The Mooring Show
We did it! We snuck one past the Charter Advisors... again! Under the guise of sharing the chartering experience, we bring you our Favorite Evening Sport! Well, yes, this piece does cover a part of the experience, but Mayday Crew style. We get our kicks pretty simply. Especially at mooring time. After the sailing is done, the evening fun begins. And what follows usually goes unspoken. Until now. Like most things sailing, just because it is unspoken, does not mean its taboo. Just the opposite. It's a guilty pleasure. We all watch the show!
Charter sailing is full of simple pleasures. Feeling the pull of the wind as you watch your "perfectly" trimmed sails, the nature induced wake streaming astern, loosing count of the number of shooting stars on any given night, squinting at the Milky Way because it's so bright. Night or day, the reminder of nature is all around. And we're there with all the trappings of a well-appointed charter yacht. Life doesn't get much better.
But what about the time in between the glorious sunny, trade wind days and the magical star filled nights? The time when all charter and cruising sailors transition from our romping fun on the wind and waves to the more sedate introspective evening. This in-between time... itt's Mooring Time.
As the sun gets low on the horizon, yachts converge on mooring fields. The early birds show up around 3:30 or 4 PM. They trickle in one by one, taking only the best mooring balls. Then between 4 and 5 PM the trickle of yachts turns to something more like a small armada. Yacht after yacht, they come by the scores. The more remote your location, the more scaled down the armada will be, but no matter where you moor up for the night, the routine is the same.
Mooring time changes the daytime dichotomy. You go from relaxed, time is of no concern, miles of space to a sundown deadline. Instead of miles of room, you now have other yachts all heading the same direction, converging on the same point, just before you have to park the thing nose high, into the wind, on something the size of a large beach ball. The time between 3:30 and 5 is something of a witching hour. It's when all sailors shift that gear from being laid back sailors to Captains managing a deadline. The ones that don't make the shift become part of "The Mooring Show."
The Mooring Show is an unspoken BVIs tradition. Well not exclusively a BVIs tradition (call it a chartering tradition). If you're one of the early birds you'll get the full show, but even if you're one of the late comers to the mooring that evening, you're not going to miss out.
Mooring up is a fairly simple thing. Start the engine, drop sail, motor up wind to a mooring ball, grab the pennant line on the mooring, tie it to your boat. Done. It's this exact process that makes up the show.
So, what is the Mooring Show all about? To put it in simple terms, mooring up. Those who have chartered or cruised before know exactly what we're talking about. After you've settled on to your own mooring, you may also notice that there are two kinds of show spectators. The Fans and The Prairie Dogs.
You can always spot the true "Show" fans. You'll see them kicked back in the cockpit, tramp, or other comfy spot, camped out with an ice cold beverage, facing the empty portion of the mooring field, binoculars at the ready.
The Prairie Dogs
These are the sailors who have either just arrived themselves, and are still in the process of making things ship shape or are otherwise occupied below decks. Their yachts appear empty. But, as soon as the next yacht begins to pull in, one of the more alert Prairie Dogs sounds the "alarm." Every yacht has one that's one lookout. Then the heads start appearing from below decks, their heads popping up like a family of prairie dogs. If it looks like it's going to be a good "show," up they come together and fill the cockpit. The better the show, the more full the cockpit and foredeck.
Even those of us with hundreds of moorings behind us still get caught off guard by a puff of wind or minor misjudgment. Add to that the mystical qualities of the witching hour, and the degrees that sailors adapt from a day of lazy sailing to close quarters engine driven navigation, and you have the right ingredients for "The Mooring Show."
Ok, so we know a bit about how some sailors watch the show, but what about the players? Those that put on such a great show, night after night. There are a few worth noting. The Pro, The Pro / Am (think they're pros), The Amateur, The Sinatra, and The Charter.
Here's your expert. They know what they are doing and show everyone how mooring is done. More often than not the Pro is sailing something bigger than the typical charter yacht with a mirror shine (though not always). Single handed, double handed, full crew, it doesn't matter. The right approach, the right speed, and an easy stop right on the money. So smooth that the bowman's job, grabbing the mooring pennant looks too easy. No rushing, laid back, and done with expert proficiency. No drama, just a lesson in cool. The Pro puts on a good show for all the right reasons.
The Pro / Am
We admire the Pro / Am. They usually have some level of boating experience, but not always on a sailboat or charter yacht. Their confidence is what got them out chartering, but it can also contribute quite a bit to the Mooring Show! We love that the Pro / Am is spreading their boating wings and reaching past their comfort zones. Really, we're major fans. We really like the show they put on! What makes the Pro / Am so entertaining at the mooring, is their resistance to admit or sometimes see what they don't know. Combine that with a touch of over confidence and the result can be some show stealing antics.
