OK, this is a long, somewhat humorous, somewhat distressing story of how the process of securing a hurricane hiding spot can get a bit crazy. To set the scene, St. John in the USVI is home to Hurricane Hole (HH) with a number of well protected mangrove bays that have been used for many years as a place of shelter for boats during a storm. HH was USVI territorial waters and thus managed by the USVI gov. It was 1st come 1st served for space and boats laid ground tackle
and tied to mangroves. Then, President Clinton created the Coral Reef Nat. Monument which included HH as the US had always laid claim to the area, but never took it. So, now that the Nat Park is managing the resource, it changed regulations and installed huge chains on the bottom in many of the sheltered bays and did a lottery system for spots. No more tying to mangroves. Last year's lottery system had some issues, so they went back to the old system, and here are the results from another author (I have verified the events with others who were there):
Subject: The St. John Gold Rush Mooring Ball Permit Procurement of 2008 - craziest thing I have ever witnessed.
It has been decades since I wrote articles for my college newspaper and a looong time since I have been compelled to write an article at all. However, this true story that took place yesterday was so crazy and ridiculous that I felt compelled to write this one down. I apologize in advance that my writing skills are sketchy, my grammar rusty, and I will not be taking the time to edit, or use a thesaurus to appear witty - but the story is there. You may pass it on, print it up, or plagiarize it - I don’t really care. Here is the story of how Passion and I procured “Water Creek Mooring Ball number 1” in Hurricane Hole, St. John.
To procure a mooring ball permit in St. John’s Hurricane Hole in Coral Bay this year was one of the most bizarre episodes since the 1889 Oklahoma Land Rush.
The rules were simple – on Saturday June 28th at 9am they would line
up a bunch of dinghies
at a start line
– blow a horn
– and the dinghies
would race (yes race) to a mooring ball – grab the mooring ball and replace it with a ball of their own with their boats name on it. At first the idea was to attach your ball to the existing mooring ball to claim your spot and that was that. But they soon realized “What was to stop others from cutting off your ball and replacing it with theirs?” – nothing. So it was revised that you would have to take off the park’s mooring ball with the assigned plot number on it and bring the ball to the near by national park boat and give them the registration number of your boat that you were getting this ball for.
Of first hearing of this one would say, “Surely this is a joke”. There would seem to be in the modern year of 2008 a more diplomatic system then pitting boat owners against boat owners to savagely race for a mooring to procure a safe spot for their floating palaces in the event of a hurricane. A lottery of sorts maybe? A friendly drinking game perhaps?
At first this event (now dubbed by the locals as the “Gold Rush”) was originally scheduled for June 28th. Then for some reason was changed to June 21st. On June 21st, ironically enough, a tropical wave came through canceling the affair. Disgruntled sail boaters who took off work the previous day to sail over to Coral Bay for this were not happy and went home empty handed and in a bad mood. It then again got pushed to June 28th.
So on Saturday June 28th in St. Thomas my alarm went off at 6am and my buddy Passion and I headed to the St. Thomas yacht club to jump on our dinghy
to head to the far west side of St. John. We luckily had a good sized dink – 14 feet with a 30hp engine. On a good day we could have gotten to Coral Bay in about 40 minutes. It was not a good day. The wind and seas were rough and right on our nose. To make matters worse there was a small separation of the pontoon of the dinghy
to the hull on our port bow. We were taking on water when we hit a wave – which was about every 15 seconds. Luckily the leak was not too bad and we were able to bail at a sufficient rate. The ride was not a pleasant one and we got a bit beat up but noted that this was still better than being in rush hour traffic in New York City or any major city for that matter. The sun was shining and the water that splashed on us was warm.
When we came into Coral Bay we were surprised to not see any activity going on. We did not see any boats at the mouth of Hurricane Hole where we figured the start line
would have been. We were to meet up with a fellow St. Thomas buddy who stayed the night before and borrowed a local’s dink. We figured we had plenty of time to meet up with our buddy, plan our course of action and execute. At that time we did not realize that it actually took us an hour and 40 minutes to get here and that the race was about to happen.
