GSSR 2010 No. 8 – Do anchors float?

Greetings all!

This is just a quick blog update to let everyone know that we are still at the dock in Nagasaki. The GSSR group will not be moving again until the end of next week.

We had planned to leave this Saturday, and even plotted our route and reserved a couple of marinas, but then Braun from Grey Pearl sent an email to the group that began like this:

“…Question – are we leaving Nagasaki too soon?…”

The group is at a bit of a major milestone. This is really our last stop in what I’ll call ‘Mainland Japan.’ When most people think of Japan, they are thinking of the four main islands of Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu.

We will be heading into the 1,000 km long ,169-island chain, known as the Ryukyu Islands, that are part of Japan, just as the Aleutian Islands are part of the US, but somewhat analogously, due to geographic separation, and their independence until modern times, the Ryukyu islands are very different from the Japan we’ve been cruising in.

Some of the distinction is historically based…

The Ryukyu Islands’ history is ‘messy’ by all standards. For most of the past thousand years, the islands were an independent nation, with strong ties to China. Then, in the 1600s, they were captured by Japan, but kept partially open, in order to maintain trade with China. Disputes arose as to whether the Ryukyus belonged to China, Japan, or were an independent nation. U.S. President Grant somehow got involved, and was called upon to arbitrate ownership of the Ryukyus, and against the protestations of many Ryukyu residents and China, gave the islands to Japan. WWII was very hard on the Ryukyus, where Okinawa became the battleground for perhaps the bloodiest battle of the war. More people died at Okinawa than from the atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. After WWII, the US demanded long-term military bases in Japan, and grabbed something like 40% of useable Okinawan land  for US military bases. The Okinawan citizens were not happy with Japan for allowing the US presence, and it has been a controversial topic ever since, and is particularly tense this year.

I do not know what greeting our group will receive in the Ryukyus. It is tough  to read the history on the internet and know how this will play out in  terms of the reception we will receive. Okinawa and Ishigaki (Ryukyuan islands) are popular vacation destinations for the Japanese, so I suspect all will be fine.

Crusing the Ryukyu islands will be a challenge…

All of the Ryukyu islands are closed ports, except perhaps Okinawa, meaning that we need to apply to visit each one independently. Our agent asked that I identify our route so that he could start the paperwork. I really didn’t want to be pinned down to too firm a schedule, because of two big picture issues:

1) The Ryukyu Islands are mostly tiny islands with no protected bays. Although typhoons typically arrive later in the year, they can, and do, occur in June. We need to always be thinking about where we’ll run to hide if a typhoon strikes. Weather in general is going to be a huge issue because most of the islands have no place to hide from any kind of rough weather.

2) We know that there are some great anchoring opportunities to be had in the Ryukyu Islands, but we’re not sure where they are. We want the flexibility to extend our stay at the good places and bail quickly on the bad ones.

Below is a tentative schedule I gave to our agent:

Approx. Date
of arrival  
 Location  GPS Position  Days  Anchor or Tied to Wall
 June 3 Yakushima   30° 25.878’N, 130° 34.311’E  1  Don’t care
 June 4 Nakano Shima  29° 50.497’N, 129° 51.228  1  Don’t care
 June 5 Takera Jima  29° 9.506’N, 129° 12.410’E  1  Don’t care
 June 6 Amami Shima  28° 25.662’N, 129° 37.977’E  5  Anchor
 June 11 Amami Shima  28° 10.724’N, 129° 17.441’E  5  Anchor
 June 16 Okino Erabu Shima  27° 23.724’N, 128° 39.855’E  1  Don’t care
 June 17 Okinawa  26° 13.611’N, 127° 39.738’E  10  Marina or Wall
 June 27 Miyako Jima  24° 45.627’N, 125° 16.288’E  1  Don’t care
 June 28 Ishi Gaki  24° 20.101’N, 124° 8.613’E  5  Prefer marina or wall, but there may also be anchoring possibilities

I accompanied the schedule with this disclaimer: “I put in my best guess at dates, however, the one thing that I can promise is that there will be weather delays, and that this schedule will shift.”

