By Capt. Michael Barber
The wind has been slowly backing all day and everyone knows there is a cold front on its way. By nightfall the wind is a steady 30-knot blow and I know I won’t get much sleep tonight. I’m currently in a city marina mooring field with 200 or so other boats. Don’t get me wrong, I love being on a ball. A good mooring ball will not drag around like an anchor can. Also, not being on a dock, there is a huge reduction in your contact with roaches, rats, iguanas and who knows what else. Unlike being on a dock, moorings will allow your boat to point the wind which gives you great airflow below decks. But being on a mooring ball also means you must be ever vigilant looking out for the other guy. You know the ones who use, say, cotton clothesline as anchor line. No, I’m not being funny.
On this night I’m not disappointed.
The gusts are coming in at 35 to 45 knots and the first victim is a dinghy. From the looks of it someone had used plain polypropylene line from the hardware store to tie off with. Polypropylene floats and is cheap enough, but you can chaff through it with a baseball bat. Tomorrow it will be found in the mangroves somewhere. Hopefully it will still be upright and the motor will not have disappeared.
Then the big event happens. Why do boating calamities want to climax at 4 a.m.? Anyway, a 45-foot trawler has chaffed through both of his mooring lines. A later inspection will reveal that he only used ⅜-inch polyester line that has very little stretch. Further, that he simply cleated them off and allowed them to run around the stanchions where the flange bolts would cut right through, setting his boat adrift.
The collision with his nearest downwind neighbor rudely rousted him out of bed and into action. The radio blows up in the harbor transmitting the imminent danger. Keeping the spirit that no major calamity is caused by a single mistake, he started both engines to back off of the boat he has collided with, having forgotten that his dinghy is on a short painter behind him. He backs over the dinghy, damaging both prop shafts and is now disabled at the whims of the wind.
In the end, those souls who maintained a storm watch would mobilize to secure his boat safely, but only after he collided with four other vessels. The only thing he did right was to have a paid-up insurance policy. Otherwise his bill would have been many tens of thousands of dollars.
Our boats spend most of the time in port. Most boat damage and deaths occur in port because we feel safe. It seems to me that if being in port is the most dangerous place we would be more vigilant, checking all vessel systems more regularly. But that’s just me.