Thursday, October 22, 2020

Mooring balls, dinghies and motors

Grendel at anchor in Exuma, Bahamas.

Grendel at anchor in Exuma, Bahamas.

Next to your purchase of a cruising vessel, the most important item on your list should be a dinghy and motor. Why? There are so many places to go and so many places to stay that a dinghy is the second most important means of transportation. Not all the best and scenic places to see and visit have docks. Some places only have anchorages and mooring balls. If you want or need to get to land, you must have a reliable dinghy and motor.

What size and kind of dinghy and motor you need depends on what you want to do with it and to some extent, the size of your vessel. For example, if you intend to cruise the protected local waters and harbors, a smaller dinghy and motor may be adequate.  However, if you intend to sail to the Abaco, Bahamas or further down the island to include the Caribbean, you will need a much bigger dinghy and a larger horsepower motor. Traveling one or two miles from point to point is not unusual “down island”. You also need a motor that has the capacity to propel you, your family, and your supplies at a reasonable speed from point A to point B and back with your groceries or whatever you need to carry to the boat.

If you intend to go cruising in the true sense of the word then bigger is better. Dinghies can be stored on deck while

Long rang view of harbor at Gustavia. Grendel is on last ball on far right. Submitted photos

Long rang view of harbor at Gustavia. Grendel is on last ball on far right. Submitted photos

underway and towed behind in local waters. Also, consider installing dinghy davits so you can raise the dinghy out of the water. For example, a trip from Marco Island to Grand Bahamas, Abacos means mostly open water sailing, including crossing the Gulf Stream. You do not want to be towing a dinghy in these waters.

Think of your dinghy as your car, your transportation, perhaps even your lifeboat. Our dinghy is equipped with life jackets, flashlight, air pump, and sealant for leaks, even though we carry a lifeboat on deck. The kind and size of your dinghy is really dependant on cost, space available on your boat, storage capabilities and the number of people on board. Down island you really need at least a 15 hsp out board motor.

Mooring balls are a most convenient and easy approach to staying in the harbor rather than being tied up ashore. Most resorts have mooring fields: Naples, Fort Myers, Key West, Marathon and so on. The advantages are that you are secure, close to the docks, and not crowded or squeezed in as is the case in some marinas. You have peace and privacy. As you enter the mooring field, call the dock master of the marina and ask for a mooring ball. He will then give you information to locate the mooring ball.  Some marinas even send out a boat to help you tie on. You should have a person on the bow

Two dinghies, Exuma, Bahamas.

Two dinghies, Exuma, Bahamas.

with a boat hook.  The helmsman then slowly inches the bow of the boat to the mooring ball and a member of the crew uses the boat hook to grab the line and attach it to a cleat on the bow. There are some marinas that will accept a reservation over the phone or from your VHF radio.  However, most that we have dealt with were done on a first-come first-served basis. I am not aware of any mooring fields that do not also have dinghy docks. (The only places where there may not be dinghy docks are places that are anchorages only.)

If, for example, you are planning to cruise down the islands, prepare your dinghy for an open water passage. If you can, deflate your soft dinghy and secure it on deck. Yes, there are marinas. Yes, there are some places with mooring balls, such as Hopetown and, yes, if you cruise to Nassau or the Exumas you will find some slips and mooring balls, as well as anchorages. Be aware of the water depths, as much of the Bahamas, including the Exumas, is shallow water. Read your guide books and charts ahead of time so that you know what to expect.

Throughout all of the islands from here to the Caribbean to South America, there are choices of marinas, mooring balls, or anchoring, but not necessarily all three at the same time or same place. Remember the Boy Scouts motto: “Be Prepared.”

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