Long Lining – A Masterclass

Long-lining is the bane of many charterers’ lives. It is a tricky manoeuvre to master, and is often attempted during the late afternoon gusty, katabatic winds, in a crowded harbour, with a crew that don’t really understand the correct technique.  

As a method of mooring, it leaves much to be desired. Many of Sail Ionians guests have a misconception – a false sense of security – that long lining is just as secure as being moored stern to against a quayside. But the other yachts along a quayside offer shelter on either side, and the short stern lines do not allow the yacht to move as much as long lines. A quayside is usually better situated and sheltered, and the anchor dropped in shallower water. 

When long-lined you are completely exposed to cross-winds. Anchors were designed to hold a yacht steady with a wind on the bow, with the yacht presenting the smallest profile, and therefore the least wind-resistance. The side of a modern charter yacht with its high top-sides, SUPs, bimini and sprayhood is in a different league, and sometimes the poor anchor just isn’t up to the job, and will drag. 

So why do we do it? Why would you drop an anchor, and then tie a shiny GRP yacht to a tree with a 30-meter line? It just doesn’t sound sensible, does it? 

The main reason that we long-line, rather than just drop the hook and free-swing around it, is the depth of water. The Ionian is notoriously deep, and the sea bed in the middle of most bays can easily be over 30 meters down. 

The RYA teaches anchoring scope as 4 times the depth of water, and I’ve yet to encounter a charter yacht that carries over 120m of chain!  At Sail Ionian we upgrade anchors to Rocnas, and yachts carry an average or 70 meters of chain, still only allowing our guests to entertain 15m deep anchorages, in settled conditions. 

In order to get the yacht into these acceptable of depths, you have to be close to the shore where the water is shallower. If you were to drop the hook and free-swing there, your swinging circle could take the yacht either onto the rocks, or out into the middle of the bay where the depth goes down to the aforementioned 30 meters. Bear in mind a swinging circle on 70 m of chain is quite a wide area! 

Neither of these are viable. So, we reverse towards the shore, dropping in 15 meters, and stop in around 5m of water, then tie our long lines to trees or rocks to stop the yacht swinging into danger. Winch some chain in and the anchor pulls the yacht forward, tightening the long-lines. If the tension in the chain is maintained, and it does not go slack again, it shows us the anchor is well dug in. 

On any given day in the Ionian, you will see yachts long-lined outside Fiscardo, Kioni and many other busy small harbours. These places just do not have enough space on the quay for the volume of yachts visiting. Greek marine law prohibits anything permanent being put on the sea bed, without a hard to obtain license. Mooring buoys are not common here, though they would solve the problem, if the law was changed. The only solution is to long line along the coast in the harbour entrance. 

Mooring with long lines is difficult to get right, and seeing charterers struggle every evening is a sad fact of life. Flotillas are one solution, but not everyone wants to be told to come in by 3pm, or enjoys the holiday-camp approach to a sailing holiday, with group meals and ‘fun’ activities. Sail Ionian, after years not running flotillas, bowed to pressure from bareboat guests who wanted help mooring. We now send out an ‘Informal Flotilla’ every week over the summer, resolutely for mooring assistance only, you will not find an organised activity or meal at any point during the week. Long-lining is the mainstay here, as we will happily get you secured even if you turn up late. 

The best solution though, is to make the effort and learn the technique so that you can be independent. It’s a little involved, particularly if you’re sailing short-handed. A day with a skipper from our Assisted program, at the start of a bareboat charter pays dividends, as they will teach you the tricks of the trade. 

The correct technique involves setting up your long lines prior to dropping the anchor. When short-handed this means the crew member tying one line to the shore in the tender, then rowing back out to where you want the stern of the yacht to sit. The end of line can be left in the water tied to a fender, and a bucket used as sea anchor to stop it drifting far. The crew member in the tender can then re-board the yacht to assist with dropping the anchor. One line is enough to hold the yacht steady, giving you time to set up the opposite long line afterwards. Always set up the windward line first, and release it last when departing. When dealing with long-lines always flake them carefully, as knots and tangles regularly occur. 

The most common mistake we see people making is not dropping enough chain. As you are reversing towards the shore ready to drop, you need to consider the depth of water is much greater than when stern to mooring on a quay. If you are in 15 meters of water it can easily take 15-20 seconds for the anchor to even touch the sea bed, and the yacht will be too close to the shore by then. Drop at least 5 or 6 boat lengths from the shore. It’s much further out that you believe, trust me! 

Ascertaining whether the anchor is holding, once you have a line on, can also be confusing. With 60-odd meters of chain out, there is a lot of weight, and the chain can look relatively tight even if the anchor has not held. Make sure you pull it in tight on the windlass, and check it again after 10mins. Any drop in tension usually means you are just caught on some weed, and not well dug in safely for the night. Another give-away sign of a problem is if both long lines are slack. Often one line will be slack, particularly if you have wind on one side of the yacht, which is normal, but both lines slack means the yacht has moved back towards the shore. 

Always check the weather forecast in detail. You need to make sure you are in for a settled evening. At Sail Ionian we do not advise long lining in unsettled conditions, even in sheltered areas, unless you are very confident. If you can, try to get the stern of the yacht facing the wind direction, this limits the forces at play on the anchor, and makes it much easier. Long-lining with a cross wind the hardest. A bit of research, or a quick call to your charter company, will reveal which area of a bay, or harbour, is the most suitable to choose. 

Learning the correct technique to long-line pays dividends, and opens a world of possibilities. The Ionian is not the only area of the world with deep water, where it is necessary to anchor in this way. Tiny inlets and bays in remote areas can be beautiful places to moor, and the long lining technique can be adapted to get you into some amazing locations, normally not accessible to anything larger than a RIB. High latitude yachts will even mount four long lines on each quarter, using them to tie the yacht securely into a narrow bay during bad weather! 

Despite this not being standard charter equipment at Sail Ionian, a guest once asked me for additional long-lines for the bows, which did set off alarm bells! Another brought a grappling hook in his luggage, wanting to throw the long lines onto the shore from the yacht! Our GRP engineer didn’t sleep well that week, and on his return the yacht was carefully inspected for scratches. Any discussions of the rope guns merchant vessels use to fire a line a hundred meters, are quickly dismissed, and the guests are encouraged once again into the dinghy, to get tangled in long wet ropes! 

This post was written by Tom Fletcher