Features December 1, 1999 Issue

Special Section - Anchoring
In Mud, the CQR and Barnacle Rank at the Top of 17 Anchors

Only two, the Hans C-Anchor and Nautical Engineering Titanium, fail to hold the minimum 400 pounds.

If you spend time over mud bottoms, the anchor to have, according to Practical Sailor’s latest round of anchor tests, is a good old CQR or a strange-looking anchor called a Barnacle.

Right behind those two leaders were the Spade and Bulwagga, two relatively new anchors that dominated the earlier sand tests.

Practical Sailor has completed the third round of what has become an annual rite, the summer anchor tests. This latest was the mud test.

The first round of testing (reported in the February 1, 1998 issue) had to do with setting in sand. There were nine anchors, plus two prototypes not yet on the market. The Bruce anchor was the clear winner, followed by, in the order of how they performed, the Super Max, Claw, Fortress FX-11, West Performance2, Delta, Danforth 20-H and CQR.

The second round (in the January 1, 1999 issue) was concerned with holding power in sand. The number of anchors in the test had grown to 15. The clear winner was a new anchor, the Spade, followed by another new anchor, the Bulwagga. Then came, in order of their tested holding power, the CQR, the Delta, Fortress FX-11, the West Performance2, the Super Max, the Danforth Deepset II, the Bruce, Vetus, Claw, Nautical Engineering Titanium and two with little or no holding power.

(Neither the Spade nor the Bulwagga were available for the original sand/set tests. When they were tested under identical conditions, they proved to rank #1 and #2 for setting in sand.)

You may recall that each anchor was of a size recommended by its manufacturer for a 30'-32' boat anchored in sheltered water in wind up to 42 knots, which is a fresh gale. Several readers criticized Practical Sailor for not using anchors of equal weight; but weight is not the sole indication of its holding power—design, weight distribution, and surface area also are important factors.

You may further remember that Practical Sailor intends its anchor test series to provide cumulative data, providing information that can help boat owners select anchors that suit their intended use, whether it be Sunday afternoon lunchhook breaks or world cruising in take-it-as-it comes conditions.

If, for instance, a boat owner intended never, ever to anchor in anything but sand in sheltered waters in no more than 42 knots of wind, his top three choices would be, for setting, the Spade, Bulwagga and Bruce. For holding, his top three choices would be the Spade, Bulwagga and CQR. However, he could choose other anchors based on other considerations, such as his own experience, bottom conditions frequently encountered, the anchor’s weight, ease of handling and stowage (including self-launching and retrieval).

17 Anchors in the Mud
For the mud tests, with setting and holding combined, the test batch included 17 anchors.

(In the two sand tests, the same basic set of anchors was used. For the mud tests, four new ones were added; two dropped because, in the sand tests, they either failed to set or didn’t develop much holding power. For those added, the sand/set and sand/holding tests had to be revisited; the results are incorporated in the chart.)

The new anchors are a new fixed shank Max, an anchor called the Barnacle, another named the GSA, and a new Bruce called a Superplow.

Andy Peabody’s new Max with a single-piece shank—rather than the three-position version for different kinds of bottoms—was developed by Peabody to counter Practical Sailor’s observation that few boat owners would or could take the time to sample the bottom and adjust the pivoting shank on the original Max.

The Barnacle, developed by a retired Coast Guard officer, James Taylor, for use in the Caribbean and not, until now, marketed vigorously, is a single fluke anchor with a curved shank. It comes in steel or bronze. The Barnacle Distributing Corp. asked that it be included in the tests.

The GSA (Gast Superior Anchor), made in Mattapoisett, Massachusetts, was designed by Peter A. Gast in an attempt to improve on the Bruce. “We decided the Bruce, which we greatly admired, was the place to start,” he said. Compared with the Bruce, the GSA has a larger fluke area, a hooked shank to help pull it over a bow roller and a clever half-eye to seat the anchor in a bow roller. Gast calls the half-eye a Roller Latch™.

The Bruce Superplow, a prototype, was brought from Scotland, after a short correspondence during which Peter Bruce asked that it be included in the Practical Sailor tests. In conversations during Peter Bruce’s visit about the prototype’s design, it was clear that he hopes the Superplow will set like a Bruce and hold like a bulldog.

