Thursday, August 20, 2020

Saco River and The Mooring Ball

 (Note: I'm catching up on blog posts as we didn't have sufficient cell service for the past couple of days.)

We arrived at the mouth of the Saco River late afternoon on Sunday (August 16) and picked up one of the City of Saco's free mooring balls. I don't like mooring balls as you seldom know what's holding them (and your boat) to the bottom or the condition of the chain and all the appurtenances that connect you to whatever's down there.

I much prefer the known quantity of my own anchor and ground tackle. But, sometimes you have no choice. Anchoring isn't allowed or there isn't room to swing at anchor or, as in the case in this location, both conditions exist. Furthermore, the currents from the 10 foot tides are strong enough to make anchoring with only one anchor a bit dicey as the direction of pull changes 180 degrees twice a day.

Also, moorings usually cost money, while anchoring is free, and I'd rather spend my money on lobster and beer.

Because I avoid moorings whenever I can, I don't have a lot of experience connecting Intermezzo to them. Tying up a monohull to a mooring is pretty straightforward. Tying up a catamaran is a bit more complicated because you want to keep the pull on the mooring centered between the two hulls as best you can. To do this, I attach Intermezzo to mooring ball pennants with a bridle, a Y-shaped arrangement of lines in which the vertical leg of the Y leads to the pennant and two diagonal legs lead to cleats on each bow.

That's what I did when we arrived at Saco. All looked good, though the combined length of the bridle and pennant looked a bit long to me. Still, the boat seemed to settle nicely on the arrangement, so we launched the dinghy and went to shore to look around and have dinner at an outdoor seafood restaurant.

When we returned after sunset, the flood current from the incoming tide was running strong, I'd guess at close to 2 knots. The wind was blowing in the same direction, so Intermezzo was pulling with some force against the mooring. I went up to the bows to take a look and everything looked great.

At about 0200, I was woken up by a mild banging noise accompanied by a grinding sound against the hull. I lay in my bunk figuring it was just the mooring ball rubbing against the hull as the current reversed itself.  It didn't sound good, but nothing unexpected or out of the ordinary. Then, suddenly, there was a big bang, the whole boat shuddered and then swung violently.

I leaped out of my bunk, pulled on some clothes, grabbed a flashlight and dashed to the bows to see what was going on. The mooring ball was underneath the boat between the two hulls, my bridle and the pennant hopelessly twisted around the mooring ball chain, the lines tight and pulling backwards across the aluminum cross beam that connects the two bows of the boat. Not good at all.

The current had reversed but Intermezzo hadn't swung around the mooring ball to lie in the opposite direction and pull away from it. Instead, the wind, stronger than the current, was pushing the boat forward and over the mooring ball. I hadn't considered this possiblity when I set up the bridle and now we were in a bit of a pickle.

The problem was that I had made the diagonal legs of the Y-bridle too long when I initially set it up. During slack current and diminished wind, the middle leg of the bridle and the mooring ball pennant sunk and, as Intermezzo pivoted around the mooring ball, they wrapped themselves around the chain below the ball leading to whatever was holding us to the bottom. So, now with the lines all twisted together, my only option was to try and shorten the diagonal legs to limit how far under the boat the mooring ball could go and try and keep it between the two hulls and not let it pop out, get on the outside of a hull and then pop back inside, the source of the big bang and violent swinging that woke me up.  Shortening the lines put more stress on the cross beam, which I wasn't thrilled about, but the tension on the lines was within what I could pull with two hands, so seemed okay.

I returned to my bunk and slept fitfully as the mooring ball occasionally banged on the hull. Fortunately, it was a soft plastic ball and stayed between the hulls; no more big bangs. I got up to take a look when the current went slack and everything looked okay. By early morning, the wind and current were in the same direction, Intermezzo was pulling away from the mooring ball and everything was fine except for the tangled mess of lines.

When the current went slack again around 1030, Lisa and I tied a fender to the bridle lines for a float, dropped the bridle into the water and temporarily moved Intermezzo to the mooring ball next door. We launched the dinghy and popped over to the original mooring ball, untangled all the lines and recovered the bridle. Then we brought Intermezzo back and reattached in a different configuration. This time we hauled the mooring ball pennant up through the anchor roller near the center of the cross beam, threaded a line through its eye and led it back to a cleat in the anchor locker at the center of the boat. Now we had only one line that couldn't sink and tangle up with the chain and the mooring ball's movement was limited by the short length of the pennant beyond the bow.

