Written by: Jon
As we prepare to kickstart our cruising life again we have been upgrading, replacing, and fixing everything on Prism in hopes to make our next few years of cruising the Caribbean as blissful and project-free as possible. I was aware of many things on our “to replace” list, in fact, we have an entire area on the inside of our cabin dedicated to post-it notes to remind ourselves what still needs fixing or replacing. At the time of writing this article, there are thirteen post-its, replacing our anchor is not up there. What pushed us into this debacle? Well, it’s a long story, and we will have to start back in 2013 to tell the full saga.
In 2013, concave anchors were all the rage, Rocna, Manson and Spade were the top three brands back then with spade being the only option that didn’t have a rollbar. The lack of a rollbar makes the Spade unique, especially for people like us who have bow rollers that go through a bowsprit. With this bow configuration, we were stuck with the trusted CQR, Bruce, delta or Spade as options. The Mantus M2, Rocna Vulcan and the Sarca Excel were either not invented yet or I just was not aware of their existence. Having grown up with a CQR style of anchor on our Mason 43, I had vivid memories of attempting to set that anchor in the San Francisco bay and just dragging it around the anchorage until my dad would give up and just get a mooring or decide to go back home to our slip. With these vivid depictions dragging through my head I completely cut the CQR out of the list early on. As far as the bruce and delta I had no previous experience with them but we did own a Manson Supreme with our first boat and I loved how easy it was to set and never once had a dragging issue. My mind was set on another new age anchor with the concave design and the spade really was our only choice. One upfront drawback of spades is their very high price, at the time the galvanized S120 cost us $999 plus shipping, the same price as it costs today. I remember dreading pulling the trigger on that purchase but in my mind, an anchor is a once-in-a-lifetime purchase if you take care of it and don’t lose it to Davy Jones.
We used the Spade for a blissful cruising season in the Pacific North West, having no issues with it at all. It set quickly, fast and reliably every time. I would talk about my anchor like car people talk about their favorite car brand, I was a complete fanboy, nothing could convince me otherwise of how good this anchor was and I trusted it completely not to let me down. It was October 2014 when we left for Mexico and at this point, we had used the spade for about 50 nights of anchoring. I have a picture on our Instagram of us motoring down the California coast and I can see in that photo that the galvanizing had already begun to fail on the tip of the fluke and there was some surface rust developing.
Every time we used the anchor the rust would be worn off and the tip would come back silver and clean, but by the time we would reach our next destination the rust would be back and the cycle began again. Slowly that rust worked its way back to the point where when we got to North Carolina in 2017 the galvanizing had completely failed all the way to the shank.
Now with me being a Spade fanboy, I was under the impression this was no big deal, I must have gotten a bad batch of galvanizing, and as sad as it was this anchor was still the best in the business. The funny thing is I started to notice everyone else who was cruising with a spade had rust stains emanating from their bow rollers. When I would ask the more seasoned sailors about the rust they just simply shugged with the replay of “it’s a spade thing”.
"It's a Spade Thing"
It soon struck me that I was going to be forced to re-galvanize this anchor sooner than later and when it came time to recommission Prism’s ground tackle in 2019 I started to shop around for an establishment to do the job. The first thing you need to know is that to galvanize a spade you must first melt the lead out of the tip. Not a huge deal but something to be considered and not something I was going to do before I had a place lined up to galvanize the anchor. Long story short, it’s hard to find a place to galvanize just an anchor, normally there is a minimum weight you pay for, and seeing I had only the anchor to do, most quotes of the process cost just about as much as a new anchor. Not a new spade, but since 2013 a few other brands now offered rollbar-less anchors and they cost in the $500-$600 range. I was trying to maybe get a deal to do my chain at the same time but I was informed that chain is a different process where they tumble the chain whereas the anchor would be dipped. I admit after calling the third establishment and getting the same quote and the same protocols I was over the idea of re-galvanizing. My next best option was to paint. I had some two-part barrier coat that I swear by and it sticks incredibly well to metal called Tuff Stuff. I borrowed our yard friend’s sandblaster and by the end of the afternoon, my spade looked very nice being all one color and not red and flakey mess it was just that morning. With that “fix” done it was off to the Chesapeake for the fall then down to Florida for the rest of winter.
