Friday, 28 August 2009

Captain, are you at home? Lessons Learned!

What happens when the Captain is ashore and his or her boat breaks free of its mooring or the anchor drags? Depending on the current, tide and conditions, a boat could end up miles out to sea, washed onto a reef or against a rocky shoreline, or coming to hard stop against another boat.

Luckily for our neighbor who shall remain nameless, Robert and I were sitting in the cockpit of BR, connected to the internet and occasionally gazing across the anchorage. Robert calmly asked: "Was that boat there before, right next to Inspiration Lady?" In a second he was in our dinghy and then jumping aboard the drifting boat. No one was home and there was no key to start the engine.

Runaway boat apprehended. The boat with blue stripe is Inspiration Lady.

I got onto the VHF radio to alert Gary of Inspiration Lady. In about a minute he was in his dinghy, joined by another cruiser and the three rescuers gently manoeuvred the runaway back through the other boats towards her mooring ball. No harm done this time, except a little shock and injury to the ego of the Captain when he returned to the news that in his absence, his boat had been rescued.

The three rescuers return the boat to her mooring ball.

An embarrassment but also a learning experience. It can happen to anyone. It happened to us in the Dominican Republic. In winds of 25 knots BR's anchor dragged with a lump of mud along the bottom of Luperon harbour. We'd heard that dragging anchors through the poor holding of Luperon's muddy bottom was too common. Before we left BR for a day out Robert took the precaution of telling our neighbor where to find the key to the ignition, just in case. He must have sensed something or maybe it was just Luperon's reputation for poor holding nagging away at him. I hope we will always remain humble and open enough to learn from our own mistakes and lessons taught by others!

This Beneteau is secured with just one line threaded through the mooring ball's metal "thimble" at the top. The yellow line is not attached to the boat. It's just there to hold a plastic bottle marker.

On this occasion in Chaguaramas, the runaway boat had been secured to her mooring ball with just one line threaded through the loop on top of the ball. With the constant boat traffic and change of tides causing the boat to swing and rock on the ball, the line wore through. It doesn't take long, less than a week will do it.

An accident waiting to happen? That metal "thimble" can cut like a knife.

A better way to secure to a mooring ball. The metal ring is smooth but we still have to check for wear and tear.

If you've never tied up to a mooring ball, as the Captain had not, you would easily make the same mistake. The recommended method is to use two lines, each with looped ends. When the two lines are threaded through the ball's metal "thimble" and back through their own loops before securing to cleats on the boat, there's less chance of breaking free from wear and tear. A new neighbour moored beside us this afternoon; a shiny Beneteau. The metal "thimble" on their mooring ball sure looks dangerous to me! There's a fine line between interference and giving unsolicited advice.

When we dragged in Luperon our good neighbors on Lorelei, Night Hawk and Essential Part rescued us. We became friends and ended up traveling down the islands with Ray and Genna of Night Hawk, so good things can truly come out of bad luck. We are also reminded to check our lines.


  1. Hi Trish,

    Really interesting cautionary tale. Made me think about when I had my boat on a swing mooring down at Birkenhead Pt. The swing moorings in Australia are very different design. You dont attach your boat to the mooring ball at all. There is no mooring ball just a float that keeps the line directly from the mooring block on the sea bed floating on the surface. When you approach the mooring you hook the line that goes from the float to the heavier line. This allows you to grab the heavier line and attach this directly to your boat through an eye splice in the heavy rope. The heavy rope is attached to mooring block through swivel attachment. Seems this arrangement provides much less chance of chafe causing lines to break. Generally in the harbour where thousands of boats are left totally unattended for weeks at a time it is very rare for boats to break free from moorings more likely to drag whole mooring in really bad weather like a strong southerly. Only problem with this system is I think it takes more space for each boat as the boat swings through a wider arc with wind and current.

    Best Wishes


  2. Hi Michael,
    What you describe sounds similar to some mooring situations we have found through the Bahamas and Caribbean. Sometimes we've found hugely heavy lines, fully encrusted with barnacles and growth and often frayed. Obviously not regularly maintained and best left alone. We never know what we will find next, but that's the fun and challenge of travel.