Thursday, July 19, 2012

A Plague of Moorings

One boat to fifty moorings.
We're in the land of empty moorings. Every protected anchorage since Cape May has been infected with this bothersome plague, which makes anchoring like trying to squeeze into the space behind the head to tighten that last bolt, the one that's impossible to reach but has to be snug to stop the leak.

Tonight we carefully threaded our way through Potter Cove, which was littered with unoccupied white balls. After snooping around a while we found a mysterious gap in the random pattern and dropped the Bruce, our own portable mooring. I say mysterious because sometimes those empty spaces hide sunken boats, uncharted shoals, or other hazards. Here my mind goes blank as I try to think of what else might be a problem other than too little water or too much junk. Maybe methane seeps or giant whirlpools or reversing tidal falls. Well, whatever. And, sometimes those holes just indicate that they ran out of moorings before they managed to fill in every last gap.

At high tide this spot carries probably 17 feet and the height of Sweet Pea's bow makes that 20 feet above the mud. I'm on mostly chain with a bit of nylon and like 5:1 ratio, so there's a 200-foot circle that we'll sweep when the wind changes. Around three AM a mooring ball will probably come calling, knocking like a thief who wants to know if anyone is at home.  Depending on the tide I might bring in enough rode to escape this sleep thievery or just pull out my shotgun and dispatch the ornery varmint, putting the rest of the gang on notice that I don't respond well to stealing my anchoring space. A strong reaction perhaps, but perfectly justified.

The alternative, which is to pick up an unoccupied mooring, isn't at all appealing. Then the sleep thief who comes knocking in the middle of the night is probably the owner, back from the cruise and somewhat surprised at having to raft up with so little notice. Even worse, the implied security of being on a stranger's mooring is only implied. Even a pristine pennant is no guarantee of sound tackle. I know how much, actually how little, my CQR and Bruce weigh. In contrast, for all I know, the mooring ball's pennant may be its heaviest part and the chain a rusty ghost of its former self.

A free town mooring with a sturdy chain
 but the do-it-yourself pennant is problematic.
We occasionally use a free town mooring in welcoming places like Port Washington, NY or Wickford, RI. I've always thought this was safe enough. We went through a squall last night in Wickford Harbor which made me wonder whether this is always such a good idea. The forecast was dire but it was nothing compared to the sky which was beyond ominous, one huge purple bruise to the southwest that created a hazy yellow twilight.

We had rowed some distance into the town dock to meet friends and provision. I've noticed that town moorings are almost always at the edge of the harbor where no one else wants to be and make for a lot of strokes. A notable exception to this pessimistic rule of thumb is Port Washington where they are front and center in desirable real estate. Now that's a free town mooring to like.

Setting a leisurely pace in a more carefree moment.
On the trip back I kept eyeing the sky and sniffing the wind, expecting at any moment, that first cold gust, which would turn sweat to ice water. Fear does that. Anita wondered aloud what we might do if it hit before we gained the shelter of Sweet Pea's stern. My first thought was to knock on someone's door and hand them the dinghy painter, but I didn't voice this. Instead I quickened the stroke and spoke reassuring promises about how we were almost there and we had plenty of time. In retrospect, it would have been prudent to hand out the life jackets rather than chance outrunning the squall line.

A bit overweight at 18,000 lbs.
Before the whirlwind hit, I had time to double the mooring pennant and ponder the meaning of the "850 lbs" painted on the ball. Surely they must be referring to the weight of the mooring itself rather than that of the vessel. Tidewater's Travellift had recently weighed my baby and she came in at 18,000 lbs. So we were a bit over specification if they meant the boat. Nah, it had to be the mooring. Who would cruise in a canoe with a balsa wood hull?

After the 50 knot winds had come and gone, staggering us like a prize fighter who takes a knockout punch but doesn't go down, the harbor master came by to check on the damage. We told him that one of the cruisers in a 42-foot cat had dragged their mooring until it was next to the sea wall. At that point they high tailed it out of there, zooming by us as if we were standing still. Fortunately we were.

I learned that the "850 lbs" on the ball refers to the concrete block that terminates the chain. The harbor master mentioned, as a casual aside, that in the water the block was about half that weight. Ah, a practical application of Archimedes Principle. How interesting. Well even so, that 450 pound heavyweight should be able to beat my 35 pound Bruce bantamweight with one hand tied behind its back.

Tonight it's the Bruce's turn to prove its worth. I hope I didn't hurt its feelings. I think I'll let out a little more scope.

Next morning update. The mooring that swam to our stern when the wind clocked was labelled USCG in bold letters and sported a red, white and blue motif. Perhaps this is an acronym for Use with Super Caution in Gusts, though it looked sturdy enough.

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