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The 2-Anchor System (part two)

By Joe Hyde, Lawrence, Kansas
Listed below are the components for my 2-anchor system, along with a brief description of each. Following the components list are photos which hopefully will show how the anchor bags are put together, and how the deck hardware was installed on my canoe. (I considered disassembling my system so that I could photograph it at various stages of re-assembly, but abandoned the idea because it would be too much work.)

In theory, my canoe's anchoring system should work for kayaks, johnboats, etc. The only adaptation necessary might be to adjust your anchor bags so they contain more (or less) weight, tailoring the anchor poundage to meet your boat's need.

I am fairly knowledgeable about canoes but ignorant about the design features of kayaks and many other small boats. Therefore, non-canoe boaters should evaluate for themselves whether my anchoring system is even "install-able" on their boat; for all I know it might not be.

Notice below that I've identified specific suppliers for certain components. This is not to show favoritism, or infer that the provider I've listed is the sole source for the item. Rather, my intent is to expedite the shopping process for any readers wishing to install the 2-anchor system right away. Why waste months searching for the parts, right? (In particular the anchor bags, micro cam cleats and river rescue rope are definitely NOT available at your corner convenience store.)

The Components

ANCHOR BAGS - Two (2) Granite Gear "Tough Sacks"; size #1 (4" x 9.5"); price: $5.50 ea. Tough Sacks are constructed of 210 dernier packcloth, seams are double-stitched for strength. Available at Back Country Gear, www.backcountrygear.com, phone: 1-800-953-5499.

ANCHOR WEIGHT - Lead bird shot. NOTE: For environmental protection in the event of anchor bag rupture, consider using copper-plated lead shot to prevent lead leaching into aquatic habitat. Bird shot is sold in 25-lb. sacks at hunting supply stores. For my solo canoe I used 8 lbs. of shot per anchor bag; a tandem canoe might anchor more securely with 12 lbs. in shot per bag (this is what Rick Zieger has in his anchors.) For a heavier anchor use a larger size "Tough Sack" (#2 or bigger), to hold more bird shot. But with more weight you need to double-bag each shot load to prevent seam blowout). Estimated price of bird shot: $25.00 per 25 lb. sack.

ANCHOR LINE - Polypropylene river rescue rope, floating, yellow in color; 3/16" diameter; 1,900 lbs. tensile strength. Price: 29 cents per foot. Available at Northwest River Supply, www.nrsweb.com, phone: 1-800-635-5202. NOTE: For a solo canoe, I recommend 20 ft. of anchor line per anchor; for a tandem canoe, 30 ft. for the bow anchor, 20 ft. for the stern anchor.

CAM CLEATS - For a solo canoe, buy two (2) Harken Micro Carbo-cams, Model #423. This cam cleat has a " working gap with a 300 lb. breaking strength under load (far exceeding canoe anchoring requirements). For a tandem canoe, purchase three (3) cam cleats, to enable one-person and two-person operation. Ball bearing cam cleats hold the anchor lines secure with no need to tie knots. Price: $18.00 ea. Contact Harken direct at www.harken.com, phone: 1-262-691-3320

CAM CLEAT CONNECTORS - For each cam cleat, buy two (2) slotted panhead bolts, width 11/64 x (however long the bolts need to be), also buy two (2) flat washers and two (2) nylon stop nuts per cam cleat. Estimated price for cam cleat connectors: $1.00 Items are available at local hardware stores.

U-BOLTS - Purchase two (2) stainless steel U-bolts, one each for your canoe's bow end cap and stern end cap. Once mounted, these U-bolts serve as fairleads that guide the anchors and the anchor lines off the exact ends of your canoe. (NOTE: Most U-bolts are sold with a "bridging strap." On canoes with end decking instead of end caps, this bridging strap should be left on during installation; position it on the weather side of the decking.) Estimated U-bolt price: $3.75 each; available at local hardware stores.

