The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

Mooring Gear—Staying Put

What does the word “harbour” mean to you? A safe haven, perhaps, sheltered from all sides? Well, in some of the less frequented parts of the world it can mean something quite different. Many “harbours”, such as Hugh Town on St Mary’s in the Isles of Scilly, are far from safe in all conditions, being open to winds from the west and to the Atlantic swell.

And nowadays so many of these harbours are full of local moorings, pots for storing live crab and lobster, and with marked fairways for ferries, there may be little or no room to anchor. And it’s the same here in southwest Ireland, a beautiful and wild cruising area.

Visitors’ moorings are now an established feature along the south and west coasts of Ireland, installed to encourage visiting yachts to stay (and spend) in this remote and lovely seascape. In the absence of room to anchor they are much appreciated, and offer crews a chance to leave their boats to step ashore, where in the past they might (quite rightly) have been reluctant to leave their boat unattended at anchor. All the ones we have seen seem to be of the same type, look to be well maintained and can take a boat of up to 15 tons, and there are usually a good few of them.

Last week we were in the picturesque harbour at Schull in west Cork, which opens on to Roaring Water Bay (the name ought to tell you something), well sheltered in most winds, but wide open to the south. The board outside the harbourmaster’s office had not one, but two notices (complete with photos) showing how to safely attach a boat to the visitors’ moorings, with an explanation that this was made necessary after a number of boats had broken free during bad weather. Sadly this is becoming a common theme wherever we go.

In the old days such moorings generally had a chain strop to secure aboard but this is becoming a rarity. Nowadays you are more likely to find that the buoy simply has a ring on top to make fast to with your own warp. This change can largely be laid at the door of boatbuilders that seem to think that their craft will never leave a marina, and equip them with undersized and poorly attached mooring arrangements on deck. A decent sized chain will not fit through the inadequate bowrollers on many modern boats, or around their small cleats, and we’ve often seen yachts moored to a chain strop with warps outboard of the boat, a recipe for chafe on rusty chain. So the chances are that you will have to moor up to the buoy using your own gear.

Where this is the case, we always hear cases where boats have parted company with their mooring due to chafe on rusty mooring rings, having never prepared in advance for mooring up in anything more than sheltered places and conditions. It is still possible to see boats tied up to mooring rings without even a friction turn on the warp to minimize chafe, an absolute beginner’s mistake. It can be unbelievable to see how quickly chafe will eat a warp in a mix of wind and chop.

Nearly all commercial yachts working in remote areas are more like workboats, and carry a range of heavy duty mooring gear, enabling them to moor up and leave the boat unattended in safety, and that legacy of preparedness stays with you. The picture at the top of this piece shows the basics of what we carry.

The first line we use is a remote mooring hook made by Kong, to which is spliced a 3/4” nylon warp that is made fast to a cleat. This simple device is a godsend and has saved my marriage on more than one occasion! The hook is rated for a maximum load of 2 tons, and so is perfectly adequate for us to moor temporarily to a buoy, while we rig up one of our main mooring lines, usually to be attached from the dinghy.

The second line is a 33ft length of 1” nylon, with a large eye splice in the end, which is passed through the mooring ring with the end then threaded through the eye of the splice and brought back aboard to be made fast at an appropriate length. The doubled turn of the eye splice helps to spread the load and the surface area of warp in contact with the ring to minimize chafe. We keep adjustable lengths of chafe protection and a section of reinforced toilet pipe on it to protect it from chafe at the buoy or at the bow roller. As it is long, we can either extend it to allow more elasticity, or single it back to the buoy and attach it again for added security. This is our normal attachment, and with a single additional line loosely passed through the ring of the mooring, we can detach it before we leave and then simply slip the single line to depart.

Our third line is a more permanent strop for extended stays or rough weather. This is a doubled length (33ft) of 7/8” nylon, with a large galvanized thimble seized into the middle, with an equally large shackle to attach to the ring. With this there is almost no chance of chafe, and we can extend the lines to allow plenty of stretch to keep shock loadings down. This strop also doubles as our towing bridle. We put on anti chafe material at deck level, and always mouse up the shackle carefully with monel seizing wire.

Finally, there is always the option of unshackling the anchor chain from the anchor and shackling it to the ring. This works well in extreme conditions, but if we do this we are always sure to attach one of our nylon strops too, tensioned to take the load before it is passed onto the chain to avoid the shock loading that can snap chain. If the mooring ring isn’t big enough, then we use one of our chain hooks and snubbing lines on the chain to achieve the same effect.

Of course, all of this takes more time than simply passing a line through a mooring ring, but we never have anyone dangling over the side of the boat trying to attach a line, and once we’ve got our chosen strop set up, we can go ashore knowing the boat is as safe as she can be, and leave her with a clear conscience. After all it’s not only our pride and joy that might suffer if she breaks free—she might damage someone else’s boat, too, or somebody may even risk their life to save her.

We’d never leave our boat attached by a single line in any case—that’s solely for lunchtime stops, when there are people aboard. And whilst the rope sizes we use may seem like overkill, that’s as much to do with allowing for loss of strength through chafe over time. In any case, we would reckon to replace our main strop every few years due to chafe, wear and tear and concern over potential UV damage. Using the same logic, we’re reluctant to use chain or nylon strops permanently attached to mooring buoys by the harbour authority, unless they look adequate and are in really good condition.

Visitors’ moorings in remote spots are becoming more and more common, and it’s becoming inevitable that you’ll have to use them from time to time if you frequent such areas—and why not. But it is well worth spending time in advance sorting out at least one purpose made mooring strop, so that when the wind and swell come into the harbour and you’re ashore, or clearing out to sea is not an option, then you’ll have a good chance of still being there in the morning, as well as making the harbourmaster smile!