Mediterranean mooring—the process of dropping an anchor and backing parallel with other boats into an opening that is perpendicular to a seawall—can be a challenging maneuver. The advantage of the Med mooring is that you can crowd more boats into a harbor because there are no individual slip spaces. It is not commonly used in American harbors, but it is widely used throughout Europe and can provide a graphic lesson in nationalism as well as seamanship.
More years ago than I care to remember, I based my delivery business out of Palma de Majorca in Spain's lovely Balearic Islands. Eventually I became pretty good at conning boats stern-to along quays all over the Western Med, but it took more than few mishaps to learn the technique. The most useful tip I received was from a fellow American who had spent years cruising the Med in his Hinckley Bermuda 40. He told me that I must steadfastly ignore advice from fellow boaters and local dockmasters. "These damned Europeans will drive you crazy," he told me. "Learn how to handle your boat in reverse and make sure your anchor's well set—that's it."
It didn't take me long to realize that he was absolutely right. I was new at the game and it's almost painful to remember my first sorry attempt to moor an old Jeanneau sloop along the wall in Puerto Andratx. The Spanish dockmaster waved me toward a sliver of an opening between a French charter boat and a German steel ketch. It seemed like there wasn't enough room to squeeze in a dinghy, much less a beamy yacht, but the dockmaster insisted and, to prove his point, walked away in disgust when I raised my arms in modest protest. No sooner than I had dropped the anchor off the bow, a heavy-set German in a skimpy Speedo dashed to the bow of his boat and complained that my anchor was sure to foul his and insisted that I should reset it.After politely assuring the German skipper that I thought our anchors were clear, I began backing toward the opening. I had every fender over the side and hoped that the crew on the French boat would help fend off as I approached. The all-natural sunbathers on the bow were a bit distracting to a typically prudish American. I was trying not to appear to be staring, although I had a legitimate excuse—I had to steer the boat. While none of the naked French so much as raised an eyebrow to help, the German stood by with the largest fender I had ever seen. I don't think he had much confidence in my Med-mooring skills.
Fortunately, a smiling Italian on a nearby boat hustled over to catch a stern line. Unfortunately, he was more interested in talking than securing the line and just as I told the mate to snub the anchor line, the stern line slipped off the mooring ring, plopped into the water and fouled the prop. The Italian wasn't troubled in the least, and as I dashed about retying fenders and flailing the other stern line ashore, he invited me to lunch on his boat and suggested that I should bring wine and whiskey if possible. The German meanwhile had a look of utter contempt as he observed my bungled maneuver and no doubt wondered how we ever managed to win the war. The lovely French ladies appeared oblivious to the entire operation. Ah yes, the joys of Med-mooring.
|"The stern line slipped off the mooring ring, plopped into the water and fouled the prop."|
A couple of months ago I had the opportunity to charter a boat in the Greek Islands and reacquaint myself with the idiosyncrasies of Med mooring. Daniel, the young, cosmopolitan director of the GPSC charter based in Athens, casually asked me if I was familiar with Med-mooring. "Oh yes," I assured him, "I used to live aboard in Spain; I know all about it." While this convinced Daniel, my wife Lesa seemed more suspicious of my purported expertise.
After a thorough introduction to the boat, we cleared Kalamaki Marina and had a rollicking downwind romp to the nearby island of Aegina. The quaint harbor was already crowded with charter and private boats, but we spied an opening and made haste to snag it. Lesa worked the foredeck and I was at the wheel. My eight-year-old daughter Nari was poised to pitch the stern lines ashore and five-year-old Nikki was ready with an extra fender. I passed our mooring space in a short radius, making sure that there were no wayward anchor rodes and came to a stop approximately three boatlengths, or 130 to 140 feet in front of the space. The depth was 15 feet. Lesa launched the anchor. Our GPSC Beneteau First 45 was fitted with an excellent Vetus windless, complete with an up-and-down remote switch. Once the anchor hit the bottom, I started in reverse and Lesa paid out the anchor chain.
