VOE: Docking Goes Awry

Author:
Updated:
Original:
An everyday docking scenario goes embarrassingly awry

An everyday docking scenario goes embarrassingly awry

If you spend enough time on the water, stuff happens. And when you sail solo like I do, “stuff” can take on a new and scary meaning—like when my top-down furler drum got freakishly fouled by the asymmetrical spinnaker’s tack line in a sudden knockdown wind, or when I was transiting the Chesapeake Delaware Canal at night and the railroad lift bridge lowered without an audible or visual signal, threatening to decapitate my mast.

In the first case, I was able to cut the jammed line and free the furler before charging into shallow water. In the latter, I had the presence of mind to believe what my tired eyes were seeing before it was too late. Nonetheless, in both these stressful moments, it would have been nice to have another hand on board.

Ultimately, when I add up my many hours on the water, the uneventful times outweigh the scary ones by a large margin. The buzz I get from being on my own is worth the risk. However, there is one nagging source of anxiety that still lurks at the end of each outing for this solo sailor—docking.

I sail Celestial, a Blue Jacket 40. My berth is alongside a perpendicular finger that juts out from a T-dock at the end of a very long multi-slip pier. While it doesn’t offer the corralling effect of a slip with pilings, it’s a great little spot that affords me a view of a snug harbor where classic beauties swing at their moorings. When docking, the prevailing wind also typically blows me toward the dock, so Mother Nature does most of the work. I have lines at the ready, and I have the luxury of a bow thruster. Easy enough.

But when the wind blows from the opposite direction, things can get tricky. No big deal, but the choreography needs to be just right, and I’m the first to admit I’m not one of those savants who can dock a single-screw boat like a VW Beetle in a Walmart parking lot. The notion of using prop walk to maneuver a 40ft sailboat in its own length is beyond me. The use of spring lines to parallel-park looks great on paper, but in my real world? Not gonna happen.

Last summer, as I was making an approach in one of these contrary winds, everything seemed well in hand. Dockside assistance? Called for and waiting. Dock lines? Ready. Bow thruster? On and tested. Fenders? All four in place. I slowed to a halt some 3ft from the dock. The dock hand grabbed the forward line that I had run amidships for easy access and casually walked to the forward dock cleat.

Unfortunately, “casually” is the operative term. By the time the line was made fast, a gust had pushed the stern too far away from the dock to complete the mission, so I decided to abort. No harm, no foul: I just yelled to the dockhand to toss the bow line back on board and said we’d try again. Unfortunately, the line only made it halfway on board. I’d better get the dangling bitter end on board, but not now, I thought. First, I had to get the boat out of the tight quarters I was in.

Good seamanship not only took a back seat but was soon forgotten. I set up for a new approach, and we tried again. This time I planned to use the bow thruster to swing the bow in close as we first secured the stern. We went for it. The bow thruster didn’t respond. Dead. Drat. Now it was the bow that had fallen off too far. “One more time,” I yelled as I reversed away.

The one thing solo sailing has taught me is to take my time when things get “challenging,” so I motored into the mooring field to gather my thoughts. Clunk! The engine stopped. I didn’t have to look forward to know that the bow line was now leading under the boat, bar tight. I knew what had happened. It had fouled the prop.

Running forward, filling the air with expletives, my first impulse was to drop anchor. There were boats moored to leeward and beyond that, a sandy shoreline 50 yards away. This left me with two options: I could drop the hook and possibly swing into a moored boat and make a tangled mess, or I could allow Celestial to run aground on the lee shore. Neither option was life-threatening, but the situation was a heart-thumper nonetheless.

I took a deep breath and, not unlike the lift bridge incident, noticed something out of the corner of my eye. Forward and to leeward was a vacant mooring. All this had happened in a matter of seconds, so I was still making way. I watched in amazement as Celestial glided in slowly toward the mooring, coming to rest in a perfect position for a flawless pickup. I had to laugh as I tied off. If only I was this good at docking.

I hailed the marina, and they towed me to my berth within a half hour. Celestial was back in action next day after the yard hauled her, cleared the line and checked the fouled prop.

I did a postmortem and found that my bow-thruster batteries had gone flat when they were needed most. This led me to discover an issue with the charging system. As for the other variables, what can I say? Stuff happens…

Karl Westman is a music producer who lives in New York City. His homeport is Greenport, NY, where he sails local waters and cruises southern New England.

What I got wrong

• On my first attempt, the midship line would have been a better choice to make fast first. That way neither bow nor stern would blow off beyond reach.

• I didn’t address the tangling bow line before my second attempt. I knew better.

• I didn’t monitor the bow-thruster batteries as I should. Out of sight, out of mind.

What I got right

• I called ahead for assistance in a contrary blustery wind.

• I didn’t force maneuvers at the dock that were beyond my capabilities.

• I reacted quickly and maintained situational awareness.

Illustration by Jan Adkins

April 2017

Related

Register-2048

Register of Circumnavigators Launched

Just in time for a fresh class of Vendée Globe sailors to attempt their circumnavigations, The International Association of Cape Horners (IACH) has taken on the responsibility of maintaining an official register of sailors who have completed solo circumnavigations by the Three ...read more

FPO skys0tlm8jlrpynehcpe_NEW

A Half-century of Cruising with SAIL

I cannot say I have been reading SAIL magazine since the very beginning, but I come pretty darned close. Sometime around 1974, when I was in high school, I began buying it every month at our local newsstand and saving every issue until I had great stacks of them, as carefully ...read more

B&G-Halo20+-side-facing

Gear: B&G HALO radar

B&G’s HALO series of radars now includes the HALO20+ and the HALO20, a pair of compact radomes expressly designed for use aboard smaller sailboats. The units measure 20in in diameter and weigh a mere 11lb. The HALO20+, in particular, delivers a full 360-degree sweep every ...read more

PICTON CASTLE under sail with stunsls WV7 compressed

Picton Castle Seeks Crew

The Picton Castle is set to begin its eighth circumnavigation this spring under the command of Captain Daniel Moreland. A professional crew of 12 will guide up to 40 trainees at a time as they learn about all aspects of sailing the bark, from steering to lookout, ...read more

DSC_0013

Ask Sail: Keel Attachments

Q: I have an early ‘70s Catalina 27. The keel bolts look pretty good. My question is, why not glass over the keel to bond to the hull rather than changing the bolts if, or when the bolts are too far gone? I haven’t seen anything on this, so could you discuss? Full-keels are ...read more

04-GOPR0511

Book Review: Sailing Into Oblivion

Sailing Into Oblivion by Jerome Rand $15.99, available through Amazon As refreshing and inspiring as Jerome Rand’s 2017-18 solo-circumnavigation may have been, his account of the voyage in the book Sailing Into Oblivion: The Solo Non-Stop Voyage of the Mighty Sparrow may be even ...read more

01-1970-Dec

50 Years of SAIL

Back in early 1970, Bernie Goldhirsh and the recently founded “Institute for the Advancement of Sailing,” publisher of an annual sailboat and gear guide, launched something called SAIL. A half-century later, a look back at the magazine’s first few years provides a glimpse into a ...read more

Photo-by-Adobe-Stockpics721-2048x

Webinar: Navigating Post-Dorian Abaco

On Thursday, October 22 at 6 pm ET, Navigare Yachting presents a webinar on what to expect from Abaco post-Dorian. The event will feature the authors of The Cruising Guide to Abaco, Steve Dodge and his sons Jon and Jeff.Hurricane Dorian hit Abaco in early September of 2019 and ...read more