These old-fash­ioned skills can help you get your boat on and off the dock smoothly

Soundings - - Contents - BY PAT MUN­DUS

There’s noth­ing like hear­ing, “Nice job, skip­per,” af­ter skill­fully dock­ing your boat. Pat Mun­dus has some tips to make your next dock­ing ma­neu­ver a suc­cess.

My mother of all dock­ing hu­mil­i­a­tions hap­pened more than four decades ago. Dock­ing a cat­boat with no engine and with no choice but to make a down­wind ap­proach, I thought we had a suf­fi­cient plan: sail into the ma­rina basin, round up, drop the main­sail and slowly drift down­wind onto the face dock.

We scan­dal­ized the gaff-rigged sail, low­er­ing the peak hal­yard to re­duce the sail to about half its nor­mal size. Then we made a few passes back and forth across the open­ing in the bulk­head to as­sess the power of the wind and the way of the boat. We squared away for our ap­proach, con­fi­dent that our prac­tice and plan­ning would pay off.

That big old main boom was long, with just enough width for us to sail through the break in the bulk­head. Ev­ery­thing went well un­til the clew out­haul line on the outer tip of the boom made an un­in­vited ac­quain­tance with a long nail on a pil­ing. The poor boat came to a screech­ing stop and be­gan to weath­er­cock around un­der the boom. All hell broke loose, and we were ap­palled to find our­selves fend­ing off in a maze of docked boats, strug­gling to get the sail down at the same time.

Les­son learned? We should have used the nat­u­ral forces to help, not chal­lenge us, and with no choice but a down­wind ap­proach, we could have pad­dled in—a con­trolled method. It was a hum­bling, teach­able mo­ment, all right.

Very few of us at­tempt dock­ing un­der sail these days, but the way we han­dle our boat (power or sail) while com­ing along­side or get­ting off the dock is still one of the most sat­is­fy­ing seamanship abil­i­ties. It’s also one of the most im­por­tant skills be­cause proper tech- nique pre­vents dam­age to our own boat and to oth­ers. Us­ing dock lines to best ad­van­tage in con­junc­tion with the engine cer­tainly beats man­han­dling the weight of the boat. And last but not least, per­form­ing no-fuss line han­dling en­sures smooth in­ter­ac­tion among ship­mates.

“But I have a bow thruster,” you say. Per­haps one day it might not work when you need it. Twin screws? Same sen­ti­ment. Although the fol­low­ing in­for­ma­tion is pri­mar­ily for sin­gle-screw ves­sels, which need the as­sis­tance of dock lines, it never hurts for ev­ery­one to un­der­stand old-fash­ioned seamanship skills.

Ba­sics first. If your deck­hands don’t al­ready know how to coil and re­li­ably heave a line to the dock, then have them prac­tice un­til they do. Most dock­lines are three-strand ny­lon or braided core with eye splices. Eyes are best sent ashore, where they can be dropped eas­ily over pil­ings. In the event that you share a pil­ing with an­other eye, you can get it off with­out dis­turb­ing the other by “dip­ping the eye.” That is, run your own eye up over the pil­ing and drop it through the other eye. In this way, both eyes can be re­moved with­out dis­turb­ing the other.

Make sure your deck­hands know com­mands such as “surge” ( slack a line sud­denly, but in a con­trolled man­ner), “take up” (pull slack out of line), and “hold” (keep the line as is with­out mak­ing it fast), so dock­ing can be ac­com­plished with as few words as pos­si­ble. The need to keep lines clear of the pro­peller is im­per­a­tive.

Also make sure your crew un­der­stands the safety haz­ards of load­ing (the strain on a line), pinch points (places where a body part might get caught) and the re­coil area (the place where a line could spring back if it parts). You can con­trol your ves­sel’s dock­lines, throt­tle, rud­der and fend­ers. What you can­not con­trol are wind, cur­rent and crowded mari­nas with in­ex­pert shore crews—all the more rea­son to know how to use your dock­lines to best ad­van­tage.

Dock­lines and their us­age are prop­erly named ac­cord­ing to where they are made

fast on the boat, and which di­rec­tion they run ashore. Most of us speak ca­su­ally about bow lines, stern lines and spring lines. Tech­ni­cally, a bow or stern line can lead ahead (for­ward spring), aft (aft spring) or athwart-ships at a right an­gle (breast line). If you are lucky, your boat will have amid­ships chocks and cleats or bitts. In this case, the amid­ships spring lines are named ac­cord­ing to which di­rec­tion they lead on the shore: for­ward or abaft the chock.

Depend­ing on the con­fig­u­ra­tion of the dock lay­out, the ideal min­i­mum for most boats is a bow and stern line, and a for­ward and af­ter spring line.

A breast line is most com­monly used tem­po­rar­ily to hold the boat close to the dock in an off­shore wind, or to keep the boat snug to the dock for board­ing. A line “on a bight” is one rigged fast to the boat, run around a dock pil­ing or cleat, then brought back to the boat. It’s use­ful when there is no one on the dock to re­lease your lines. Slip one end, pull it back to the boat, and you’re clear.

