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Old 07-17-2013
aaronwindward aaronwindward is offline
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First time singlehanding, bad things happen, the sound of breaking fiberglass, etc

Alternate title: The big ship wharf to leeward is not your friend

Conditions:
True wind speed: 15 knots
In the channel, minimal tidal current
Approximately 8-9 PM, evening to dusk to night
Clear, 60°F

Outcome:
Minor damage and scuffing of port rubrail, port topsides
Serious bend to bow pulpit

I've been sailing my Ericson 27 for almost three years before, but never alone, for one reason or another. I'm planning a longer sail alone to take the boat to the boatyard for miscellaneous maintenance, and I wanted to do a brief sail to go through all of the motions to make sure there were no major problems.

Well, for most of the voyage, everything went fine, surprisingly easy.

The hardest part was dealing with the tether, which I've never seriously used before; it was constantly getting caught on things, tripping me, preventing me from going where I wanted to, or worst, getting caught up in other lines. I can see a tether working well for a fully-crewed boat, where everyone has a job/station, but I can't figure out how its supposed to work for a singlehander, when you need to go all over the place and do many things, frequently when things are in the middle of going wrong somewhere on the boat--and usually, about to get a lot worse if not resolved within N seconds.

Maybe I'm doing something wrong, but my simple West Marine tether also seems to require two hands to unclip at the far end, due to this safety bracket thing. I think I could figure out how to do it with one hand, but it's basically a huge pain, and probably puts me at more risk of falling overhead than if I didn't have a tether at all.

One of the most valuable functions that crew serves is preventing me from doing things that seem like a really bad idea. I don't do the authoritarian captain absolute chain of command thing; if I can't convince my girlfriend, crew, or other guests that it's a reasonable thing to do, we don't do it. (Among friends in emergencies, trust seems to work just as well as the chain of command does in the navy and merchant marine.)

So I've been trying to figure out how to calibrate my wind transducer, or at least, verify that it's reasonably accurate. There's this weather station with real-time wind reporting, and it seemed like it would be a great idea to pull up right next to it, and compare readings. It's on a wharf on the leeward side of the channel. The wharf is one of those big ship things, constructed from concrete and steel pilings and beams with a bunch of (mostly broken) pieces of wood over it. Basically, really nasty looking; I have no idea why I ever thought that would be a good place to tie up. (The best I can find is a photo of the backside of the structure; the front is the same construction, with the metal and wood nasty stuff hanging off the front.)

My thinking is that I'd just barely kiss it, sit there for a few minutes taking my readings, then be off. I found a "nice" part of the wharf that had the most wood and the least nasty-looking things poking out of it, and just sort of edged up to it. At first, everything worked, and although I found it hard to get the fenders into an effective position, everything was mostly OK.

The problem was leaving. When I tried to push off, I realized the wind was much to strong; I just ended up where I started from. There was pretty much no way to make headway or sternway without rubbing up against a million terrible things, and without headway, I couldn't turn. If I had a helper, I could have had them help push off while I gunned the motor, and it would have been totally OK.

(I've since learned that one of the proper ways to leave such a dock is a fender on the bow stem and a spring line, but this still would have required crew I think, and I'm not even sure it would have worked on the wharf, since it isn't actually a solid surface, just a bunch of pilings and beams.)

What I ended up doing was reversing and going forward in succession, running back and forth between the cockpit (where the outboard motor controls and tiller are, and the side, fending off. Terrible scraping things happened, but it sort of worked.

Somehow in the process of getting free, one of the pilings pulled off one of my fenders, and I made the really dumb decision to try to get it. The fender sucked, and was old and nasty and I was going to get rid of it eventually anyway. I don't know why I went back for it, but I basically ended up back on the wharf, but in an even worse place.

In the process of trying to get free again, because things were basically getting much worse rapidly, I motored forward into one of the pilings, which caught my bow pulpit. It wasn't fast, but, well, the boat weighs a few tons. Rending fiberglass is a terrible noise, and when you hear it on your boat, you'll feel it like it's corporal damage to your own body.

But the pulpit's sacrifice is basically what helped position the boat to get free again, and then everything was OK. The rest of the voyage was completed without incident.

I'm pretty bummed now about the damage, and not feeling very good about singlehandling. My understanding is that pulpits are not especially repairable, and this one isn't replaceable being out-of-production. I'd actually much rather just gotten holed or something, since that would be a straightforward fiberglass repair.

Early on in the Golden Globes race, Bernard Moitessier bent his bowsprit (3" steel pipe) in a collision with a freighter, and it was so emotionally crushing to him that he almost dropped out of the race. It was less about the loss of functionality, and more about the aesthetics. Fortunately, in his case, he has able to bend it back using his winches, so that you could hardly tell. I'm not a match of Moitessier, and I don't think I'll be able to bend this one back, even at land.
Attached Images
File Type: jpg base.jpg (19.4 KB, 134 views)
File Type: jpg railbend.jpg (44.5 KB, 148 views)
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