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Picking up a mooring buoy

Using the stream to your advantage makes for easier mooring.

Let’s face it, picking up a mooring buoy really isn’t rocket science.

Yet somehow, we often manage to mess it up: witness those unseemly scenes where the crew is hanging off the pulpit frantically clinging on to a rope while their arms are almost wrenched out of their sockets.

Much shouting and grappling later, the boat will be attached to the mooring buoy, but skipper and crew are no longer on good terms.

Use the Stream to your advantage

Imagine you are adrift in a river with a current flowing at two knots. You will have no steerage or any other control over the boat, but you will still be in danger of hitting rocks, buoys, anchored boats or anything else fixed to the ground – and you will hit them at two knots, the speed of the stream.

This is not a great situation. But if instead you turn to point the boat upstream and motor ahead at two knots, you will find yourself in the happy position of having zero impact speed with those same objects and, with two knots of flow passing over your rudder, you will remain in perfect control.

So, the first and most important golden rule is to STEER INTO THE CURRENT.

Approaching downstream, boatspeed and stream combine. Speed over the ground is increased. An upstream approach, however, will reduce the speed over the ground.

Wind over tide

Having given you a golden rule, here is a situation where you might be tempted to ignore it. A strong wind blowing in the opposite direction to the stream might make you rethink: DON’T. Always steer into the stream.

In this example we’re motoring towards a mooring buoy facing a 2 knot tide, with a near gale blowing from astern. The wind is pushing us forward at an alarming rate.

At 20 metres from the buoy we engage reverse gear to slow the boat down. At 5 metres we increase the reverse thrust so that the boat is slowed further until the bow is held stationary over the buoy.

Even though we are using a lot of reverse thrust to hold the boat against the wind we still have 2 knots of positive flow over the rudder and, therefore, retain full control.

It’s worth noting that single screw motorboats with small rudders and big propellers may not enjoy much control by rudder alone, though the principle holds good.

It helps to pick some visual references when making your approach.

Securing to Buoys

Mooring buoys come in many shapes and sizes but those reserved for visitors will be large, clearly visible and are often marked as such. They may sometimes have pick-up buoys attached.

If the mooring has a pick-up buoy then approach up-tide with a crew on the foredeck armed with a boathook. Remember that the buoy will disappear under your bow as you approach, so ask the crew to call out the distances while pointing at it with the hook.

Once the boat has been brought to a halt with its bow over the buoy, your crew should sweep under the pick-up buoy’s line with the boathook, pull it aboard –  ideally over the bow roller or through a fairlead  –  and secure it to a cleat. You can then relax and put the kettle on.

If there isn’t a pick up buoy, the easy way to do it is to use a lasso. Take both ends of a long and heavy mooring warp and cleat them to the boat with ‘figure of eights’, which can always be undone even under load.

Pass the large loop of rope out over your bow roller and then back aboard over the rails. The foredeck crew should now divide the loop of rope into two even handfuls and, when the helmsman brings the boat to a halt, cast the rope out and over the buoy.

As the rope settles and sinks, back away from the buoy and the rope will pull tight around the chain beneath the buoy.

Whether by lasso or boathook, if you have to pick up a mooring single-handed, make the initial connection over the stern where you can both drive the boat and reach the buoy.

Once you have your temporary connection, take a long warp from the bow to the buoy, release the stern and allow the boat to swing. Finally, pull the bow up to the buoy and secure.

Rob Gibson’s RYA Introduction to Boat Handling for Sail & Power is available her

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