The islands selected were the largest we could find along our route, or the ones with the greatest chance of offering some shelter.

This is the response I received:

            “…Have contacted Kagoshima Coast Guard and asked them to give us further information to anchoring/mooring points according to your voyage plan.
Frankly speaking they are not sure good anchoring/mooring point at these small islands such as Nakano Shima, Takara Jima, Okino Erabu Shima. So Coast Guard told that leave decision and judgement to captain for anchoring and mooring or drafting at these islands depending on weather. …”

It’s an understandable response. We picked the best sheltered islands we could find, but there isn’t much to pick from. The Aleutian islands were much friendlier with respect to having protected bays.

Contrast this to our situation in Nagasaki. We have good electricity and are on a floating dock. Our boats are docked a block from the train station, in the heart of a major modern city. We have all the shopping and restaurants we could possibly want within walking distance.

Anyway, to make a long story short. Our cruising is about to take a dramatic change. We’re moving into the unknown, where things might be really great, or they might be really horrible. We don’t have the vaguest idea. The only thing we know is that they are going to be incredibly different.

Anyway, that’s enough on that topic…

My last blog entry, which talked about one of our GSSR boats losing power on the way to Nagasaki, attracted some terrific comments. If you haven’t already, you may want to review them by CLICKING HERE ( There are some interesting comments on fuel systems and anchoring.

And speaking of anchors…

The captains of the GSSR group had lunch together this week, and we started speaking about ‘The Med’ (short for the Mediterranean) which we are working our ways towards. At this point, the Med seems very far away, so it was just idle chit-chat, but the topic of med mooring came up.

Roberta and I had our prior boat, a Nordhavn 62, based in France, near Monaco, and had some experience with med mooring. It’s something that is fairly common in Europe, that generically refers to a way of mooring your boat by backing up to a wall, with nothing between you and other boats on your side except fenders.

Your stern is attached to the wall by lines, and your bow held in place either by an anchor, or by lines that extend to the bottom of the marina.

Med mooring can be quite difficult, particularly in high winds, and in some places, such as St Tropez, it’s a popular tourist attraction just to watch the mega-yachts attempt med mooring as they frequently bounce off each other.

I mentioned at lunch that I had always done the ‘lines to the bottom of the marina’ form of med mooring, and had never had to tangle with dropping anchor and backing to the wall. Braun (Grey Pearl) had also had his boat in Europe and gave some details about his med mooring efforts. One of my biggest questions has always been, “How far in front of the slip should I drop the anchor?” Braun said that it is no different than any other form of anchoring. You need enough scope (the ratio of chain-length to depth) to be able to set the anchor. In other words, probably at least five times the depth in chain. In 40’ of water, you would need to pull away from the wall a couple of hundred feet, drop the anchor, then back up to the wall, moving exactly straight, so as not to tangle surrounding anchors. This is tougher than it sounds, particularly when in high-wind, and backing into a slip so tight you need to roll the fenders as you squeeze your way backwards.

Then Braun mentioned something I hadn’t heard of – floating the anchor. I thought I understood med mooring, but Braun added a new wrinkle. Apparently in some marinas, such as Monaco, there are so many anchors under the water that tangling anchors is a real problem. Thus, to simplify anchor retrieval, they regularly send down divers to put air bags on your anchor, and float it to the surface. I’ve never seen this done, so your guess is as good as mine as to the details of the process.

And, this is all a long preamble to a strange coincidence…

Yesterday I received a phone call from a friend who is a delivery skipper.

He had been delivering a boat from La Paz Mexico back to Seattle when he hit rough seas along the west coast of Baja. He was getting beat up in 30-40 knot winds and high seas, and wanted protection from the wind.

He was near an island, but it had no great places to anchor. The best protection he could find was a location in 120 feet of water. This meant dropping a lot of chain. When the storm passed, and he started retrieving the chain, the worst-case scenario occurred, and the windlass (the gadget that pulls up the anchor) failed completely. He was in the middle of nowhere, on a large boat, with a very heavy anchor, deep down, and no way to pull it up. It was far too heavy for him to retrieve by hand.

