21 January 2016
A long long time ago I was given a Hans Christian 43 to Captain. I had a fresh Captains License and was wildly unqualified. Up to this point I had either been a foredeck monkey, racing dinghys, cruising with adults or serving on ships (USCGC Towline and USCGC Bibb). I looked the part but was close to clueless on maneuvering a heavy single screw vessel.
Once the unsuspecting owner left I decided I better figure this out. Couldn't google "how to dock a single screw sail boat" back then so went analog, dropped the mooring and motored over to the fuel dock. It was a mid week morning with no traffic, no wind and no spectators. Crafty I was.
I figured it would drive like a car, something the State of New York and experience said I could do. It didn't. For about half an hour I went in circles, got the bowsprit (if you've seen a Hans Christian they are not small) stuck between pilings, made a bunch of noise but no success in coming alongside the dock smoothly and professionally as was my desire.
Dejected I stood off the dock with head held low as I contemplated what to do next when I heard a motor coming towards me at great speed. As I looked up I saw JB, a Norse mountain of a man with a scowl on his face, blonde hair blowing in the wind, if he had a hammer and a cape he would have passed for Thor.
He pulled up alongside and said "I can't watch you anymore". In a flash he tied off, got me away from my dangerous position at the helm and proceeded to "school" me in all things single screw.
Now at this point you seasoned seaman know he's about to show me all about propwalk. I had NO CLUE and was generally surprised when in reverse she would do all kinds of strange sorcery. You pros also know your boat either backs to port or to starboard. This one little piece of knowledge combined with a wee bit of practice can make even young PRB (my initials) look like a docking machine in a few short hours. Combined with rudimentary understanding of what a rudder can do, viola!
After that day I would back up everywhere I went. I loved reverse, loved tight spots, loved everything "close and tight and challenging". I can't thank JB enough for taking the time and initiative to set me straight.
This post isn't about how to dock per se, it's about thanking those who step in and come along side those of us who are learning. Taking the time to take a man aside and teach him a new skill in whatever way works. As a professional today this one experience (30 years ago) gave me the insight to look at all the "newbies" crashing into everything and have a heart to give them a hand and help them along. Pay it forward so to speak.
When I decided to pursue driving one of the Auckland Ferries another captain, John Menzies, took the time to teach me the same with respect to large passenger catamarans. His technique was different. He gave you the helm and said "you'll figure it out" and I'd see him again 10 hours and 38 berthings later (he liked to read the paper I guess). That was fun and you gotta love Kiwis!
Side note. If your boat backs to port with a neutral rudder pull up to the dock bow first at a 20-30 degree angle, just before the nose is going to touch give a little starboard rudder and a shot of reverse (you can look at a point just off your left shoulder to judge your forward speed and deceleration. You don't have to be gentle with the throttle, stop her and watch the stern come in, piece of cake just like Captain Ron!