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Old 21-08-2019, 07:13   #1
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Docking - I made several mistakes

This situation occurred several days ago. I would appreciate your assessment, to help me improve my docking.

45' sailing monohull with a bowthruster. About 20kn of steady wind. I am in command at the wheel, and my wife is the sole crew.

We are reversing almost directly into the wind, toward two boat-widths of open space on a floating dock. To port is a med-moored and unattended larger vessel, about 70'. To starboard is a concrete wall with regularly spaced bollards. The wind is blowing at our stern, perpendicular to the floating dock and parallel to the concrete harbour inner wall.

It is our first time docking here. Most of the vessels appear to be on laid lines, rather than anchors. I cannot see anything that clearly looks like a reliable laid line tail in the space we are backing into, and I do not want to use my anchor for fear of fouling something at the bottom of the harbour.

My decision is to back up into the available space, and to moor side-on to the concrete wall on our starboard side, rather than risk anchoring. Fenders are concentrated on the starboard side, with mooring lines attached and ready to go on the starboard bow, midship, and aft cleats. Startboard gates in the lifelines are open.

The boat is reversing quite nicely into the relatively strong wind, and I use the bowthruster to make small corrections as needed. I tell my wife that my plan is to attach the aft (windward) line first, let the boat hang downwind from that, and then attach the bow and midship lines.

A man appears on the dock and is seemingly offering help. While I am focused on steering backwards, he tells my wife to throw the BOW line to him, which she does. I am peripherally aware that this is not according to plan, but I remain focused on steady slow backwards progress and say nothing. Mistake 1 on my part.

The man on the dock throws our bow line over a bollard, arresting our motion. I am not yet panicking, because I think I am close enough to another bollard at the back to throw our stern line over. I throw and miss. Mistakes 2 and 3.

Motion arrested and steerage lost, the stern of the boat is blown to port across the relatively wide open space, toward the side of the moored 70' vessel. Now it's panic stations. The guy on the dock is yelling at me to apply lots of power to stern, but my instincts tell me it's too late, and that would only slam us into the larger vessel at speed.

The bowthruster is near useless with my bow tied on, and what had been a controlled approach is now a mini-emergency.

I yell back at the guy at the dock to release my bow line, which he does, and I manage to power forward, downwind, and out of danger. I then repeat the approach, insisting on the aft starboard line being attached first, and docking is completed without further drama.

I was in command, and the mistakes are all mine. I should have communicated my plan more clearly to my wife, and to the helper on the dock, and I should have immediately protested his attempt to attach the bow line first. I lost my nerve after he did that, and made several errors.

Was his plan better than mine? In those circumstances, would it have been better to attach the bow line first, and then power against it back into the wind?

All critique is welcome. Thanks.
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Old 21-08-2019, 07:31   #2
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Re: Docking - I made several mistakes

Long Range!

Your original plan was a good one. You were master of the vessel at the time. It IS a learning curve, however. You took the correct initial steps: (i) figuring out what you were going to do and (ii) communicating that to your crew. Just the third part: sticking to that plan, despite the "helpful" bystander.

Does the admiral understand that she should have had only the stern line to hand, and when the bystander asked for the bow line, she could have just tossed the stern line, pointed to where you wanted it secured and directed, "Would you please secure the stern line there? (Pointing)"

As a Harboumaster who takes lines from a myriad of boaters on a daily basis, to me the most useless line I am regularly handed is the bow line.

In the situation you describe, the stern line was key. It's up to you to reinforce that as the docking progressed.

Don't worry, though, you *will* get better at that.

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Old 21-08-2019, 07:37   #3
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Re: Docking - I made several mistakes

If I am docking "ass first" single or short handed I only concentrate on getting one stern line tied off. This is (should be) the windward one. back up enough so you can set the line or get the guy on the dock to do it - but tell/yell to him what you want done.

Once the stern line is on, stick the boat in gear pronto - It will steady up and keep the bow upwind provided you have applied enough power. Once this is done I can happily set up the other lines.

One other thing you can do is tie a line mid-ship and using a pole get the other end around a dock cleat further aft. if you power onto this line, the boat will spring into the dock and sit there.

Having said that, I've still screw-up sometimes and I've been sailing since the mid 70's.
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Old 21-08-2019, 07:41   #4
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Re: Docking - I made several mistakes

It is not uncommon to have to deal with the 'docking committee' coming into a slip. Assisting with lines is one thing. Giving commands to me or the crew is quite another. That individual was not part of your briefing. Besides you have no idea if that person is nothing more than a dock walker whose experience doesn't extend beyond the ferry he/she rode on to the get there.

Empower your crew to override/ignore the dock committee. "No, I need to you take this stern line, wrap it around the cleat and hold it there." When someone yells "Throw me the line" to my wife, she yells to me "He wants me to throw the <Spring; Stern; Bow> line!" I then advise which line she throws and too whom.

If the bollard was forward of the bowline, you could have kept it in reverse, essentially springing off the bowline (which might be what the good samaritan was thinking).

