Alan England learns the hard way what happens when you ignore the warning signs of a dragging anchor
Favignana, off the coast of Sicily, is an attractive town and harbour, where my partner Rosemary and I spent a few weeks one summer on Linga Linga, our Moody 376.
The anchorage was crowded with Italian boats, and there was plenty of entertainment, with boats getting in the way of ferries, and everyone anchoring close together.
One day we helped an Italian yacht, which was dragging its anchor, and the skipper took a liking to us.
However, he moored too close for comfort, so I helped him to re-anchor and, over a few bottles of wine, Anglo-Italian relations were improved!
Later, when I attempted to raise our anchor there was a loud clunk and the winch stopped.
The anchor had stuck under a rock.
It was no problem; with care and patience I freed the anchor, allowing us to depart. Was this an omen for what was to come?
After a 15-mile sail and motor we set our anchor at Trapani, Sicily, in 7m of water using 40m of chain.
In 2007 Trapani was an America’s Cup port, which left a legacy of 12 buoys for yachties to use free of charge.
Unfortunately this luxury came to an end in 2009 when a French yacht broke free from one of these buoys and had to be rescued. Still, this attractive city has much to offer and is frequently visited by cruise ships.
During our stay a large French yacht dragged its anchor and only when it was about a boat’s length away from us did the skipper take action. Was this another omen?
At midnight we were woken by the harbour authority, who rejected our anchor light on the foredeck and insisted we instead use our masthead anchor light.
This was a rare visit and ‘yachties’ were usually left in peace providing they were clear of shipping.
After leaving Trapani we enjoyed a pleasant 30-mile sail to Mazara del Vallo to anchor in 4m of water using 25m of chain.
The town unfortunately, is very run down but offers good facilities for yachtsmen.
Catalogue of errors
The next morning at sunrise, we motorsailed 60 miles to a favourite anchorage Porto Empedocle, and anchored in 4m of water, using 24m of chain.
Unfortunately, these days anchoring here is prohibited. Back in 2003, it was here that we witnessed the tragic event of 22 coffins being taken ashore – it was the start of the migrant crisis.
A week later, we sailed 25 miles to Licata. Our fanbelt broke as we approached the harbour entrance, but after 30 minutes of awkward work we managed to fix it.
However, when we came to anchor in a 3m muddy bottom our anchor would not hold, which was unexpected and unfortunate as we had an audience.
After three attempts I resorted to dropping the Fortress with 40m of chain and rope, which immediately held.
Our next stop was Scoglitti, a small enclosed anchorage 30 miles away.
On arrival at 1600 we set our anchor in 3m of water using 15m of chain. That evening it started to rain and the wind picked up.
Having faith in the anchor, we settled down below.
However, at about 0200 I sensed something was not right. It’s strange how skippers seem to have this sixth sense!
Coming on deck I found Linga Linga nicely alongside the rocks on a lee shore with the wind blowing strongly and rain lashing down.
I assessed the situation and concluded there was no way I could get us off.
My first task was to ensure the safety of the crew and boat, so I lowered the fenders between the boat and the rocks.
Rosemary scrambled ashore to safety and went to seek help; unfortunately there was no RNLI to rescue us.
An hour later the ‘cavalry’ arrived in the shape of a small boat.
The skipper attached a rope to my beam and pulled us off the lee shore and then towed us to the safety of the inner harbour. The cost for this service was €300, without a receipt!
We moored to the jetty for a few days while the gale blew itself out and I discovered why our faithful ‘Das Bugel’ anchor had dragged.
On close inspection we found that the point of the anchor was bent.
This must have happened when it was raised at Favignana and I heard the ‘thunk’.
It was a mystery as to why it had not dragged before! Also, much to my amazement, the only damage besides pride was a scratch on the side.
The gods were with us that night. We spent the rest of the week in the marina before leaving for Malta.
When I got home, I straightened my Das Bugel anchor and strengthened it with a fin on the blade. It has since held in storms of Force 7.
Anchors are fallible
No anchor is ‘fail proof’, as I have discovered over the years using Bruce, CQR, Dansforth and Delta anchors.
Rapid reset time
I have seen boats which have been at anchor for weeks suddenly go ‘walkabout’ in fair weather.
My own Das Bugel anchor, despite being dug into the sea bed, has suddenly dragged but quickly reset itself.
Any anchor can drag. However, an important feature is how quickly it resets itself.
Check for damage
I should have considered that my anchor may have been damaged when stuck under the rocks at Favignana and made more effort to inspect it.
Watch for red flags
When the anchor failed to set at Licata it should have alerted me that something was wrong. Don’t ignore these warning signs (even if you do have an audience at the time!)
Don’t tie stern to rocks
Scoglitti provided us with an excellent enclosed anchorage for Linga Linga, small though it was.
However, this meant that if you dragged, you were soon on the rocks, giving insufficient time for the GPS alarm to sound.
I should have kept an anchor watch.
This also confirmed my philosophy of never tying stern to rocks if at all possible.