Keep your eye on the ball…?

You have options if you want your boat to stop moving and for you to sleep. You can go to a marina and tie the boat to a dock. You can drop your anchor and swing for the night or you can take a mooring ball in a mooring field. Today we will speak of the process and failures related to ‘picking up a mooring ball’.

Each of the options above have potential for terror, angst, divorce, injury, destruction and liberal use of sailing vocabulary. The picture below shows the typical mooring ball configuration. The process; snag the pendant with your reaching pole, pass your lines through the eye in the pendant and tie them back to the boat. What could go wrong? Seems easy enough right.

Typical mooring ball and hardware.

It would be easy if it was just the boat and the mooring. Lets add the catalyst for disaster, people. What we saw yesterday was typical of the first time a two person crew attempts to pick up a ball. The Captain (man) instructs the helmsman (woman) “you get us close, I’ll snag the ball” bob’s your uncle, you can have a drink and go to bed. But wait, we need to add some, lets call them impediments.

  • Wind
  • Current
  • Bad attitude
  • Poor instructions
  • No clue
  • Every eye of every other person in the mooring field is upon you

In sailing, nay let’s call it yachting, some days you watch the show and other days you are the show. Yesterday they missed the first time, happens to all of us no matter how experienced. Then they missed a second time and the Captain (the man) raised his voice. On our boat as well as twenty others in the area I said “ML, come watch this”.

Floating boat hook (It will float for at least six minutes

Impediments aside, you need to have a good stout boat hook to reach and snag the pendant. The second part is to get close enough to reach the pendant with the boat hook. When newbies attempt their first ball they lean over and reach too early. This leads to problems one and two. Your helmsman can’t hear what you are saying (luckily) and they think you can reach it and they stop the boat. The Captain is left leaning over the rail basically pointing at the ball with the hook as the boat swings off the wind. Not happening this time.

Regroup. The Captain stomps back and takes over the helm. The engine revs and the boat takes off. All the inquiring eyes in the field don’t leave because they know it’s not over yet. You are asking “why don’t you jump in your dinghy and offer assistance”? It’s not time yet. A newbie boater must get to rock bottom before help will, well help. You can intervene somewhere between total exasperation and disaster.

The third thing to remember is some physics about how sound travels over the water. We can usually hear everything being said on the boat when the participants in the conversation can’t. This certainly helps with our entertainment but contributes to the strife aboard the mooring newbie vessel.

ML is cheering for the helmsman (the lady) and I for the Captain (the man). Just then there is a fairly loud command and retort from the entertainment ML looks at me and says “asshole”. What did I do, I’m several hundred feet away. This time it looks like they might pull this off. The hook at full reach snags the pendant. At that exact moment the boat stops any forward movement. The Captain valiantly attempts to pull up the 45 foot boat against wind and current…

Remember the mention of floating boat hook in the picture above. The Captain is stressed to the limits of his power. He is tangled up in the lifelines and the mooring lines he so had hoped to use on this attempt. With one reasonably loud utterance of a sailor’s magic word the boat hook is no longer employed by the vessel in question.

Remember the time to intervene is between exasperation and disaster, we are now there. I race to the dinghy and zing over to offer my assistance. At exactly the same time our neighbour Jeff does the same. I grabbed the boat hook and Jeff got a line from the boat. The boat was still refusing to get too close to the mooring. Finally Jeff was able to get enough slack to pass it through the eye of the pendant and passed it back to the Captain.

The Captain was effusive with his thanks. He kept glancing fearfully back at the cockpit. “How do you shut this ‘f*cking thing off” was heard. The show is over for today. Just as I’m climbing aboard Fracas I look back and they seemed to be giving each other high fives. It could have been him blocking a hay maker, but I’ll stick with high fives. They did it, they caught their first mooring.

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