In Sand, The Spade and Bulwagga Rank at the Top of 15 Anchors

Anchors that failed our 400-lb. minimum were the Bruce, Claw, Danforth, Vetus and NE lightweights, the Box and Hans-C Anchor.


Round 2 of Practical Sailor’s continuing series of anchor tests produced some surprising results. The holding-in-sand tests revealed that:

1. Two relatively unknown anchors—one called a Spade, the other a Bulwagga—put all others to shame.
2. So-called lightweight, big-fluke anchors may not have the tremendous holding power generally attributed to them.
3. Dirty sand containing some rubble provides better holding than clean, loose sand.
4. Although some observers claim it’s old-fashioned and over-priced, the CQR still is an outstanding anchor.
5. As stated by Earl Hinz, the respected anchor authority, after he previewed data from Practical Sailor’s latest tests, “…we don’t know everything about anchors yet.”

To re-cap, when PS decided more than a year ago to start testing anchors, it started with the simple view that a sailor’s regard for his anchor rests on three premises—setting, holding and re-setting when veered.

Four other less important factors also can influence anchor selection. They are (1) the difficulty of breaking out and retrieving, (2) weight aboard, (3) quality of workmanship, and (4) ease of handling and stowage.

Practical Sailor’s first anchor tests (February 1, 1998) were designed to examine setting characteristics in sand. Setting is vital. If an anchor does not set invariably, or at least reliably, it is more worry than anchor. The field tests established that the Bruce was best, followed in order by the Super Max, Claw, Fortress, West Performance, Delta, Danforth and CQR. There were nine different makes of anchors in that first test.

The second in this continuing series of carefully designed and deliberately limited anchor tests has to do with holding power in sand. For the second round, 15 kinds of anchors were assembled. (The additional anchors required some revisiting of the first test to establish a complete list of comparative setting characteristics. For reference, an anchor had to hold at least 200 lbs. to qualify as “set.”)

To attempt to provide something of immediate value to a sailor assembling or upgrading his anchor gear, the results of this hold-in-sand test could be considered with the updated set-in-sand tests to produce a “sand” ranking. If a boatowner expects absolutely NEVER to anchor in anything but sand in sheltered water in no more than 40 knots of wind, our first two anchor tests (setting in sand and holding power in sand) might be construed as recommendations.

Our long-term intent is to continue these tests, going next to other bottom conditions, perhaps eventually getting into the complex questions of how anchors perform when veered or when the boat induces shock loads.

Anchors have been tested ad infinitum, but the most recent ones are the so-called Seattle tests (conducted in Puget Sound in 1995) co-sponsored by the Safety at Sea Committee of the Sailing Foundation and West Marine, and the 1997 French tests conducted by the Ecole Nationale D’Ingenieurs de Monastir (ENIM). The Puget Sound tests involved only eight anchors—the Luke, Bruce, Davis, CQR, Delta, Max, West Performance and Fortress. The French engineering school’s tests also involved only eight anchors—the Britany, FOB (a French fluke-type), Danforth, Fortress, CQR, Delta, Bugel (a fairly new German anchor) and a French Spade.

Anchors Used
It is not absolutely essential in anchor tests to use anchors of equivalent sizes. A large anchor of a given design may have a slight advantage in setting when compared with smaller versions of the same anchor. It’s a matter of pure weight. As for holding, any size of anchor should, of course, perform as its manufacturer claims in specified conditions.

As a practical matter, and to remove as many anomalies as possible, it is better and much easier to test what are, in effect, anchors matched for holding power.

To that end, each anchor manufacturer was asked what size anchor it recommended for use on a 30′ foot boat anchored in sheltered water with no more than 40 knots of wind. That’s Beaufort 8, a fresh gale.

The parameters were selected to provide reasonable test conditions. We think they also reflect typical boat usage as well. Other than encountering an occasional, brief thunderstorm associated with a frontal system, few sailors ever anchor in conditions worse than those specified. (If they do, or expect to, they should use larger anchors or carry so-called storm anchors, which are nothing more than larger anchors.)

