Finding a bolthole in which to secure your boat from swinging is a huge advantage and it can only be achieved by tying to shore. Skip describes how it is best done
Most cruisers have tied to shore at one time or another, but in places like Tierra del Fuego, the Antarctic Peninsula and parts of the Arctic it is more or less de rigueur. These far-flung places are more in the nature of archipelagos than simple coastlines, so the ability to secure your boat close in has advantages.
Swinging to a single anchor, especially surrounded by high ground, which implies variable and unpredictable wind direction, can be an unpleasant experience requiring an anchor watch. That is never desirable.
A change in direction of the boat could snatch the anchor and drag. It is better to be in a fixed position in a somewhat confined space with an anchor down in the direction of the exit and mooring lines tied ashore to trees and boulders or any other immovable object. By definition, getting close to shore behind islands, peninsulas and other features usually means less wind.
In the Antarctic or the Arctic, it is desirable to get into shallow water and that can usually only be achieved by tying to shore. Finding a bolthole with minimum water depth for your draught is ideal for the simple reason that any drift ice, such as large growlers, bergy bits (starter home size) and bergs (mansions and up) will ground out before colliding with the boat.
If anchored in deep water in these ‘ice with everything’ regions you are continually at risk from this danger. At the very least it will be a nerve-racking experience continually fending off ice with little respite.
There is another attraction though: creativity in navigation. It’s work, but also satisfying and sometimes amusing to take the time to rig all this up, not to mention that when you are close in you can smell the flowers (or penguins) and possibly get closer to the ‘natives’, if there are any. The sense here is of exploring rather than visiting.
The system of how to do this efficiently is critical and will require practice. The equipment needed can be bought cost-effectively at a ship chandler that caters to the fishing industry.
The right gear
Lines must be of floating polypropylene. If you have ever run a nylon anchor rode out with the dinghy you will appreciate this – it immediately sinks to the bottom and will quickly overtake the power of the outboard if you’re running it out a long way. Retrieval is a winching-in job.
Floating line skims the surface so is easy to pay out and easy to retrieve. I recommend four lines – two bow and two stern – each at least five to six times the length of the boat. That’s a lot of line to stow, so read below.
Attaching to the shore requires strops. We use long loops (4m) of galvanised wire, bulldog-gripped together. Some use a long wire with a thimble eye in each end, which has the advantage of threading through a keyhole. Galvanised wire is supple, easy to handle and doesn’t break strands easily like stainless steel, which will quickly ‘meat hook’ and be impossible to handle without heavy leather gloves. After ten years of tying to shore on Pelagic Australis we are using the same galvanised wire loops.
A pair or two of waders are also necessary. Getting the dinghy close enough to shore to stay dry in sea boots is wishful thinking. Heavy-duty rubber gloves are also appreciated when handling the lines and strops in water that is 0°C.
We also carry steel angles to use as pitons or ice anchors, but these are rarely used. However, they are definitely more useful in the Arctic and certainly in Scandinavia, where the rocks are more slabby, with fissures. Of course, you also need a sledgehammer to drive these home.
On board it is the system of paying out and retrieving that is the key. Ideally, one person in the dinghy should be able to run a line out and secure it. This will mean carefully flaking the line on deck, but as we all know it will most likely jam somewhere. Spools are the answer. They must be placed on deck where the lines will run straight to the fairleads, or direct through the pushpit and pulpit and then later placed through a fairlead.
We have custom-made permanent installations of four spools, but an ad hoc arrangement (how we started) can be made with a homemade spool of hollow pipe as the mandril, plywood ends and another pipe through the mandril to support it, the ends lashed to the rigging or pulpits/pushpits.
Chafe gear is also necessary not only for the fairleads, but also occasionally on the standing part of the line near the shore if it doesn’t have a clean lead over the rocks. Reinforced hose or floppy fire hose can also be used, both cut long with strings (3mm cord) at both ends to secure the chafe gear to the boat, or to the line ashore with rolling hitches so it doesn’t creep.
Whatever chafe gear you use, it is important that the inner diameter is substantial to allow the line to run through easily.
Making a recce in the dinghy is always a good idea if attempting a tricky anchorage for the first time. This would include taking soundings and checking out various attachment points on shore (trees and rocks) and possibly rigging the strops beforehand.
On board you want to prepare the shorelines so they are through the fairleads and chafe gear hanging over the sides and grabbable and of course the spools ready to run freely. You are now ready to bring the boat in. The dinghy should be deployed and hovering around, with someone ready to grab the first stern shoreline, selected with respect to wind or current so it will balance the boat more or less in the place you want to be.
Immediately after the anchor is dropped, that critical stern shoreline should be grabbed at the fairlead and run to the shore, with the wire sling ready to drop over a suitable boulder or the line simply tied to a tree (make sure it isn’t rotten!). As soon as you have tied in, signal the crew on board to take in the slack and ideally run the line to a winch.
Now you can repeat the process with the other three lines or all four if needed.
Do’s and don’ts
- Do make sure the boulders are big enough. In a gale a 60-footer can exert tremendous force on a shore system.
- Do use round turns and two half hitches to tie to the wire slings or around trees. These are easier to untie than bowlines, particularly under load.
- Do note the level of tide. If you tie to a boulder below high tide that is fine, but untying could be tricky!
- Don’t worry about chafe gear where the line is tied around the slings as it is a turn through 180°.
- Don’t put the wire slings in cracks where boulders are freestanding – they might be impossible to extract.
- Don’t forget about the effect of drift ice if it is gathering in the anchorage: you can put a snatch block on the shoreline and hoist it up above the water with a spinnaker or main halyard, allowing the ice to escape with wind or tide.
Part 12: Dinghy handling in heavy weather
In the final part of the series, Skip examines your dinghy, tender, inflatable. Whatever you choose to call it, it’s your lifeline to shore