To my friend’s credit, rather than just cut loose the chain, he took the tender to shore and started seeking a diver. He then took a couple of large fenders, deflated them, and had the diver take them down to the anchor. Once attached to the anchor they were inflated, and a few moments later the anchor floated to the surface.

There are lift bags which are made for this purpose, and I’m now thinking I should buy one (or two) and keep them on the boat. An example:

Very cool, and how often do you hear two floating anchor stories in the same week?

And, here’s a few pictures from around Nagasaki…

L to R: Me (Ken), Roberta’s mom (Nova), our son (Chris) and Roberta’s dad (John). Roberta and I have been cruising alone on Sans Souci until now, but will have guests for the next week

If you have a really good microscope you can find Sans Souci in this picture. We are RIGHT DOWNTOWN in Nagasaki

For two hundred years the only part of the Japan open to trade with the outside world was Nagasaki. One of the many tourist attractions is to tour the homes of the westerners that used to live here to trade with Japan

Life isn’t always exciting on Sans Souci (that’s a good thing!)








Scenes from the Atomic Bomb Museum and Peace Park.

And lastly…. 

Starr backing up to Grey Pearl, to say goodbye

I’m sad to report that our friends Don and Sharry Stabbert, on Starr, have departed Nagasaki without the rest of us. The GSSR has now trimmed down to just our original three boats (Grey Pearl, Seabird and Sans Souci.)

Starr only arrived in Japan a few weeks ago and wants to spend more time in Japan before leaving. Their goal is to cruise the western coast of Japan this year, while our group continues on to the Ryukyu Islands, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

Starr will be producing blog entries ( and I’ll be eagerly awaiting each of their blog updates.

That’s it for this blog entry. We’ll be back at sea next week, and as I always say, my blog feels like a tug o’ war between myself and the readers. If all goes well, I have nothing to write except “Another day spent working on my tan, barbecuing, and sipping an adult beverage.” However, I suspect the Ryukyu Islands won’t allow me the pleasure of writing boring blog entries. Sometimes I win, and sometimes the blog wins.

Until next time,

Thank you!

Ken Williams
Sans Souci, Nordhavn 68
And, if you are interested in my books, check out : 



19 Responses

  1. ken, on the topic of used oil could one clean the oil and feed it back into the fuel tanks to be used by the engines? from memory, which is not to be trusted(!), i believe the second owner of a N68 talked of this. a centrifugal separator could possibly be used. as to whether centrifugal is better than the racor system and whether is makes sense cost wise would another thing. i think theres a few nordhavns that use alfa laval (centrifugal) instead of racors and the new detroit diesel series 60 uses a centrifugal instead of paper filter for oil. jon

  2. SUBJECT: RE: GSSR 2010 No. 8 – Do anchors float?

    Hi Ken,

    I have used an anchor float system successfully for years. I use it to raise a stern anchor, or in the case of a windlass failure. It is so simple and effective, I’m surprised more skippers don’t use it. This ring, with a fender attached (I usually attach two) will float the anchor right to the surface. Then all you have to do is pull it aboard, without lifting the weight of the anchor. In the case of a stern anchor, the rode is mostly nylon line, so weight of the rode is not a problem, and can be pulled in by hand. In the case of a windlass failure, the weight of the chain is of course another matter, but with the anchor floating, much of the weight of the chain is also suspended, so using a hand crank on the windlass requires much less effort. There is no diver required here. By just placing the ring over the rode, and then motoring at an angle past the anchor, the float is taken down the rode until it pulls the anchor out of the ground and floats it to the surface.

    Bob Adams

    From: blog-36871-comments@t… [mailto:blog-36871-comments@t…] On Behalf Of ken@k…
    Sent: Saturday, May 29, 2010 1:22 AM
    To: Passagemaking with a Nordhavn
    Subject: GSSR 2010 No. 8 – Do anchors float?

  3. Jeff:

    I agree with your assessment of Rocna anchors. Most of my friends with Nordhavns have swapped to Rocna, which says a lot.

