Positive control astern Page 2

Because a sailboat without a bow thruster lacks positive directional control when going astern at slow speeds, many skippers choose one of three options when it’s time to go into a slip. They go into the slip bow first; they stop at a right angle to the slip and then use dock lines to pull the stern in by hand; or they back down with enough speed on to maintain control.The first option is
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Rotating the boat

In situation A clockwise rotation, as seen from above, is automatically induced by two opposing forces. The wind is blowing the bow to starboard away from the slip, while the prop is walking the stern to port toward the slip (Fig. 2).

At this point you need to focus on the outer pilings and decide whether the stern is moving laterally at the proper rate as sternway increases. This may seem tough to do, but you can precisely control the stern trajectory and speed with these maneuvers.

If the rate of the turn is adequate but speed in reverse is too high, keep the rudder amidships and apply a burst of power in forward gear. This should reduce reverse speed without creating much lateral movement.

If the wind is blowing into the slip, it doesn’t matter whether the wind is on the starboard or port bow since reverse gear will be used just once, to initiate movement in reverse; the wind will maintain sternway once the boat is moving. Prop walk will not be a factor. With the propeller in forward, apply short bursts of power as you turn the wheel in the direction the bow needs to move to keep it from being blown past the slip’s centerline (Fig. 3).

Because there are fewer gear changes, this approach may seem simpler—but it is actually more difficult than the first example. And the bigger the angle between the direction of the wind and the centerline of the slip, the more difficult the maneuver will be. Although you must let the bow be blown by the wind, it’s important to keep the bow’s movement slow so that prop wash can oppose the wind’s force if it becomes necessary.

Once the stern is inside the outer end of the slip, you can concentrate again on your speed in reverse. If necessary, the crew can help maintain proper alignment in the slip by passing a line over pilings at the end of the slip. This won’t be important in light air, but if the wind is fresh it can be very helpful. Rigging both aft spring lines can also help stop the boat before it reaches the end of the slip (Fig. 4).

Final thoughts

Always practice these maneuvers in open water before you try them in close quarters. A good technique is to use a vacant mooring buoy and have it represent the windward, outer piling of a slip. When you start maneuvering and spinning around the buoy in reverse from different directions, you will quickly learn how to use your engine and rudder to maintain positive control in all conditions.

Carlos Yermoli is a sailboat charter captain who also sails his own Beneteau 352, Contessa, on Florida’s Biscayne Bay.

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