The anchors, in alphabetical order, are a 22-lb. Bruce; the 17-lb. Bulwagga; a 22-lb. Claw; a 35-lb. CQR; a 20-lb. Deepset® II Hi-Tensile Danforth; a 22-lb. Delta; the 15-lb. Digger; a 10-lb. FX-16 Fortress; a 15-lb. Model 3007 Hans C-Anchor; a 26-lb. Super Max; a 20-lb. Nautical Engineering Titanium; a 28-lb. Box; a 16-lb. aluminum Spade; a 12-lb. Vetus, and a 20-lb. West Performance2. (We could not obtain either a Britany or the German-made Bugel. Deliberately left out were fisherman-type anchors that, while useful in rocks, are notorious for low holding power.)

Considering the conditions we prescribed, these sizes of anchors would be in the category called “working anchors”—bigger than “lunch hooks,” smaller than “storm anchors.”

In no more than 40 knots of wind, the load on such an anchor for our 30′ boat would be about 400 lbs.

To provide a generous margin of error and, more importantly, to induce a measurable failure at some point beyond each anchor’s stated capabilities, we elected to apply a line pull of 1,000 pounds. That is a severe test that might be likened to the loads added by much stronger wind, or by surging or pitching in waves. Because, to our knowledge, surge loads have never been measured or calculated, some of this is guesswork.

The Test Set-Up
Conducting these pull-tests with a powerful boat (or two) was considered. However, the difficulty of applying heavy loads and making measurements with reasonable precision, makes working from a boat in deep water very difficult and imprecise. The behavior of the anchors cannot easily be observed, except perhaps by putting a diver down.

An additional reason for not working from boats is that the most difficult-to-assess variable is what kind of bottom conditions exist.

All of these considerations make much preferable both a fixed location for the pulling/measuring equipment and clear, shallow water. The validity of this approach was established when we conducted the “setting-in-sand” tests reported on in the February 1, 1998, issue.

Accordingly, we sought and found two shoreline locations with firm and unyielding on-shore positions for the winch and dynamometer; where the anchor rode could extend out into shallow water; there was ample room for multiple sets of each of the anchors, and what happened in the water could be observed visually.

One location provided dirty, somewhat compact sand, rarely disturbed, with some small rubble (stones and shells) and an occasionally encountered rock. The other site (used for the earlier setting tests) has very clean, loose sand. It was surprising to see how much less holding was developed in the clean, loose sand.

The winch used was a Model 915 Powerwinch made by The Campbell Group. A top-of-the-line 12V model, it can exert a 3,000-pound pull, with a line speed of 10′ per minute. It comes with a 50′ wire cable which we marked at 5′ intervals with colored tape.

The cable was led through a Schaefer wire block shackled to the measuring instrument—our reliable, calibrated Dillon dynamometer.

The pulling equipment was mounted on a bolt-coupled plank of two 2 x 12s, with 3/8″ forged eye bolts to permit lashing it in place.

Because the set-in-sand characteristics of these anchors were established in the prior test, no chain “leader” was needed on the rode. The pull went directly from the electric winch to the shank of the anchors.

How The Test Was Conducted
Working in fan-shaped areas with water 2′ to 3′ deep, multiple sets were made with each of the 15 anchors.

In Location #1, the height of the seawall and the 50′ wire cable permitted an initial scope of 6.5:1. At Location #2 a scope of 7:1 was used. In both locations, the scope lessened as the anchors and rode came in—especially on anchors that take their time engaging the bottom.

In some cases, the scope was reduced or increased for any anchor whose manufacturer indicated a preference. In actual practice, if an anchor held better on short scope, it would be demonstrated by the dynamometer as the line pull dragged the anchor to its best holding configuration.

Each anchor was set repeatedly—until the measurements demonstrated stability.

