The common sense rule is, “don’t use moorings… unless locals say it is good.” After this fateful night, we’ve changed it to — “don’t trust anyone’s opinion, always dive down to inspect the mooring; and never fail to run a secondary line!”
Here’s what happened. Locals had told us that our anchor spot outside the pass in Faaite was tenuous – if the wind changed to the north, it could swing the boat into the shallow reef. They were adamant: “The mooring in the pass is more safe! Even our cargo boat uses it!”
We weren’t concerned, but we decided to give their mooring a shot for a few hours in our last afternoon in Faaite… for a change of scenery.
We motored up to the mooring and were instantly sketched out. The current was flowing out of the pass like a fast river at 3.5 knots. We attached our line to their mooring loop. Normally we would have run a secondary line but nobody was very keen to get in the ripping current… you get it?! Ripping current?
Aldebaran jackknifed dramatically from the unusual forces. We debated the situation and decided I would stay on board while crew did their final chores in town. “At least the view is good,” I grumbled, and access was easy for the dinghy.
Well, one thing led to another and we decided to spend the night. Sabrina was not pleased with this and we should have listened to her intuition. But the argument was that even if the mooring failed, the strong current would simply sweep us out to sea. Not very comforting, ultimately, so we set various anchor drag and depth alarms to advise us of any changes in our location.
At 1am, the alarms went off!! Beep beep beep!!!
Michael was sleeping in the cockpit bunk and woke us up quickly, and we jumped to action, as Aldebaran drifted freely through the pitch black pass, with waves on either side! A very scary moment !!
In the first 10 seconds, it was disorienting to figure out where we were, with the confusing town lights, and our sleepy eyes. I was about to drop the anchor in the 60ft water to give us a moment; but by then Sabrina had turned on the engine and we had developed a sense that the current and wind were indeed just sending us harmlessly towards the open ocean — as we had hoped.
(The current in Faaite’s pass is nearly always outgoing, with only rare times calm or incoming; and the predominant trade wind also blows out to sea.)
We motored outside the pass and re-anchored in the dark at our old location. Next, we inspected the line still attached to our bow. The mooring loop was intact, but its line had snapped right through the middle due to the heavy load of Aldebaran in pulsating current.
This failure came as quite a surprise: usually lines break at chafe points or knots, not in their mid section. This was indeed a “cheap lesson” — always attach the secondary line further down, ideally to a solid shackle. If the current is too strong to do so, well, consider moving to another place. 😉
We felt fortunate to escape unscathed from that terrible situation, which could have resulted in a shipwreck. Shaken up, we tried to get some sleep before departing the next day, heading north to the atoll of Apataki.