One Mooring in Maine

It's usually November before I get to the moorings - the last job of the boating year. The water is cold, even if you pick a day when the weather isn't, and the rope heavily bearded with seaweed-moss. Slippery, slimy - a mess. I wear my oldest clothes and use gloves.

The first of the moorings, a 50-pound mushroom anchor, comes up so easily I wonder what is wrong with it - and then I see that the rope at the end of the chain was wrapped around the shank so that the chain is not even being used. "That explains it," I say to Elaine, who is at the wheel of our Boston Whaler. "No scope."

We dump mooring No. 1 on the beach and go back out for the other. "Explains what?" Elaine says.

"The fact that the float's been underwater all summer except at low tide."

She looks baffled but also uninterested. Moorings and anchors and such are not precisely her thing. They're not mine, either, really, though I seem to have made them so.

There's nothing very difficult about hauling up a mushroom-anchor mooring, of course. Slip the boat's painter through a link of chain, fasten it back aboard, and motor off toward deep water until the anchor breaks free of the mud.

"OK!" I yell, having made fast to mooring No. 2, a 75-pound mushroom. Elaine pushes the throttle forward. "Give her a little more!" I shout. We begin to move, but in a circle. She guns the engine slightly, but our speed around the anchor merely increases. Her expression now says "Help!" so I go back to take her place at the wheel.

"Might have hit a rock," I explain. "I'll try it from a different angle." Elaine turns her coat collar up. "Won't be long now," I say. The wind has freshened. It is getting cold.

One of the problems with mushroom-anchor moorings is this: A two-ton rock doesn't move around on the bottom in anything short of a hurricane. But mushroom anchors can drag or bounce around even in mud, or get hung up the way this one apparently has. And then all you can do is hire a diver, or wait until the chain rusts through, or the ice lifts it and it is lost in the spring breakup. Or the rope parts in a storm and your boat goes charging off to smash itself to pieces or crash into somebody's $100,000 yacht. Of course a two-ton rock cannot be managed with ordinary equipment. And for that service you pay - dearly.

At least I'd been able to reach the chain, I reassure myself - it being low tide. The traditional mooring has the chain running directly from the anchor to the float, but years ago I discovered that 10 feet of chain is as good as 50 feet (and a lot cheaper), if you make up the difference with heavy rope. Rope is harder to hold onto, that's all.

I aim the boat toward shore. We charge forward, come to an abrupt halt, and start to circle the other way. Elaine's expression has changed from controlled boredom to mild anxiety. What is going on here? Why are we so firmly stuck?

"So jerk it out!" I say to myself. The motor roars and we charge forward. There is a momentary pause as our bow starts to go under, but then I feel the anchor break free. Slowly, ponderously, we move out into deeper water.

I give her full throttle and we make a large circle and then charge back toward the shore. Slewing this way and that, and with a great churning of water, we finally reach the beach. I look back at the mooring, expecting to see that we've dragged an engine block or something with us. Behold, a huge tub of cement is attached to the bottom of the chain. It is not my mooring at all! Yet all summer our sailboat has been sitting on it. Mine must be the one next to it. The floats are the same. Thus the confusion. Neither one is marked.

What to do? Drag this mooring back out and latch onto my own? I explain what has happened to Elaine. She laughs, somewhat too merrily, I think.

"Why don't you leave it here for now," she says.

A WEEK later - we've had a sprinkle of snow in the meantime - we are back at the dock to pull up our second mooring and haul out the boat. I notice that someone has dragged the cement tub over by the side of the dock, probably the harbor master. I have not been able to find out whose mooring it is, so I decide to take it back out to where it was and dump it before pulling up my own.

"Wait a minute," Elaine says. "Maybe he wanted it brought in. Perhaps you did him a favor."

"Possibly," I say. "But this way we're back to Square 1."

"Except that you've been on his mooring all summer," Elaine says, "instead of your own."

It is high tide and no problem towing the cement tub out to approximately where it was. My own mooring comes up easily and I drag it into the beach, back down the trailer, and haul out the boat. All just in time: That week we got our first real snow.

December now. Skim ice in the harbor. All but the work boats are up for the winter, though lots of moorings have been left in. Three years ago, all but the heaviest were lifted off by the harbor ice and lost in the bay beyond, my own (former) mooring included. The hope is that this winter will be milder, I suppose. I look for the cement tub, but I cannot tell if it is out there or not. What if it is gone in the spring? I won't even know if the ice took it - or its owner - or somebody else.

"Mark your mooring, Trowbridge! Put your name on it," I say to myself, hoping that at some point in the winter I won't be getting an unexpected bill.

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