Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Moving to the Mooring Ball…

On Sunday night we heard the weather report regarding squalls and high winds. We’ve been living just off of Christmas Tree Island for just over two weeks and with the frequent boat wakes from fisherman and the worry about dragging our anchor we decided to move the boat to the mooring ball field on the other side of Fleming Key first thing Monday morning. No problem getting there and no problem finding an empty ball. The problem is in retrieving the mooring ball. The way it is suppose to work is that the mooring ball has a heavy line or chain that passes through it. On the top side of the ball this line will have a ring attached to it. When you come in you grab the ring with a boat hook, haul it up on deck (the mooring ball line is typically plenty long enough), thread your dock line through the ring and cleat that line to the boat at both ends (both ends of the line not the boat!) making a long yoke to the mooring ball ring. We’ve done this a lot and other than the occasional miss on grabbing the ring it is pretty routine.

We pick a mooring ball and head for it. I don’t see a loop or ring on top but there is something there. When I put the boat hook down I see that the ‘ring’ is the line itself with a loop formed in the end. That’s fine. Attached to this loop is a large shackle. What the hell…There is no open space within the loop to insert the boat hook. We tried three times and then went to another ball. Must have been a malformed ball. The next ball was the same! Nothing to grab! What moron designed these? With some reflection I see what has happened here. The designer made a nice loop (with cloth around it even) to put your mooring line through. What he didn’t allow for is that when the ball starts moving due to wind and waves, this loop is going to get sucked into the hole in the ball! That’s why a metal ring might have been better. The ‘solution’ was to screw a big ass shackle to the top of the loop to keep it from getting sucked all the way through the ball. The result is that although the loop does in fact stay with the ball it still gets jammed really hard down in the hole making it impossible to retrieve.

Our solution: A woman on a boat nearby, watching our frustration with the boat hook, told us to loop a line UNDER the ball to hold the boat near then she made swimming motions. I get it. So we looped a line around and under the ball and cleated each end. Now the boat will stay near the ball and I can get in the water and wrestle with the loop which is exactly what I did. The loop won. The loop is jammed in so tight that I can’t put a needle through what remains of the hole in the loop let alone my half inch mooring line. I can’t lift the loop out of the hole in the ball either because it is jammed so tight and I now have my boat pulling on the underside of the ball making it even harder to expose the loop! What to do? We got another line and formed a slipknot around the loop/shackle. Sue then motored up a little to take pressure of the mooring ball line so that I could pull some line up out of the ball. I then cleated this line and jumped back in the water. I still had to force my mooring line through the loop but managed to do so. With the free end of this line back to Sue on board we are now properly moored to the mooring ball. Oh, one more thing. We have to untie or uncleat the line we tied to the loop to pull it out of the mooring ball. It is so tight we can neither untie it NOR uncleat it. So we cut it! I can form another loop in this old line some other time.

All in all it probably took us 30 – 40 minutes and three swim sessions to moor our boat. No wonder there were so many empty balls!

Now to town. We took dingy to the dingy dock for this mooring field. It is a longer ride than we had from our anchorage but we are gaining security and surrendering some convenience. Cleverly, Key West City Marina has put the very nice floating dingy dock on one side of a big bridge and the dockmaster, bathrooms and showers on the other! Who builds stuff like this? We stopped back in later in the day to sign up for a month on the mooring ball. The dockmaster didn’t seem to know what she was doing. She gave us a 9 page legal document that I had to initial on each page…like a house sale agreement but this document has no information about how to USE the facilities or where anything is. She took our money and then looked at us. Now usually, a place like this gives you either verbally or in writing, where the showers are, where the water is, how to get about and so forth. Nothing from her. We had to remind her that we’d like a shower key. Oh yeah. She gave us the key (and took a deposit) and still never told us where they were! We had to remind her that we needed some kind of sticker for the dingy. Oh yeah. For this she gave us a ‘temporary’ sticker from a sheet of labels like you’d make mailing labels from on your computer. Not exactly ‘all weather’. Still no general information about facilities and so forth. Very unprofessional in keeping with the design of their mooring balls!

Oh yeah, the sticker blew off on our way back to the boat as predicted. We came back to the boat just ahead of some ugly weather but it all missed Key West. Since Monday the wind has been blowing a steady 20 knots with occasional gusts. This is supposed to continue through thursday and maybe into Friday. Looks like we moved to a ball (even a stupid one) at the right time!

So, let’s summarize where you can keep your boat in Key West. Anchorage: You can anchor on either side of Christmas Tree Island but are pretty open to weather. On the south side you are especially open to boat wakes from fisherman. You can anchor on the west side of Fleming Key with probably less boat wake problem but same openness to weather especially from the north. You can take a mooring ball for more security and the problems above. Finally you can go to a marina but they are crowded and expensive going for between $2.20 and $3.50 per foot per night. Our mooring ball is $261 for the month. I’d say that this mooring ball even with the moronic design is a good solution for a long stay. If you are just staying a few days you might as well anchor and keep a close watch.

No storm AND a rainbow. Life is good...

Good and short!

Epilog: A little bit after writing this piece I heard the repeated blasts of an air horn. That usually means some boat is drifting through the mooring field and sure enough there goes a big Morgan ketch dragging her mooring lines and heading right for another moored boat. The couple on board got the engine started and beared off just in time to avoid collision. I took a look through the binoculars to see what had broken. As I suspected, their looped mooring line was sliced in half. Here is the other bad thing about attaching a big ass shackle to the nice cloth loop: Chafe! We are sitting in 20-25 knot winds today and tomorrow so there is a lot of movement on boats and lines. I went out in the dingy to inspect our line and sure enough it is starting to show significant chafe after only one night!
I put my feet on the mooring ball to shove it down a bit and was able to pass another mooring line through the loop. Now it would be very unlikely to have both lines wear through at the same time. I’ll have to keep inspecting them while we’re here.

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