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Skipper’s Tips

Hooked Up and Holding  –  What's better: taking a mooring or dropping your anchor? Every sailor has his own opinion, of course, but if faced with a choice, many experienced sailors prefer to drop an anchor. The reasons are fairly simple—if you know your boat and its gear then you can drop a hook with confidence. Who knows what lies beneath the mooring ball? It could be tied to the seabed with dental floss.  Or worse, attached by only a few crumbs of rusted iron.

I've recently had the pleasure of watching sailors from all over the globe, aboard charter yachts and tricked-out cruising vessels, happily pick up a mooring close to the Tui Marine base. I happen to know that the mooring ball is attached to a tiny Danforth anchor and is more suitable for tying up a surfboard than a heavy-displacement yacht. However, dumb luck and favourable breezes have kept most of these yachts from harm. What's most surprising is the almost absurd amount of trust that these sailors place in a length of rope and a plastic sphere.


A nice aluminium cruising yacht recently abandoned this mooring in favour of deploying its trusty anchor. Having dropped his hook, the sailor started to back down to set the anchor. The surprise on the faces of the couple on this boat was plain to see from quite a way off. The boat started to back down and kept on backing as the anchor chain snapped taut and then slacked off again. Nothing seemed to get the anchor to set—in exasperation, they hauled in their chain and found, hanging from their anchor, the remnants of an inflatable dinghy. Somehow they had hooked a dink and had dragged it around the anchorage, narrowly missing several boats close by. The next challenge was to remove the dinghy from the flukes of their anchor before motoring away in search of safer haven.

Busy harbours can often mean messy seabeds. There may be old chain and mooring gear, dinghies, engine blocks or even supermarket trollies littering the bottom. One common solution to the problem of fouled gear is to float a trip line from the anchor, using a fender for flotation. This way if your anchor fouls on chain or other impediments you can work the trip line from your dinghy and pull the anchor out from beneath the obstruction. 


Often, it is smart to swim over the anchor if the visibility is decent. This way you'll know just what is down there and how your anchor is set. Many times I have been surprised to find my anchor lying happily on its side with not a piece buried, even though I would swear it had set. It's best to find these things out before that 40-knot squall blows through the anchorage and sets your boat wandering.

Mostly, the moorings to be found in designated areas such as the Bight and Cooper Island and so forth can be trusted. It's those anonymous looking balls that so conveniently are still available when all around them are occupied that ought to make a sailor nervous. 


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