In the upcoming March 2021 issue of Practical Sailor, we take a closer look at the Australian-made SARCA Excel anchor, one of many quick-setting anchor designs that have emerged during the last couple of decades. The March report sparked my interest, but the anchor’s price ($550 for a 37-pound anchor) and limited distribution in North America quickly turned my thoughts turned toward pre-owned anchors of some other type.
As the early generations of fiberglass sailboats—battered by storms, bad luck, or the burdens of time—reach the end of their useful life, anchors are among a variety of valuable equipment that winds up in used-gear chandleries and marine flea markets. Ralph Naranjo’s excellent report, “A Treasure Hunting Guide to Used Gear,” explored the benefits and pitfalls of pre-owned equipment. Much of what follows with regards to buying used and anchors and chain originally appeared in that report.
Used Anchor Buyers Guide
Since defects are usually obvious, anchors is one category of gear in which “what you see is what you get.” Certainly, there are counterfeits and home-welded one-offs that you’ll want to avoid, but the fakes and do-it-yourself anchors are usually easy to distinguish.
Before you buy, you should have a very clear picture of the size, type, and brand of anchor that best suits your needs. Practical Sailor has conducted numerous anchor tests over the years, offering a good overview of options. Typically, the cruising sailor will have a mix of anchors at his disposal: a claw- or Bruce-type, a plow-type (a category that includes modern quick-setting, single-fluke designs like the Excel), and a Danforth-type (hinged-fluke designs like the Fortress).
Depending on the specific anchor you want to buy, you can save 30 to 50-percent on cost by purchasing a pre-owned anchor instead of a new one. A sailor who isn’t married to the next best thing in anchors can do particularly well. One of the most recent trends has been a shift away from the old standby CQRs to more modern Delta designs or concave-fluke plows like the Spade, Rocna, or Manson, which have been shown to set faster and/or hold better than the older designs.
Although it has not been as fast setting as some newer ploughs, the genuine drop-forged CQR anchor (recognizable by the shank stamped with the words “Made in Scotland”) remains a good anchor for cruising, particularly in sandy bottoms. Is it pound-for-pound as good as some of the newer varieties? Based on our testing and observations, the answer can depend on what features you value most. Overall, the newer anchor designs’ abilities to quickly set and achieve high holding power can outweigh the CQR’s advantages (an ability to self-launch, and reliably reset during wind shifts among them). However, genuine CQRs have held countless cruising boats through unforgiving blows and will provide reliable service when matched with the boat and bottom. (The CQR is not a good anchor for soft mud bottoms.)
A one-piece drop-forged genuine Bruce anchor (shank stamped Bruce) is another good workhorse, but rare. Usually, you’ll see poorly cast Bruce-style knockoffs for sale, some of which belong in a scrap heap. It is worth noting that in our comparison of heavyweight anchors for challenging bottom conditions, one of the outstanding performers was a claw-design based on the legacy Bruce.
Paul Luke three-piece fisherman-style anchors make good spare anchors, and the original High Tensile Danforth HTs (marked Danforth on the shank) are very well made. Later versions had less meat on them, and less consistent workmanship. Rocnas, Spade, Kingston, Manson, and SuperMAX are some of the other anchors PS has tested; each has a vocal crowd of proponents. A collapsible Northill anchor can also make a handy kedge, or even a secondary storm anchor in sandy bottoms.
The chief problem with any older anchors is that the protective layer of galvanized zinc wears thin. In the past, getting an anchor or even a chain re-galvanized wasn’t a problem, but as metal foundries have moved offshore and U.S. environmental rules have tightened, places that will galvanize anchors and chains are scarce. The cost of re-galvanizing an anchor can offset any savings you might achieve by buying it used.
Surplus Anchor Chain
Chain presents a special problem. You can find spools of good surplus chain that never went into service. However, used chain is usually chucked for good reason. Unless you need only a 30- to 60-foot chain leader for your nylon rode, your bargain chain is likely to have a weak link. And you shouldn’t buy any chain without knowing what grade of anchor chain you are looking at. If you do decide to opt for used chain, inspect every link very carefully and check for stamps indicating its origins.
In our tests, the hot-dipped galvanized coating on Peerless Acco chain outlasted imported varieties, but it is not easy to tell the origin of a chain by its appearance. High-grade G30 Acco chain is usually stamped with 3B (short link) and G4. We’ve also explored practical uses of some of the higher grade G70 chain, but verified origin and proof testing is even more essential when you explore these grades. If you have a windlass, you will want to confirm what size links best conform to your windlass. Vinyl-coated chain-which can have hidden corrosion-is a terrible idea, new or used.
Bottom line: Except for the most essential personal safety equipment like PFDs and survival electronics like EPIRBs, just about anything you could need to equip your cruising can be bought used. That doesn’t mean you should. Buyer’s remorse can be particularly painful when the crew and vessel’s safety is at stake. Anchors can be a hit-or-miss proposition when shopping for used gear. If you stick with good quality, drop-forged anchors of a reputable brand, you are pretty safe. Chain should be of a known origin, clearly marked, and in near new condition to be worth considering. Inspect every link.
For a comprehensive look at anchors, ground tackle, and anchoring accessories like shackles, chain hooks, windlasses, and snubbers, our four-volume eBook series “Anchoring,” covers it all.