Using a kedge anchor when offshore

Published on August 12th, 2021

The extreme tides while racing offshore around England are not unlike their golf courses – very unforgiving. Get caught in opposing current and you’d have more luck finding your ball in the rough of Royal Birkdale.

The topic of tides is central to the course updates during the 2021 Fastnet Race, particularly now that it finishes in France alongside the Alderney Race, an evil strait that runs between Alderney and Cap de la Hague. The reference of kedging is frequent.

John Simpson, a British fan of the race and a spectator this year, wonders out loud if today’s sailors are ready with this skill:

With this year’s longer Fastnet Race, now extended to finish in Cherbourg, if there’s a light air finish off the Contin peninsular, the tide really does rip. I hope they are ready to kedge as it might prove decisive to be anchoring in 20 or 30 metres.

I fear being able to anchor in deep water has become an almost non-existent skill. However, it is very important with a small engine-less yacht, or when racing offshore. Because otherwise you could drift inshore or lose miles against a strong tide. This is worse when you’re racing.

Many yachtsmen don’t seem nowadays to use a light Kedge anchor with perhaps a length of rope (200 yards) and 12-feet or more of chain. It’s one of ‘lost arts of seamanship’.

I’m old seadog now but can remember anchoring offshore during the short W/E RORC races during the late 70s, early 80s with several half-tonners, often in the middle of the night when we hadn’t got around CH1. This buoy was the safe water mark for Cherbourg Harbor, and if the ebb had set in, the boat would go backwards.

At that time many of these 150-mile races crossed the English Channel and you’d see the bright lights of France on a Saturday night and then race back to Great Britain, which was probably safer than having hungover crews motoring home on a Sunday morning from France. (Apart from the Cowes/Dinard race towards the end of the season which was always a more sociable affair!).

Personally, I feel it’s good news that RORC have tweaked the Fastnet course. It like lengthening a golf hole to fit modern clubs or changing cricket to a much shorter game. Many old staggers have told me that this is all wrong, but it will bring more interest from Europe’s strongest offshore racing nations.

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