The procedure was to walk the anchor out and lay it down on the bottom in an advantageous position. (Again, the setting characteristics were not an issue.)

The winch then applied the load, the anchor sooner or later caught and the cable came taut. The “max” needle on the dynamometer recorded the highest holding before an anchor failed. We used 1,000 lbs. as an arbitrary top, but several times inadvertently exceeded that limit when we could not “get off the button” fast enough while using anchors with extraordinary holding power or when an anchor engaged a rock. A rock encounter nullified that attempt, of course. About 13% of the sets were scrubbed because of submerged rocks.

Each anchor was under close visual observation as it moved, twisted, turned, rolled and dug in.

As was noted in our setting tests, anchors rarely behave as depicted in advertising brochures or even books on anchoring. They do not straighten out nicely, immediately penetrate the sand and dig in. With few exceptions, they yaw, slew, veer, crab, roll up on one fluke, twist, turn and even roll over completely and try again.

Our observer in the water was surprised by the anchors’ behavior.

The Vital Number
The single desired number (the one you see on the chart on page 12) was the line pull in pounds (up to our arbitrary limit of 1,000 lbs.) that each anchor could handle. Anomalies were discarded.

Generally speaking, anchors don’t seem to break out completely. Instead, in our tests they would drag a bit, lose their “bite,” immediately grab again, struggle to re-set, in some cases repeating the routine three or four times in only 10′ or 15′.

Dragging almost always was sudden, erratic, jerky. But in some cases, the anchor would simply roll out. In either case, what usually happened is that the packed sand in front of the anchor “breaks” or “cracks” and the anchor must begin again to pile up solid sand in its path.

The dragging occurred mostly with the heavier anchors, some of which almost completely buried themselves (and had to be dug out); “roll-outs” were more common with the lightweight anchors.

Our observer in the water also reported that with the exception of the Fortress, not a single one of the lightweight fluke-type anchors loaded its flukes equally. One fluke or another always took hold first, dug in and took a major portion of the load. Because of the unequal fluke loading, the lightweights all try to do a barrel-roll. Only the length of the stock, which digs and drags, prevents them from flopping over. Initially, the lightweights crab along on three points—the end of the stock, the edge of a fluke and the tip of the shank. That’s why most of the lightweights take more distance to set than heavier anchors.

The heavier anchors all seem to head immediately into the sand, roll somewhat upright and then begin to settle down.

Three anchors—the Digger, the Hans C and the Box—racked up abject failure numbers in these tests.

However, there also emerged outstanding performances by a new anchor from France and from another anchor that on first glance one might not take very seriously. The success stories were the Spade and Bulwagga, identified earlier in this report.

The chart above tells virtually the whole story. Here is some amplification, beginning with the best-holding anchor and proceeding according to holding power rank.

The Spade
When we tested anchors for setting characteristics, the all-steel Spade anchor (identified then only as a prototype) did poorly.

At the time, we said it seemed “extremely promising,” mostly because its major feature is a concave surface on the leading face of the inverted-plow-shaped body. For resistance, concave is better than convex.

Subsequently, we received a newer model with modifications adopted by the inventor after our setting tests. The inventor, Alain Poiraud, who has had the Spade under development for several years, added to the casting pattern small extensions (or “ears”) to each of the anchor’s two ears to induce the single point to present a sharper entry into the bottom. The very slight change improved the setting of the Spade.

Whenever the new Spade, which happened to be an aluminum version, was dropped in the water, it immediately dug in almost as quickly as a Bruce and smoothly ran the dynamometer almost immediately up to our limit of 1,000 pounds. It did so repeatedly, at both test sites, when given a scope of at least 5:1, although at 5:1 it took longer to set. At 3:1 scope, without chain, it dug in and held 600 lbs. As the scope shortened, it worked to the surface of the sand and came free with no room remaining to reset itself.

