Tight turns in long-keelers
Getting a long keeler going astern
Owners of long-keelers are used to challenges in confined spaces. We last visited this subject in PBO December 2014, when I joined Mike Farquharson-Roberts on his Voyager 30 in Gosport.
Our biggest challenge – and one faced by many long-keelers – was steering in astern: once the bow had started to swing more than a degree or two, it was off. The answer was to keep a close eye on the bow and to make any necessary corrections with the wheel as early as possible. Otherwise it’s normally a matter of going forward again to re-align the boat, then continuing in reverse and allowing space in case the prop-walk takes you the wrong way until you gain steerage-way.
In this instance there was no bowthruster, so we had to do things the traditional way. Warps, and knowing how to use them, can also come in handy.
Challenging though Mike’s marina was for a boat like his, it was manageable – at least in fairly calm conditions.
For Alan Ward’s Fisher Northeaster in Titchmarsh, on the other hand, life without a bow-thruster simply wouldn’t be possible. We met Alan and North Star in September’s PBO when we looked at ways to make tacking faster and more positive. There was another potentially challenging aspect to handling North Star, too: getting in and out of the berth. But whereas under sail I had been able to come up with some ideas to help – and two pairs of hands were useful anyway – Alan performed the marina manoeuvres on his own with such adroitness that there was no need for me to do anything on board. I could stand on the pontoon to observe and photograph.
North Star is berthed port-side-to on a finger pontoon near the enclosed end of the run, stern-in to the main walkway. In a south-westerly, the wind would be blowing from her starboard beam. It would be pushing her against the finger, but perhaps making life less challenging than in a north-easterly, which is what we had on the day. Motoring forward out of the berth and turning hard to port with a stiff wind from the port side might test the skipper’s nerves in a fin-keeler. The opposite pontoon isn’t that far away. In a boat like North Star it’s something you probably wouldn’t even want to attempt. Letting the boat weather-cock and then reversing out might be a safer approach in any breeze. Unlike some boats of broadly similar style, North Star has a keel that runs the full length of the hull with no hint of a cut-away towards the bow. As we found under sail, turning corners is not what she was designed to do.
Getting back into the berth in a south-westerly might be possible if you were to go just upwind of the finger pontoon and let the wind blow the bow to port before going astern. In a northeasterly it’s hard to think of an approach that would give you any chance, certainly without at least half-a-dozen helpers on board and ashore who are used to handling lengthy warps.
Thankfully Alan has a bow-thruster to complement the 50hp Nanni with its three-bladed prop. You still need to know how to use this extra help, though.