Much of the discussion with Bruce had to do with our prior observations that the two principle elements in anchor design are self-defeating. On one hand, an anchor must have a sharp point and streamlined shape in order to penetrate and move down into the bottom quickly and easily; that’s called “setting.” On the other hand, once in the bottom, an anchor suddenly needs a large front-facing silhouette to develop resistance to moving; that’s called “holding.”

The Mud Site
Finding a mud site was not easy.

Practical Sailor decided early on, before beginning this series of anchor evaluations, to test not from boats. Using boats involves too many uncontrollable variables. We elected instead to work from solid ground—where the instruments can be securely fastened, with good access to water shallow enough to, firstly, assure identical bottom conditions, carefully calculated scopes and exact anchor placements, and, secondly, to continuously observe how each anchor behaves.

Such a site was found at a farm with a small pond. Because the long, narrow pond (which is used for irrigation) has been bulldozed occasionally, its shape, bottom and other characteristics are known.

Measurements and calculations were made to provide any scope desired. Exploring the pond on foot confirmed our farmer friend’s explanation that the bottom is soft, very sticky mud to a depth of about 2-3 feet. The water is muddy with normal consistency for about 3 inches. Then the mud takes over, thin at first but with rapidly increasing density as the depth increases. In the bottom foot, the mud is heavy and gummy.

Below the mud was slippery but firm clay mixed lightly with small, smooth stones that resemble gravel.

Working in the mud in waders was very difficult, and very tiring because of the suction.

Anchoring in mud is difficult, too, mostly because of the material’s varying consistency, which can be anything from a slurry to exceedingly heavy and, depending on its particles, gummy or grainy.

Nevertheless, the problem still is to penetrate the mud and find a better layer…or reach mud so heavy and compact that it alone will provide good holding.

The Test Methodology
As in an actual anchoring situation with a boat, the anchor must penetrate the mud by simple gravity or (more likely) pierce the bottom with a weighted point and slice down through the mud while being pulled forward—until it engages, penetrates and goes to work in the firmer bottom under the mud.

An anchor’s ability to penetrate is vital. (In that regard, there is an interesting article in the July, 1999, issue of England’s Practical Boat Owner magazine. The author, Adrian Faulkner, who has anchored in waters from New Zealand to Turkey, describes the difficulty of anchoring in the Mediterranean. There is no mud (no rivers to deposit it) but the very fine sand blown from the Sahara settles and forms a thick crust that is difficult to penetrate. Similar crusty bottoms can be found around Florida; anchors sometimes skid along the bottom)

The pulling apparatus was a late model Powerwinch 915 made by The Campbell Group. The company has since 1956 been building winches favored by those who trailer boats. Faster and quieter than the model used last year and the year before, the new Powerwinch, coupled to a calibrated Dillon dynamometer, can exert a 3,000-pound pull with a 10' per minute line speed.

Because there was no point in having the anchors land willy-nilly in the mud (a new mud “track” was used each time), each was placed in line with the pull, shank horizontal, resting on its side or in whatever position it assumed. The scope was never less than 7:1.

Each anchor was then pulled until the resistance was 200 pounds, which might be considered a “set.” The distance it took to do so was measured. The figures obtained are displayed on the chart.

The pull then was increased steadily. Most anchors lost their grip momentarily as the compacted mud piled up in front of them “broke,” only to immediately reform and start the dynamometer needle back up until the anchor “broke” again. That’s when the dynamometer’s “max needle” was invaluable.

The Mud Test Results
All of these anchors can be said to have set under a 200-pound pull. Some did so much quicker than others, but this data is not very significant.

The next phase was to see what happened when a 400-pound load was attempted (that’s the line pull on a 30-32' boat in 42 knots of air in sheltered water). All but two anchors produced the 400-pound acceptable holding power.

The two that failed (and not by much) were the Hans C-Anchor and Nautical Engineering’s Titanium. The figures are shown on the chart. Several others barely passed.

On the plus side, two anchors—the Barnacle and the CQR— immediately penetrated the mud, pierced the bottom and offered to run up the dynamometer to the pin.

The Barnacle took 2-1/2' to set and register 200 pounds. It did 400 pounds easily. With more pull applied, it then broke and grabbed six or seven times before getting into the clay. The line pull quickly went to 800 pounds; the winch was stopped.