The second night at anchor in the North River just off the ICW channel on our way north to Annapolis will go down in our history as “the big drag”. We had a long day motoring up from Belhaven to the North River north of the Albemarle Sound. This river is quite large and, this being our first time in this area we didn’t want to push too much further despite there being a more protected anchorage just another mile up. We opted to pull off the IWC at marker G163 to anchor in the twelve-foot water about 3/4 mile off the main channel. With the 5:1 scope out, we backed down on the anchor with the engine then shut it down. We rushed this step as we were racing a squall line, were all hungry and very tired. The next morning I awoke before the sun and to my bewilderment, the boat that was anchored about 200 yards in front of us was now more like a mile away. I thought to myself “it must have been just too bumpy last night when that squall rolled through for them and they moved closer to the shore.” I also noticed there was a flashing green marker much closer to us as well. That is when I realized that the green marker was the next marker along the ICW, G161. Holy crap, our neighbor didn’t move, we did! We had drug over a half-mile, almost into the spoil area to the north. Not only had we drug, but we were still dragging! I was not only dumbfounded, but also completely shaken by this event. My super salty senses completely failed me as I was one of those assholes dragging. I initially blamed it on catching something on the bottom, like a crab trap or some other type of debris. We had a similar experience in Panama when we snagged a giant spool of wire. However, upon retrieval the anchor came up clean. The new paint was still intact, but my confidence in the anchor was not.
I summed up that experience to a fluke….However, the Spade met its Waterloo….. A few days later we had a hell of a time to get a solid set in Spa Creek, Annapolis. Not only would the anchor not set at times but it would simply drag after holding slightly and not reset. At this point, I was really bummed. After doing more research I found that the Chesapeake is kind-of known for being hard on certain anchor designs, the Spade included. Apparently, there is a lot of silt, and if the anchor does not penetrate the silt it will just plow though it never holding all that well. This is not a quality you want in your primary anchor when summer squalls come through your area many times bringing 40-50 knot gusts. Many of our anchorages were amidst moorings, other boats, homes and docks, there was simply not enough room in most of these places to drag at all. As we wrapped up the 2020 season, we had a few failures to set, most required one or two tries, usually using 7:1 or 10:1 to get the anchor to penetrate. One night in Solomans Island, MD we had a front come through flipping the wind from which we set the anchor. We were all on board and were aware of the situation, but about 20 minutes into the blow Shannon and I both realized we were not staying put. We waited it out to make sure it wasn’t just us getting to the end of our 7:1 scope. After a few more feet we knew we were dragging, not just dragging slowly either but picking up speed. By the time we got the engine fired up, we would have had less than 5 minutes before we would be pinned up against the docks to our lee. I was pissed. Nothing worse than being a fanboy of something that has completely let you down, my idol had betrayed me.
By the time we got back to Prism in North Carolina after a quick three-month visit back to California my barrier coat paint job had begun to fail. The Spade has a lot of sharp edges, which paint has a hard time sticking to.
At this point, you are more or less caught up on my Spade saga. Is it a great anchor? Yes* but with a huge asterisk. The galvanizing will fail, and not at a reasonable pace but fairly quickly. Our friends circumnavigated the globe for 13 years with a Delta and when I caught their lines as they pulled into Ventura Harbor, the anchor had a little rust on the tip, probably about the same as my Spade did within the first 50 nights. It should also be noted that the hollow shank is really what put me over the edge. The shank is hollow and it is also open on the bottom. Due to this design, it packs with mud and sand every time you use the anchor. While most of that comes out, not all of it does. What is left stays damp and rusts the interior of the shank. When I sandblasted the shank, big chunks of rusty steel came falling out of it. Some about an inch long and a 1/16th thick. It was because of this I decided to jump ship from the Spade to some other brand.
Now for the real question, what anchor do I choose now? When I want to make a purchase I usually do a huge deep dive on researching every possibility. I generally predicate my purchase on many factors, these factors sometimes don’t make sense to everyone and some factors I didn’t even know meant anything to me when I first started my search. Before picking a brand I needed to pick a material. Mild steel had kind-of left a bad taste in my mouth, I was interested in alloys that didn’t rust. These other alloys do cost more, but if I’m only getting around 8 years out of steel, spending double for stainless or aluminum and being done with corrosion is not a very hard proposition for me to support. Spade does offer an aluminum and stainless variant but costing nearly a third more or double the price. The problem with this is that the Spade design had let me down recently and it seemed foolish to buy into that design knowing I had at least one more season on the east coast. I had to branch out to a new design, but which one? Enter Steve from SV Panope.