Weight, depth, windage, pivot point, type of propul­sion and horse­power, prop walk— all con­trib­ute to each ves­sel’s han­dling char­ac­ter­is­tics. Get to know the par­tic­u­lars of your ves­sel. Do you have an in­board engine with a right- hand pro­peller? Most sin­gle-screw recre­ational boats do, mean­ing the stern will tend ini­tially to star­board in for­ward gear and to port in re­verse gear.

Also, get to know the abil­i­ties of your crew. Once you un­der­stand how these fac­tors all work on your boat, they be­come pre­dictable traits. Prac­tice.

When get­ting on or off the dock, plan your ma­neu­vers in ad­vance. Con­sider the di­rec­tion of the wind and cur­rent, and use these fac­tors to your ad­van­tage. Make a strat­egy and have a brief meet­ing with your crew so ev­ery­one knows what the goal is. Set the lines in place in ad­vance. If you have shore line-han­dlers, get them on the same page, too.

When you are at the helm, is­sue clear or­ders to each per­son to cre­ate a co­or­di­nated, con­trolled ef­fect, rather than al­low­ing in­di­vid­u­als—both on board and on the dock—to act in­de­pen­dently. Be aware that some events re­quire swift, bold and adap­tive ma­neu­vers. This is where prac­tice and calm judg­ment will pay off most. If your planned dock­ing at­tempt proves un­ten­able, then back off and re­group for a sec­ond ap­proach. Ig­nore on­look­ers (or, worse yet, un­so­licited ad­vice) and have con­fi­dence in your de­ci­sions and in­stincts.

If you have the choice, dock with the wind and cur­rent on the bow. Keep­ing the boat head-to-wind and to the cur­rent al­lows max­i­mum con­trol be­cause you can use the throt­tle to main­tain po­si­tion or to ad­vance. You can an­gle the bow across the wind and cur­rent, let­ting the wind and cur­rent set you to port or star­board with­out gain­ing head­way. A pur­pose­ful bump of the throt­tle against the rud­der will bring the bow back into the wind and stop the ves­sel’s set. The same goes for get­ting off the dock: Po­si­tion­ing the bow so the cur­rent and wind get be­tween the dock and your ves­sel will en­cour­age the nat­u­ral forces to wedge you off the dock.

When the wind is on the out­board beam in a side-tie dock­ing sce­nario, slowly ap­proach the slip, take your way off and al­low the nat­u­ral forces to set you into the dock. This is where well-placed fend­ers come into play, al­low­ing the boat to place her­self along­side.

Get­ting off the dock with nat­u­ral forces on your out­board beam is more of a chal­lenge, but pow­er­ing ahead against an aftlead­ing spring line from the bow with the helm to­ward the dock will kick the stern away from the dock, mak­ing room to back away. Re­mem­ber to have a for­ward fender at the ready and/or have some­one on the dock to fend the bow off. If you’d pre­fer to kick the bow out, power astern against a for­ward-lead­ing spring line from the stern, ad­just­ing the rud­der as needed. Again, have fend­ers in place and be pre­pared to fend off the stern.

When ap­proach­ing a bow-in slip with nat­u­ral forces on ei­ther beam, gauge the set of the forces, al­low room for the wind and cur­rent to set you into po­si­tion, and have your crew ready to place the wind­ward dock lines first.

Of­ten, the only so­lu­tion to get­ting along­side with the nat­u­ral forces on your in­board beam is pow­er­ing against an aft- lead­ing spring line with the helm away from the dock. Also use this tech­nique when you must ma­neu­ver into a side-tie slip with other boats made fast both ahead and astern of your slip.

In both cases, place the bow in close enough to throw a spring line to the dock at­ten­dant and have it made fast well aft in the slip with no slack. This will pre­vent your boat from trav­el­ing ahead. Grad­u­ally ap­ply­ing for­ward rpms with the helm hard over, away from the dock, will kick the stern in and grad­u­ally move your ves­sel to the face of the dock.

We all have our own dock­ing tri­umphs and fail­ures. My hat’s off to sea­soned boaters who dock with­out fan­fare and keep their wits about them when cir­cum­stances are dif­fi­cult.

Suc­cess­ful dock­ing in chal­leng­ing con­di­tions is one of the big­gest re­wards of plea­sure boat­ing. Us­ing a spring line to ma­neu­ver my own sin­gle- screw cruis­ing boat grace­fully into a slip be­tween oth­ers with only a few feet to spare is enor­mously sat­is­fy­ing. “Nice job, skip­per,” is a com­pli­ment I never take for granted. It comes with prac­tice.

Heav­ing a dock­line is an im­por­tant boat­ing skill.

Stern Line Af­ter spring For­ward quar­ter spring Mid­ships breast Af­ter bow spring For­ward spring Bow line

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