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Sailing and cruising look glamorous.  Oftentimes, it appears that all we do is lounge around sunbathing.  I mean, taking your vacation home with you wherever you want to go is pretty fricken epic!  But there’s a LOT of work in sailing; a lot of trial and error; a lot of sleepless nights. When we blogged about our Atlantic crossing (here and here), and the storm we hit off the coast of Spain (here), we mentioned being at the mercy of the wind and waves. Nature is truly a magnificent and often terrifying force.  There’s so much that we just can’t control.  When your home is on water, and subject to shifting winds and swell, you often have to adjust your expectations and give up control.  When circumstances change, the plans change.  For a person who likes planning and routine, this is a bit challenging to accept.  As time goes on, I’m becoming more and more used to it, but sometimes it feels like no matter what we do, and how careful we are, chaos ensues. I guess that’s just boat life.

Two days ago, we moved from the island of Jost Van Dyke, BVI over to Tortola, BVI.  We decided to anchor and stay the night at Cane Garden. It’s a very popular anchorage with several bars and restaurants, free garbage disposal in a dumpster offshore (Woohoo! Yes, this is a really big win out here in cruising life!), and a surprisingly great grocery store.  Most of the bay is mooring balls, which cost $30/night.  Ever the pragmatist, I try to resist using mooring balls if the anchoring is decent – why NOT save a little money when you can?  The water was a little murky, but only about 3.5 meters deep and the anchoring went well.  We went onshore to explore a bit, and then back out to the boats in the late afternoon for drinks and dinner.  I say “boats” because we are still bouncing around with our friends Paul + Tracy on their Lagoon 450F named Rapscallion.

Before going to bed we ALWAYS hang around outside a while to check the swing of the boat in the wind and swell, making sure. We won’t get too close to any other boats, shore, rocks, or coral reefs.  Reading in bed, we got a text from our buddy Paul “how close are you to your neighbor?” that got us up out of bed in a hurry. When we got outside, the neighboring boat’s back deck was about 12 feet away from us!! One sideways gust of wind, and we’d be swinging right into one another! The wind inside the bay was swirling which caused us to swing in opposite directions. Usually, if there’s a consistent breeze, all boats sit the same way, bow into the wind. But when it swirls, boats start swinging in totally random directions and at different times. The idea of two fiberglass hulls crashing together brings images of very large, scary repair bills to mind!  Even though we had been anchored there long before that other catamaran arrived, they were on a mooring ball, and mooring balls take precedence over the “first arrived” rule, so we were the ones that had to move. So, at about 10:30pm, we had the flashlights out, pulling up the anchor in the dark. Then we had to figure out where to move to. With the fluctuating winds and swell, we decided our best option was to move farther out into the bay, away from shore.  It’s really hard to anchor in the dark, and since the water was much deeper and more murky, we figured our only choice was to pick up a mooring ball.  Additionally, this also meant that we wouldn’t have to worry about our anchor dragging in the dark (which could also cause us to hit another boat or coral reef).  Got ourselves secured on the mooring ball and back to bed.

Just waking up, small shafts of light peeking in through the hatches and windows. We start to wake up around 6:30 a.m.  We check the weather and start discussing the plan to move to Soper’s Hole to check out of BVI customs, and then the path we will take to USVI to check in there. We have about an hour before we need to be ready to slip the lines and leave the mooring. We want to get to customs early so we have plenty of time to make all the different spots and get situated in a new anchorage before nightfall.  Just as we’re about to get up, we hear a loud, metallic clunk. Our hearts stop, questioning whether the mooring ball has become dislodged from the sandy bottom and we have floated into another boat or something. Scrambling, we dress and run up the stairs and outside to check on the boat. No other boats nearby, we haven’t hit anything, we’re still on the mooring ball. Hmmm, what was that awful sound?

Here, we need to interrupt the story to explain how mooring balls work.  Before approaching a mooring ball on a catamaran, you attach a line to each of the front bow cleats on the boat with a bowline knot. Then you run each line on the outside of the boat’s stanchions and lifelines toward the middle, where you will later attach them to the mooring ball loop.  Mooring balls are primarily visible by a large floating ball, often white, yellow, or red, attached to a strong, often reinforced or coated line or chain. Attached to the ball is a line called a painter (I have no idea why it’s called that…) with a small buoy or two so that it will float, making it easier to pick up from aboard a boat.  To pick it up, you drive the boat right up to the mooring ball at a crawling speed, so someone up front on the boat (usually me) can use a long boat hook to grab the painter. On the end of the painter is a loop, also often reinforced with plastic, through which you will attach two lines which you already secured to the bow cleats. Once through the loop, the lines are run back along the same path (outside the boat’s lifelines), and cleated back where they began.  The idea is to have the mooring lines you attached lie against the outside of the hulls to keep equal pressure and not have any pressure on the stanchions, lifelines, or anything else on the bow.

So back to that scary noise. Continuing to look around in our sleepy haze, Bob noticed that the starboard navigation light cover was missing. So just wires and the bulb in it’s plastic casing are exposed.  As the boat twisted and turned in the wind and swell, one of the mooring lines had slipped up over the hull and exerted so much pressure on the light fixture that it snapped right off!! See photos below of the port side (still intact), and the starboard side (clearly missing the cover).

Peering over the sides of the boat into the sunrise glare, we couldn’t see a thing. Great, one more expensive thing to replace on the boat. We were SO CAREFUL when we set the lines. We did everything we could to avoid catastrophe, and still, mother nature whipped the boat around enough to cause damage.  It can be so frustrating when things like this happen!  Life on land is so much more constant and predictable than life on the water.

As the sun continued to rise, we were able to see more and more. The water further from shore was less murky than where we had been anchored before, and the guys were able to snorkel around the boat examining the sandy bottom for the missing part.  Our buddy Paul, managed to spot it, and being a free diver, was able to make his way down and fetch it for us in a matter of minutes. Woohoo!! Crisis averted.  Now all we need to do is figure out how to reattach the thing. Possibly superglue, haha!  As much as we try to keep this boat nice, it seems there’s always something to fix. As we’ve heard time and time again from other cruisers, cruising/sailing is basically just boat maintenance in exotic places.