    I’m on my second Rocna, having upgraded from their 110kg model to their recently introduced 150kg. And, you can bet that if they introduce a 200kg model, I’ll be looking to see if I can fit it onto the boat.

    As to the swivel..

    I hadn’t realized they were controversial, and had I known then what I know now, I probably wouldn’t have ordered one. I don’t know that I’m worried enough about it to remove the swivel, but there do seem to be a lot of people with concerns. My email was flooded after I first mentioned that I added a swivel.

    Thank you – Ken W

  4. Ken,
    As Scuba divers, we have 5 lift bags. 1 x 200 lb and 4 x 75 lb.
    We use them to free a stuck anchor in coral AND, to keep the chain above the bommies where we would other wise wrap up. You can custom tweak the amount of the air in the bags with your octopus. We just disconnect them as we reel in the hook. You do have to dive to set them and tweak the air right.

    To us, this is an essential technique for cruising in coral or crummy twisted up junk and lots of odd ball stuff anchorages (as you mentioned in your post)…..

    We’ll be posting a new video if the internet allow tomorrow.. I’ll send out a notice.
    “Fins of Bora Bora”…..Fun with Lemon Sharks (including my tail ride!) under water….
    Scott and Cindy Stolnitz s/v Beach House…..Maupiti, French Polynesia

  5. Jon:

    As to the generator usage on Sans Souci…

    I currently have nearly 5,000 hours on my two gensets. That’s a lot of hours! It’s seven months of around the clock usage spanning the two years since taking delivery of the boat.

    Or, as I think of it .. that’s 25 oil changes! I really do dislike changing the oil, although I just changed it a couple days ago and this time everything went 100% smoothly. 20 minutes from start to finish. That said, I now have all of my buckets full of used oil, and have no idea how to get rid of it, or get some fresh buckets. A major pain in the tail.

    When shore power is not available, I occasionally will run the generator periodically. I can get by with running it as little as six to eight hours a day. However, there are some things on the boat that require the generator, such as the washer/dryer, the oven and the air conditioning. Air conditioning is the big one that usually mandates running the generator around the clock. For instance, we are now in a part of the world where it can be rainy and humid. This means keeping the boat closed up and running air conditioning, which means I need power 24/7.

    Over the past couple of years I’ve gotten lazier, and now am of the opinion that when I don’t have shore power I might as well start the generator. It costs only about 1 gallon per hour of fuel, and generators are cheap enough that if I burn one out every ten years, that isn’t that big a deal.

    Were I building a boat today, I’d go for simplicity, and design in almost no batteries or inverters. I’d run an inverter, or an uninterruptible power supply, for the pilot house electronics, and count 100% on generator or shore power for electricity. My boat is overly complex electrically. KISS method (Keep is Simple) should dominate thinking in boat design. I did a lot of work to run my boat off batteries, and now they are just a pain, and the inverters a source of heat.

    I do think I would buy another Atlas. It is complex, but necessary for hooking to shore power in much of the world. That said, I’d think long and hard about it, because I can do 90% of all I need to do with a battery charger, and as I said – simple is good.

    -Ken W

  6. Scott:

    I did some googling and couldn’t find anyone offering an LED-based anchor light. Your math explains why – there is a non-linear relationship between the lumens requirement and distance. If I’m interpreting your math correctly something like 25 times as much light is required for 6 mile visibility than 2 mile visibility. That’s a LOT of LEDs!

    When this season ends I’ll come up with a list of off-season projects, and I know that finding an LED anchor light will be high on the list.

    As you suggested, I’ll call OWL, and other people that make the lights. Perhaps I can talk one of them into experimenting with one.