The CQR did even better. It took but a foot to set, registered 200 pounds and continued smoothly to 400 pounds. With the line pull continued, it broke two or three times before grabbing and running up to 760 pounds, when the winch was stopped.

What was observed to happen was that an anchor slipped easily into the slurry and, when deep enough to encounter the heavy mud, started to pile it up ahead of the anchor. In most cases, the anchors recorded their highest holding when the thick mud pile formed a flattened ball in front of it. Further pressure made the compacted mud slide along the clay bottom. The mud prevented the anchors from continuing to penetrate—to the clay under the mud…except for the Barnacle and the CQR.

Despite the success of those two heavy anchors, most others racked up good solid numbers well in excess of the minimum.

The New Bottom Line
The mud tests suggest that when looking for a good anchorage a sand bottom is worth seeking out—because it’s easier for any anchor to bite and develop maximum holding power.

After testing anchors now for three years, Practical Sailor also offers the thought that an anchor rarely is “set”—if that means immovable. Watching a big dynamometer for hours indicates that an anchor, under a moderate to heavy load or subjected to jerking, is always oozing along, parting sand particles, mud or rubble…always slowly “coming home,” which is a good old marine term for dragging. This motion can be seen in the repeated grab-and-break behavior of most anchors as they are setting. It also is revealed when the dynamometer needle, after being run up past 500 pounds, starts slipping back almost immediately as soon as the retrieval winch is stopped. If dug in deeply in a good bottom, an anchor’s movement may be indiscernible, even over weeks. However, we’re convinced there is movement, especially under a heavy load.

The chart on page 6 shows how each anchor performed in the mud—under a 200-pound load, as the load increased, and the maximum load that could be applied.

Having now completed setting and holding tests in both sand and mud, which anchors have the best combined test rating?

The summary chart on the facing page has columns showing the test rankings of the anchors for setting in sand and mud, with a combined ranking, as well as holding power in sand and mud, with a combined ranking.

Several readers have pointed out that the “set tests” are not as important as the “hold tests.” They’re correct, except that, as was pointed out earlier in this series, if an anchor doesn’t set it’s not an anchor; and there’s not much comfort in an anchor that sets 62% of the time—especially if you’re in a new anchorage, it’s dark and the wind is picking up.

A PS reader can, by assessing his anchoring habits (what kind of bottom, how deep the water, for what conditions does he wish to prepare, etc.) use this data to help select an anchor that he feels best fits his needs.

It is our opinion, after three years of testing for both setting and holding, that the anchors that did the best in these sand and mud tests were the Spade, Bulwagga and the CQR.

Contacts- Barnacle, Barnacle Distributing Corp., 5053 Ocean Blvd., Sarasota, FL 34242; 800/295-2766. Bruce, Bruce/Imtra, 30 Barnet Blvd., New Bedford, MA 02745; 508/995-7000. Bulwagga, NoTECO, Inc., Box 533, White Church Rd., Crown Point, NY 12928; 888/674-4465. CQR, Delta & Claw, Simpson Lawrence USA, 6208 28th Street East, Bradenton, FL 34203-4123; 800/946-3527. Danforth, Rule Industries, Cape Ann Industrial Park, Gloucester, MS 01930; 978/281-0440. Fortress, 1386 W. McNab Rd., Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33309; 800/82-6289. GSA, Peter A. Gast, Inc., 15 Mattapoisett Neck Rd., Mattapoisett, MA 02739; 508/758-4732. Hans C-Anchor, 8100 Park Blvd., Pinellas Park, FL 33781-3719; 813/548-1281. Nautical Engineering, 700 Doheny Dr., Northville, MI 48167; 248-349-1034. Powerwinch, The Campbell Group, 301 Lawton Ave., Monroe, Ohio 45050; 513/539-7215. Spade, Societe de Production d’Accastillage & Divers Equipements S.A., B.P. 88-Z.I. Route de Khniss, 5000, Monastir, Tunisia; 011 216-3-447-909. Super Max, Creative Marine Products, Box 2120, 243 John R. Junkin Dr., Natchez, MS 39121-2120; 800/824-0355. Vetus, Vetus Den Ouden Inc., Box 8712, Baltimore, MD 21240; 410/712-0740. West Performance, West Marine, 500 Westridge Dr., Watsonville, CA 95077-5050; 800/538-0775.

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