Few things can ruin a relaxing stop at your favorite anchorage like a battle to retrieve an anchor that’s stuck on the bottom and won’t come free. Here are a few tricks to save your afternoon, and possibly your anchor:
First, pull up on the anchor line so you’re directly above the anchor. “Tail off” the anchor line on a bow cleat, taking a turn around the base and holding taut. Don’t cleat it off in case you need to release the line quickly as the boat dips into a trough – and watch your fingers if it’s rough. On the crest of the next wave, the rise of the boat may free the hook. By tailing the line, you can let it slip to prevent the bow being pulled under.
If that doesn’t work, with the boat still directly over the anchor, cleat the anchor line at the bow and gently idle forward into the wind. This will pull on the anchor in the direction opposite from which you originally set it. Continue moving forward until the anchor breaks free.
Or not. Chances are that, if the water’s too cold or deep to go swimming, you’re going to end up abandoning your anchor at this point unless you’ve prepared for this eventuality in advance. What could you have done, or can you do now to prepare for the next time?
Go buy yourself an anchor-retrieval ring and buoy. Snap this assembly around the anchor line and drive past the anchor at about 45 degrees. The float and ring, which serve as a pulley, will move down the rode. The ball’s buoyancy combined with the boat’s pull can free a stubborn anchor. Keep driving until you see the anchor ball break the surface astern.
Rig a tripping line to your anchor before you drop the hook. This secondary line is attached at or near the anchor’s crown – frequently to a ring or hole on the anchor specifically for fitting a tripping line. The other end of the line is tied to a float which, when released with the anchor, will float more or less vertically over the anchor’s position on the bottom. If the anchor gets stuck, hauling on the tripping line changes the anchor’s angle to the bottom and will usually free it.