FLAT WASHERS, NYLON-TIP "STOP NUTS" FOR U-BOLTS - Washers: If mounting the U-bolts on decking, consider stacking two (2) washers of graduated size per U-bolt leg below deck. Then if the fairlead comes under heavy load, its wider "feet" will safely distribute the stress without fracturing the decking. Nuts: nylon tip stop nuts will grip the bolt threads and resist backing off. Estimated total price for eight (8) flat washers and four (4) nylon nuts: $1.50; all are available at local hardware stores.

Total estimated system cost for a solo canoe: $100

Total estimated system cost for a tandem (2-seat) canoe: $120.

Anchor Line Preparation

With a cigarette lighter, melt both ends of each anchor line to prevent unraveling. On one end of each anchor line, tie an overhand (Granny) knot, then melt-weld the knot to prevent loosening; this serves as a stopper knot in the anchor bag connection.

Anchor Bag Construction

Set the 25-lb. sack of bird shot in the bottom of a plastic bucket before opening the shot sack. This way, when the shot sack tips over you won't spill all those pellets across the floor. Using a kitchen measuring cup, scoop lead pellets from the bucket into each anchor bag. Fill each anchor bag no more than halfway with pellets, leaving enough bag material to form a connection loop for the anchor line.

Anchor/Anchor Line Connection

With the anchor bag now half full of shot, squeeze the bag's neck together, twist the fabric then fold it over into a U-shape. Now pass the anchor line through this bend, wrap it around once then pass it under the anchor line. What you are doing here is forming a sheet bend that has the stopper knot laying outboard to prevent pull-through. (A conventional sheet bend connects two separate pieces of rope. But in this case, your anchor bag's neck is substituting for one of the ropes.) NOTE: The entire rest of the anchor line must now be kept knot-free at all times for boat handling safety.

U-Bolt (Anchor Fairlead) Installation

Each U-bolt is oriented so that the gap lays perpendicular to the canoe's keel line (to eliminate binding when the anchor line slides through). Find two installation points, each as close to a boat end as possible. Select sites that offer hand and tool clearance below deck, so that you can reach underneath and attach the flat washers and nuts to the U-bolt's threaded legs. If the U-bolt legs will pass through two hard surfaces (like on my canoe) take care to make your drill holes run parallel on all three axis.

After using the U-bolt feet as marker templates, drill two holes for the U-bolt legs to pass through. Insert the U-bolt into the mounting holes then fasten from below using flat washers and stop nuts. (NOTE: If a U-bolt is mounted on thin-walled end decking, prior to inserting the bolt legs into the mounting hole you should thread two common nuts as close to the arch of the U-bolt as possible. Next, place the metal bridging strap below these two nuts; then run both legs through the mounting holes and fasten from below. This configuration keeps the curved part of the U-bolt from crushing down through the thin decking as you tighten the nuts below deck.)

The photo above shows the stern end cap of my canoe with the rear anchor held in ready position. The legs of the U-bolt pass through the end cap in two places, the nuts and washers are located outboard. I was able to do this due to the lip overhang on the end cap; most canoes don't have end caps with this design shape.

Micro Cam Cleat Installation

The most important part of this task is mounting your cam cleats where they can be reached without you leaving your seat. Fortunately, most canoes and small boats have suitable mounting spots on their thwarts and gunwales. Canoes will generally have at least one thwart located near where the paddler sits. My solo canoe has a thwart in front of my paddling saddle and another close behind me. Both of my thwarts, however, are made of aluminum tubing instead of wood. Being tubular, they have no flat surface on which to mount a cleat (the cam cleats have a flat base). I solved this problem by bolting one end of each cam cleat to the flat surface of my aluminum gunwale, then bolting the other end of the cleat to the top of the thwart tubes.

Having only one foot of the cam cleat bolted to a flat surface is not what I wanted, but my canoe's aluminum trim gave me no other choice. This attachment method has proven sufficient, though; both my cam cleats have stayed very solidly connected.

For a tandem canoe, you need to install two cam cleats near the stern seat so that a lone paddler can operate both anchors. If you intend to take a guest fishing, the guest will sit in the bow seat. You might as well install a third cam cleat up near the bow seat so your guest can operate the bow anchor for you. Sit up there yourself to get a feel for where a good mounting spot would be.

