A mooring system that anchors boats also protects environment
What, exactly, does a young sailor's terrifying experience aboard a sailboat in the hurricane of 1938 have to do with preserving eel grass on Martha's Vineyard?
A lot, as it turns out, even if it took 70 years to make the connection.
The young sailor, Bill Hazelett, grew up to be a widely known adventurer, inventor, and industrialist. Riding out the notorious hurricane of '38 aboard his father's boat made quite an impression. When Hurricane Gloria hit New England in 1985, Mr. Hazelett watched a harbor full of boats crashing about, and vowed to come up with a better mooring system.
Eventually, with the help of the staff at his manufacturing plant and marina in Colchester, Vermont, he came up with an ingenious system. For hundreds of years, moorings have been constructed in pretty much the same way. A large block or mushroom anchor rests on the bottom. From the block, a length of chain is attached to a rope (sailors call it a rode, because sailors like to name things so that they confuse landlubbers) that connects to a mooring float. A line from the float is then attached (made fast) to the bow of the boat.
Instead of a block or traditional anchor, Mr. Hazelett's system has an auger-like blade that "screws" deeply into the bottom material. Instead of a chain and a rope, a length of elastic polyurethane (think giant rubber band) is attached to the post anchored on the bottom and connected to a mooring float.
"Originally, the development had to do more with the holding power," said Tisbury harbormaster Jay Wilbur. But along the way, users discovered another benefit.
In a traditional mooring system, the chain drags on the bottom as the boat swings in the wind. The heavy chain scours all marine plants off the bottom. Aerial photographs of some mooring fields often show a series of neat circles where mooring chains have scrubbed the bottom clear of any vegetation.
Mr. Hazelett's mooring eliminates the chain, and the polyurethane rode never touches the bottom.
Photo Courtesy Hazelett Marine
"Every marine organism there is, at some time during its life, lives in eel grass," said Mr. Wilbur. A growing body of scientific evidence points to eelgrass as a critical link in marine ecology. It provides cover and food for a large number of species, and many believe it is directly related to the development of scallops and striped bass, which are important to the Island's recreational and commercial fisheries, as well as the tourist-oriented economy.
The prevalence of eel grass ebbs and flows over the decades, and there are many probable causes, including disease, storms, docks, boat propellers, dredging, and in recent years nitrogen loading from shoreline development. Most surveys indicate eelgrass is currently on the decline along the New England coast. One study by the Department of Environmental Protection showed more than half the eelgrass in Lagoon Pond died off from 1995 to 2001.
Mr. Wilbur is so convinced of the benefits of the new mooring system that he is asking Tisbury voters at the annual town meeting for $60,000 to replace all the moorings in the ramp area of Lagoon Pond with the new system. His plan has won the endorsement of the town's finance committee. The article did not come up on the opening night of the town meeting, Tuesday, April 1. The meeting was extended to last night, when the mooring article was expected to come up for debate last night as voters finish town meeting business.
The harbormaster intends to use a modified version of the mooring system to replace all other town moorings over the next 20 years, as the old moorings wear out.
After years of tinkering with the new mooring system, and researching how it has worked in Chatham and other New England harbors, Mr. Wilbur believes it will have many benefits, environmental and otherwise. He thinks it is especially suited for the relatively shallow Lagoon Pond mooring fields.
"That area is one of the prime scallop dragging areas," said Mr. Wilbur. "Currently, not only are the moorings interfering with the development of scallops, but the harvesting. The block itself takes up a fair amount of bottom, where nothing is going to grow, never mind the chain dragging around the bottom. This has a much lower impact. I know it will be better for the environment, and better for the boats."