It’s non-fouling on the bottom, pivots easily when veered and even has the top (concave) surface painted bright yellow to make it as visible as possible in the water.

It would appear that Alain Poiraud, a very serious French engineer, has made a remarkable advance with an anchor, now available in six different sizes in steel or aluminum, that is very rugged, simple and easy to stow whether assembled on a bow roller or broken down in a locker. (It is two-piece and assembles with one bolt, which is not load-bearing.)

The Bulwagga
At first glance, it seemed unlikely that the Bulwagga anchor would cause any excitement. It looks like a grappling hook made of steel plate with a loose, sliding shank made of 3/4″ round steel rod.

It was invented by Peter Mele, a sailor-engineer who lives on Bulwagga Mountain in the Adirondacks near Crown Point, New York, and keeps his Catalina 22 just off Bulwagga Beach on Lake Champlain’s Bulwagga Bay. After testing the Bulwagga anchor, we started calling it “The Bull.”

Dropped casually in the water, its two points grabbed, dug in and the dynamometer climbed without jerking to 1,060 pounds.

“Is it bent? No? Let’s try that again.”

It went 880 lbs., dropped to 380, jumped back to 1,000, etc. At Site 2 in the very clean sand, it went 400 lbs. at 3:1 scope, 890 at 7:1 scope, 1,000 at 5:1, etc.

It set quickly, didn’t roll, crab or pitch.

Mele said he designed the anchor to penetrate weeds. If lowered straight down, its shape would permit it to work through weeds. Mele said other considerations were that it set immediately, pivot when veered, be non-fouling when on the bottom, re-set if dislodged, retrieve easily by bringing it vertical or retracting its shank if the load on the rode is reversed 180° and back out of rocks or other hard bottoms.

When asked about the slender shank, Mele said it is made of “high strength 4130 alloy steel.”

All we know for sure is that “The Bull” in sand is nearly as phenomenal as the Spade. It’s only real liability, in our view, is that it is not the easiest anchor to stow—either on the bow, the deck or in a locker. The Bulwagga does have holes in each of the outer corners of the three triangular flukes that would make it possible to hang the anchor upside-down on the bow pulpit.

The Bulwagga comes in four sizes–the 9-lb. is $149; the 17-lb. $249, the 27-lb. $349, and the big 37-lb. is $449.

The CQR and Delta
Ranking third and fourth in the hold-in-sand tests were the rightly famous CQR and it modern cousin, the Delta. The CQR (average holding: 583 lbs.) outdid the Delta (average 496 lbs.) by a fair margin, but both were well over the 400 lbs.

Often called simply, “The Plow,” the powerful, hinged CQR has in recent years been accused of being old-fashioned and over-priced. However, it may share with Danforth the “most-famous-anchor” title.

The popular CQR, available in 15- to 60-lb. models, is a massively made but highly refined design. It even comes in a stainless steel version, but starts in price at $295 (for the little 15-lb.). We’ve never heard of a CQR breaking. And, it is noted for being the anchor most dependable when the boat is swinging wildly.

The similar, one-piece Delta often is regarded as the successor to the CQR. It’s a more technical piece of engineering than its plain appearance suggests. A bent shank and heel-heavy balance make it a favorite with those who like a self-launching anchor on a bow roller; ease the rode and down it goes.

The Delta is expensive to make because of the material (manganese steel) and required weldments. It has a thin-profile shank for deep penetration. Easy to handle and stow, the Delta has proved itself to be as dependable as the CQR, as well as virtually unbreakable. It comes in 14- to 88-lb. versions and is considerably less expensive than the CQR.

Both the CQR and the Delta are made by the same venerable Scottish firm—Simpson Lawrence—that also recently brought out the Claw, a blatant copy of a Bruce.

The Lightweights
Widely known to sailors everywhere, anchors called lightweights are also sometimes called fluke types, twin-points or Danforth types (after the original). There were five of them in the test—Danforth, Fortress, Nautical Engineering’s Titanium, Vetus and West Performance.