We saw a national park boat in Hurricane Hole with about 3 other dinks. We thought this to be very odd. We went up to the national park boat and asked if the “race” was still on. They said “yes”. They also asked us if we were aware that it was 2 minutes to 9am. We were not. However, we didn’t seem too concerned as we only saw a few other dinghies around. We knew that we wanted to go to Water Creek which was one of 4 bays of protection in Hurricane Hole. We asked the park ranger where that particular bay was and he pointed to a bay in the distance. Figuring this was the starting line
we asked if we could go there now. They said, “Sure by the time you get there the start signal would go off”. Thinking how stupid this whole thing was we revved up the engine and headed that way to claim a spot. As we got closer to the bay everything started to make more sense. We saw a bunch of dinghies lined up in this one bay. The start line was not at the mouth entrance to Hurricane Hole - it was at the entrance to each bay or “creek” as they called them in Hurricane Hole. As we approached the massive amount of sitting dinghies in a row from behind the horn
blew. We were already underway and simply throttled up and blew completely through all of the boats right as the horn
went off. The timing could not have been more perfectly aligned for us. We raced down deep into the bay without any previous knowledge of where we wanted to go. We were clearly in the lead of the race and had first dibs so we just went as far deep in and to the far left as we could. We spotted the ball we wanted, through the dink in neutral and I grabbed the ball. The ball was completely taught on the line and did not have enough line attached to it to actually be brought into the boat. So there I am half in the dink and half of me out of it hugging this ball as if my life depended on it. To my horror I realized that the boat did not actually go in neutral making holding onto to the boat with my lower body and the ball with my upper body very challenging. Passion seeing my struggle yelled “Let go! Let go!” – I yelled back “ No I will not let go” - imagining someone taking it from us the minute I did. She yells again “Let go let go” – I yell back again ‘”Nooo – throw the dink in neutral – I am not letting go”. I almost lost my grip and was about to jump into the water to stay with the ball but Passion throws the dinghy in neutral just in time. Funny thing was that I was not even doing this for me – I was doing this for Passion and her husband and their sailboat – I thought of how disappointed Passion’s husband would have been in me if we were this close and I let go. I did not want to go back to St. Thomas without the permit. We untied the park ball and tied ours on it. Okay it did take us a little while to figure out what exactly we were supposed to do. The ball was tightly secured to a line which passed through the ball. We thought maybe we were supposed to cut the ball off – maybe? – we did not have a knife. Another dink who had already secured their spot came by to help holding a leatherman. We found that we were to simply untie the knot at the top which really wasn’t that tightly knotted. We tied our ball with the name on it as instructed to the line. Then we took the park’s ball to the national park boat where all the other dinks, who had their treasured balls, went to claim the plots of water as theirs. The park officials on the boat eventually came to our dink as we were hanging off their boat. They took the ball and started taking down Passion’s boat information. I did not like the fact that we could not leave with a receipt or any documentation stating that this was in deed our plot. So I took a photo of Passion and the park official exchanging information and the treasured ball. The official was clearly not happy about that. He sternly looked my way and in a very angry voice yelled “Why are you taking my photo?” and then stared me down. I was thinking “Well this is one of the dumbest things I have ever witnesses and I wanted footage (and proof) of it”. What I did say however was “umm well ahh”. My other buddy on the other dink saved me with a “She thinks you are a handsome fellow”. He broke the stare, grunted a little and continued on his business. And that is how Passion and I procured “Water Creek Mooring Ball number 1” at the Gold Rush of 2008.
After the Gold Rush we proceeded to a local bar with some of the other participating dinghies with their own stories of success and failure. We heard that there had been dinghies out there since before 7am hanging onto mooring balls already and trying to make their claims. As it got closer to race time a national boat came by and on a loud speaker yelled at everyone to get away from the mooring balls and get back to the mouth of the bay. Some boats were actually anchored in the bay and were told that they were subject to a citation. All the anchored boats lifted their anchors
and the dinghies let go of their pre-claimed balls that they had been hanging onto to go up on the imaginary starting line at the mouth of Water Creek.
As 9am approached dinghies were lined up revving up their engines. Some veered over the imaginary line and quickly got scolded by the park authorities to get back. Everyone was sizing up the competition and seeing who they can beat and who they couldn’t. There were even two guys on kayaks who were at the misfortune of not having a running powered dink and had to make due with what they had. Needless to say they did not get a spot. Not everyone did. There were more dinghies than there were balls. If we would have showed up a minute later we would not have gotten a spot. There were some dinghies that came from St. Thomas who missed the race by 5 minutes and ended up empty handed. That could have easily been us. The only thing that saved us was dumb luck.
Back at the bar someone had told us that the locals had actually had a meeting the night before to try and pre-claim these spots. It seemed civil enough. They got together, figured out who had what sized boat and figured out how this would best work for all of them. Sort of like – “okay Roger you claim ball number 5” and “Bob you will get ball number 10” and so on. This would have been fine if we were all invited to this little meeting – turns out boaters from St. Thomas were not. It was even implied that we “stole” someone else’s ball – there was a lot I wanted to say about that but instead politely bit my tongue.
Passion and I talked our buddy from St. Thomas into coming back with us. The boat was taking on a little water and it would be good to have a third person on board (if nothing else for a food source should we be sent adrift). We asked him “How would like to come back to St. Thomas with two hot chicks?” Pretty sure we were not looking so hot at the time but we also may have said that we would go topless. He agreed to come back with us. The leak started off as it did when we came over – hit a wave a gush of water spat in between the floor on the forward port side in between the pontoon and hull. As we approached Rams Head the situation got worse and the pontoon separated even farther down the boat. We were taking on more water than we could bail. We looked at the crashing waves onto Rams Head which did not seem like a friendly place to be so we bailed and prayed as we crested the corned and somehow got safely into Salt Pond where we grabbed a mooring ball, bailed the dink, and re-grouped. Without the pounding of the waves the boat did not take on water just sitting there or even underway without waves to pound into. We decided to continue on hugging the coast line. We called a friend to let someone know that we were out there and in some danger of the boat completely breaking up. We asked him to send for someone to look for us if we he did not hear back from us in an hour.
Luckily we made it back to St. Thomas without incident. We procured our mooring ball plots that we went over there for and hopefully will not have to use. We are hoping that all of our fellow boaters find a safe place in the event that we do.