Check out SV Panope on Youtube
SV Panope is a youtube channel and Steve’s videos are simply put, anchor porn. He has about 30 anchors of all designs and sizes and he tests them out head to head in the same bottoms and makes observations. He has created an apparatus to film the anchors set (or try to set in some cases) and if you are a nerdy person like me, once I started watching his videos I was hooked. I literally watched every video he produced and started to understand anchor design better and drew my conclusions from his findings that sometimes gelled with Steve’s or didn’t. Anchors that stand out to me as well as Steve are the Spade, great, but also the Mantus M1, M2 and an Australian anchor called the Sarca Excel.
After watching all of the videos I concluded that the Excel was impressive indeed. Not only did it perform well in Steve’s tests, but it was exceptionally made and it didn’t have the dreaded roll bar, so I could use it on our bowsprit. For the incredible “bargain” of around $800 shipped it was of course the most expensive anchor in my size range (50-55lb) but it checked all the right boxes. I was sold, literally just about to enter my credit card info, when I thought I should look through defender and see if there are any anchors that Steve has yet to review.
I chose Defender because they offer a vast anchor selection. With my newfound lust for the Excel anchor, I cruised through the plow anchor selection on defenders online store due to the design of the Excel being much more convex (plow) than concave. Your standards were in there, Delta, CQR the new Lewmar Epsilon (that did pretty dismal in Steve’s tests) and another brand that I had never heard of called Kingston. Something caught my eye on this Kingston brand as well, it said it was a stainless anchor and that the price ranged from $229-$559. $559 as the highest price. I thought myself “they must not make very large anchors” So I clicked on the link and saw they made a 50lb version and indeed it was $559.00… uhh what? Is this a typo or like a clearance sale?
Let me explain to you that almost all the brands that were options for me have a stainless steel version of the anchor for my size. The stainless steel version for a 50lb anchor usually costs around $2000- $2400. For a stainless steel anchor to cost under $600, there must be a catch? So I called them.
Kingston anchors are built in Ontario Canada and luckily for me, my phone plan has the ability to call Canada! I talked to Kingston for about an hour getting the whole story and it’s a pretty interesting one. Basically during the summer Olympics back in the 70’s Canada needed anchors to anchor down temporary docks for the sailboats. A local anchor builder was selected and that is how the birth of Kingston began. Apparently, this design of the quickset was implemented very early on before the Lewmar Delta which was introduced in 1992. I reference the Delta because at first glance that is what this anchor looks like and if you knew no better you would probably think it was some type of delta knockoff. It indeed shares similarities to the Delta as well as the CQR but also probably the most notable are the similarities it has with the Sarca Excel. During my phone call, I had my questions and I was just really frank about my situation and I asked if I could review one. Having lots of experience with what is considered one of the best performing anchors ever made, I would love to share my findings with the world and if they are good, hopefully help a small business get more exposure. They loved the idea and fast forward to now I just received the anchor.
I will do my best to put this anchor through its paces and I hope that it will work as well and if not better than the spade. I told Kingston this and they were very confident it would.
Now if this is the case, then this means that for the last 30 years there has been an anchor that is better than 90% of all anchors ever produced that fell through the proverbial cracks of the boating world.
When I did my deep internet dive on this anchor I came up fairly empty-handed except for a few random mentions in the cruiser forum and two anchor tests done by practical sailor. The practical sailor tests were pretty bare-bones, with one calling the test early because of fear of ripping out their boat’s cleats (promising) and the other glazing right over the testing of that anchor altogether. All in all, there are not many reviews, which shocks me. I should remind myself that when people are happy with a product or if it works as intended they usually are not all that inclined to write about it, its when a product does exceptionally well or more frequently does poorly (like the reason I wrote this post) is when you read about something on the internet. Seeing that my home, place of work, and also my biggest monetary investment are being held by this piece of equipment I don’t take this review proposition lightly. We, after all are generally on the hook full time when we are cruising, leaving the boat unattended at anchor is a daily occurrence. This new anchor doesn’t need to just work well, but it needs to work exceptionally well for me to be happy. In many ways it has to do something much harder than my spade ever had to do, it has to impress me.