Only two of them, Fortress and West, made the 400-lb. cut (30′ boat + 40-kt. wind + flat water = 400-lb. load). Even though the Fortress ranked 5th and the West 6th, they were disappointing, considering their reputations.

The hold-in-sand tests just did not support the common belief that lightweight anchors with big flukes develop awesome holding power.

Although tried repeatedly, the lightweights simply did not rack up the numbers expected. The Fortress, West and Vetus occasionally set and held more than 800 lbs., but often were rolling up on edge and losing their grips at far lower loads.

With the exception of Fortress (and then only occasionally), all of the lightweights tended to enter the bottom in a crabbing fashion, standing on edge and penetrating first with just one fluke. They simply did not dig in with both flukes, lay flat and bury. Because they seemed so unbalanced, it is not surprising that you sometimes see them bend under high loads.

Nautical Engineering’s Titanium lightweight might have moved much higher in the ranking, except that it has a stock far too short to keep it from rolling completely over. Its low load numbers reflect the fact that one fluke would dig in, the anchor would twist, flop over and start again. A long stock on a lightweight is vital. With a longer stock, the NE is certain to do far better. Knowing the reputation of Nautical Engineering, we suspect that it very shortly will come with a longer stock.

The Vetus, a beautifully made aluminum anchor, did not perform as well as we expected, and we do not have an explanation for it.

A particular surprise was the Danforth. In multiple sets, its single best pull was 490 lbs., with most others in the 300s. It did especially poorly at Site #2, the one with clean sand.

The Super Max
Other than those discussed above, the only other anchor that met the 400-lb. minimum was the Super Max. Its average holding power was a perfectly acceptable 410 lbs.

The Super Max has an adjustable shank that provides three angles of attack. According to its inventor, Andy Peabody, sand, clay, coral and hard bottoms call for the lowest shank position of 24°. The middle position of 32° is for normal mud or short scopes. Soft mud or ooze or normal mud with short scope calls for the arm set in the top position of 45°, which makes the shank straight.

To make sure, we tried all three settings a number of times, at both sites. The dynamometer produced consistent readings from 340 to 450 lbs. The best holding was with the shank at the 32° or middle position.

In somewhat the same manner as the Bruce, the Super Max sets beautifully because its design places most of its structure in line with the pull on the anchor rode. However, that alignment, even with the anchor buried in the sand, does not present much cross-sectional resistance.

The three shank settings are intended to increase or decrease the cross-sectional resistance. We always have had some reservations about adjustable anchors—mostly because it seems somewhat unlikely that the bottom will be sampled before anchoring or that, in an emergency, there is time to do so.

The Rest
Here are some brief comments about those anchors that failed to produce the 400-lb. holding power.

Both the Bruce and the Claw are one-piece anchors that are unrivaled for reliable setting. They are not, however, equally famous for holding power in any bottom. Neither the Bruce, with an average holding power of 307 lbs., nor the Claw, which held to an average of 283 lbs., did anything to alter their reputations.

The Box anchor, an ingenious box-shaped anchor that folds flat and stows in a canvas bag, repeatedly tipped forward releasing its back “teeth” when any more than a scope of about 3:1 was used and a force of about 100 lbs. was applied. The Box really is an anchor intended for runabouts, set off the stern at a scope of 2:1 and the bow tethered to a beach. For that purpose, it is probably fine. It was included in the tests at its inventor’s request.

The adjustable-angle Hans C-Anchor is an interesting design invented by a Swedish engineer/sailor named Hans Claesson. It has all the attributes of an excellent anchor: Two-phase holding power via its double-diamond shape; non-fouling when even half buried; easy to launch, retrieve and stow; good scooping shape, etc. It looks to be a wonderfully thought-out anchor with every detail carefully done. At Site #1, the Hans C showed dynamometer reading between 190 and 380 lbs. At Site #2, we could not get it to set—not one time—at any setting, at any scope. (If there are Practical Sailor readers using this anchor, we’d like to hear from them.)

