to move your own boat. During the night, if you suddenly get up when another boat hits yours, start the engine immediately and keep it idling. Wake up the crew of the other boat (yell, flash your lights, etc.), put out the fenders and do the same thing as during the day.
The option of the Mooring Ball
Professionally maintained mooring balls are located in many anchorages throughout the Caribbean, but especially in the British Virgin Islands, and are available for overnight use for a small fee. A mooring is a buoy that is connected to an extremely heavy anchor or weight. In addition to protecting the coral from the damage caused by the anchor, collecting the mooring ball has three other advantages. You don’t have to go to the trouble of using your anchor first. Second, the anchor mooring is probably never going to drag. And thirdly, because the anchorage of the mooring is so heavy and deeply embedded in the bottom of the sea, less scope is needed and, therefore, the boat will swing around in a tighter radius than it would have on its own anchor.
As you approach the mooring area, you should slowly pull your dinghy in on a short painter line. Have a crew member ready with a boat hook on the bow to direct you and pick up a mooring pennant (a line with a loop at the end). Have one end of the line attached to the cleat of the bow with the free end close to it. If you’ve chartered a catamaran, one line is sufficient. However, if you have chartered a mono hull, attach a second line to the opposite side of the bow cleat. Point the bow of the boat to the wind and slowly approach the mooring ball. By shifting alternately from the forward to the neutral, you can head towards the ball. Shift back to stop the boat as the crew member lifts the pennant on board and passes the free end of the line(s) through it. Quickly cleat off the free end of the line to the opposite bow cleat for a catamaran or to the same side for a mono hull. On a single hull, the two lines prevent chafing and limit the risk of breaking free from the mooring ball. On a catamaran, the line hangs low enough that hedging is rarely a problem. Again, don’t be embarrassed if you miss taking the pennant for the first time-happened it’s to all of us! Just circle around and try again. Once secured, adjust the rows, if necessary.
Adjust the mooring and then raise the dinghy to ready it to cast off. Uncleat the line(s) and just let the pennant go. Be careful not to run over the mooring buoy and pennant as you leave for your next Caribbean sailing destination.
Preparation is necessary again before the anchor is lifted. Make sure the loose items are stowed and the hatch covers are closed. (The anchor lock hatch cover should be opened). Again, shorten the painter dinghy. Get the engine started. The engine is required by most charter boats to operate the windlass. Have a crew member stand at the forwardmost point of the bow with the remote control of the windlass. Using hand signals, the crew member instructs the helmsman to move the ship forward very slowly in the direction of the chain. Make sure the helmsman stops the movement of the boat before he overshoots the anchor. As long as the chain is slack, start cranking it. When you get to the snubber, put the remote and remove the snubber. Then resume your cranking. When the chain is taut again, with hand signals, instruct the helmsman to move the ship forward again in the direction of the chain. The aim of this is to discourage the use of the windlass, for it can cause damage to the windlass and chain roller. At one point, you’ll find the boat right above the anchor. Finish cranking the chain until the anchor is on the rollers all the way up. Signal the helmsman that the boat is free. Reattach the safety line to the anchor chain if it has one, adjust the remote control and secure the anchor lock hatch. Then go back to the cockpit to help raise the sails.
No matter where your Caribbean sailing adventure takes you, you’re going to want to stop at some point. Anchoring is one of the most important activities you’re going to do while cruising. Anchoring is just as much an art as a science. The helmsman and the crew must orchestrate their efforts with the wind, the current and the vessel. The important thing to remember is not to be ashamed of yourself. Even the most experienced sailors sometimes have difficulty anchoring. As the old adage says, “Practice makes perfect.” Nothing else beats sailing in the Caribbean!
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