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How to tie to an anchor buoy in the San Juan Islands Marine Parks

      This may seem like a no-brainer, but  watching crews struggle while tying up in a calm mooring field  says otherwise.   Aside from the entertainment angle,  lessons may be learned.

        The basic anchor buoy is often simply an old foam filled tire with some sort of strong attachment ring on top, but smart skippers approach unknown buoys with caution and skepticism.

        This list of dos and don'ts are suggestions, and observations, not rules, and may not apply to your boat, your gear, or your crew.

  • Anchor buoys may not be in deep water, in fact you may run aground on approach.
  • Don't bang into buoys, they may have sharp edges, and gel coat slashing barnacles.
  • Many buoys (most in my opinion) have large amounts of plant life growing and trailing from them.  
  • Some buoys have abandoned lines tied to them, ready to foul your rudders and propellers.
  • You can't stand on them, they won't support your weight, even for just a second while you grab the ring.
  • Buoy components corrode and break and then they float loose, it is a fact!  Seaweed might be all that is holding it together.
    • Therefore backing down on a buoy, just like setting an anchor, is a good idea.

       Tips based upon my experiences: 
  • Approach buoys dead slow from down wind and current, and off to one side.
    • Check it out - make sure there are no long trailing lines or bits of flotsam hanging in the buoys wake.
    • Match your rpm's to the current and wind so your boat is stationary next to it before moving over.
    • If your boat has low freeboard, have your crew reach the ring and thread a line through it and back to a cleat.  Don't tie fast to the buoy or use a snap hook or shackle or biner, you want to be able to release it from the boat, possibly in an emergency. Use a heavy line, it will chafe at the ring.
      • Is your line already tied at the other  end?
      • Is your crew wearing a pfd?
      • Make sure the crew cleats the line before you release your helm control, the current or wind may be more than they can hold by hand.
    • If your boat has high freeboard, instruct crew to use your boat hook to snag the ring, but make sure you are holding stationary.
      • Many anchor buoys are designed with a lifting ring and chain that you may pull up several feet out of the water enabling you to slip a line through.  Sometimes lifting a heavy chain is a two man job.
        • If enough seaweed is growing (attached) on the chain, it may be impossible to lift the ring, even with ten crew.
        • WARNING - If the skipper leaves the helm to help, allowing the boat to drift with the current, they still may not be able to lift the ring or hold against the current.
          • The boat hook may get pulled from their hands or not be possible to easily unhook for a retry.   This results in losing the hook as soon as the buoy is grabbed  - another good reason for having a floating hook and wearing pfd's.
          • You may also pull the boat hook apart or break off the end.
    • Most boats have lower freeboard in the cockpits than up on a high bow and simply grabbing the ring from the cockpit may be all that's required.
      • But, watch out when working from stern!
        • The boat will be much harder to control, you may tangle with propellers and rudders.  Once hooked, the boat will likely spin in the wind and current increasing difficulty and strain on lines.
  • Do not treat anchor buoys like fixed docks or floats.  They are simple to use, but can bite the unwary.  
  • Lastly - don't forget that the anchor buoy has its own anchor and rode that you could tangle with, especially if you set your own hook nearby.
mooring anchor buoy
White with blue band is the official anchor buoy marking.

mooring buoy broke loose at Jones Island
Close inspection reveals missing  shackle pin set this buoy free at Jones Island 

cypress island free anchor buoy
The mooring buoys and campsites are free at Pelican Beach, Cypress Head, and Eagle Harbor on Cypress Island


How to go Ashore on Lummi Island for Bicycling or just going to the Store

For some time I have advised cruisers to use Inati Bay on Lummi Island as a storm refuge and lunch stop, or a very convenient anchorage when they don't have time to make it back to Bellingham or Sucia.

If you have the time you should consider going ashore, but not at Inati Bay where all the land is private and only has a logging road at that.

Follow these simple instructions for getting to shore on Lummi Island at the public access beach.

About three miles north of Inati Bay is the Whatcom Chief Ferry terminal. The tiny but speedy 25 car ferry makes several Hale Passage crossings every hour, so you will see it for sure.

Head for the ferry terminal and about one football field length north, anchor your boat in front of a  long stairway leading up the bank.  At the top of the stairs where the old car deck and ramp once was is a rustic wood deck, turned into a public park complete with picnic tables.  All the pilings are gone, there is nothing left, your only landmark will be the stairway with the Beach Cafe in the background.  Beach the dinghy, not forgetting the current and tides, offload the bikes and clamber up the stairs.

The local anchor buoys are quite a ways from shore suggesting thin water, you are well advised to follow their lead and anchor far off as well, unless your stay is short.

Across the street (Nugent Road) is the Beach Cafe, turn left, south on Nugent and it is 1300 feet (1/4 mi) to the Islander Grocery Store. (just past the current ferry terminal.)
Lummi Island shore access stairs
Look for public stairs and Beach Cafe. Land your dinghy on slab rock or gravel at low tide.
Driftwood suggests high tide reaches to stairs.
Lummi Island waterfront public access
Mt Baker across Hale Passage is a great backdrop.

That's it -- for bicyclists head left or right on Nugent Rd and circle the north end of Lummi.  It is an easy (not too hilly) 7 mile loop that takes you around Migley Point, Legoe Bay, and  West Shore Drive with sweeping vistas of  Rosario Strait.

Lummi Island shore access map

Some first mates may find the rule of twelfths handy when anchoring in the shallows off the stairway. Below is the link to refresh your memory of how it works. Don't forget that the current changes 180 degrees and may unhook you.  I set two longish rode anchors (boat in the middle) before I take off for an extended time if I anticipate current shifts. 
Note: expect wakes from ferry to rock you mercilessly every thirty minutes.