As we rounded the point, I could see our luck was out; every mooring was taken and the yachts on the exposed moorings were pitching and yawing uncomfortably. Fortunately one of the yachts was preparing to leave, and so we hung about trying to look nonchalant as we planned a gannet-like dive on their discarded mooring.
I had on board as close to a 'crack crew' as I am ever likely to sail with. First Mate was a Skye man. A man who had been in and around boats all of his life, a man to depend on. Then there was the Mountain man, another dependable sort who knew one end of a rope from another and wouldn’t be put off by a little horizontal rain when picking up a mooring. Finally we had the Philosopher. An essential person to oil the wheels of merriment and general hilarity, and to ensure that awkward silences never developed.
As the mooring came free, I ordered the Skye man and the Mountain man to the bows with a stout mooring line. I had no qualms. I had done this hundreds of times before, we had a 'crack crew', and finally our UFO 34 was not particularly big or high off the water. What could go wrong? As we approached the mooring the Philosopher moved to a position mid way between the helm and bow, allegedly to help with communication but also in an optimum position to witness any ineptitude, incompetence, or general entertainment to be served up by his fellow crew members.
He was not to be disappointed.
The First Approach - The Problem
The first approach was perfect. We stopped with the buoy precisely under the Skye man’s feet. I naturally thought that the job was done. All the foredeck crew had to do was thread the rope through the eye. The seconds passed. There was a problem. I could see the bow starting to blow off and knew we had lost it. We would have to go round again. The Philosopher and I exchanged philosophical looks and said nothing.
Round Again - Full Ahead
The second approach was perfect. The Mountain man went in first with the boat hook and hooked the ring of the buoy before the boat had stopped. I decided to stop the boat and gave her full astern. The seconds passed. I could not understand why the mountain man was coming down the port side deck towards me at a fast toddle, grasping the boat hook, a look of anguish in his eyes. To my horror I realised that I had given her full ahead instead of full astern. At that point the mountain man let go of the boat hook just as we creamed away from the mooring at full hull speed. The boat hook stayed with the mooring. I shouted my apologies to the foredeck crew. The Philosopher looked at me and said nothing.
By this time crews on the other boats were gathering on deck, the entertainment being of such high calibre as to warrant a soaking from the rain.
In an effort to guide the Skye man ... I helpfully shouted: 'Just put the rope through the eye'
Third Time Lucky - The Bow blew off Again
The third approach was perfect. This played out similarly to the first approach. In an effort to guide the Skye man whom I thought maybe was not fully understanding the situation I helpfully shouted: “Just put the rope through the eye”. As soon as the words left my lips I knew the folly of them. The air around the bow turned blue as the Skye man processed the advice and shouted back his reply, the gist of which is that he was trying to do that. The bow blew off. I did not meet the Philosopher’s look.
Finally - There Must be a Better Way?
The fourth approach was perfect. The mooring line, held by the Skye man, held by the Mountain man, held by the deck, snaked out just we as stopped at the buoy. Connection was made. Boat hook was retrieved. Nautical gymnastics had been performed. The Philosopher and I exchanged relieved looks and said nothing….
But one wonders: is it necessary to go through all of that? Surely there must be an easier and safer way?
That was what led to Mara Buoy.