Norman Kean

Two yachts, visitors to Ireland, arrive in two widely separated bays of a summer evening. The forecast is bad. The crew of Silent Night is very glad to find a row of big yellow buoys, each with a pickup buoy and a hefty bridle attached along with an information tag.

10.1Yourview marina

Clare Island: busy but room for all                                                             Photo Geraldine Hennigan

Securely moored, they enjoy a pub meal and a pint or two ashore, pay their tenner for the mooring and head back to their bunks in the knowledge that no matter how hard it blows, they aren’t going to be wakened by that awful yaw and scrape that speaks of a dragging anchor.

Restless finds one of the same yellow buoys in her bay, but as she approaches it she is gruffly warned off by someone who seems to regard it as his own. They hurriedly turn about and go in search of an anchorage where they have a sleepless night, disturbed as much by the memory of the threatening reception as by the rising gale.

Both scenarios have been played out in Ireland. The first is the ideal: the second crew will probably never return, and certainly not to that bay. There is a case to be made for the man they met, if not for his manners; but some visitors’ moorings in Ireland have had to be lifted because a County Council could not prevent their misuse by local boats, to the exclusion of visitors.

Moorings for visiting yachts are a facility that can be provided and maintained at modest cost. For the visitor, they provide welcome added security and encourage leisure sailors to stretch their horizons. For the community and local businesses, they attract a source of revenue and foster Ireland’s welcoming reputation.

Visitors expect to pay for their use, and are often surprised to find that there is no mechanism to do it. The standard of moorings varies widely. Some are evidently well-maintained, clearly labelled, and provided with good pickup buoys and bridles. A few are anonymous, weedy and neglected.

How can the strengths be built on, and the issues addressed?

There is a great opportunity in empowering local communities to manage these facilities. Where there is a harbour authority and an active harbourmaster, clearly he has to be in overall charge. But where there isn’t, you may be sure there is someone, or a group of people, with an interest in the marine, and attracting marine tourists.

At one end of the scale, that may mean a specific business ― either marine or hospitality ― that maintains its own moorings for visitors. Moorings of that kind tend to be well-maintained, and money is collected either directly or indirectly. But elsewhere, give a small volunteer group the authority to make some decisions and to collect the fees on behalf of (say) the Council, and the system can become virtually self-managing.

It might even be practicable to say to our friend the squatter: “All right, you think you’re entitled to a mooring. We’ll allow you the use of one, and in return, you keep the others available for visitors and you collect the money on behalf of the Council.” Work with people, not against them. Everybody wins.

In some places, it seems as if the moorings have been placed simply to keep them out of the way. At Roundstone, for example, the moorings are so far from the village that the dinghy ride can be hazardous – but there’s plenty of room nearer the shore. The ideal spot for moorings is where the water is sheltered but perhaps too deep for convenient anchoring – that way, a good anchorage is not spoiled.

What about liability?

Many yacht insurances place the responsibility on the user to satisfy himself that a mooring is fit for use. Unless the mooring is adequately labelled with weight limit and service date, that can be a matter of guesswork. Moorings have been known to break, and others have been removed for fear they might break.

The way to avoid the problem is simply to make sure moorings are well designed, properly laid and regularly maintained. Most broken-mooring incidents, in any case, result from loss or chafe of the connection from the buoy to the boat ― not a failure of the ground tackle or the riser.

Again, sound design and good maintenance avoid the problem. One specific point: moorings should never simply be abandoned and dropped (it has been done). Fouling anchorages with heavy and unmarked ground chains is unforgiveable.

A joint working group with members drawn from the Irish Sailing Association, the Irish Cruising Club and the Cruising Association of Ireland is exploring ways of improving the mooring network. You can get in touch on 02388 46891 or to [email protected]