I admit to feeling a little pride in how well I can maneuver my largish vessel in constricted marinas
. I enjoy frustrating the crowds which sometimes gather to watch me crash, when I’m berthing single
handed in windy conditions. I enjoy spinning her around and placing her just so in a narrow spot, just kissing the dock
at the very moment she loses all way, so that I can casually step away from the helm
and stroll over to lasso a cleat.
Well, pride is one of the Seven Deadly Sins, and is perhaps the most deadly sin, wherever the sea is concerned. Neptune has a way of making you eat it. And that is what happened to me.
I was leaving the dock
at Yarmouth. There was a lull in the stormy weather
we’ve been having, and little wind
. I had spun the boat
around to back into the berth, and I was at the end of the pontoon facing out. What could possibly be simpler, than leaving such a berth? True the tide was really ripping – maybe 3 knots – but it was ripping towards me, which should actually help the maneuver. Ha!
I was single
handed. I threw off the lines and got to the helm
before the boat
started moving, put the helm over to starboard (I was berthed starboard-to), forward gear
and power, and hit the port bow thruster. As I usually do – to move the boat sideways away from the pontoon, to get clear. Hmm, the bow seems to be pinned to the pontoon by the current
– even 10 horsepower worth of bow thruster is not getting it off. So with the boat angled bows-in to the pontoon, forward gear
and power is trying to mash me into the pontoon. Because of the easy berth, I have lazily put out less fenders than usual. Ick. So I give a burst in astern to pull the bows around, and this works, but I am not really clear of the pontoon and am now desperately trying not to scrape alongside it. 10 horsepower worth of bow thruster is hardly doing anything in this current
. I manage to get clear – barely – but by this time my bows were still too far to starboard for me to easily get turned to port, to clear the next perpendicular pontoon. So I decided to turn to starboard and then back out around the perpendicular pontoon.
Big mistake! With the current ripping, I was, in an instant, being swept back onto the pontoon I had just left, as I stopped to get into reverse. Damn! Helm hard a port, port bow thruster, full power astern, and I barely miss the other pontoon. But then there’s another one! I barely miss that one, but now I have some serious way on, and I’m about to run out the edge of the harbor into the floating border lines, either to get them into my prop or stuff the rudder
into mud. Damn! Full power ahead, and wrestle the helm over. Engine racing
at 4000 RPM
, I back into the floating border lines, but thank God didn’t run over them, just barely stopping in time. Get the boat going ahead, nose into the ripping tide, and slink out of the harbor with my tail between my legs.
What a fiasco!! Only complete miracle that I didn’t bash the topsides on one of the three (!) pontoons I barely missed, or stuff up the rudder
, or get those floating lines in my prop. Awful!!!
Neptune gave me a small consolation prize when I arrived in Cowes, allowing me to thread the needle around a huge steel catamaran
berthed ahead of my little spot, leaving me not more than 50cm clearance to get through, and to then just lightly kiss the pontoon in just the right spot, just at the moment when all way came off.
I did not feel any pride at this! Still shaking after the fiasco of the morning. No matter how much you think you know, it’s still not quite enough.
There, I feel better now, having made a full confession. In retrospect, what I did wrong was grossly underestimating the risks presented by the strong current. I should have understood that the bow thruster was not strong enough, and I should never, ever have taken the last line off while the bow was still being pressed into the pontoon. I should have put out more fenders, and I should have had one right back at the quarter. I should have used a spring line to get the bows out before I started to go. With the bow out angled away from the pontoon, it would have been childsplay to get the boat clear of the pontoon using starboard helm and forward power, and I would have left the berth already pointing towards the gap I needed to get out of. In this position, the tide would have been helping me, rather than sweeping me towards a t-bone collision
with the end of the pontoon. Woulda, coulda, shoulda
Epilogue: I am absolutely sure, that the only reason why there are not huge, expensive gouges in my topsides, and/or a damaged rudder, is because I had enough karma points in the bank to cover it. You see, last year when some poor guy in Brighton got caught by a strong current, and smashed into me, damaging my outboard
and scratching my topsides. I was nice to him, told him it could happen to anyone, and didn't take any money
from him. Thanks, Neptune, for remembering!