Just a few thoughts.
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Old 21-08-2019, 08:58   #5
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Re: Docking - I made several mistakes

All of us have been, or nearly been, in your situation. There is no predicting what a dock hand will do - so I have a backup plan:

If the bow line is secured first, go into forward, turn away from the dock, and go slowly forward, instructing your bow hand to tighten the secured line if possible.

The boat will fall off with the wind, proceed slowly forward and warp the stern in as you add power. Once the stern is near the dock, secure the stern as far aft as you can and reposition the boat by alternately slacking the bow line and tightening the stern line.

The result is a very smooth controlled docking with your bow person being a hero and no risk.
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Old 21-08-2019, 09:17   #6
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Re: Docking - I made several mistakes

I have had a rough week of docking myself (I have banged the dock twice, fortunately without damage, except for a bruised ego).

I noticed as well that my docking problems originate either by comments or actions either by a well-meaning "helper" on the dock, or by somebody in the crew. Usually, my wife and I are shorthanded, I rarely miss the approach and turn into the slip, and we dock flawlessly. She secures a spring line and I motor against it until the boat stops alongside the dock.

The first miss this week was due to other members of the crew (not familiar with the boat) commenting repeatedly that my approach was too fast and yelling "slow down, slow down!". There was a strong crosswind and I know that in those conditions my boat needs some forward speed in order to maintain steerage. In reality my approach was just perfect for the conditions. As much as I was trying to put those comments out of my mind, as I started the turn, I consciously thought "my turn today is so perfect that I have margin to slow down, as the crew is saying", so I put excessive reverse, stopped completely in the middle of the turn, lost steerage, and the wind got control of the bow and slammed it on the dock.

The second miss this week happened because of a dock "helper" (just somebody passing by who offered to help). Normally, my wife secures a spring line first and I motor against it until the boat stops alongside the dock, then she goes down and secures the bow line. Instead, in this instance, the helper on the dock asked my wife to pass him the bow line (she had the spring line in her hands). She did, but doing so, she fumbled the spring line and missed the throw to the cleat. I did not expect she would miss, and was late at stopping the boat, which ended up bumping on the dock.

The point is that, no matter how hard one tries, it is very difficult to disregard well-meaning but misinformed comments or actions and instead stick to the plan. When that distraction develops into a miss or a bump, I feel very dumb, much dumber than if I miss because of my poor maneuvering without "assistance". Those misses rarely result in a bump, we simply calmly abort the maneuver, go back out, and try again.

I guess the only "solution" is to learn the lesson from these mistakes (deviating from the plan because of a comment or action from somebody who has no knowledge of the boat is most definitely solely the skipper's mistake) and improve the self-confidence in the planned maneuver.
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Old 21-08-2019, 09:28   #7
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Re: Docking - I made several mistakes

Good advice from all of the above posts.

I have seen this several times before where people with no clue call for a boat's lines, then pull like their lives depend on it, messing up what would have been a perfect docking. What's up with that???

NEVER TRUST a stranger on the dock !
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Old 21-08-2019, 09:32   #8
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Re: Docking - I made several mistakes

I’ve had a few bad docking experiences myself, the worst of which resulted in almost getting my hand smashed between my boats house and an overhanging bow anchor that was going to take out one of my windows. It’s a long story which ended with me in the ER getting 8 stitches in my hand (sigh) but more importantly that the ‘admiral’ and I now thoroughly discuss my docking plan before starting in. She’s a great sounding board and points out the things I miss but it also puts us on the same page, which is crucial. Communication is a must!
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Old 21-08-2019, 09:34   #9
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Re: Docking - I made several mistakes

Never trust dock helpers to do what you ask. Marina employees are sometimes the most difficult as they are more confident and insistent. My general policy is to hand over the loop and instruct them where to put it, then secure it to the boat after they do as asked. If they don't follow the plan, just pay out slack. If the line is already secured to the boat, you have just handed over control of the vessel to them.
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Old 21-08-2019, 10:08   #10
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Re: Docking - I made several mistakes

Originally Posted by sanibel sailor View Post
Never trust dock helpers to do what you ask.

or to do the right thing at all. many are not so experienced but motivated to help if they can. docking is usually the most difficult part of the journey. trying to back a boat in makes it a little tougher.
some of the best times of my life were spent on a boat. it just took a long time to realize it

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Old 21-08-2019, 10:25   #11
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Re: Docking - I made several mistakes

Don't beat yourself up, you did really well: a good plan and except for one little error on your helper's part, executed it well, and most of all, recovered without incident.

So, congratulations.

All of us who depend on our spouses (or anyone) for line handling runs the risk that they won't quite "get" the plan and may make a mistake. As they become more experienced they will develop the instinct to check with you before deviating.

