Well, it’s that time of the year again, time to pull our boats out, drain the bilges, and secure our moorings before the ice carries them away. It can’t be ignored. If you do nothing, ice can grab your mooring ball and drag the entire rig into deep water, bye bye.
In the photo above, an ice flow has grabbed a mooring ball and is swinging around it, trying to drag the mooring.
If your mooring is light enough, you might be able to bring the whole kit and caboodle ashore, anchor and all. Those of us who can’t, have fun pub debates over the best methods to winterize our expensive moorings. I’ve heard stories of people driving jalopies onto the ice, so they’d sink during spring thaw, to be used as mooring anchors, but even some of those were lost to the ice. Of course you could just remove your buoy and let the chain drop to the bottom, then grapple for it in the spring, but that’s easier said than done!
For years, we tied our mooring chain to a tree with rope for easy spring retrieval; until one year, when ice gnawed thru the line. 75 feet of rope floated just below the surface, waiting for a propeller to snag. We began using 5/16 inch steel cable, but old man winter would not be outdone. Ice and storms move rocks on the lake bottom, sometimes burying the cable, requiring an early spring scuba dive with a pry bar, brrr!
In the old days, mariners would replace their mooring ball with a cedar log, attaching one end to the mooring chain. They weighted the chain so the log would float upright. It’s called a “mooring stick”. Ice would strip the bark, instead of dragging the mooring. Clever.
Mooring sticks are still in use, but nowadays they use PVC pipe. An old timer told me how to do it, so we used this rig on both our moorings. Of course, the ice grabbed both mooring sticks, dragging our 600lb concrete mooring into the abyss. On a later dive, I followed the drag marks to a depth of 60 feet before I gave up. Our 1200lb steel mooring held, but the ice ripped the chain right out of the PVC pipe, requiring a 40 ft dive to retrieve the chain. The old timer forgot to mention that you have to paint the PVC black to absorb heat. I was a little dubious, but we tried it and haven’t had trouble since!
The photo above shows what happens to a regular mooring ball when it meets an ice flow.
Function of a Winter Mooring Stick
Here, a mooring stick slices straight thru the same slow moving ice flow with little resistance.
In this series of 3 photos, a heavier ice flow runs harmlessly over a mooring stick, without grabbing or relocating it.
1) Ice approaches the mooring stick.
2) Ice runs over the mooring stick.
3) The mooring stick pops up on the other side.
Here, my neighbor’s mooring has been snagged (right). On the left, my mooring stick, unseen, rides safely under the ice.
How to Build a Winter Mooring Stick
To make my winter stick, I used 10 feet of 3″ PVC pipe. I filled the pipe with insulation foam, and capped both ends. You can use a pool noodle instead of insulation foam. I inserted a heavy stainless steel bolt thru one end, and shackled it to the anchor chain. I paint the whole thing black every year, with a reflector strip above the waterline. I add enough weight to the bottom end so it floats upright, sticking a couple of feet out of the water.
This has worked well for me for about 15 years. Maybe there’s a better method? I’d love to hear what others are trying.
Mark Gibson says
Thanks for that! It’s just what I’ll do come October – if I can find my chain this spring, that is. Last I saw it, it was suspended just below the surface by a pair of empty bleach bottles. I’m hoping it’s still there.
George Davis says
Good luck! Wonder if those bleach bottles made it through this long, frozen winter…
Mark Gibson says
They did! And being white, despite a film of greenish brown life, they were pretty visible with polarizing shades. With the lake at 97-ish feet, they were about four feet down, within reach of my grapple. When I set them in the fall, with the lake at about 95 feet, I put just enough water in the bottles to suspend sufficient chain to have them hover at about 93 feet (below any ice that would form even if the lake froze at a nadir of 94 feet). So they were two feet below surface then.
This system obviates concerns for being taken by the ice. I use two bottles, so that if something happens (I’m paranoid) to one, the other will at least “mark” the chain’s location, despite being at an unhelpful depth.
I bet the “winter stick” system works fine – maybe infallibly. But on cold winter nights in Salt Lake, where I winter, I’d lie awake nights picturing all sorts of disasters having to do with the ice somehow getting hold of my rig.
Jeff Wicklund says
How do you but weight in the bottom? Secure it with a cap and still have a chain coming out the bottom?
Kevin Cooper says
Painting the stick black absorbs heat from the sun, making it less likely to be grabbed by the ice. I neglected to paint it black the first year… the ice grabbed it and tore the bolt and shackle right out of the PVC. Haven’t lost one since painting them black as the old timers recommended. I also now put the bolt for the shackle thru the PVC several inches from the end.
No need to add weight to the bottom, Jeff, the chain is weight enough. The bottom cap goes inside the pipe and the bolt for the shackle goes thru the pipe below the “cap”
Kevin Cooper says
I forgot to mention, I now slide a slightly larger pipe over the mooring stick. If the ice grabs this “sleeve” it’ll slide off with the ice, and leave the mooring stick behind.