Anchoring: Cruising in the San Juan Islands and Canadian Gulf Islands does not demand expert anchoring skills. In fact, many parks and harbors have docks and buoys and there are numerous marinas offering transient moorage. One could easily cruise for weeks or even months without ever using the anchor. However, you should have some anchoring skills. Even basic skills will broaden your horizons and potential destinations.
Basic anchoring techniques are a consistent subject for cruising guides, yachting handbooks, magazines, and websites. Just Google or Bing the term, “anchoring”. You will find hundreds of helpful articles. We will not reiterate in detail the excellent advice offered in numerous other resources.
However, Pacific N.W. cruising includes some special anchoring considerations that even experienced cruisers from other areas may not be aware of. The following are a few tips.
1. The tides in the P.N.W. have two highs and two lows each day. Some days the difference between high and low may be only 2-3 feet. Other days, the difference may be 10-15 feet. When anchoring, it’s very important to check your time and depth and to know how much deeper and shallower the water will get. Otherwise, you may have too little scope and your anchor may dislodge or you may have too much scope and you may swing aground.
2. Currents in the P.N.W are a constant consideration and can run quite strong in certain areas, even in places that may appear to be a good anchorage. These are not the best places to anchor. Check your cruising guide and your chart to be sure that you choose a spot where the current will not run strong and vary dramatically.
3. Don’t anchor in the middle of a mooring field of buoys or near a boat that is tied to a buoy. Boats on buoys swing on a small radius and if you anchor close by bumping together is a strong possibility.
4. It’s a good rule of thumb not to anchor inside (shore-side) the buoys in a mooring field. Often, the buoys are placed as close to shore as depths allow and there is not sufficient room inside them to anchor and safely swing. Additionally, in some places (Echo Bay on Sucia Island for example) anchoring shore-side of the buoys is prohibited to protect eelgrass habitat. Also, shallow areas with lots of grass, seaweed or kelp do not offer great holding.
5. Many bays and coves seem very protected but are still open to winds blowing over low-land shore areas or down narrow passages. Check your chart and the wind predictions before anchoring.
6. Too often, people flock together because of herd instinct. Don’t anchor too close to other boats or in the middle of a pack. In many cases, it’s safer (and more fun) to slowly motor around an anchorage checking the depth, current, and wind, and find a perfect spot a bit away from the crowd.
7. There are many, many charter boats in the P.N.W. If you don’t like certain boats (large, crowded charter boats, boats with generators, familys and kids, barking dogs, etc.,) don’t anchor nearby. Just find a place further away and be happy.
8. Match your scope to the anchoring stiuation (wind, bottom conditions, size & number & type of other boats). Many people in the P.N.W. anchor with all chain and short scope. If other boats obviously have out 3-1 scope and you want to use 6-1, move further away.
9. During the summer many bays and coves are dead calm at night. Calm conditions and short scopes mean that boats will swing in tight circles. Sometimes it’s difficult to determine where someone’s anchor is lying. Ask other skippers how much scope they have out and where their anchor is. You may be surprised by the answer.
10. Remember, your scope must include the height of your bow over the water. If you anchor in 15′ of water with 75′ of chain or rode, your scope would seem to be 5 to 1. However, if your bowsprit is 5′ high your real scope is just 3.75 to 1. If the tide rises 10′, your real scope would be just 2.5 to 1. That’s a very short scope.