Home On A Chain

As we enter the bay, on goes the engine and James points the boat to wind. The mainsail starts to flap and I release the halyard so the canvas falls down on top of the boom – occasionally smoothly and neatly, occasionally not… it depends on what kind of a passage it’s been to get here.

Back in the cockpit James has studied the electronic chart and Pilot Guide, and is nudging Blue Eye toward tonight’s selected home, whilst at the bow I’ve pulled the anchor from its locker and flaked out 25 metres of chain along the deck, ready to send her down. It’s tempting to rush the whole process so we can get the tea brewing and the Digestive’s demolished, but we’ve come far and we want to sleep easy in the knowledge our home is secure tonight.

A game of chicken ensues. How close to shore dare we get? A smaller distance will give us a shorter dinghy ride in and likely better protection from wind and swell. On the other hand, going closer entertains the risk of running aground. If nothing else, this would be highly embarrassing, as neighbouring yachts eye our approach. For a small boat she has the relatively large draught (depth) of 1.7m and often we opt for caution over comfort, staying further offshore than we might like. That being said, Blue Eye is frequently found to be the boat anchored closest to shore. Take that, nosy German neighbour with your luxurious yacht and properly displayed anchor ball, look how close WE are to the beach! You’ll have to get up extra early to put your towels down now! Not that we’re smug…

Indeed, anchoring has become an almost daily occurrence in the last two months as liveaboards. Marinas are expensive and invariably stifling in the midday heat, whereas anchorages are free and breezy, as well as inclusive of a swimming pool (the sea), a shower (the sea), a fridge (the sea) and the potential for a free dinner (fish…. in the sea).

A marina generally provides secure and steady holding, whilst at an anchorage these two factors are entirely up to the decision-making and ability of us. Inevitably, we have made a couple of bad calls and spent the night all but rolling out of bed such is the swell of our hastily selected location, but never have we experienced the dreaded dragging of the anchor. Well… apart from the time I drove. But we don’t talk about that.

In La Coruna, Spain we were dealt a great deal of confidence as we watched a boat – of significantly greater size than Blue Eye – attempt to anchor. With no regard for where the wind was coming from, the skipper stopped the boat, hollered for the foredeck to drop, after which roughly 10 metres of chain were dumped on the seabed, and he proceeded to wrench the throttle into reverse, presumably with the notion of ‘digging in’ the hook. Even from some distance away we could hear the anchor bounce across the seabed, feebly searching for something to hold on to. The boat whizzed backwards until finally, miraculously, the anchor bit. Off went the engine and the crew retired below. We were wholly convinced, with such little chain or regard for common practice, they would not still be there in the morning.

Low and behold, the sun rose and there they were. We now sleep soundly in the knowledge that if such poor technique can hold a boat larger and heavier than ours, then the systematic procedure we go through will surely stand us in good stead, even in the more windy and swelly ‘shelters’.

Indeed, living on a buoyant object inclined to float off any which way the conditions dictate, we’ve had to learn to trust that big, pointy piece of metal to hold our home for us. It was unnerving at first to either leave the boat by dinghy for the day or to fall asleep at night, with haunting thoughts of the anchor dragging, the boat running aground as the tide went out, or of her swinging into another boat nearby… some people love to plonk themselves right next to us even in the most roomy of bays.

And yet, so far, so good. From Camaret, France, to Sardineiro, Spain, to Asilah, Morocco, we have found some gems to spend an evening or two in. Sometimes it is as if we are sleeping on land itself, it is so flat. And when the wind is blowing, and the boat is swinging back and forth, we each subconsciously tune into her movement. If anything unusual starts to occur, it doesn’t take long for one of us to sense it, though it’s rarely more than a turn of the wind or tide. Or perhaps some Germans positioning themselves just ahead of us so they can get to the beach first in the morning.

There’s a great deal of satisfaction in studying the elements, selecting a cove and tucking oneself into its shelter for the night. Given the choice of a marina with water, electricity and proximity to town, we’d still opt for the tranquillity and scenery of the, albeit less convenient, anchorage.

Plus, did I mention, it’s cheap. Actually, it’s completely rent-free. The trick to life on a shoestring, it seems, is to have your home on a chain and dinner on a line. We’re still working on the latter, but anchoring is becoming a pleasing routine to life.

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