  7. Ken – As a true believer of the superiority of the Rocna anchor, I wanted to give you a thought. Our vessel, an Outer Reef 80, uses it as a main anchor and I have been extremely pleased with how quickly it sets and how well it holds. I also was talked into using a swivel and had a definite problem. When raising the anchor once when it was holding tight and placing some more load on it to release, when the anchor surfaced the swivel had almost failed. At the attachment point where there is the pin, it had jammed on the anchor shank and had separated almost where the pin would not have stayed attached. In speaking directly with the swivel manufacturer, they visited the boat and suggested the following solution to keep this from reoccurring. After you attach the swivel, place two SS hose clips around the upper part of the shank just below the pin. By doing this the swivel cannot slide down the opening in the shank and become jammed. It has worked for use so far – knock on wood. In all my years of cruising I have never had an anchor that has performed better and I would recommend the Rocna to anyone who does serious cruising. Hope the rest of your travels go well – Jeff

  8. ken, have you come to a conclusion as to whether it makes more sense to run a generator full time instead of installing inverters/batteries and use this space for extra fuel? i would guess that the nordhavn 64/68 and larger is about the size of boat where this applies. do you run your generator(s) 24/7 now? jon

  9. Did you happen upon the owl series? I wonder if they couldn’t put together something for the 5 mile. Below is the math for the COLREGs. I wasn’t able to find anything from the USCG on specs quickly. Its amazing how big the jump is from 2 miles to 5 mile on the lumens required.

    (a) The minimum luminous intensity of lights shall be calculated by using the formula:
    I = 3.43 x 106 x T x D2 x K-D

    where I is luminous intensity in candelas under service

    T is threshold factor 2 X 10-7 lux,

    D is range of visibility (luminous range) of the
    light in nautical miles,

    K is atmospheric transmissivity.

    For prescribed lights the value of K shall be 0.8, corresponding to a meteorological visibility of approximately 13 nautical miles.

    (b) A selection of figures derived from the formula is given in the following table:

    Range of visibility (luminous range) of light in nautical miles

    Luminous intensity of light in nautical light in candelas for miles K = 0.8

    Range Lumens
    NOTE: The maximum luminous intensity of navigation lights should be limited to avoid undue glare. This shall not be achieved by a variable control of the luminous intensity.
    http://www.bebi-electronics (

    Their 2 mile owl light.
    http://www.bebi-electronics (

    Between the Ipad and ( it looks to be an amazing tool.. err toy. If you want a US spec on shipped over i’ll email you and we can figure it out.

  10. Scott:

    I just did some googling, and apparently there are still no suitable LED anchor lights. I would love to make a change, but all the LED anchor lights I have found thus far are limited to boats 65′ and under.

    In my case, the low power consumption is less important than the ability of LED bulbs to last virtually forever. I never want to have to climb the mast to swap a bulb!

    As to my ipad….

    I have no luck. Roberta says I can’t have my ipad back until we get back to Seattle (August). She said I can buy a new one, that will be just for me, the second we get home. It isn’t fair!

    Her argument is that I just want to have fun with the ipad whereas she is watching the news, which is more serious. And that serious use trumps recreational use. Argh.

    -Ken W

  11. Well it took a week but somehow I got reading and read every single post. If only it was billable time. For not owning a boat I’m not sure why but it captured my interest.

    Did you ever find a 5 mile led anchor light?

    Did you ever get your iPad back from the wife? I had the same problem with mine.

  12. Marv S:

    Great info. I know that sooner or later I’ll need to deal with anchoring to med moor, and am not looking forward to my first time. I’m sure I’ll botch it up and provide great amusement for the crowds on shore.

    Why does the diver go to the trouble to unshackle the anchor? I would think this adds a lot of extra work, and that the lift bags can easily accommodate both the anchor and the chain.

    Your point on the constant tension on the anchor is an interesting one. In normal anchoring, my guess is that there is zero tension on the anchor 99% of the time. Whereas in the med tie, the constant tension is needed to maintain a precise distance from the wall. This means the anchor needs to be set perfectly and to hold.

    Thank you for a very informative post.

