Anchoring fore and aft will eliminate the space you need to swing, which may make smaller or more crowded anchorages tenable.
While finding a safe spot in which to drop the hook is almost second nature to many old hands, others find it something of a black art. Which part of the bay has the best holding? Where is the best shelter going to be? What happens if the wind shifts?
One apparently easy solution is to anchor close to a boat that’s already in the anchorage – if they appear to be successfully anchored that must be a good spot, right? Not necessarily – the chances are it’s no better than anywhere else in the bay. Indeed it may have been the only sensible option available when they arrived, but other boats have since left, opening other possibilities for you.
The shelter that a good anchorage affords means that strong winds will be accompanied by strong gusts and many changes of direction – don’t underestimate the arc through which your boat and your neighbours will swing.
In any case, anchoring unnecessarily close to another boat can have significant drawbacks. If you end up anchoring upwind of them, with your boat over the top of their anchor, they will have trouble leaving without disturbing you and there may even be risk of a minor collision. Similarly, anchoring too close to one side risks a collision as different boats will invariably swing around the anchor in different patterns.
The four key criteria to assess before anchoring are the type of bottom, depth of water, shelter from current and forecast winds, and the swinging circle of other boats already anchored. In terms of the seabed fine sand is ideal – which is why good anchorages often have sandy beachs – but make sure you don’t drop the hook in an area covered in weed that will make it difficult for the anchor to penetrate the surface.
Never assume a boat that’s already anchored is in the best spot.
Shelter from the wind is critically important. While in crowded parts of the Mediterranean at the height of the season it’s possible to find boats anchored off a lee shore in winds of up to 6-8 knots, there is a very fine line between this and a dangerous situation should the boat drag the anchor in a stronger onshore breeze. The more deeply indented the bay or cove, the better the shelter from an offshore wind. Equally, the further you can get towards the shore the better the shelter you will have, providing there’s sufficient depth in your swinging circle.
In smaller and tighter anchorages, a line ashore to a tree or rock, or a second anchor set from the stern, will eliminate swinging. This both makes it safer to anchor closer to other vessels and also enables you to gain additional shelter by safely positioning the boat closer to shore.