The second important part of mounting the cam cleats is to make sure their pawls pivot open AWAY from the designated fairleads. The way these cleats work, you pull the anchor line down between the pivoting pawls then release the line. The pawls squeeze shut and keep the line from pulling back through. But this gripping action works in one direction only. So if you install the cam cleats backwards by accident, out on the lake you might see not just your anchors but also both anchor lines disappear over the side. Not good!


Here are some more photos of my canoe, showing both anchors held in the ready position with their anchor lines secured by Micro Carbo-Cams. Hopefully each picture is worth a thousand words in terms of offering you a better idea how to install your own system.

By examining how I mounted the main components on my canoe, you can appreciate one of the finer points of this anchoring system; namely, the bow and stern fairleads do not stand very tall above my end caps? When I paddle through standing brush, submerged trees, weeds, etc., my canoe ends do not get snagged because intruding vegetation has almost nothing to grab hold of. The system's low-profile is very helpful when making stealth approaches through flooded vegetation.

It may confuse some readers to see photos of this anchoring system mounted on a solo canoe, which is understandable since the majority of canoeists own a tandem canoe. If your canoe is a tandem, be advised that the mounting spots for your cam cleats will be different. I'm confident you can devise a configuration that works best for you, now that you understand the basic idea.

Don't be concerned if your U-bolts cannot be mounted at the exact ends of your boat, like mine are. If your fairleads are sitting back a few inches from the ends, all it means is your anchors will come off the ends to one side of the boat or the other, but still very near the ends of the boat. Once you're out there on the water, those few inches won't detract from the effectiveness of the system.

Also, don't be concerned about rope friction severing the anchor lines as they rub repeatedly through the U-bolts and down across your canoe ends (or gunwales). This 3/16-inch diameter NRS River Rescue rope is extremely durable. And besides, if you ever did notice frayed spots and became worried about anchor line failure, for only 29 cents a foot it won't max out your credit card to phone in an order for 50 feet of new rope. My anchor lines have seen hard use for a full season now, and both look good as new.

Likewise, it is unlikely your canoe will suffer significant damage from these anchor lines rubbing repeatedly across your end caps and/or gunwales. True, small areas of wear may eventually appear, but it won't be anything to write home about. Remember, it is only when the anchors are being raised and lowered that the abrasion happens. When the anchors are cam locked in the raised position, or laying on the bottom, there is very little rubbing action against the boat.

Last, in case anyone wonders why I prefer a solo canoe over the traditional 2-seat tandem canoe, it's like this: The first two canoes I owned were aluminum tandems, and I liked them just fine. Then about 15 years ago, a friend let me try one of his solo canoes during a 13-mile full moon cruise down the Kansas River. I immediately appreciated the quicker handling of a solo canoe, and I especially liked the independence that a solo canoe offered. Also, his Kevlar solo canoe was almost 40 pounds lighter than my aluminum tandem, a most desireable feature to me since I generally fish alone and thus have to rack and unrack my canoe by myself every trip out. So for me, it's been nothing but solo canoes ever since that moonlight cruise 15 years ago.

With a solo canoe only one paddler propels the boat, which means only one brain is running the operation. There are no bitter debates over which route to take, which paddle stroke to use when and by whom. History books tell us that ancient North American Indians invented the classic tandem canoe design. Well, Indians might have invented it, but North American divorce lawyers are the pesky savages who have kept the design commercially available ever since. Something to do with job security, I'm sure. ~ Joe riverat@sunflower.com

About Joe:

From Lawrence, Kansas, Joe is a former municipal and federal police officer. In addition to fishing, he hunts upland birds and waterfowl, and for the last 15 years has pursued the sport of solo canoeing. On the nearby Kansas River he has now logged nearly 5,000 river miles while doing some 400 wilderness style canoe camping trips. A musician/singer/songwriter as well, Joe's 'day job' is with the U.S. General Services Adminstration.

Joe at one time was a freelance photojournalist who wrote the Sunday Outdoors column for his city newspaper. Outdoor sports, writing and music have never earned him any money, but remain priceless activities essential to surviving the 'day job.'

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