We’re used to relying on our engines, but could you get home without one? James Stevens shows how it’s done


yachts anchored in a bay

How other boats are lying will give you a clue to wind and tide. Conditions in a bay will be very different to rivers

The hard part about anchoring is deciding where to drop it.

The actual manoeuvre under sail is quite easy – it’s like a mooring but with slightly less accuracy required about exactly where you stop.

Establish how the yacht is going to lie relative to the wind.

If wind and tide are together, approach under main as you’ll want the jib out of the way for the crew on the foredeck.

For wind against tide, approach under jib alone.

The problem is that most ports big enough to have a marine engineer surround their slipways and landing places with moorings, jetties, cables and fairways where you are forbidden to anchor.

So it’s a challenge to find a suitable sheltered spot which is deep enough with enough swinging room but easy to reach from the shore.

A diagram showing how to anchor under sail

You will need good visibility forwards to judge speed and distance

The difficulty with anchoring under sail is that once you have stopped and started to lower the warp or chain, the bow is going to pay off and the main is going to fill.

It is therefore important to let the main halyard run as soon as the anchor touches the bottom.

There is also trouble ahead if the anchor is dropped with the yacht still moving ahead.

When the chain snubs and pulls the bow downwind there’s probably a gybe coming.

Many skippers always anchor under jib alone which is safer but you need a high cut jib or roll it half in to keep it clear of the foredeck crew.

If you are anchoring in wind against tide conditions, the trick is to judge when the boat has stopped moving over the ground.

A transit will come in handy here, and let you know when it’s safe to drop the anchor.

If it’s windy

The safest way of stopping under sail alone is anchoring, so if you are anxious about an alongside manoeuvre or picking up a mooring surrounded by yachts on a windy day then prepare the anchor.

A boat anchoring under sail

Backing the mainsail as you drop the hook helps the boat move astern, laying chain

It’s a good idea to have the anchor ready anyway in case the hoped for berth or mooring is unavailable or simply too difficult.

The spot you choose to anchor might not be ideal, but it gives you a chance to check the engine and if it requires an engineer you can either call for a tow or wait until the weather moderates.

Don’t be a lifeboat statistic

The RYA expects Yachtmasters to be able to sail themselves out of trouble, on to moorings and anchor under sail.

That part of the syllabus has been there since 1973 when many yachts had no engine at all, never mind a reliable one.

Now, even with engines which usually start, the RYA principles are the same but my guess is that very few yachtsmen except those racing keelboats actually pick up moorings under sail.

No crew out for a precious weekend afloat is going to want to watch their skipper missing moorings under sail, so the best place to practice is on a course.

The rest of the crew will then be willing you to succeed rather than looking at their watches wondering when you are going to set off.

If you understand the principles and how to approach the manoeuvres you are bound to nail it eventually and your usual crew will be impressed too.

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  1. 1. A few basics
  2. 2. Pontoons
  3. 3. Mooring buoys
  4. 4. Anchoring
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