Well, the answer is both. The anchor itself is connected to a relatively short section of chain which is further connected to many more feet of rope, commonly referred to as rode. Collectively, this is known as a sailor’s ground tackle. There is a little bit of science involved in anchoring, but properly utilizing the ground tackle is frequently dependent upon a sailor’s intuition and experience.
A sailor must first choose a desirable location to anchor, whether stopping for lunch or staying the night. There is very seldom an ideal location to anchor, but you must seek a spot that is as free as possible from wind, waves and other boat traffic. Whether you are on a lake or on the ocean, make sure you are “in the lee.” This puts you between the wind and the shore, island or some other structure. The wind will be effectively blocked and you will have a much better chance of finding a calmer spot on which to anchor. I always take into consideration which way the wind is blowing and then reference my nautical chart or local lake map. For example, if the wind is blowing from the southwest, find a location near shore that shields your sailboat from taking on direct wind from the southwest. This will put you “in the lee.”
Reference your chart again for the type of ocean floor you are facing. If you are on a lake, many lakes, at least in the U.S. are comprised of mud, clay or sand. A Danforth anchor would be most ideal in these conditions. If you are cruising in more open waters, the nautical chart will provide you with symbols that reference the composition of the ground below. Here are some common symbols that are found on nautical charts…
Sand - S Gravel - G
Mud - M Rock - Rk
Clay - Cl or Cy Shells - Sh
Coral - Co Stones - St
Just remember, a Danforth is more of an all-purpose anchor that is ideal for softer grounds such as sand, mud, clay and even ocean floors that might be covered with shells or gravel. The plough-style anchor is more of a heavy-duty anchor that is most effective when you are faced with harder or more challenging surfaces such as rock and heavy weeds. Additionally, keep in mind to never anchor on coral. It is protected and can harm the immediate eco-system.
Once you find your ideal location, you will want to lower or furl your jib so you have enough room with which to work on the bow of your boat. Personally, I believe it is always good to keep your mainsail raised just in the case of engine failure. This will give you some back-up power so you can maneuver if this occurs. If you have a smaller boat that has no engine, this will be obvious. Try to angle your mainsail and/or your sailboat directly into any wind, or “in irons,” so you will minimize your drift. Approach the spot at a very low idle or wind speed where you will drop anchor. I always believe that it is a good idea to have a different pair of gloves for anchoring because they will undoubtedly get muddy especially when raising the anchor and you don’t want to ruin your regular gloves or transfer any of the ground below to the rest of your boat. An ideal pair will cover your entire hand (no finger cut-outs) and be made of thinner material.
Once you are ready to lower your anchor, be sure that you do in fact lower your anchor slowly and don’t drop it. The main reasons for this is that you want to get an estimate of how deep your anchor is from the bow of the boat and so you don’t damage your anchor. As you lower your anchor, keep a mental note of how many feet of rode you have let out. A good rule of thumb is that if you stretch your arms out to either side of you, that will be approximately one yard or three feet (or maybe a bit more for the vertically advantaged). Once the rode starts to show a little slack, your anchor has reached the bottom. From here, you will want to achieve a 7:1 ratio of rode to allow enough swing room for your sailboat and to accommodate for any changing conditions such as the movement of tides. For example, if you have measured 15 feet from the bow to the ocean floor, you will want to back up your sailboat so that you achieve a total of 105 feet of rode that is released. Make sure that you have enough swing room from here. In other words, you will want to have a total of 210 feet of swing room for your sailboat so you minimize your chance of hitting any obstructions, the shoreline or other anchored sailboats in the area. When you are ready to set sail, engine your way slowly to the spot of your anchor, put your other gloves on and coil the rode so you don’t end up with a tangled mess. This will make anchoring for your next stop much easier. If you take all of these concepts into consideration, you will have a much better and less worrisome experience at anchor.
Remember, anchoring is a spectator sport for those already anchored. Make sure you have the right equipment and the right information. Happy sailing!!!