How to Make an Impression When Entering an Anchorage

Bahamas Land and Sea Park – Warderick Wells

We’ve spent many nights over the years at Warderick Wells. The moorings in the “Horseshoe” are situated in a “U” shape around a shallow bar, parts of which are exposed at low tide. This natural anchorage (mooring only now) is scoured by strong tidal currents leaving behind beautiful white sand beaches and a deep channel with a hardpan bottom. The water is clear and varies in color from perfect white in the shallows and grading to dark blue in the deepest parts of the anchorage. It’s not unusual to see a school of spotted rays or nurse sharks cruising in the channel or up on the sand bar. The setting is breath taking and I think it is the most picturesque anchorage in the Exumas.

To get a mooring in the horseshoe, you have to call the park office on the VHF Radio early in the morning and hope there is space available. The Park doesn’t take reservations, so there is a bit of luck involved. We arrived late in the afternoon with no hope of getting on a mooring and planned to anchor off of Emerald Rock on the South side of the island, but at Michelle’s encouragement, I hailed the office on the radio and discovered that there were actually a couple of moorings available and we could have our pick.

The first option was a mooring ball located in a small cove, directly across from the office. We attempted to take this mooring, but the tide was dead low and we touched bottom as we moved in to pick up the pennant, so we moved on to option 2, which was the last ball at the bottom of the horseshoe. This is a great mooring, but the current is very strong at this position because the channel narrows here and forces all the water between a couple of small islands.

And this is where we “impressed” the other cruisers and Park Staff with our mooring skills! And why we may never be allowed to return… 🙂

How it’s supposed to work

First, it would be helpful to explain HOW we pick up a mooring ball on Roam, because the bow on Roam is too high for us to pick up a mooring, so we have developed a strategy for getting on a mooring that worked well for us on our 47 and has worked equally well on our 55. Here’s how we do it:

  1. We have two mooring lines that allow us to create a bridle using Roam’s bow port and starboard cleats.

2. The starboard bridle line is extra long and allows Michelle attach one end to the starboard bow cleat and take the other end of the line down to the the starboard boarding gate which is located about 2/3 of the way aft from the bow. The boarding gate, when open, is only about 2 feet off the water which allows Michelle to easily reach down and grab the mooring’s pennant line with ease.

3. When Michelle is ready and has one end of the starboard bridle line at the starboard boarding gate, I drive the boat to bring the mooring ball along side the boat so that Michelle can run the end of the starboard mooring line through the pennant. It works best to approach the mooring from downwind or down-current so that you can use the wind and/or current to slow the boat as you approach.

4. Once Michelle has the line through the eye of the pennant, I come down the starboard walkway, grab the line, and help her bring the line back up to the bow.

5. Finally, we pull the mooring pennant up tight and run the port bridle line through the mooring eye and then pull it back to the port cleat where we tighten it up so that the mooring line is equally suspended off the bow, between the port and starboard bridles.

6. Easy-Peasy and celebratory drinks all around…

How it actually played out

As we were coming in to the horseshoe, I noted that we were at slack tide, so when we got back to the 2nd option, I approached the ball with the bow pointing in to the wind and I didn’t consider the current at all. So I brought the ball right up to Michelle, as planned, but as she was picking up the pennant, the current pulled the mooring ball up under the hull and she correctly let me know that had happened and released the pennant. As I started to reset the boat for another attempt, we heard a thunk and when we looked back the styrofoam mooring ball was in a hundred pieces and scattered behind our stern. The props had done their job and chewed it up.

Ok, that’s unfortunate, but there is another mooring ball right behind the destroyed one, we’ll just drop back and pick that one up. Ugh…it hurts to type this story out. We approached the next mooring ball and I thought I was positioned correctly, taking the current in to account. Well….

On our second attempt, Michelle got the bridle line through the mooring eye, but dang it, the current pulled us over the mooring ball again, only this time, I backed down to let the ball go under the bow and I successfully kept it away from the props, but the bridle line got wrapped around the starboard stabilizer fin and we couldn’t pull the line in or let it out. The current quickly pulled us down stream and when the bridle line came tight, Roam leaned over to port as the stabilizer took the full force of a 120,000 pound boat being pulled hard by a 4-5 knot current.

Now what? I considered cutting the bridle line, but I’d have to get in the water to do that and with the current running hard, Roam would be hard aground on ironstone rock before I could get back aboard. Crud! Michelle and I spent a good 5 minutes looking at each other, each waiting for the other to come up with a solution. Finally, we decided to drop our anchor and then put the dinghy in the water and I’d pull the anchor and chain out 50-75 feet up current, dive in the water, get the anchor set, and then we could figure out how to free our bridle line and get the boat situated.

That’s when the part warden showed up with a member of the Bahamas Defense Force to see what the hell we were doing! Within a few minutes one of the guys had jumped in the water, freed our bridle line, and I was able to maneuver back up to the first mooring (now without a ball). The guy in the water dove down and grabbed the mooring line, passed our bridle line through mooring eye, and passed the bridle line back up to us. Whew!!

This is the bottom of the horseshoe where we failed so miserably to pick up a mooring and put on a good show for everyone around us!

The Wrap Up

So, we learned an important lesson at very important lesson and managed to avoid doing any serious damage to ROAM or the reef systems in the horseshoe, though we put a pretty good ding in the winglet on our starboard stabilizer fin. We learned to take careful note of wind and current and be prepared to bail out of a mooring if conditions aren’t right.

While the Park Ranger and his assistant didn’t demand payment for their help, we gave the Ranger $100 US cash and the assistant asked for booze and Michelle offered up my best bottle of RUM! I’m sure Michelle did that to punish me for being the cause of the Show… Happy cruising y’all!

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