We again tested the Digger at the insistence of its inventor, Dick Zetah, who in our contacts with him joyously projects an enthusiastic belief that the Digger is the best anchor in the world. He said thousands have been sold in the last six years, mainly for use on bass boats. So far, in both the setting tests and the just-completed hold-in-sand tests, we have not managed to set this anchor. At any scope, it invariably rears up on its two tips, falls over (because it has no stock and the shank is too short) and drags on its side. As with the Hans C, word from users would be appreciated.

The Bottom Line
Because of the original specified conditions (30′ boat/40-knot wind/sheltered water), any anchor that held the 400 lbs. needed in that setting is acceptable.

Therefore, of our 15 anchors, seven are acceptable. They are the Bulwagga, CQR, Delta, Fortress, Max, Spade and West Performance. The chart on page 12 shows how far beyond the requirements these top-ranked anchors went, especially the Spade and Bulwagga.

Unacceptable are the Box, Bruce, Claw, Danforth, Digger, Hans C-Anchor, NE and Vetus. This does not make them all bad anchors. It does indicate strongly that if you want, for instance, a Bruce or a Danforth, to hold up to 400 lbs. in a sand bottom, a larger size should be selected.

Again, different results could be obtained from different sand bottoms.

The set test column on the chart shows the updated “rank for setting” of 12 of the 15 anchors (three didn’t set at all). Because setting and holding are two different qualities and because no way could be found to weight the two numbers, no attempt was made to combine the “setting” rank with the “holding” rank.

These test results suggest that the practice of using a big fluke-type anchor as a storm anchor may be questionable. In fact, after seeing the latest Practical Sailor data, Earl Hinz, the anchor expert/author, observed, “Most manufacturers do not reveal that their anchor’s holding power may drop to zero if too much load is put on it.” Then, specifically discussing the performance of the lightweights, Hinz added, “It was probably because they rotated out of their set. I suspect that most other tests never pulled them to the point where they broke set… This characteristic does not make them attractive as the ultimate storm anchor, as some people suggest.”

Next summer, we hope to resume testing for ability to set and their holding power in mud.


Contact- Box, Box Anchor Co., 1534 North Moorpark Rd., Thousand Oaks, CA 91360; 805/493-9073. 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, MA 01930; 978-281-0440. Digger, Digger Anchor Co., 104 4th Street SE, Renville, MN 56284; 800/653-1499. Fortress, 1386 W. McNab Rd., Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33309; 800/825-6289. 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. Spade, B.P. 88-Z.I. Route de Khniss, 5000 Monastir, Tunisia; 216/3 447 909, fax 216/3 447 910. 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.

Sand Test Performance
In Sand, The Spade and Bulwagga Rank at the Top of 15 Anchors
Darrell Nicholson, editor of Practical Sailor, grew up boating on Miami’s Biscayne Bay on everything from prams to Morgan ketches. Two years out of Emory University, after a brief stint as a sportswriter, he set out from Miami aboard a 60-year-old wooden William Atkin ketch named Tosca. For 10 years, he and writer-photographer Theresa Gibbons explored the Caribbean, crossed the Pacific, and cruised Southeast Asia aboard Tosca, working along the way as journalists and documenting their adventures for various travel and sailing publications, including Cruising World, Sail, Sailing, Cruising Helmsman, and Sailing World. Upon his return to land life, Darrell became the associate editor, then senior editor at Cruising World magazine, where he worked for five years. Before taking on the editor’s position at Practical Sailor, Darrell was the editor of Offshore magazine, a boating-lifestyle magazine serving the New England area. Darrell has won multiple awards from Boating Writer’s International, including the Monk Farnham award for editorial excellence. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license and has worked as a harbor pilot and skippered a variety of commercial charter boats.



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