The Lost Art of Kedging: how to set a kedge anchor

Kedging works best with a long line. Unlike anchoring, it is scope rather than the weight of the ground tackle that provides the holding power.
Author:
Updated:
Original:

On the second-to-last offshore leg of our trip to Sweden in our 35-foot yawl, Arcturus, we were sailing up the Baltic toward the big island of Gotland and its medieval city Visby. The barometer began dropping after we left Malmö, and 20 miles from Visby the wind started to freshen. We made hull speed for the first time in three days, sailing fast beneath a darkening sky in the west. It drizzled as we sailed through the breakwater.

Most guest docks in Sweden consist of one main floating pontoon, with mooring balls set at intervals alongside to which visiting boats can tie lines and moor bow- or stern-to. Since there were no others boats on the pontoon at Visby, we simply tied up alongside it. But as the wind increased, it brought with it a very annoying swell that drove Arcturus up against the pontoon and smashed our poor fenders flat. Next thing we knew, we were pinned.

A Lost Art & Its Uses

The Royal Navy’s seamanship manual from 1904 describes kedging as a means for maneuvering large engineless ships in and out of tight harbors and tidal river entrances. Strapping young lads would take to the longboats and row out one of the ship’s smaller anchors in the direction they wanted to move the ship. They would then drop anchor when they ran out of cable, return to the ship and take up on the capstan to pull the ship up to the anchor, usually 600 feet or so at a time. It was a slow, hard process, but then again it was the only option, and they made it work.

In theory, kedging is simple. In reality, there are a number of things that can make it a challenge. Kedging is an art that requires practice. If you ever need to do it someday to save your boat, you will be glad to have rehearsed. A combination of patience and smooth actions is the key.

Kedging works best with a long line. Unlike anchoring, it is scope rather than the weight of the ground tackle that provides the holding power. Those rowing out a kedging rode in a hard dinghy often have an easier time of it. Inflatable dinghies with outboard motors take longer to launch if they are stowed deflated, and long lines and propellers are a bad mix—especially if you are in a hurry and are trying to drive the dinghy with one hand while paying out line with the other.

If an inflatable with an outboard is all you have, make it easier on yourself by loading the anchor in the center of the dinghy and then take in the rode over the bow. Be sure to flake the line down instead of coiling it, so that it will run smoothly as you haul the anchor away from the mother ship. When everything is ready, drive the outboard in reverse and let the line pay out from the bow. You may get wet, but this will keep the line away from the prop and also makes it easier to control the dinghy in a crosswind.

A kedge by definition is a light anchor. The smaller the kedge the more manageable it will be in a dinghy, so you need to strike a balance between holding power and ease of handling. A modern Danforth or Fortress anchor generally works best, perhaps a size or two smaller than what you might use as your main anchor, or bower.

If you are hard aground and are trying to kedge off, attach the end of your kedge rode to a halyard and use it to heel the boat and reduce its draft. You may need a second kedge to winch yourself out of the mud, but the leverage from the masthead will heel the boat over far more than the standard practice of putting crew outboard on the boom.

In a real pinch, if the wind and chop are too much for even the stoutest dinghy, don’t be afraid to take to the water. Buoy the anchor with a bunch of fenders, put on a lifejacket, don your mask, fins and snorkel, and swim the anchor out against the elements.

Pinned to the Dock

In Visby, we were stuck, but not on the bottom. Overnight the jerky motion of the boat had nearly chafed through a spring line, and the boat’s rubrail had chewed a groove in the wooden beam on the outside of the pontoon. We awoke after a fitful night’s sleep to find splinters on the side decks and were lucky the boat was undamaged.

We initially thought we would try and warp Arcturus around to the leeward side of the pontoon, nudging her off the end and letting the wind bring the stern round. But the wind and swell were strong enough that we were afraid we might lose control of the boat and cause more damage than if we’d done nothing at all. The floating pontoon was also moving, occasionally snapping the lines taut and putting one heck of a shock load on the cleats. Because this would have been markedly worse on the leeward side, I decided what we really needed was a breast line to hold us off the dock to windward.

We could have set an anchor to do this, but with mooring balls all around, we decided to use one of them instead. First we took two of our longest lines and led them, one from the bow and one from the stern, through an eye in the mooring ball and then back to the boat. Normally when kedging off of a shoal, it does not much matter which direction you go, so long as it is generally the right one. But kedging off a dock, you may want more control to keep the boat centered. In Visby we set up a bridle with two lines, which allowed us to keep the boat parallel to the dock while pulling it off. Laying out a breast line with a kedge, you could easily create a bridle by bending a second line to the kedge rode with a rolling hitch.

When we hauled our breast lines tight, the strain was strong enough to sink the mooring ball we’d led them to, but it opened up a much-needed gap. It also relieved our fenders and protected Arcturus from the dock. We still rocked and rolled in the swell, but not onto the dock. By doubling the breast lines and fixing both ends on the boat, it was also a simple matter to slip the lines from the boat when it came time to leave.

View the video: How to Set a Kedge Anchor http://www.sailmagazine.com/cruising-tips/how-set-kedge-anchor

Related

BoatTalk-2048

VIDEO: Sailing Not just for Millionaires

Sailing and boating can come with a hefty price tag, but there are plenty of ways to get on the water without breaking the bank. In this episode of Boat Talk, SAIL's managing editor Lydia Mullan and Power & Motor Yacht's executive editor Charlie Levine share tips on getting out ...read more

Cornell-2048x

Elcano Challenge Resurrected

In late 2020, sailing legend Jimmy Cornell set off on his Elcano Challenge, a green-powered circumnavigation aboard the custom Outremer Aventura Zero. Unfortunately, shortly after setting out, the boat encountered major power-generation issues. "I took the decision to turn ...read more

F8V-BOOK-for-SAIL---1

Book Review: The Figure 8 Voyage

“What is the color of the ocean that rolls beneath Pacific trades? How does a wave curl and crash at 47 degrees south? Can an albatross remain awing in the worst of weathers?” Randall Reeves has always found images to be the most compelling part of the stories we tell about the ...read more

AC210117cb_23806

VIDEO: Capsize in the Prada Cup

American Magic's Patriot capsized during day three of the Prada Cup. If you haven't yet watched the catastrophe unfold with your own eyes, check out the above video or any number of others that are circulating on social media. It's truly a tip that has to be seen to be believed. ...read more

210115-AC36

Prada Cup: Brits Take First Two Races

Who saw that coming? After getting skunked in December, INEOS Team UK has swept the first two races in the Prada Cup elimination series of the 36th America’s Cup  Racing took place on racecourse “C,” sheltered between Auckland’s North Head and Bastion Point to take advantage of ...read more

ac-2048x

Hutchinson: 36th America’s Cup will be a Close On

On the eve of the Prada Cup challenger series, the official start of the 36th America’s Cup, New York Yacht Club American Magic skipper Terry Hutchinson says it’s anyone’s game. "As we've seen in the last week, everyone's gotten faster," said Hutchinson said at the event’s ...read more

Episode1_Thumbnail4_00000_00000_00000_00000

Sailing Docuseries Released Online

Endless Media's Reaching Reality is the story of three friends, a 24-foot sailboat and 1,200 miles. With candor and humor, this series proves that you don't need to be an expert or a millionaire to cast off on the journey of a lifetime. Produced by Emmy-award winner Barry ...read more

01-LEAD-nder-sail-3

Prepping for a Transatlantic

Growing up on the coast of northern England, I dreamed about crossing oceans on my own boat. Like most of us, though, education, a family and a career took precedence, and before I knew it, we had mortgages, young children and endless work obligations. We also became landlocked, ...read more