    -Ken W

  13. Ken,

    I spent a lot of time in the Medi on a 148 footer. Medi tie is very different than anchoring as there is a constant load on the anchor rode at all times otherwise your boat bangs into the sea wall off your transom. Also a long ramp is necessary from the fantail to the quay. The tide is only a couple of feet in Medi throughout the year so tidal variations are not a big concern. If a boat has been moored for a while and other boats have come and gone, a diver is required. And if there is a blow, additional anchors have been dropped, usually they are dropped from a dingy. The anchor is tied to the side of the dinghy and the rode is stored in the dink. It is a fun exercise. The bottom of the harbor looks like a bowl of spaghetti of anchor lines. The day before one leaves a fresh anchor is put down with the dink, on top of every body else’s rode. The diver unshackles your anchor the rode winched in, and with lift bags the diver brings the anchor near the surface where it is reattached to your boat either with a temporary line or the anchor line so it can be winched back into the anchor chocks for stowage and reshackling. Oh yes, when the boat leaves the next day one does not want to drag the anchor otherwise a number of anchor rodes from other vessels will be lifted along with your anchor.

    Warm wind and gentle seas.

    Marv S

  14. Ron Rogers:

    I should have asked more questions about the details, and how the diver was able to inflate the fenders.

    Here’s my assumption based on our conversation…

    My friend said that he had to put slits in some large fenders. I asked him how large the fenders were he used, and he said that he used two of the large inflatable fenders, that are approx. 18” by 5’. He mentioned needing to put slits in them. My guess is that the slits were to easily fill the fenders with air once the diver attached them to the anchor. I’m assuming that the fenders were filled with air from the divers regulator.

    The amazing part of this story is that the diver was able to do this in 120 feet of water. From my friends comments I’m assuming there was only one diver. At 120’ a diver has only about 10 minutes on the bottom before he needs to start on his way back. That’s not a lot of time to attach two fenders and fill them. I’d also assume that air was an issue. At that depth I wouldn’t want to be using any of my precious air to fill fenders.

    I forgot to ask whether or not the chain was unshackled or if it came up with the anchor. My guess is that there wasn’t time to unshackle the chain, and it had to ride up with the anchor. This adds a LOT of weight.

    I did ask what the diver charged – $300.

    My friend’s name was kept anonymous because the owner of the vessel may read my blog, and I don’t know if he has been told yet about the incident. This just happened a couple of days ago. I’d hate for someone to read about an incident on their boat from my blog before they hear about it from the delivery captain.

    Ken W

  15. Dreamsfloat Joe:

    I think anything that floats could be used to lift the anchor. In the case of my friend he had to destroy some huge fenders in order to use them to lift the anchor. As soon as I get to somewhere where I can, I’m going to buy some real ‘lift bags’ which are meant for this purpose. I’m not sure what is different about them, or how expensive they are, but they seem like something that would be handy to have on board.

    -Ken W

  16. Hi Ken, My brother introduced me to your blog several years ago. I have sincerely enjoyed reading and bedside sailing with you and your host of friends and family. I live in North Bend, close to your morage(sp) in Seattle. My brother is in North Carolina! That being said, I am not a sailer, but grew up having fun on a pontoon boat in the Wisconsin River and I am a simple windersurfer. The wonderlust that you have gives me great pleasure as I encourage all of my students and friends to take adventures whenever possible.
    O.K. I have an anchor story that will make you laugh. (not anything like the floating anchor though) We had a dog, Hank, yellow lab, our ‘first child.’ He loved swimming, fetching, eating, fetching, etc. At a lake that was pretty baron of trees and branches, Hank wanted to play fetch. We told him to find a stick. Well, after a short while of unsuccessful hunting, he returned with a fetch item clutched in the side of his mouth. A bell anchor from the fishing boat pulled up on the shore! He was still young and full of all sorts of energy and creativity. We all fell to laughing as he was persistent about the idea of fetch.
    I look forward to your next posts and hope you have successful mooring in the islands. Good weather and good luck!

  17. Hello and Happy Memorial Day Weekend Ken, Family, Friends and GSSR Group Members! Happy to read all is well! Your get San Souci ready to cruise man, did an outstanding job, from reading your blogs.

    About ‘Floating Anchors’: Ken, is San Souci to large a yacht for you to use an “Anchor Ball (Inflatable Vinyl Bouy)” in assisting you retrieving your anchor? One example of an “Anchor Ball (Inflatable Vinyl Buoy)”:…. (

    I look forward to reading about your exciting times ahead. Hope they are all ‘Good’ exciting times! Thanks for blogging. Enjoy your journey,

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