And your own situational awareness will also expand so that you can do more at once. Me, I can't chew gum and walk, so I fail in those multi hectic docking exercises.
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Old 21-08-2019, 10:34   #12

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Re: Docking - I made several mistakes

Your plan was perfectly sound. The "error" that set the entire train of errors in motion was - forgive me, I say it only to be helpful - that your wife took "orders" from someone other than you.

My wife is (now) very good about such things. "Thank you kindly, Sir", she will say with that sweet smile of hers, "I'll gladly do that if I'm told to do so by my skipper." And then she stands fast until it's "suggested" by me that she does whatever it is I need doing.

But a little background: MyBeloved is Canadian and suffers from that proverbial Canadian weakness of being insufferably polite, and from its corollary - a serious dislike of "authoritarianism". So we had to have some serious pillow talk about how, when I make a "suggestion", it is in fact an order, and how, while there is no need to address me as "Sir", there IS a need to respond to a suggestion from me by repeating it back loud enuff that I can hear the response even if I'm not looking directly at her. And, of course, when a "suggestion" is made it MUST be executed promptly and proficiently.

At the beginning of the second year of MB's seafaring life (she'd never set foot in a boat till after retirement age) we were at a fuel dock preparing to depart. We'd been through that evolution a number of times and it is absolutely standard. Me: "Single up!". She: "Singling up!". In come the breasts and the after fore spring. I set the boat in motion making a standard spring line departure. There has been complete silence aboard. I'm a boat length out, going astern. MB is securing lines and fenders. From the dock comes a voice: "WOW! Those guys have a system!"

MB glowed, and from then on she's been VERY content to fall in with my authoritarian ways :-)

So don't sweat it. It's just a matter of developing procedures and then sticking to them It takes a while and some effort, but it's well worth it :-)

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Old 21-08-2019, 10:50   #13
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Re: Docking - I made several mistakes

This is a far too regular event when docking. The captain instructs the crew and that is all that is required. The crew must carry out the captains commands and they inform the dock assistants of the captains wishes. If you need to be instructed by dock helpers you should not be captain. Good luck in future.
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Old 21-08-2019, 10:55   #14
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Re: Docking - I made several mistakes

Don't let it undermine your confidence -- your plan was good, and when it went wrong, you skillfully saved the situation, without any damage to anything. I'd say that was a pretty good day

You've gotten good advice -- NEVER let someone on the dock change your plan. Random people on the dock are often more harm than help anyway, and certainly when they start to influence the plan. If you are on the dock trying to help someone get in, NEVER do something your own way, always ask the skipper what he wants you to do, and do that and that only.

The basic issue here is the inherent difficult of getting onto a windward berth in 20 knots of wind. I enjoy harbour maneuvers and pride myself on having a certain amount of skill, but I cock this kind of maneuver up sometimes. Last summer in the Orkneys I had a terrible time getting on and ended up winching the boat up with an electric winch, which was ugly and awkward.

In your case I think the basic plan was good -- as you discovered you are in BEST control dealing with low speed maneuvers in strong wind, by backing into the wind. So this is by far the most reliable way to get a stern line on.

The drawback however is then getting the bow up against the wind -- the bow which is the part which wants most to blow off. You would do that with brute force -- a winch or a capstan I think is easiest. So get some kind of longish rope onto a bollard and lead it through a bow cleat back to a winch (assuming you don't have a captstan), and crank it in. Forget the bow thruster in this situation except to make final corrections or get some slack out of the rope at the end.

I wouldn't try to power the bow in if you're attached by the stern. You would need to be attached further forward, for that to work, at least on the quarter if not midships. That would be a different plan (and probably my own Plan A).

If you're attached at the BOW and nothing else, with a strong wind blowing you off, you're SCREWED. There is no way to get back up to the dock from there against a strong wind, except possibly walking a line back, putting it through a stern cleat, and winching yourself up. You were absolutely right not to attempt that despite the urging of the dock walker. Your one mistake was allowing yourself to get attached to the bow with no other line on.

My own approach in that situation -- having a couple of boat lengths of space to play with -- would be different. I would take a good hard run at the dock in forward, Captain Ron style, and turn off at the last moment, and try to get a midships spring line on. With a midships spring on, you CAN power against that and pull yourself up close to the dock, even against the wind.

But it depends on split second, effective bollard lassoing, by your crew. And it might work better on my relatively heavy boat, than it would on yours. So YMMV; I'm not telling you that you chose the wrong plan; only you can know that.

In any case, don't feel bad -- we've all done such things and far worse, and most of us still do sometimes. Docking in strong wind is a significant challenge even for the very experienced.
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Old 21-08-2019, 11:51   #15
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Re: Docking - I made several mistakes

Originally Posted by sanibel sailor View Post
Never trust dock helpers to do what you ask. Marina employees are sometimes the most difficult as they are more confident and insistent. My general policy is to hand over the loop and instruct them where to put it, then secure it to the boat after they do as asked. If they don't follow the plan, just pay out slack. If the line is already secured to the boat, you have just handed over control of the vessel to them.
This ^^^. Lines should be fixed onto the dock and controlled onboard the boat.
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