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Remedy for a Dragging Mooring During Hurricane Irene – By Adrien Rock

October 1, 2011

Remedy for a Dragging Mooring

During Hurricane Irene

By Adrien Rock

Editors Note: Adrien Rock is a contributor to NFTB. He, along with many other boaters, chose to have his boat ride out Hurricane Irene on a mooring. As discussed elsewhere in this issue, the best-laid plan, in terms of mooring pennants and chafing gear, may provide insufficient protection during a storm when other boats break free from, or drag their moorings. What follows is Adrien’s harrowing story of needing to save S/V Dolphin during the recent storm.

In preparation for Hurricane Irene I chose to attach our Brewer 42, S/V Dolphin, to what I believed was a secure mooring. After discussions with the marina’s operations manager we were assigned to mooring No. 16. The manager assured me that mooring No. 16 was ample to hold Dolphin during the storm. The decision to place Dolphin on that mooring began a cascade of events that nearly resulted in her loss.

Extra heavy pennants and chafing gear were in place as Irene’s winds began to howl. A

S/V Dolphin's stern after her mooring dragged and she was forced into another vessel's bow anchor

separate anchor and rode (a 63 lb. Bruce with 150 feet of chain) was set at a forty-five degree angle from the storm’s anticipated wind direction. As the wind grew steadily to fifty knots, with gusts above seventy knots, the nightmare unfolded. My first clue that something was wrong was Dolphin’s abnormal motion in the wind. She no longer swayed side to side, and seemed stuck in place in close proximity to a downwind boat. A closer inspection from shore revealed that Dolphin, and her mooring, had dragged and traveled downwind through the mooring field. What was left of the mooring’s anchor, and the Bruce’s anchor, were barely holding her in place. She was somehow attached to the downwind boat, and her stern was being attacked by the other boat’s bow anchor.

The marina’s owner offered two forms of immediate assistance. The first was to suggest I move Dolphin to mooring No. 15 because “mooring No. 16 was never designed to hold a boat as large as Dolphin”. The second was to loan me extra lines, and offer the services of his employee, Nick, to help move Dolphin. After developing a plan, and presenting it to the owner and to Nick, off we went with five coiled lines, two life preservers and plenty of wind.

Before setting off we donned life jackets and partially filled the dinghy with water, to weigh it down and prevent the wind from flipping us over. Nick and I motored across and downwind to mooring No. 15 where we tied the strongest and longest line to the mooring’s pennant. As I kept the dinghy pointed into the wind…in 2.5 foot waves and fifty knot winds… Nick tied several more heavy lines together, using bowlines, to create one long pennant. Our goal was to create a line long enough to reach Dolphin, attach her to the new pennant, release the old mooring and anchor, free Dolphin from the anchor of the downwind boat, motor Dolphin up to the new mooring, and re-set the anchor. We soon realized that the new pennant was not nearly long enough to reach Dolphin. So much for best-laid plans, for the second time in one day. A new plan quickly developed, as described below.

Having brought a small float in the event we might be short of line, I tied the float to the long pennant’s end and motored to Dolphin’s stern. After considerable effort we were able to free Dolphin from the neighboring boat’s bow anchor, yet every swing in the wind brought both vessels again into contact. The damage continued. We climbed over the damaged and scratched stern and raced to Dolphin’s bow, disconnected the 63-pound Bruce anchor and chain, and lowered 150 feet of anchor rode (marked by a another buoy) into the raging seawater. We then raced back to the dink, grabbed the anchor rode’s buoy, motored to the float marking the mooring pennant extension line, and secured the anchor rode to that line. Then we were back to Dolphin to tie the dink to her starboard quarter, climb aboard and start the engine.

Armed with our new strategy and an agreed upon set of hand signals, I motored Dolphin into the wind while Nick retrieved the buoyed line and anchor rode, and took up the slack on the new line we had created. This got us away from the sharp and angry Delta anchor that was in the process of destroying Dolphin’s stern. Next we retrieved 150 feet of chain and the 63 pound Bruce! This took several attempts because the boat had a difficult time making way against the gusting and shifting winds, which had us broadside several times. That achieved we released mooring No. 16’s port pennant and threw it in the foaming water. Next we worked on releasing the starboard pennant, which we achieved with some difficulty. It was very difficult to minimize contact with the first mooring’s ball, and the chains/shackles that stuck out from its top.

Next we motored up to mooring No. 15, taking in all of the excess lines until we reached the original pennant, and secured it to Dolphin’s starboard bollard. We then motored up into the wind and lowered the 63 pound Bruce, and as much chain as we needed, before falling back to even the load between both the pennant and the anchor.

During extreme conditions we had managed to extricate Dolphin from her dragged mooring, release her from the bow anchor of another vessel, attached her to another mooring, and set a second anchor. We finally felt comfortable, cleaned the deck, shut down the engine, and re-boarded the dink. I noticed that the dinghy’s gas tank was floating in seawater, and decided it was a good time to begin to bail. We then motored the dinghy up into the wind and frothing waves to the dinghy dock, where several cameramen were shooting our mugs. A group of boating friends were there as well, gleefully cheering our accomplishments! I felt relieved and chilled to the bone from the cold water and evaporating strong winds.

The need for extraordinary acts of seamanship always beg the question “How could the crisis have been avoided, and how do we prevent a similar problem from happening again?” Like most boating accidents and adverse events, Dolphin’s damage and the personal risks we took to secure her during the storm, might have been avoided if we had detailed information about mooring No. 16’s ground tackle. We accepted the word of a marina manager, which at the time seemed like a reasonable thing to do. Ideally we would have stayed on our own mooring, the ground tackle of which was well known to us. Alternatively, we could have required the marina’s owner to confirmed a mooring’s appropriateness.  In retrospect, while a secure mooring may provide adequate protection and peace of mind during a category 1 hurricane, a mooring in a mooring field filled with other boats cannot offer protection equal to tying up, or being stored on land, at the right marina.

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