⛵ Mooring ball failed on me in Anegada

Hi Reader,

We just returned from a lively Spring couples trip to the BVI, the busiest we’ve seen it during this season! Expect more tales and tips from our adventure in upcoming newsletters. For now, enjoy some teaser snapshots at the bottom of this email.

This trip wasn't without its excitement, particularly concerning a recent hot topic: mooring balls.

We have had a slew of recent incidents, most of them skipper error, including the boat that grounded on the Baths at the beginning of April. There has also been a rising tide of reports of questionable mooring ball quality.

To add to that, I now have my own firsthand experience with a ball that failed on me last week in Anegada.

It's clear we need to discuss what's happening. Is a larger fleet of catamarans putting added strain on the balls? Are balls getting run over? Is it a maintenance issue? Is there an influx of more inexperienced skippers that is compounding the problem?

While I'm not entirely sure, my experience definitively suggests a maintenance problem.

What happened to us in Anegada?

Armed with memories of recent mooring ball failures, we raised sails for our latest charter adventure.

We anchored our first two nights, one at a new spot at Virgin Gorda (picture below), and the second behind the mooring field at Saba Rock. On our third day, we sailed up to Anegada.

I don't bother with BoatyBall reservations in Anegada. There are usually first-come-first-serve (FCFS) balls available, and as a backup, it's a great place to anchor on a cat.

We picked out our white FCFS ball, approached from downwind (blowing 18 knots), and got tied off without incident. I did not back down on the mooring ball.

Seconds later (I was still at the helm and the crew at the bow) our spotter on the stern alerted everyone that we were drifting. It was immediately apparent the ball failed as soon as we had tied off to it.

We were very fortunate to still be in position to respond with the engines on as we had two other cats behind us we were drifting into.

But here's where I made a mistake. I ordered the crew to release the mooring lines from the ball. We had very long mooring lines, and this took some time as we continued to drift with the wind.

I had use of the engines, but as the ball began to float past on the port side, I was limited to the use of my starboard engine. I got the hang of positioning the boat with one engine, but it hadn't been something I'd had much practice with.

After the ball was safely astern and I was confident we weren't going to foul a prop, the drama was over and we got settled elsewhere in the mooring field (on another FCFS ball that passed our inspections).

We retrieved the ball in the dinghy so it wasn't a hazard to other boats, and later returned it to the gentlemen that came to collect the mooring fee.

So why did this mooring ball fail?

Due to the shallow nature of the anchorage, the mooring balls use sand screws. The screw in our case, did not pull out.

It was a simple case of maintenance. The rope was extremely old and frayed. It is possible it had prop damage, but I don't think so. Take a look at the picture and let me know what you think.

Lessons learned

  1. Immediate actions. Rather than freeing ourselves from the ball, next time I would have secured our lines tightly and held on to the ball. Go find some room to sort things out if this happens to you.
  2. Inspect. Inspect. Inspect. Had we the chance to dive on this ball, I'm confident we would have moved on, given the appearance of the rope and ground tackle. When in doubt, move on.
  3. Use balls that are regularly maintained and fit for purpose. Moor Seacure comes to mind, and they maintain the BoatyBall moorings. There may be others. From our conversation with the fee collector, it seems as though this one was locally maintained. This might be a good question to ask your mooring ball owner/servicer.
  4. Backing down? This is not something I've ever done and it's been a controversial topic lately. I'm interested to hear others' feedback. I tend to believe backing down has the potential to damage the balls, but I can understand the other side of the argument.

Safety is always top of mind for me, and I thought this was worth sharing as soon as possible as a learning opportunity for others. Stay tuned for more on our trip in the next edition!

Have a great week!

- Matt Weidert

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