Practical Boat Owner

Cut and thrust manoeuvrin­g

Why bow thrusters are not necessaril­y the best thing since sliced bread


Correspond­ence suggests that I have wounded a reader’s feelings by making rude remarks about bow thrusters. This reader believes that casting such nasturtium­s will discourage people in the early stages of their boating careers. The editor has suggested that in the interests of balance I should reveal facts regarding docking disasters of my own, perpetrate­d when I was a beginner.

It is kind of Katy to consider that such disasters are confined to my early sailing life. Boats, breeze and tide make a powerful cocktail. Hurtling out of the PortRhu, Douarnenez gates in the brig Phoenix, free flow, 80 tons, full sail, crosswind, strong ebb, I heard my friend George, who was at the helm, murmur something under his breath. ‘What?’ I said. ‘Better not wrap up now,’ muttered George as the spectator-crowded pierheads flashed by a couple of feet away on either side. Those words still ring in my head every time I try to put the camel Dahlia through the eye of the docking needle.

Motorboats, particular­ly those designed along the lines of a wedding cake from Hell, can be a problem. A deck saloon, a flybridge and a tuna tower up top and about 6in of hull under the water can lead to misbehavio­ur in a breeze.

I am no motorboate­r, but I got an insight via a lemsteraak we once borrowed for a cruise in Holland. Fifty-five feet long, flat bottom, lofty mast, leeboards, sailed like a witch. But parking, on the one occasion we went into a marina, was not easy. We got in all right. When it was time to get out, there was a hard crosswind blowing. We reversed out of our slot, dropped leeboards, gave blasts ahead, helm hard over, blasts astern, then more blasts ahead; all to no effect. The thing went sideways, but never forwards. Eventually we landed up alongside the pontoon at the downwind end of the harbour, trying to look as if this had been the plan all along. The cockpits of nearby boats had filled with spectators, mostly German, who opened beers and settled down to enjoy the cabaret. Some of us did yoga to instil calm. Personally I drained an Amstel. When I put the can down so I could pray for a bow thruster the wind blew it away; which revealed in a flash that there was no need for bow thrusters.

Backward manoeuvre

We sprung the back end off the pontoon and engaged full astern. The wind caused the mast, which was towards the bow of the boat, to weathercoc­k the nose towards the pontoon, while the engine dragged us astern. And out of the harbour we went, backwards, to the irritation of the spectators, who had been hoping for a murder. If we’d been one of those wedding cakes, see above, we might still be there.

The lemsteraak escape was a rare success in a catalogue of bangs, crashes, and narrow squeaks that dates from the early 1960s. Gradually, though, you get to know your boat. Dahlia has a long keel and a huge propeller. She will turn clockwise, but not anticlockw­ise. The easy solution has been to avoid marinas; and if they can’t be helped, to choose a slot where the wind is on the nose, and enter it forwards, not sideways. Failing this, a bit of warping and springing, as popularise­d by Duncan Wells, can help, though in some motorboats this will mean abseiling down something like the side of a fridge to get a line on a dock cleat.

In extreme conditions Dahlia will just hang around in the water waiting for the bad stuff to leave off, then trundle about her business.

Your wedding-cake, however, tends to be completely unmanoeuvr­able. At that point there will be two options. Well, three. No, four. Either you can call out the lifeboat, who may or may not be glad to help. Or you can ring up a broker, sell the boat before you break it, and get something in better taste.

Or you can say to hell with it and arrive with a crash like a stag party ramming the Tobermory pontoon.

Or, and I write this through clenched teeth, you can turn on the bow thruster, endure the nasty noise, and let it point you in your chosen direction.

Should you at some later time realise that it is a thing in the worst possible taste, you can always mount it in the galley and use it to mince ice for daiquiris. It can chop onions, too.

‘Mount the bow thruster in the galley and use it to mince ice for daiquiris’

 ?? ?? There are some situations in which even a bow thruster may not help
There are some situations in which even a bow thruster may not help

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