The first time I rowed up the Inside Passage—from Washington’s Puget Sound to Prince Rupert, British Columbia—I used a long loop of line to pull the boat to and from the anchor during my stops on land. But it required an awful lot of line and wasn’t worth the trouble unless I was going to spend the night camped on shore. It wasn’t until I ended my trip that I was shown a better way. A native fisherman from Metlakatla, a Tsimshian village a few miles to the northwest of Prince Rupert taught me how the locals anchor their boats when they stop ashore.
The technique has been called Siwash anchoring. The Dictionary of the Chinook Jargon, published in 1909, defines siwash simply as “Indian.” More recent sources list the French sauvage, meaning savage, as the origin of the word. Siwash is now regarded as a derogatory term, so if it is time to retire it, we can use Tsimshian instead.
The fisherman who showed me the technique tied one end of a long line into the stock of his anchor and tied the other end on shore above the high-tide mark. He set the anchor on the edge of the foredeck and flaked the chain, rode, and the long retrieval line on the deck. The rode was flaked first with the chain on top, and the retrieval line flaked with the shoreside on top so both would pay out without tangling. The fisherman gave the boat a hard push away from shore, and when the last of the retrieval line had gone over the side, it pulled the anchor overboard, and the chain and rode followed. Because the boat was still moving the chain didn’t pile up on top of the anchor and foul it.
When I rowed up the Inside Passage a second time, I used the Tsimshian anchoring technique frequently. The replica of the Gokstad faering I’d built for the trip was finished bright all around, even on the bottom, so I preferred to have it afloat even for short stops ashore. A canvas foredeck was an ideal platform for staging the anchor, chain, and line, and protected the varnish.
For overnight stays in areas where the tide would run 10′ to 12′, I needed to get the boat quite far from shore when setting the hook on a high tide. With a double ender like the faering I could arrange the anchor on the bow and shove it out stern first. If your boat will coast farther and straighter going out bow first, you can still set the ground tackle on the bow while it is nosed up on the beach and then turn the boat around for the big shove. I always checked all of the connections between the anchor and the shore side of the retrieval line several times before pushing the boat out. You can give the retrieval line a tug any time you want to drop the anchor.
When it’s time to get the boat back, pulling the retrieval line frees the anchor from of the bottom, and its flukes trail as you bring it in. The boat follows like a dog on a leash.
Christopher Cunningham is the editor of Small Boats Monthly.
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