How we rode out a storm on anchor

Wouldn’t it be great if anchoring always was as serene as it looks in the pictures?

Alas, anyone sailboat cruising for awhile eventually will find themselves anchored in a storm. Wicked weather is part of the cruising life; some storms are predicted well in advance, allowing sailors to change their voyaging plans or seek shelter in a well-protected marina. Other times, storms are a surprise.

That’s what happened to us recently. We first got word that weather was coming from a sweet couple paddling by our boat after we had dropped our anchor in Liberty Bay outside of Poulsbo, Wa.

We heard the news again the next day and confirmed it with updated weather reports. It was mid-September, the sky was blue and the temperature nearing 70. But the forecast called for winds up to 35+ kts near us the next day, up to 50 kts in other areas in the Salish Sea.

I’m sorry to say I have no drama to share. No videos of boats dragging anchor or rocking and rolling here! We rode out the storm just fine. Below I’ll go over what we did.

1: Made sure the equipment was up to the job

This step occurred long before we headed to the anchorage. Having equipment that allows you to anchor in heavy wind and waves is key.

When I say equipment I mean the anchor, the chain and/or rode, the windlass (or whatever you use to raise and lower your anchor), line for a snubber and deck cleats. I’m sure I’m missing something, but that accounts for all we use.

We use a 44-pound Lewmar Delta anchor, considered oversized for our 39-foot sailboat on Lewmar’s anchor size chart. We have 250 feet of 5/16″ G4 chain and no rode. We use a three-strand nylon rope for our snubber and always—always—use a snubber when we anchor.

For the storm, we did make a few modifications from how we normally anchor.

2: We gave ourselves plenty of room

The biggest threat while anchoring in a storm is dragging anchor. That’s when your anchor doesn’t hold you because the force of the wind exceeds the holding power of your anchor.

There are several ways to combat that, but the first is take a look around your boat. How close are you to other boats? How close are you to other obstacles like land, rocks, docks, etc?

Thankfully, there weren’t a ton of boats in our anchorage during this storm. Still, because Liberty Bay is such a long anchorage, and connects to a long waterway that winds around Bainbridge Island, it gets a lot of fetch (the longer wind can carry over water without hitting land, the more potential there is for big waves). That can lead to a pretty uncomfortable night on the hook.

We opted to move our boat so that we were 1) upwind of all the other boats (that way they couldn’t drag into us) and 2) behind a headland so we were better protected from wind and fetch.

You can see below about where we anchored.

That red arrow points to where we anchored. You can see on the map that there is a little finger of land sticking out in the water. We tucked in behind that get some protection from wind and fetch.

3: We also put out more chain than usual

The general rule of thumb is put out a length of chain at least 3 times the depth where you are anchoring. This is called a 3:1 scope. As an example, if anchoring in water that reaches 30 feet at high tide we should put out a minimum of 90 feet of chain.

We usually put out enough chain for a 5:1 scope, however. The only time I can think we have put out less than that has been a completely windless day in a crowded anchorage like Port Blakely in the height of summer.

For the storm, however, we used about a 7:1 scope. The depth at high tide where we were anchoring was about 25 feet, so we put out about 175 feet of chain. The reason? If the wind picked up, there would be more room to stretch when the boat was blown back.

Of course, chain doesn’t stretch. That’s why ….

Step 4: We put out more snubber line

In this picture you can see that we have tied the snubber line (the white line) to both cleats on the bow.

I know I have some non-sailors who read this blog, so here’s a quick definition for you:

Snubber: A piece of line (rope) tied to the anchor chain and attached to the deck of the boat that is intended to take most of the load if the boat is pushed around by the wind.

(Not an official definition, but one I hope explains to others what a snubber is.)

We use three-strand nylon line that has some stretch to it for our snubber line. We attach it to the anchor chain using a rolling clove hitch with two half hitches and then let out enough chain that the snubber line will take the initial load if the boat is pushed around.

A rolling clove hitch with two half hitches.

For the storm in Liberty Bay, we put out enough snubber line that the chain fell slack from the anchoring platform of the boat, and tied the boat end of the snubber line to both the starboard and port bow cleats. We also backed down (reversed the boat) on the anchor at 2000 rpms for several minutes to ensure the anchor was well set and that the snubber was taking the load.

And that’s exactly what we saw.

Luckily our snubber line has held up in two windstorms so far, but there is a potential that all that pressure could chafe the snubber line to the point that it frays and even breaks. That’s why we plan to get a chafe guard for our snubber. We’ve heard from other sailors that threading a length of garden hose along the part of the snubber that rubs against the boat works pretty well.

There is a potential for wicked storms in the Pacific Northwest for almost 9 months of the year. Because we intend to cruise and anchor in the area for most of the year, we will definitely get the opportunity to test the strength of our anchoring system again. We will let you know if we make any changes!

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