Anchoring a Small Boat While Camping Onshore

One of the things to consider when camping in the Whitsundays is what to do with the runabout while ashore for extended periods. You can’t anchor the boat out where it’s deep and take a tender (small dinghy) ashore and drag or carry it up the beach. A 16ft old fibreglass half-cabin with a 75hp outboard doesn’t get dragged or carried anywhere unless it’s on a trailer. It’s also not really big enough to stow something so hefty as a dinghy. Certainly towing one behind at 15 knots isn’t an easy option.

Beaching the boat (just parking with the bottom on the beach, engine raised up) for any length of time would have a number of problems with it:

  1. If there is any surge from passing boats or waves, the boat’s bottom would get pounded on the beach or dry reef, and may take on a considerable amount of water over the stern/side too. This isn’t usually a big issue in the Whitsundays, because there’s not much surge to speak of. However, there are reefs that expose during low tides, and regardless of surge, they’re about as gentle with bottoms as ‘Big-Boy-Bubba’ is with fresh inmates inside a maximum security prison.
  2. If the tide is rising when you beached, the boat may rock and grind her way up the beach, over the top of bits of coral, rocks, etc potentially damaging the hull. Additionally, she might raise to the top of a massive 3.8m spring tide like one gets in the Whitsundays, where it could be two weeks to a month till there’s enough water under her to float again.
  3. If the tide is falling when you beached, it may be the better part of a day before you could get her afloat again, presuming that you didn’t beach at the top of one of the spring tides, where we could be facing the same problem as above.
  4. Moreover, whenever the boat is dry, you would also be vulnerable if we needed to get back to civilisation urgently for some reason. Emergencies are thankfully not frequent occurrences, but if they did happen, any obstruction to getting help would be felt acutely. It’s not only beasties like nasty jellyfish or snakes which could incur a life-threatening situation, albeit unlikely if you took good care. Other more run-of-the-mill afflictions such as a bad asthma attack, broken limb, deep cut or coronary event could require urgent medical attention back on the mainland. With no immediate way to get off an island and get treatment quickly, you would increase the risk of serious repercussions should the worst occur.

We’ve done a little research and road-tested a solution for you…

Continuous Loop Anchoring Technique (CLAT)

While the tongue-in-cheek acronym is one I made up and mainly used to get a snigger through dropping it into a conversation (e.g. “I think your CLAT needs a little polishing”), the technique itself is worth explaining. However, I think most but other real die-hard boaties might lose the will to live if I went into any detail about it. Perhaps the next edition of 100 Magic Miles might include a detailed explanation and tutorial, if there’s space.

The idea was to drop an anchor in water deep enough to keep the boat floating at low tide and use a continuous loop to back into shore, hop out, unload then pull the boat back out to where it was deep again, anchoring the line at shore to keep her in place.

Continuous loop anchor setting

After a few attempts where the loop was too short to reach the shore, we finally got the distance right (if the depth wasn’t quite as deep as I’d have liked) and pulled her out to safe water after unloading at shore.

And there she sat happily… till the tide went down… and down… and down… and she dried on the reef. ARGH! I knew how big the spring tides were, but had miscalculated just how far out from shore I would need to be. Although I’d anchored in a good 3 metres of water when the tide wasn’t completely high, I could walk to pick up the anchor off the reef rubble at low tide without getting my feet wet. Hmph…

So it was a fretful evening as we waited till the tide gradually came in again and I pushed and tugged her through and around the minefield of sharp hull-mauling jagged rocks on the way up the reef. While I waited and worried, I used another 20-30 metre length of cheesy old nylon anchor rode (the rope or chain tied to an anchor) that came with the boat and spliced it into the 100 metres of the original loop so I could give it another go the next day. When the boat floated up to where the beach stopped being so hostile, I buried the anchor in the sand so we wouldn’t wake up with no boat, or find her so high up the beach that it might be weeks till she’d come off again… It was a night’s sleep broken with visions of shipwrecks, marooning and disasters, needless to say.

Thankfully, the next day the boat was still there, midway up the beach, with no serious looking injuries. With a sigh of relief, we went walking to make use of the time before she’d be afloat again. Then we tried a bit of CLAT again, but to no avail. As the Irish might say, I couldn’t get far enough from the shore to be sure we’d not be high and dry again, to be sure, to be sure. And at this point, we put our CLAT to bed because if I extended the loop any more, the line would likely become a navigation hazard for others when the tide was high.

What can come after your CLAT doesn’t work?

After a quick hop back to the mainland I returned with a brand new blow-up dinghy. The type I learned how to row in when I was a kid that costs around $100. The kind which you can inflate with lung-power and feature a blow-up floor which gives you a wet bum because there’s no seats. Not known for their hardy construction from reef-resistant materials, I sought the sturdiest I could find and managed to get one apparently designed for fishing that is made of slightly tough stuff. It must at least be able to hack a clumsily flung fish hook in the side and that would have to do, because for the deflated size of a small suitcase, I’d be pressed to find a more appropriate tender for a small runabout. The manufacturer advertises it can take three adults, who I think must be Hobbits from Middle Earth because I don’t know where all the legs on normal humans would go… I couldn’t really put more than me in it comfortably. But it’s main purpose is to get just me to the boat and back. I can drive the runabout into shore and pick up any other passengers and gear so long as it’s not a low, reef exposing tide.

When I returned, I anchored out in deep water. Well, certainly deep enough for our needs and at the edge of what I could moor in with the length of anchor rode I have. I blew up the dinghy, turned on the anchor light, paddled ashore and by comparison to the night before, had a very restful evening. All I had to do every time I woke up with visions of the anchor dragging, rode breaking, boat sinking or disappearing, was to look out our tent’s mesh to see that comforting little anchor light shining brightly where I left it, lulling me back to sleep.

Interestingly, that evening some fishermen came to sleep the night at the next campsite and they let their boat dry on the reef without caring too much. But in the morning, while it was still there, it was in quite a different place from where they left it… Perhaps they know something I don’t, but I would find that very disconcerting.

So, while I think CLAT is a useful technique, it really needs to be done in locations with steep shore banks and without a big fringing reef, which limits its use in the Whitsundays a great deal. I guess you could use it to good effect on a high falling tide for a few hours while you ran ashore for some lunch in some locations around here. But, for the trouble, I reckon the cheapo blow-up dinghy is the way forward.