Hope Town, one of the most lovely little villages in the Abacos. With its brightly colored houses, walking paths, quaint shops, and the protected harbor, one can have a wonderful experience with an extended stay here. We loved Hope Town and all it had to offer, as you can see in the video below.
One of the biggest treats was to tour the candy cane lighthouse, take in the fabulous view at the top, and it was such an educational experience watching the old girl light up. We were on top of the world literally and figuratively. Our Bahamas experience up to this point was nothing but blue skies, sandy beaches, and conch blowing sunsets...
...and then this happened.
We've had a ton of questions since we release the Disaster in Hope Town video, so we will try to give some extra details here to fill the gaps in the video.
When you take a mooring in Hope Town, we were told you just go in and pick an open mooring and the mooring renters will come out and collect money when they see you on it. Moorings are owned by marinas, restaurants, and we believe some are privately owned. We entered the harbour and picked one of the only moorings left in the mooring field. No one came out to collect any fees however, which we thought was odd, so we just went into town and thought the person collecting the money for us would get us the next day.
To clear some confusion some of you may have, a mooring is float connected to a chain or rope to something secure on the bottom like a concrete block. You pick up an eye in a line or at the top of the float connected to the chain and you put lines through it and secure it to your boat at the bow. The moorings are usually installed and maintained by marinas. Some people are confusing moorings with anchoring. Anchoring is when I lower my anchor from the bow of my boat attached to a chain to my boat. You put out enough rode (line or chain) to give you some good scope and good angle so when you pull on the anchor it pulls into the bottom instead of pulls out of the bottom. This usually means putting out 5-7 times more rode than the depth of water you are in. This system is maintained by the boat owner. What a mooring provides over an anchor is that moorings do not need the scope of an anchor system and can have chain from the concrete block to the float straight up at a 90 degree angle. This allows more boats to fit into a harbour because you don't have to allow for as much swing room for the boats when the wind changes as you would if you were anchored with 5-7 scope. Hope Town is a mooring field and no anchoring is allowed.
What exactly happened to our mooring that night? Well, this mooring was so ill maintained that the chain broke from where it attaches to the mooring block on the seabed. We don't know if it was a shackle holding the chain to the block that broke or if it was an actual link in the chain. As you can see here, the chain was in pretty bad shape.
As you can see in some of the images above this mooring field is tight. Not a ton of room between the boats. Being so little room, the first boat that hit on our port side, happened in a matter of seconds from the mooring breaking. This first impact smashed the salon window, bent and broke our railing, along with some fibreglass damage. In the confusion, we managed to start the engines and push off of the first boat. We were motoring around the mooring field not able to leave the harbor due to the 30 knot sustained winds coming directly across the Sea of Abaco and into the entrance of the harbor. Otherwise we just would of went outside the harbour and anchored. In the confusion we snagged mooring with a sailboat on it with our starboard running gear. This wound the mooring line up onto the shaft and in doing so pulled the bow of the sailboat, anchor and all, down the starboard side out our boat, ripping the rubrail off and gouging the hull, then finally resting with our stern quarter to their bow pulled tight against us. Our engine stalled out with a puff of smoke from the strain and sudden stop. This is where we spent the night.
What could we have done to avoid this, and what can you do in the future to avoid the potential for such a catastrophe?
Use your anchor instead of a mooring. You know the condition on your anchor system on your boat. With good anchoring techniques, in a protected roomy place, it is our opinion that a good set on your anchor with lots of scope out is safer than a mooring in a close quarter mooring field.
Never take a mooring where you do not know what establishment owns it. Radio the marinas and ask which ones are theirs and how to identify them.
Back down with your engine(s) once secured to the mooring. This will put enough tension on the mooring to simulate a fairly reasonable wind.
If at all possible dive on the mooring and inspect it yourself. If in doubt at all, move to another mooring.
Always use an anchor alarm. We use anchor alarms when anchored so that we will get a loud alarm on our mobile phone or chart plotter if we move outside of our pre-defined swing radius. An anchor alarm would not of saved us that first hit that night, we think it took 2-5 seconds to hit the first boat and an anchor alarm would not of went off in that amount of time. However, if we missed that first boat and started to drift farther and longer, an anchor alarm would have alerted us of the situation, maybe in time to do something about it.
Use a watch system. In a storm, it is a good idea to have someone always at the helm ready (on watch) to react to a potentially dangerous situation. Be it your mooring breaking, your anchor dragging, or it happening to someone else and they are drifting toward you. Do on watch shifts with your crew so one person doesn't have to stay up all night.
Always secure your dinghy in such a way that it allows you freedom to maneuver and escape a dangerous situation. This usually means hoisting the dinghy into its davit for as if you were going to travel.
If you are near Hope Town when you get northerlies, and you don't want to take a mooring or a marina, there is one place you can quickly get to that we have found to have great holding and good protection.
Our insurance company was fantastic through most of this ordeal. They agreed to pay for a patch up job in the Bahamas, which was done at Marsh Harbour Boat Yard, and then pay for the real fixes when we got back to the US/Canada. For most of the work the Bahamas yard would not be able to completely fix everything properly. They filled in and gel coated damaged areas that would affect our ability to use the boat. They also secured the ripped out rubrail. External to the yard we had a window place cut a piece of plexiglass to put into the broken window. This worked well and surprisingly had no leaks except of one heavy rain on the way north to Canada. One thing we did get done that was a real proper fix was the broken and bent stainless rail on the port side. This was done by CJ's Welding, right behind Marsh Harbour Boat Yard, and they did a really good job putting in a new rail and welding it to the existing undamaged areas. We wouldn't hesitate to have that kind of work done in the Bahamas again. They do some really professional fabrications. CJ's even fixed a raw water pump for us that was badly damaged in shipping.
How much did this work cost in the Bahamas? It was approximately $3000 USD for Haul/Block/Re-Launch, Plexiglass for window and installation, Stainless Steel Railing fabrication and installation, Temporary fix of Rubrail and some gelcoat work, Running Gear Check
Of course this is only a fraction of the total cost to repair completely. Marsh Harbour Boat Yard even said they wouldn't touch the hull where the fibreglass and gel coat was damaged, it was way beyond their capabilities. This would ultimately need to be painted to be done right. More on that in upcoming blog posts and episodes as we made our way north back to Canada.
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Thanks, we hope to see you on the water and making your own dreams come true.