The first time anyone goes chartering they fall into this category (with no exception for the Mayday Crew). Being an Amateur is not a bad thing. They're actually the most admirable of all the show-players. Amateurs come in various flavors, but always bring their best intentions. Some blend in with the charters and you don't realize they're amateurs until the next one enters the mooring field from down wind. Another may be setting up for a mooring in their own way, like tying fenders on, dragging them the whole way. Or maybe their setting up to pick up the mooring and the entire crew is on the bow, blocking the view for the Helmsman, or maybe it's just a lot of running around on deck (with no boat hook at the ready). After anyone charters a few times, the "usual" routines present themselves. Everyone has their own way of doing these, but it becomes fairly apparent when the "usual routines" have not yet made it aboard. On top of this, though sailing education programs, trial and error, books, (trial and error mostly for Mayday Crew!) we learn what to do and what definitely not to do. Amateurs haven't yet had the benefit of experience. They do a great job, but it's the little things that give em away! What Amateurs lack in routine they make up for with heart, muscle, and numbers. If you run across the same crew later in your trip, don't expect the "Amateur" from a couple of days ago to give a repeat show. These guys and gals learn quick! They learn from each show. After a few days they sneak in looking like the rest of the chartering field (unless they take the Pro/Am route)!
"I did it my way..." From our experience, the Sinatra tends to come from a powerboat background. Wind? Huh? "Point it there... go there." That's the mantra. Sinatra's approach from crosswind, down wind, or any point of sail other than up wind, snake though a mooring field a bit faster than might seem appropriate, and muscle the engine(s) to (try to) put the bow where they want. They tend to use engine, technology, and whatever other gizmos at their disposal to do things their way. A bow-thruster at a mooring ball? Really?! We've seen this approach more times than we can count (minus the bow-thruster... one time show). Sometimes it works out fine, other times we've seen Mother Nature remind the Sinatra that it's going to be her way. Man-made and muscle only goes so far with her and the mooring field is the great equalizer for types of charter sailors. The reminder Mother Nature gives the Sinatra beams a spotlight on them at show time!
Most of us fall into this category. We don't put on much of a show. After mooring you may hear the sound of adults moaning like a bunch of disappointed kids. Awwwww! What? No show.
The Charter follows common sense and works with both the yacht and Mother Nature. They take care, follow routines that have been used before. Those on board know what to do (not that they all do it right every time), and take pride in not giving a show to all those fans and Prairie Dogs.
Another hallmark of the Charter is their ability to go with the flow. If they flub the pennant grab or miss their ball, we've overheard more than one Charter say... "Ok, might as well give em a good show!" That's the attitude. No big deal, show or no show. They don't rush; they work their routine and adjust what they need to do, even if the next pass is same as the first.
If there is one thing the entire Mayday Crew knows... on any given day we can fall into any of these categories (except say the Sinatra). Yes, We've even reverted to being an Amateur from time to time. What can we say? Other than, there is really something to that witching hour. We try to stay a Charter at heart and privately aspire to, from time to time, accidently look like a Pro.
During our last review trip with Charter Advisors we had more than one evening with a good show. These are the show highlights from that trip. See if you can figure out which one is which.
The Marina Cay Speeder
The Mayday Crew was one of the early birds on this day. We were swinging on the mooring ball by 3:30. It was one of those lazy Caribbean days. Having set up camp early we had our pick of the balls and ample opportunity to sample the wide array of mooring "styles."
Later in the evening a 40-foot Monohull came speeding down wind, full throttle, skirting the mooring field. As the yacht was just even with our port side, the helmsman spun the wheel. It looked like a slow moving speedboat complete with sliding stern, cranking a U-turn, cruising by at hull speed right past our yacht. They were little faster and closer than I would have preferred. When they headed for their ball they realized they had way too much speed to stop in time for a grab. On they went deeper into the mooring field, cranked full reverse to stop the yacht, and tied up to the mooring, nice and smooth. Too smooth. They tied their mooring line over the bow lifelines, rather than under. The weight of the boat pulling on the mooring pennant was pushing down on the bow pulpit and lifelines. Instead of untying and motoring back up to the ball, the wrestling match was on. Two "strapping" middle-aged men, tugged, pulled, and injured themselves for the next 10 min. or so. Eventually they got it retied and won the battle their way. It was a great show. Longer than 90% of them. We even had time to make popcorn. What would have made the show even better? If the guys weren't wearing those little Speedos.
