Getting More Use From Kedge Anchors

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If you are cruising, you need at least two anchors on board for the simple reason that you must have a backup. Imagine having to slip your anchor on a stormy night with other boats dragging down on yours, or having your rope rode severed by some unseen underwater obstacle, setting you adrift. If not up the creek without a paddle, you’d be on the beach without an anchor. The backup anchor is usually called the kedge, after the verb meaning to move a ship in a desired direction by means of a small anchor.

A kedge is not merely a backup to be held in reserve for emergencies, though; it can be used in a number of ways as part of your everyday cruising armory.

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Any kind of anchor can be a kedge, including a fisherman, plow, Danforth-style or modern scoop anchor. Because kedges usually only are subjected to straight-line pulls, there is no need to carry one that resets easily in tidal or wind changes. If you have enough boat to carry two anchors on your bow rollers, that’s great—if not, and you have to stow the kedge belowdecks, it makes sense to have one that stows flat, like a Danforth, or can be taken apart. Mantus, Spade and Fortress, along with fisherman-style hooks like the Luke, are three such anchors. The aluminum Fortress is especially popular as a backup anchor because of its combination of light weight and excellent holding power; with steel anchors, you usually get one or the other. Aluminum versions of the Spade are also available. Weight is especially important because a kedge often has to be rowed or motored out in a dinghy, or in some cases, walked out physically. Whichever type you choose, it should not be the same as your bow anchor, as not all anchors work equally well in different bottoms.

A kedge rode should have between 10ft and 20ft of chain (any more makes it awkward and heavy to handle) shackled to at least 150ft of nylon rope, whose thickness is determined by the size of boat—1/2in should be ample for boats up to 40ft. I prefer eight-plait nylon line to three-strand because it flakes down more compactly and does not hockle or twist, and a kedge rode doesn’t need the extra stretch of three-strand. The rode can be flaked into a bucket or stowed in a dedicated bag, usually in a cockpit locker, until it is needed. A webbing rode that can be stored on a reel is an increasingly popular alternative among long-distance cruisers. Dyneema line with an elastic core is a recent development that, while expensive, sounds ideal for a kedge rode.

Coming Unstuck

The classic use for a kedge anchor is to winch yourself off when you’ve run aground. In this situation you load the kedge and rode into your dinghy and drop the anchor in deep water—which is usually found in the direction you’ve come from—take the rode to a sheet winch and grind furiously until you (hopefully) come unstuck. If you have the bad luck to go agound on a falling tide, take the kedge in the direction of the returning current (in which case you may have to carry the anchor out). Even if you don’t dry out completely, the kedge will prevent wind or current from pushing you harder aground. Then you can winch yourself clear as the tide returns. In some situations you may want to attach the kedge rode to the spinnaker halyard to pull the masthead over and thereby lessen your draft to help you float off, but make sure to keep the pull in line with the shrouds—there are risks to this technique.

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Holding Your Boat Off a Dock

If you find yourself pinned against a dock by a strong wind and it is not possible to leave, you can take the kedge out to windward and run the rode through a block in the end of a line attached to a bow cleat, forming a bridle. Take the rode to a cockpit winch and grind it in until the boat is pulled clear of the dock. Not only will your fenders thank you, so will your nerves. There are various ways to rig such a bridle, depending on the circumstances.

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Setting Out the Kedge

The most effective way to set a kedge is to load the anchor and rode into the dinghy—flaking the rode carefully so it pays out without a hitch— and then pay it out as you row or motor away from the mother ship. This is another reason to not have too long a chain leader, as once the chain starts to pay out you’ll be pulled backward. Try not to drop the anchor on top of piled-up chain. If the anchor is heavy, it may be easier to dangle it over the side of the dinghy, secured with a slip knot. It may also be easier to bring a mate along to make sure the rode pays out properly. In shallow water, you may be able to walk the kedge out; in this case, you could lash the anchor to a fender or two to keep it buoyant until you’re far enough away to drop it.

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Limiting Swinging at Anchor

Some boats sail around their anchors much more than others, a tendency exacerbated if you have rope rather than chain rode and when the wind opposes the current. As the breeze gets up and the boat hunts from one side of the anchor to the other until she brings up hard, there is a possibility that at the end of one of these surges she will snatch the anchor out of the seabed. Try lashing your kedge to the main anchor rode and lower it until it is just off the bottom. This will act as a kellet and considerably dampen the boat’s desire to dance around. Be warned, though, that it will also damage delicate sea beds should it touch bottom, so don’t do it in coral. If lowered too far it may also hook bottom obstructions or perhaps a neighbor’s anchor chain, which will not make you popular, so it’s best tried in lonely anchorages.

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 Laying a Second Anchor for Safety

If strong winds are predicted, you can set out the kedge anchor in the direction of the predicted windshift, at say 45 to 90 degrees to the bow anchor. Not only will this stop the boat from sailing around her anchor, it will add an extra degree of security when the wind gets up. This will, of course, impact your swinging circle, so pay attention to the other boats around you. It may also be worth buoying the kedge so you can pull it up from the dinghy when you leave, although be aware that anchor trip lines are almost universally reviled in busy anchorages.

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Tying Up to Shore

In harbors with limited tidal range and/or steeply shelving bottoms, why not drop the kedge over the stern as you nose up to shore until you are close enough to take a line to a tree or a rock with a dinghy, or swim it ashore? Winch the kedge rode in and adjust the shore line until you’re happy with your position. In the tideless Baltic, the Scandinavians have their bows just about touching the shore. I’ve also done this in the Med and the Pacific Northwest. I like to go in bow first so as not to risk damaging the rudder should the bottom shoal suddenly.

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Anchoring Fore and Aft

Here’s another sometimes-useful technique for anchoring in tight quarters. It’s similar to the Bahamian Moor in that anchors are set out ahead and astern, but here the kedge is cleated off at the stern. It’s best used in rivers or narrow channels without strong currents, as you’ll effectively be anchored from the stern for half the tide cycle. Anchor with the bow pointing in the direction of the ebb (stronger) current. You will need to watch out for strong winds on the beam, which will place a lot of strain on the anchors. Also be aware of the swinging circles of nearby boats that may be lying to a single anchor.

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The Bahamian Moor

To be honest, the Bahamian Moor is a bit of a pain, but it’s a handy trick to know. Basically, it’s lying to anchors dropped fore and aft to limit your swinging circle in, say, a narrow tidal channel or if there are obstacles close by on either side that you would otherwise swing into. You motor into the stream, drop your main anchor and fall back, paying out as much rode as you need before dropping your kedge off the stern. Take up on your main rode while paying out the kedge rode until you are lying midway between the two anchors. You can also do this the other way round, dropping the kedge first as you motor forward. Take the kedge rode forward and secure it to the main anchor rode with a rolling hitch (if rope) or soft shackle (if chain) and drop the joint below keel level, keeping the bitter end of the kedge rode on board. As the current reverses, the boat will swing to it but remain more or less in the same place as it does so. You can use this technique anywhere you need to limit the boat’s swinging circle, and where you’re certain some other cruiser won’t drop his anchor on top of one of yours. The two rodes can get badly tangled, a major drawback should you have to leave in a hurry or at night. If your boat has a wing keel, it may also end up with an anchor rode wrapped around it. These are two reasons the technique is seldom used. There may come a time, though, when you will need it. 

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Illustrations by Jan Adkins

September 2018

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