This configuration worked great. Regardless of the direction and strength of current or wind, the mooring ball remained between the two hulls and could barely touch them. No rubbing, banging, popping, violent swinging. Just the occasional gentle rubbing of the mooring ball on a hull as the boat swung and settled itself. This is how I will attach Intermezzo to a mooring from now on.

The mooring ball was not finished with me, though.

After getting the mooring sorted out on Monday morning, we went grocery shopping. This required taking two public buses and, as a result, took most of the afternoon but replenished a seriously depleted larder. We changed buses at Old Orchard Beach, a seaside town that reminded me of something between a New Jersey shore town and the Southend-on-Sea seafront in England, near where my parents' grew up. A beach of modest quality, gift shops, fast food stands, ice cream shops, a small amusement park and mostly working-class visitors from nearby Portland enjoying an affordable mini-vacation.

We got a good night's sleep with no mooring ball drama during the night. I felt satisfied having cleaned up my oriingal mooring mess and having figured out a good way to attach to moorings in the future.

On Tuesday morning we got the boat ready to depart for our next port of call and Lisa went forward to release us from the mooring ball. She untied the line, let me know we were free and I proceeded to motor out of the anchorage. I put the engines into forward, slowly opened the throttles and then, suddenly, the port engine stopped turning. To my horror, I knew exactly why.

Now, like anyone, I don't like making a mistake, especially a boneheaded, stupid, amateur-hour, embarrassing one. And I don't like writing about and publicizing my mistake, either. But I do believe in owning my mistake, learning from it and perhaps helping someone else avoid making a similar one. So here's what I did wrong.

As I mentioned earlier, I prefer anchoring over taking a mooring. When we raise the anchor, the person doing the raising lets the person at the helm know when the anchor is up. It's out of the water and out of the way and we generally proceed forward. When Lisa told me that we were free of the mooring ball, that's exactly what I did out of habit, motored forward.

Only the mooring ball was between the two hulls, not out of the water, nor out of the way. I proceeded to drive over it and as I turned the boat to starboard, caught the pennant with and wound it tightly around the port propeller.

Fucking idiot!

I didn't have time to further curse myself as the current was flowing pretty strong and the boat was being held fast to the mooring ball by the propeller and the not-very-strong aluminum sail drive to which it was attached. I had to relieve the force pulling on these mechanical components as quickly as possible to avoid damaging them.

I told Lisa to get me a line and we attached one end of it to the port stern cleat. Then I leaned out from the stern quarter and reached down into the water to try and thread the other end through the eye at the bottom of the mooring ball. It was quite a way below the surface and my arms were barely long enough to reach, but with some grunting and straining and Lisa's help with the boathook, we were successful and led the line back to the cleat, forming a double-purchase loop that we could tighten and relieve the strain on the prop.

Now I had to unwrap the line.

I went quickly below to get my wet suit, a trip that took long enough for me to thoroughly insult myself for my stupidity. My language was, let us say...creative.

I quickly donned the wet suit, put on my mask and snorkel that Lisa had at the ready and jumped overboard into the swiftly flowing, chilly (66℉) water. I dove below the boat and saw that nearly the entire 6-foot long, 1-inch diameter pennant line was wrapped around the prop, along with its floats on their smaller diameter lines. Quite the mess.

I dove a couple of times to try, but it was impossible to unwrap the end float line, so I cut it away with my knife. Fortunately, the main pennant line then unwrapped without much trouble. However, the line cutter on the prop had come loose and was dangling loosely on the propeller housing like a necklace. It had tried, but 1-inch line is well beyond it's capability to cut through. With Lisa's help handing me tools, it took only another half-dozen dives to remove it.

I inspected the propeller and its connection to the sail drive and was relieved to find no damage. I got out of the water, dried off, started the port engine and then tested the transmission. Everything was working fine. Thank goodness.

Lisa slipped the line through the mooring ball eye and we were free and on our way. I looked at my watch and was surprised that it took only 25 minutes from when the propeller got wrapped to when we were free. Amazing what the combination of problem-solving focus, adrenaline and cold water can achieve.

The lesson to be learned is a simple one I expect sailors with more experience than I with mooring balls do automatically: When leaving a mooring ball under power, always reverse until you have it in sight.

It was a stupid, embarrassing mistake, but I will admit I am pleased with how efficiently we corrected it, grateful for Lisa's teamwork and that there was no damage.

Lesson learned.