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Catamaran Cast Adrift from BVI Mooring & Wrecks: What can we Learn?

Lagoon 46 Panema with significant damage in the BVIs

Photo source: Yacht Catatonic

It’s not uncommon to hear of groundings or anchor dragging from bareboat charter skippers in the BVIs, or elsewhere. Reports about these events seem to happen all too frequently. I recently started documenting them at Groundings of BVI to help bring some awareness and hopefully, to help educate.

Inexperience, sailing in red-lined areas, ignoring of navigational aids, and lack of preparation for adverse marine conditions are often the culprits.

A recent incident from April 2022 in the British Virgin Islands, however, caught my interest given the strange circumstances.

Drift of catamaran from Cooper Island to Dead Chest Island
The catamaran drifted ~2.8nm on wind and current to the rocks at Dead Chest Island | Source: Boating App

So what happened?

First off, I gathered this information from reports on social media. I’ll continue to update this post as any additional facts arise. I’ll be clear about any opinions or assumptions I make. I did reach out to Boaty Ball myself.

It was reported that several charter boats woke up to witness a Sunsail catamaran, a Lagoon 46, on the rocks at Dead Chest Island near Peter Island. Virgin Islands Search and Rescue (VISAR) was on the scene. Apparently no one was aboard.

View of the mooring field at Cooper Island | Source: Cooper Island Beach Club

Here’s what I think happened:

  • The crew of the Lagoon 46 picked up a First Come First Serve (FCFS) Boaty Ball mooring, and paid for it ashore at Cooper Island Beach Club (if you aren’t familiar with Boaty Ball – you can read more about the mooring reservation system here)

  • They enjoyed themselves at CIBC 

  • When the crew took their dinghy back to their catamaran around 11:00pm, it was gone

  • They went back ashore, reported it stolen, and had to spend the night at Cooper Island

  • It’s unclear how the search effort was organized, but the cat was discovered around 2am with a large port side hull breach

  • Given marine conditions, it likely took 1-2 hours for the cat to drift before grounding

Recovery efforts of the Lagoon 46 | Source: Claus G.

What can we learn from this incident?

Can you imagine returning to your catamaran to discover it missing? I cannot. So what can we learn from this terrible incident? These are my takeaways:

  • This was a Boatyball mooring, which are supposed to be regularly maintained by Moor Seacure, so I suspect negligence from the captain

  • I checked with Boatyball, and they reported that Cooper Island management inspected the mooring ball and there was nothing wrong with it

    • Perhaps the crew only ran one line through the pennant eye – heavy wind and swell could have caused chafe and sawing through of the line: mooring balls should always be secured with 2 separate lines through the eye to prevent this situation

    • Or, maybe they need more practice with cleat hitches

    • I also read that it’s possible they used the anchor bridle to try and secure to the mooring ball – if so and they just used the snubber hook through the pennant eye, that easily could have cast the catamaran adrift. That isn’t a secure connection at all

  • As always, properly inspect all mooring balls for damage – there are current reports the BVI National Park Service (NPS) balls are in a bad state of disrepair

  • Be careful about leaving your yacht unattended at night – if this happened during the day, it’s probable another boat would have noticed and rendered assistance

  • If you need a refresher on how to properly pick up and secure to a mooring ball, check out this video from Sailing Virgins

Here’s another good example of how to pick one up and tie it off correctly. Team of 4 – one person for each line tied back to the port and starboard deck cleats. One person to pick up the mooring ball. And the last person to point at the ball so the skipper can stay on station.

Pirate's Lair Warderick Wells Exumas
Deadman's bay, a top BVI beach
Deadman's Bay with Dead Chest Island in the background

How can you get comfortable leaving your vessel unattended?

This goes without saying for the prudent skipper, but the bottom line is that you need to make sure the vessel is properly secured. Use proper anchoring techniques or secure correctly to the mooring ball. Arrive early enough to dive the anchor or inspect the condition of the mooring ball.

Be aware of potential weather conditions that could change the situation adversely.

I think it’s unreasonable on a trip to the BVIs, in an approved mooring field, to have to leave a crew watch aboard. So at some point, your vessel will be unattended.

I haven’t though much about that in the past, especially when we are on a well-maintained ball that we’ve inspected – such as at Cooper Island. When we do anchor, we don’t venture far and often maintain eyesight visibility.

So can you keep an eye on your yacht while you are enjoying dinner ashore or crawling through the Baths on Virgin Gorda?

An anchor alarm won’t help you, since that uses your phone’s GPS and you take that with you. It is a great tool to use when sleeping, however. Many recommend Anchor Pro, as do I.

There is another way I thought of after this incident – check it out.

Staniel Cay Anchorage
Anchored in the Exumas | We went ashore here for dinner and stayed after dark, but could maintain a watchful eye on our cat

Keeping watch using satellite positions

I recently went on a backcountry trip in the Grand Canyon – the Rim to Rim to Rim run. We used a Garmin inReach to allow our friends and family to track our position during the run. They loved it! You can share the link with anyone. Here’s how it works:

  • The inReach (or other similar devices) ping’s satellites every 10 minutes and transmits that position data to your phone

  • All you need is cellular or wifi on your phone

  • The inReach costs ~$350 and you can pay month to month $15 for the access

  • There is a more expensive plan that will ping every 2 minutes

  • While you are ashore, you can check the position of your yacht every so often to make sure it’s still where it is supposed to be

  • If the captain of the Sunsail cat had done this, they could have seen the boat adrift and organized a recovery before it grounded on Dead Chest Island

So will I add a Garmin inReach to my toolkit for my next trip? Yes! I think it’s an easy way to gain some peace and mind. Oh, and I already own the inReach😎, so it’s a cheap addition.

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