Cruising: Mooring Pirates

Author:
Publish date:
Public moorings, like this one in Maine, are not always available

Public moorings, like this one in Maine, are not always available

When I was a younger man, with less money and a stronger back, I was a regular anchoring snob. Free parking, I believed, is a fundamental right when cruising under sail, and if you want to be a true cruiser you must exercise it as much as possible.

In developing this manifesto it helped, of course, that I was cruising in places where anchoring was really the only option. Back in the 1990s while poking around the Atlantic islands and West Africa, even in popular ports and harbors, I found zero rental moorings and very few moorings of any type that were suitable for anything smaller than a container ship. The one likely looking mooring I did pick up, in the Azores, turned out to be a cruel joke. It boasted a large buoy and a hefty pennant, but promptly dragged. On hauling back the rode, I discovered there was just one small rock holding the whole mess in place.

For years afterward, cruising back in my home waters in New England, I spurned moorings and preferred to anchor. Eventually, however, I noticed that mooring fields were getting bigger and good spots to anchor were growing much scarcer, so that today in many popular harbors there is now almost nowhere to drop the hook.

So I have come full circle. Not that I am averse to getting my anchor wet, but usually on entering a harbor I now look first for a mooring to pick up. I’ll often grab a rental if one is available, but if not I’ll just tie off to a private one instead. Some cruisers are surprised by how ruthless I am, as though private moorings are sacrosanct to their owners whether they use them or not. But I see it as a two-way street. If most of a harbor is filled with moorings, and many of those are vacant, I believe visitors are justified in exercising squatter’s rights.

The risk, of course, is that some irate person may bang on your hull in the middle of the night and order you to move. But if you follow a few simple rules this is unlikely to happen.

First, even in a busy harbor with few vacant moorings you should make every effort to pick up a rental if possible, unless of course, you really can’t afford one. After all, we mustn’t needlessly aggravate the Gods of Commerce. Next, when hunting for a private mooring to squat on, look first for those with the foulest pennants. Yes, a gross slimy pennant covered with unmentionable life-forms is disgusting to handle, but it is also a sure sign that a mooring is never used. (It can also be a sign that a mooring is neglected, with deficient tackle; if you suspect this is the case, just back down hard on it as you would on an anchor.)

The next most likely prospect is a mooring with a phone number on it. I find these more and more and appreciate them, as it greatly simplifies things. All you need do is dial the number and ask politely if you can borrow the mooring for the night. Most mooring owners, you’ll find, are happy to loan them out if they don’t need them. Another simple precaution is to ask others on local boats if they can recommend a mooring to pick up.

Absent a foul pennant, a number to call or some local knowledge, you’ll have to rely on your pirate instincts to find a good mooring to squat on. I tend to stay away from moorings marked “private,” for example, as I assume people who advertise this really do want to keep things to themselves. I also never pick up moorings that might belong to fishing boats. These tend to be oversized, well used, perhaps with gulls sitting on them, usually in areas where other fishing boats are moored.

In the event you harbor any doubts about a mooring you’ve picked up, you should stay aboard for a while, just in case. Very rarely, however, will anyone appear to kick you off. I’ve been a mooring pirate going on 20 years now, and it’s only happened to me once. Fortunately, and much to my surprise, the offended mooring owner turned out to be an acquaintance I hadn’t seen in years, and we had a grand time getting caught up again. 

November 2019

Related

Alchemist_Ken Read_doublehanded

Ida Lewis Draws Record-Breaking Numbers

On Saturday, Aug. 15, Newport’s Ida Lewis Distance Race (which is being sponsored this year by Jeanneau America) will kick off with a record number of entrants on the starting line. With many other events cancelled this summer, the annual event has attracted more participants ...read more

RACE_STRATIS_LION_07

Doyle Sails

As sailors, our obsession with sailing connects us to the water – the water is our playground, a sanctuary where we all seek enjoyment, a competitive playing field where we race as comrades; it’s sometimes our home; and always a place that unlocks our sense of adventure ...read more

Screen Shot 2020-08-13 at 9.42.30 AM

Helly Hansen Saltro Jacket

Helly Hansen's new Saltro Jacket is a lightweight outer layer with two-ply construction, a fleece-lined collar and SOLAS-approved reflector patches. The outer layer is made with Helly Tech, Helly Hansen's trademarked membrane that keeps water from seeping in while still ...read more

01-LEAD-PHOTO-CYOA-view-boat-st-john-caneel

Charter Resource Directory

MAIN RESOURCE INDEX PAGE Although the bareboat charter industry was hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic this past spring, things are opening up again. To help prospective charterers make sense of the situation, we’ve put together this online charter resources directory in ...read more

IMG_0207

Ask Sail: How Far to Ease Out?

Q: When sailing dead downwind (assume 22 knots of wind), if the main is eased out to 90 degrees relative to the wind (perpendicular to the wind) are roughly the same forces applied to the sail as to the sail if it isn’t quite out all the way, say, 75 degrees to the wind? My ...read more

200803

Video: A Close Look at the AC75

The AC75 rule crafted for the upcoming 36th America’s Cup was intended to be open to multiple interpretations, and the result has been four very different designs. Coupled with the fact the AC75 is unlike any other boat that has ever come before, the current Cup cycle is fast ...read more