The Ball Swallower of the North Sound
One evening in the North Sound of Virgin Gorda, the Mayday crew was watching the usual mooring show. It was a pretty uneventful one until a particular Lagoon 440 arrived. The Captain approached the ball cross wind in a tall (high windage) Catamaran. The breeze was blowing him all over the place. The common thought aboard our boat... "Why doesn't he approach into the wind?" Instead he adjusted to a downwind approach.
The approach was smooth. He used the engines to stop the yacht and the crew tied off on the mooring. The Captain and crew exchanged satisfied grins. Then nature took over and their cat swallowed the ball! The boat drifted forward (it WAS up-wind of the ball), the second the engines were shut off, both hulls straddled the mooring ball as the boat drifted over it. It swung around on the mooring ball, bringing the boat to its natural resting position? Into the wind. Ball swallowed AND tangled. It didn't faze this crew a bit. They didn't discover the tangled ball until the next morning, after they raised their sails on the mooring. A rare MORNING show!
Lunch Stops offer an early opportunity to partake in the afternoon show! One lovely Caribbean day, the Mayday crew was pulling into Monkey Point on Guana Island. We pulled our chartered Monohull up to the sweetest mooring ball in the field. Right up front, little wind, and the shortest swim to the coral. Nice. As we tied up, a gust of wind pushed us forward. In the absence of a breeze to push us back on the ball, the yacht drifted sideways, laying the mooring pennant along the side of our keel! The yacht began to turn, like the keel was now some kind of pivot. Weird. It was clear... this was not the sweetest spot in these conditions. We had two choices. Pulling on the mooring line in an effort to bring the ball and line back to the bow or release the mooring line and pick a different ball. We chose the second option.
About 10 min. later a Moorings Charter flying a German flag pulled right up to our old "sweet mooring." We watched as the same thing happened to them. They went for the first option though. All the pulling and tugging only resulted in the yacht spinning in a 360-degree circle, wrapping the pennant around the keel. They eventually went for the second option and got untangled, As soon as they were clear, they pulled back up to the SAME BALL, and tied off again! We'll stop here, but you can see how this story can go on... and it did!
Yet another afternoon show, but this one was different. The star of the show on this afternoon was the mooring ball. After mooring up for lunch and a quick mechanical fix (a story unto itself), we watched a textbook mooring approach. Very smooth. The Captain driving the Cat knew what he was doing. Nonetheless, they fell back off the mooring ball. We all looked at each other puzzled. There is no reason they should have missed it. Attempt two. Same story. The Cat backed off and launched the dinghy. Now were were really wondering what was up.
Turns out the float was removed from the pennant and the line was hanging vertical below the ball. To add to the fun, the ball was laid on its side, nearly upside down making retrieval with boat hook impossibility. With help from their "Dinghy Captain" in the dink, they retrieved the sunk pennant and moored up easily. Patience and calm pays off, especially when it's the last ball in the field.
Yost Van Dyke
There is a wonderful Mooring field over by Jost Van Dyke. Only about 10 balls, framed by shallows on one side and a very shallow reef on the other. Actually, the reef can be as close as 10 feet off the stern of your boat if you're on one of the "back" moorings. Ok... so that's the set up.
The Mayday crew in Prairie Dog mode, cleaning the boat, etc.. We noticed a pretty green-topped yacht coming in just before sunset. The idyllic scene didn't last long. It was show time! We watched as the yacht took a wide circle around the mooring field (so they could approach a ball up wind). They had that part right. But they forgot the shallows. They skirted the edge of the shallows and then headed around "back" by the reef! A bit too far around you might say. One of the Mayday crew called out... "They stopped moving!" Another hollered, "She's listing a bit too." Yep, she was grounded on the reef. With help from a Catamaran and one of the Mayday Crew running towlines from a dinghy, she was pulled off, only to have the Captain run her back aground again. One more pull and tow along with some "specific" navigation "advice," they were on track again. The help wasn't over though. Another chartering couple was waiting at a mooring ball in their dinghy for our "Run-Aground Captain." They handed them the mooring pennant and helped them tie off their mooring line.
An interesting show that could have become a bit too interesting (they do call us Mayday Crew for a reason!) without a bit of audience participation. But, there's one thing all sailors can count on. If audience participation is needed, sailors are a willing and helpful audience!
So there, now it's finally been said. If you've chartered, you've most likely played a part in the show. But, no matter. This is what charter sailing is all about: having fun in ways you've never even dreamed of. The show goes on, and when you're there... Enjoy the show or put on a good one!
2011 Mooring Show Award Winner
Sea Ya Out There!
The Mayday Crew
- Charter Review: The Moorings 5800 Ocean Suite by Captain Kev
- Charter Review: VOYAGE Charters, VOYAGE 520 Silver Lining by Capt. Kev