Motorboat & Yachting - - Column -

Yes, I am good at boat driv­ing. I spent 20 years as a yacht bro­ker con­duct­ing sur­veys or sea tri­als. And the thing about sea tri­als is, you not only have to get some­one else’s pride and joy safely in and out of its berth, you have to make it look easy. No one wants to gain the im­pres­sion that their new boat is dif­fi­cult to han­dle.

So a 26ft Jeanneau should be easy. And largely it is. Plus there’s the ‘get out of jail free’ card of the bow thruster. I al­ways have it switched on just in case, but it’s a mat­ter of per­sonal pride that I very rarely use it. My most dif­fi­cult ma­noeu­vre is also my most prac­tised – get­ting into my ma­rina berth. I re­verse in as it fits the berth bet­ter and makes board­ing much eas­ier. Adding to the chal­lenge is a fat yacht in the next berth.

But I’ve be­come adroit at moor­ing Smug­gler’s sin­gle-handed and all was well un­til the neigh­bour­ing yacht dis­ap­peared for a month. Sud­denly, the chal­lenge was gone. Could I park it? Yes, even­tu­ally, but only af­ter bounc­ing off the fend­ers or end­ing up a foot off the berth a cou­ple of times. On one mem­o­rable oc­ca­sion I had seven tries be­fore the bow thruster took over. Cheat­ing! I even had the ig­nominy of some­one shout­ing “get some driv­ing lessons!” Sea­soned boat own­ers will know that the suc­cess or fail­ure of one’s berthing ma­noeu­vre is di­rectly pro­por­tional to the num­ber of peo­ple watching…

The yacht is now back, and nor­mal ser­vice has been re­stored, but Smug­gler’s clearly felt that my adren­a­line lev­els needed a tweak. Pic­ture the scene, two non-boat­ing friends on board and we were stop­ping at Dart­mouth for an hour. The tide was in full flood with a brisk wind also blow­ing up the river but no prob­lem. I’d po­si­tioned my­self off the pon­toon, level with the gap and was gently ‘ferry glid­ing’ the boat into the space. Per­fect. Just as we were about to touch the pon­toon, the en­gine sud­denly stalled and the en­gine alarm sounded. I had the full force of wind and tide car­ry­ing me for­ward and no drive!

With no knowl­edge of why the en­gine had stopped, I raced down the side deck, threw my­self onto the peak of the bow and put both feet against the tran­som of the boat ahead, press­ing as hard as pos­si­ble. I now had an­other prob­lem: the stern swing­ing out into the tide! I leapt for the pon­toon, grab­bing the pul­pit rail and yelling for my friend to throw the stern line. She did, it dropped into the widen­ing gap twixt stern and pon­toon and the boat be­gan to pivot into the chan­nel, giv­ing wind and tide a greater pur­chase. I grabbed the front of the pul­pit, pulling it up­stream for all I was worth. At one point I gen­uinely be­lieved that I was go­ing to lose it com­pletely and face the prospect of Smug­gler’s dis­ap­pear­ing up­stream with­out me. Some­how I kept my grip and the wind swung the stern back into the berth, the boat having de­scribed a com­plete 180 de­gree spin. I got lines and fend­ers on and waited for my heart rate to drop be­low 100bpm.

Climb­ing back on board I restarted the en­gine and tried a cou­ple of nudges in and out of gear. Per­fect. And it has been ever since (but I have had the shift cable re­placed, the con­sen­sus be­ing that a stiff cable was the most likely cause of the stall).

Nick Burn­ham: “I pride my­self on be­ing good at park­ing my boat, but a stalled en­gine on a blowy Dart tested my met­tle”

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