At its simplest, anchoring is the act of dropping an anchor overboard, and attaching it, with rope or chain, to the boat so it stays where you want it to stay. However, there are layers of complexity to anchoring, mechanical, social, and philosophical that escapes the casual observer.
I love anchoring! At the end of a tiring sail, I do the simple act of releasing the anchor from the bow, and by some metaphysical magic, suddenly, I am home, tethered to the sea bottom by chain the diameter of a pencil and rope the size of my index finger. But, there is some strangeness to this. Normally, the wind turns the sailboat in a circle around the anchor to point automatically into the wind. Sometimes there is no wind, and the boat turns into the current. Sometimes there is substantial current such as we encountered at Rudder Cay. Sometimes there is wind and current, and the boat does some strange dance around the anchor chain where the boat points into the wind, but the chain leads sideways off the boat into the current, and only God knows where the dinghy will drift to. Every time we look or go outside, we have to orient ourselves anew. We might be pointing any direction. Additionally, there is some risk that the anchor will move, dragged by the forces of wind and current, and there is some risk that another boat will drag down on us. Suppose you went out your front door each morning, and had to decide which way your house was facing, if you had been dragged into the next block, and if your neighbor’s house was sitting on your front lawn. This is what anchoring is like.
There is one more inconvenience called roll. This is the movement of the boat in response to waves going through the anchorage, to the wakes of boats going through the anchorage, and to wind blowing on the boat. Boat movement that would be unnoticeable when underway can be quite irritating when trying to sleep. I cannot sleep if my head if flopping around from side to side, even slightly. The only fix for this problem is to move to another anchorage. Sometimes one can be found nearby, sometimes not. We find that we can tolerate quite a bit of movement, but we have found visitors have had trouble with this movement.
Ideally, when approaching an anchorage, you are the only one there, but in the Bahamas, this is seldom the case. Often, you need to find a place amongst a multitude of other boats. Specifically, you must find the best place. For us, this place is close to the dinghy dock, since our dinghy is none too fast. It should be out of the way of commercial boats (the mail boat for example), and it should be a sufficient distance from other boats. This distance is subjective, and “sufficient” for one boater is ”insufficient” to another. The rule is: if you are there first, and if you complain to the boat anchoring later, and if that boat doesn’t move, and if that boat drags and causes damage to your boat, you have a good case in court. We try to talk to each of our nearby neighbors as soon as we can and ask them how much chain they have out. This makes our neighbor feel that we are careful, without admitting that we are less than experienced, and gives that neighbor a chance to voice his concern. Each boat at anchor rotates around a circle of chain or rope (generically called a rode), with the anchor at the center. It is acceptable for these circles to overlap some, since all boats normally rotate around their circles in response to the same wind and current.
There is some risk that the anchor will become un-anchored. Usually this is due to the anchor coming loose from the bottom, but it can be caused by a rope rode wearing through due to chafe and constant movement. Of course, there are different kinds of bottom: sand is good, mud is good, grass is problematic unless the anchor punches through into the mud or sand below. Flat rock is bad, and rough rock and logs can be bad since your anchor may stick too well and be impossible to get up. Anchoring in the Bahamas is made easier since it is usually possible to see your anchor from the surface of the water, and observe how well it is dug in, and it is usually easy to swim down with a mask and snorkel and take a look. Sometimes you can see your neighbor’s anchor. Modern technology has come to the rescue with the anchor alarm. This is a feature of all modern GPSs where you set a distance from “here”, and the alarm goes off waking you up if the boat goes farther than that distance. We use a handheld Garmin GPSMAP 78 which uses about ½ Watt of power and which we leave on day and night. I believe this device does more to improve the quality of our sleep than any other feature of the boat.