I became a Spade fanboy back in 2013 because I knew no better and the thing just worked. I now have much more experience and I am way harder to impress. Also the bar is high, the spade generally is one of the best performing anchors in pretty much any test you can find and you will be hard-pressed to find anyone say anything negative about their performance. I have super high standards for how anchors should work and if they don’t meet those standards I’ll keep looking. I made this abundantly clear to Kingston but again it did not phase them, and they told me to have faith in them, so I shall.
This cruising season we will see a little bit of the entire east coast with a possible stopover in Bermuda before heading south to the Caribbean. This should give me a huge swath of sea beds to try this anchor out on. I do plan on having the Spade in the bilge as a spare in case this does not work out. The Spade is not perfect for the Chesapeake but it has never let me down anywhere else so it can stay onboard for now until I get comfortable with whatever goes on the bow to replace it. My next post will be about my unboxing of the Quickset anchor and my first impressions. Until then, happy holding everybody.
Nice write up. Disappointing to see the spade fall apart like that. It only has 2 jobs, 1) Hold. 2) not deteriroate. Will you carry a secondary on the anchor roller, and if so, what?
One anchor at a time on the bow, like to keep as much weight as possible off up there. Lets see how this all goes and Im sure ill have some findings fairly quickly.
Interesting Jon. Should note too that Spade say their Al anchors aren’t meant to be used as a primary. The guys on Bruadair did for their Caribbean Cruising and didn’t have a problem but the warning by Spade came up somewhere on the HCOA site.
Indeed. The aluminum Sarca Excel looked like a good option but again the price was out of my reach.
Lmao!! Just my luck….I literary picked up my 55lb Spade Monday morning at their Palm Bay office and shipped it that evening to my boat in Puerto Rico!! I had full confidence on the Soade from you guys and from reading and watching the video comparisons.
Will see how it handles the Caribbean not only the waters but it seems like more importantly the harsh environment that the Caribbean throws out you. Will keep my eyes open on other anchors as well. Good to know and thanks for the write up!
So how’d it go? I just replaced a 50Lb Kingston with a 65Lb Sarca Excel. Found the Kingston would drag in soft stuff and was difficult to set / would not set in harder bottoms like clay. 26000lb 40ft. power boat. We’ll see how the Excel does.
We ended up getting an ULTRA Anchor, 60lbs and love it!
Just to chime in here… I’m another SPADE fanboy jumping ship.
We’ve had a SPADE 120 since 2016. (We replaced a Rocna 25 Kg that let go on us after a tide shift in the middle of a stormy wet night and almost put us on the rocks. Thank goodness for anchor alarms!) Around that time, Steve Goodwin’s testing demonstrated the Rocna’s alarming weakness in its tendency to release after changes in direction and so we switched to a SPADE. In our waters of the West Coast of BC and Alaska, the SPADE sets and performs brilliantly well but the galvanizing started to fail very early. After 2 years of heavy use, the rust was breaking out like a 14 year old’s facial acne…
I encountered the same problems in getting it re-galvanized. I bought a Sarca Excel #5 as a possible replacement but found that it failed to set in many locations with relatively good holding where the SPADE had never hesitated to bite. I was able to return the anchor due to the gracious generosity of our local distributor and decided to try and rehabilitate the SPADE instead.
After sandblasting the anchor down to the bare steel and an attempt to paint with POR-15 (this quickly failed), I re-stripped it and coated it with ZINGA which lasted about the same duration as the original galvanizing – 2 years.
A week ago as I was grinding off the remaining Zinga and re-coating it with more ZINGA, I realized that I never want to have to do this filthy job ever again; but if I stuck with the SPADE I was likely to be back doing this again in a couple of years.
Thanks to Steve Goodwin’s great testing reports, and his high rating, I decided to try a 25 Kg Vulcan. (He also rated the Excel very highly … ). Time will tell with the Vulcan but I may now have the luxury of getting the SPADE properly re-galvanized and either keep it as a spare or sell it as an ‘improved version’ of the original.