“The Boater’s Gaze” and “The Anchor Stare” – An International Affair
It was Day 15 of my 2017, “June on the Hook” expedition, in Sampaguita, my Pacific Seacraft Flicka 20 sailboat, and a leisure day in Canada’s Vancouver, British Columbia. I was anchored in False Creek, and it was here that I considered the international affair of “the boaters’ gaze” and “the anchor stare.”
In False Creek it is at its extreme. Most boaters do “the gaze” whether they admit it or not. Being outdoor folk by nature, the cockpit of a boat, which I’ll stylistically call the porch, is typically an open viewing platform for the surrounding world to see, as well as to see the surrounding world. The nature of the porch lends itself to watching other boaters in particular. We, and I’ll use we because I observe this in other boaters too, watch vessels arrive and depart, set and weigh their anchors, flake their sails, and come and go in their dinghies. They make repairs, set out the drying, shake out their rugs, eat their dinner, drink their drinks, or whatever. We question or applaud their intent, pass judgment on their skills, critique their boats, and have a running commentary with our crew (or ourselves.) We wonder “what’s he doing over there, what will this lead to, why in the world,” or “isn’t that clever?” We even watch them watching their neighbors, knowing all along we are someone’s neighbor too. It goes with the territory of the small world, relaxed lifestyle of boating, and a tradition easily upheld.
One sub-category of “the boaters’ gaze” is “the anchor stare.” While much of the gaze is simply observational and passive, the anchor stare is a step up in intensity. We watch someone come into the anchorage and we are on the alert. “Are they sailing or motoring in, and is it a big boat or little boat?” “Are they younger or older and where will they decide to drop the hook?” As they choose their spot, the closer they are to us, the keener we are to observe and participate. If we don’t see them come in because we are down below, we might hear a motor near us, or more telling, the sound of an anchor chain through a bow roller. We pop our heads up and assess the situation. “Are they really going to anchor there?” “How will they lie to the wind and current, and will our swing circles intersect?” “Will they drag down upon us, what kind of rode do they have, who’s on board, and are they experienced?” We use “the anchor stare,” letting them know we are assessing the situation.
Etiquette is that any new boats arriving at an anchorage are to respect the space of already anchored boats. This can have many dynamics and nuances, both for the new arrivals, and the already present. Though I may not enjoy your loud parties, your screaming children, your barking dog, your music, or your generator, these are emotional considerations that I can endure if imposed upon me.
What gets my attention the most is whether you have invaded my swing circle. I have a small boat, so my rode is 30′ of chain with 270′ of nylon line (Anchors Aweigh.) All chain would be great, but my Flicka 20 might trim and handle ridiculously with another 230 lbs. in the bow. Therefore, physics and safety dictate I must let out more rode. A Flicka has a high bow, and with the nylon rode she tends to sail around at anchor rather than hold steady with the bow to the wind. Add to this a full keel heavily influenced by water current, and you have a boat that needs a little swinging room. Furthermore, the bowsprit on the front and the outboard on the back are vital (and expensive) appendages to the boat’s successful operation and structural integrity. Combine this with a significant dose of owner’s anxiety and paranoia, and it’s in my best interest that I have enough space.
When I arrive at an anchorage, I take all of these elements into consideration in choosing my spot. The troubling part is that later arrivals often do not. Etiquette is not law, and in our overpopulated world, space is at a premium. You can ask someone to reconsider their anchoring choices, but they do not have to.
In False Creek, the anchor stare is in full force and proof it is international. With the clash of interests between liveaboards and visitors vying for the same space, this is not a peaceful anchorage. The locals will tell you the False Creek norm for scope is 2:1. Compare this to a generally accepted ratio of 3:1 for chain and 5:1 for nylon rode in settled weather everywhere else. The 2:1 scope is to provide more room for more boats, and regardless of whether you agree with this, you will be anchored next to with the assumption that, if you are not at 2:1, you should be.
Just the day before, I gazed while one single-hander entered the anchorage with a very salty looking boat of about 28 feet. I mentioned that I liked it. He replied that it was built in the 1940s and he had bought it on eBay, sight unseen. It was shipped over to Gabriola Island from New Zealand in pieces, where he rebuilt it. “Wow,” I thought, and left it at that.
First, he circled me, but then anchored downwind and another boat away. However, when the owner of a 40-foot ketch returned in his dinghy and saw how close the 28-footer was to him, he said clear as day, “Hey, don’t you think you are kind of close?”
There were some other discernible words exchanged, and the 28-footer weighed anchor. He returned to my vicinity and anchored, all be it, not as close as he had been to the 40-footer. “Really?” was what came to mind. I had chosen a spot on the edge of the anchorage to minimize being surrounded by boats. At least he was downwind, and I rationalized it would be alright. This would be important.
When the afternoon wind picked up the next day, the 28-footer dragged clear across the anchorage. The anchor must have reset about 40 feet short of the riprap shoreline. My sympathies were for the boat, so I paddled over. It was locked up, and there wasn’t much I could do to help. The fellow finally returned to, of course, not find his boat where he had left it.
Now, anyone can drag anchor at some time, but this poor fellow became a leper of the anchorage on that day. When he weighed anchor, it looked as if a plank had jammed in his Danforth anchor, causing the problem. There was a boat that arrived earlier in the day (a liveaboard, evident by the planters about the deck and the clearly unused, wadded up sail) whom the 28-footer barely missed in its dragging course. The couple aboard were hard-core “anchor starers.” When he attempted to re-anchor in the same spot, they were very vocal and unkind about their distrust of him and his anchoring. This was fine by me too, and I let them do the dirty work. I watched them staring at everyone who came into the anchorage for the rest of the day. Meanwhile, the 28-footer finally found a new spot on the other side of the anchorage.
Later that evening, I watched another boat anchor awkwardly close to me. I mentioned it to the skipper, but he didn’t seem to care what I thought. He locked up his boat, took off in his dinghy, and I never saw him again. This was followed by a mega-yacht who temporarily anchored in the field. The hard-core “anchor starers” I mentioned earlier were in disbelief at this maneuver. This yacht had threaded the needle in the anchorage and was actively using its thrusters to hold the line. Once I realized it was not permanent and they were just adjusting their dinghy, I relaxed and was ultimately impressed by the finesse.
“The boater’s gaze” and ” he anchor stare” are an international boater’s affair. You may not think you do it, but you likely do. True, those who are oblivious to their surroundings may not, but this is all the more reason for the other safety conscious boaters to participate, if not for curiosities sake, then for self-preservation. Which are you?