Mooring Mishap During El Niño
El Niño conditions in San Diego are usually associated with rain, but my situation was associated with El Niño winds - big winds, big gusts of wind, bigger gusts than recent memory remembers. My boat parted from its mooring after sundown on January 31, 2016. Electricity had just disappeared from my house when I got a call from the Harbor Patrol. My boat was loose. I asked if it was on the rocks. The lady on the other end of the line asked me to hold.
While I waited I remembered earlier in the day driving down to look at the boat. Winds were blowing in the 50s and the boat seemed to be riding fine even though it was tugging hard at its mooring line. I could see it 15 yard off the beach. The winds were southerly. Behind the boat was another boat, then the rock breakwater protecting the Shelter Island Boat Ramp.
While holding the phone, I waited, figuring that I would be told the boat was on the rocks. Dang it! I had thought about making a new mooring line at the beginning of the fall, but I had reached down off the bow and run my hand all along the line and it was still fat and strong. In December the San Diego Mooring Company, the private contractor that handles all the moorings in the bay, had lifted my mooring ball out of the water and checked the chain and shackle. They would have called me if they had seen a problem.
Holding the phone, I went Stoic. If the boat was lost, then it was lost. But dang it! It was just four thousand two hundred and fifty pounds. It is not that heavy. It would not tug too hard against its mooring line. It is also a pretty boat. It is ragged at the edges but from 100' away it has the classic look of a 1960s pick-up truck. I bought it used in March of 2001 for $5000. For fifteen years I have been sailing it on and off its mooring on Shelter Island near the entrance to San Diego Bay.
Dang it! I can handle the loss of $5000, but I like the boat. I really like that boat. I told my kids and wife that when I die they should just stuff me below and simply point it toward Hawaii. I named it Boethius after the author of The Consolation of Philosophy, a book about an innocent guy, going to be executed by a Gothic king, who gets visited by an angel. The angel, called Lady Philosophy, brings him consolation. He is going to get executed, but Lady Philosophy reminds him that there are more important matters to attend to. Holding the phone, I felt like the real Boethius. Lady Philosophy is telling me to buck up. There are more important matters to attend to.
But dang it! How did it break loose? The lady at the Harbor Patrol came back on the phone. She said that the boat was not on the rocks. It had been called in loose and the Harbor Patrol had contracted a tow boat to get it. I breathed a sigh of relief. The wind must have moved a bit westerly and sent the boat into the bay rather than the rocks. She said Boethius was now tied up at a restaurant dock at the north end of Shelter Island.
As I went out to the car, my wife told me to be careful. Next morning we would learn that trees all over Point Loma had fallen, boats throughout the mooring fields had gotten loose and bashed into each other, a trimaran had crashed into the rocks at the city front, a ketch drifting down onto the Maritime Museum had bashed into some boats then sunk, and a tree had fallen onto the car of a young musician who was trying to get to a gig. She was dead. There had been gusts in the mountains measured at over 100 miles an hour.
When I got down to the dock behind the restaurant, no one was anywhere to be seen. The tow company had cut my mainsheet to create bow and stern dock lines. My VHF antenna was kicked down flat on the deck and a wind scoop on the lazaret was broken off its mount. The wind was blowing hard. I thought for a second that maybe I should try to motor it back to its mooring or to the Shelter Island Guest Dock at the other end of the island, but no, the wind was blowing too hard. My little six horsepower outboard would not be able to do anything against this wind. So I put some extra ties around the boom and the mainsail, set fenders between the boat and the dock, and tied additional lines to the stern and bow.
The next day, the wind had lessened. After teaching my classes in the morning, I went down to move the boat—but it was gone. I called the tow company and they said the restaurant had complained and demanded that the boat be moved. So they towed it to impound, and I would have to get it there.
Twelve hundred and seventy five dollars later, I was motoring my boat up the bay back to its mooring. Twelve hundred and seventy five dollars to get my boat back from impound! I tried to find somebody to curse at — the tow company, the impound lot, the restaurant owner — but frankly I was thankful. Boats had sunk and a woman had died in the storm! Here I was just a little poorer, motoring my little Boethius back up the bay. A little duck tape could re-fix the antenna in its base and re-mount the wind scoop. I had already bought and brought with me a new mooring line. A hundred dollars would buy me a new mainsheet. I am blessed to live here and have a boat ready at hand.
When I got close to my mooring, I called my son to come down and row out to get me. I then set a temporary mooring line and began attaching the new, permanent, mooring line to the shackle under the mooring ball.
Low and behold, I realized what had happened to set my boat loose. The large shackle underneath the mooring ball had a large cotter pin as a preventer against the shackle bolt unthreading itself. The tongs of that cotter pin were spread wide and still tangled with bits of my old mooring line. My line had, in the storm, wrapped itself into the tongs of the cotter pin, and the tongs had become a type of dull knife cutting into my three-strand line. When I had stood on shore watching the boat tug against the mooring, the line was probably already in the process of being cut through by the cotter pin. Four hours later I would be getting the call from the Harbor Patrol.
What lessons did I learn? I learned to be thankful. I learned that the cosmos is not fair. I got my boat back when others did not. That week I read an article about the dead musician and felt really bad. As Isaiah says, God's ways are not my ways. I learned to buy a nice, thick, two strand modern mooring line; rather than, on the cheap, make my own three strand mooring line. I also learned to not wait till I obviously need a new mooring line. I also learned to keep an eye on the cotter key tongs of my mooring shackle. Tuck them in tight and make sure they stay tucked in tight.
Webmaster note: We thought an overview of San Diego Bay and Boethius' mooring location would be helpful.
At right is a view of the Shelter Island boat launch ramp that is protected by its own breakwater and lies on the outside southeastern edge of Shelter Island. Boats, like Boethius, are moored in the Bay outside that breakwater. Boethius is barely visible 2nd boat to the right of the light pole
Below is an overview of San Diego Bay. Point Loma is the western most point of land, and is the backdrop for Boethius in the picture at right.
San Diego Bay