It is vital when Med-mooring to maintain steering and not to snub the anchor chain or rode too soon. You must resist the urge to see if the anchor is set. The only way to achieve good steering control in reverse is to generate speed, at least initially. It takes a bit of nerve to punch the boat hard astern while waiting for the steering to kick in as you charge toward other moored boats. If steering in reverse creates confusion at the helm, a couple of simple tricks can help. While steering in reverse remember to always turn the wheel in the direction that you want the stern to go. Another technique is to step forward of the wheel, turn around, and steer as though the stern was the bow. Of course the rule with a tiller is the opposite, but somehow tiller steering seems more instinctual and causes fewer problems.
Once I had good steering, I throttled back and aimed the boat toward the windward side of the space (Europeans don't call Med-moor spaces slips.) The cross wind gradually pushed me more toward the center, and fortunately the big motorsailer that we were mooring next to provided a lee. "Now?" Lesa wondered if she should snub the anchor chain. "No, not quite yet; wait until I give you the word." Approximately six feet from the wall, I shouted, "OK, now." Lesa broke the windlass, I eased the boat into forward to slow down, and our momentum carried us nearly to the quay. Nari pitched windward stern lines ashore: the windward line first, followed by the leeward line. A helpful Swedish sailor ran the lines through the mooring rings and tossed the open end back aboard. With the stern step resting two or three feet off the quay, we secured the stern lines, and Lesa took up on the anchor chain. The procedure was a total success and I had to exercise great self-control to keep from puffing out my chest and boasting to my skeptical wife.
|"The procedure was a total success and I had to exercise great self-control to keep from puffing out my chest and boasting to my skeptical wife."|
The next day we set sail for Porus, another magical island in the Saronic Gulf. We approached the town quay late in the day. The wind was strong and blowing across the harbor. I didn't feel good about the space we picked out along the wall, but the crew was ready for shore leave. We assumed the same roles and I swung a radius around the space, again stopping approximately three full boatlengths off the wall. Lesa dropped the anchor, but I was impatient and started astern too soon. In my haste to keep the boat from blowing out of position, I failed to account for the 40-foot water depth. By the time the anchor hit the bottom, I was already proceeding hard astern and the anchor never had a chance to set. We eased into the space and secured our stern lines. However, it was obvious that the CQR plow anchor had a dubious bite at best, and the scope was marginal since Lesa kept winching in chain to keep us off the wall. After about 30 minutes of trying to convince myself that we were holding, I knew the only solution was to reset the anchor. This concession causes a great loss of face in the Mediterranean, but loss of face is always better than loss of sleep.
That night, in a dimly lit taverna overlooking the harbor, Lesa and I discussed what had gone wrong. I was anxious not to lose control of the boat in the strong cross winds and clearly started in reverse too soon. Also, I had failed to alert her to the depth of the water, and consequently she wasn't sure how much scope to pay out. In retrospect, I realized that I should have positioned the boat a bit to windward of where we intended to drop the anchor and let the boat blow into position. It is important that the anchor be on the bottom before you start astern, and you need a lot of scope to maintain the proper distance from the quay.
The next day's sail took us to the ancient walled harbor of Hydra. It was our favorite port of call and we were not alone. The small harbor was crowded when we arrived at midday and would become even more crowded by nightfall. There was no opening on the wall, however, it quickly became obvious that the local custom was to Med-moor to a Med-moored boat. It seemed intrusive—you wouldn't think of doing that in the States, but, when in Greece, right? Anyway, we had to act quickly since boats kept streaming into the harbor. We picked a boat to lay to. There wasn't room to swing the usual radius. I put the boat into reverse and then forward, jockeying into position. Lesa surveyed the harbor and guided me to a spot that appeared to be anchor free. She kicked the anchor over and we started astern. The Swiss sailors on the boat behind us caught our line and within five minutes we were secure and sharing a cold beer. Clearly, there is something to like about Med-mooring once you learned the technique.