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post #1 of Old 09-08-2002 Thread Starter
Kevin Hughes
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Praising the Fenderboard

Docking alongside a potentially harmful surface, like that on the stationary dock shown here, requires care and often the use of a fenderboard.
Every sailor is instructed to, encouraged to, and eventually will submit to reading Adlard Coles' Heavy Weather Sailing. This book is chock full of lessons, methods, techniques, and routines—all useful information based on years of experience at sea. Not that any of us wish to find ourselves in a heavy weather situations, but sometimes we simply do not have control of every state of affairs that exist at sea. Maybe that's what makes reading about extreme weather conditions from the comfort of home so exciting.

What about docking? How many sailing instructors stress the importance of fender placement, breast lines, and spring lines? Where is it explained how one should proceed to test the water depth at an unfamiliar dock with no local assistance? Sure, I've been to the seminars at the boat shows where current and wind factors are described relative to docking, and those are great. And I know it just isn't as exciting to read about extreme docking conditions, but when you find yourself steaming your pride and joy toward an immovable concrete, steel or wooden structure with nails, rebar or bolts protruding into your berth, believe, that's reason for excitement!

In several recent docking experiences—dozens in fact—I've encountered some real challenges of that ilk. In these situations the state of affairs were definitely not in our control. In fact they were set in stone. Or in some cases steel, or wood, with big, ol' nasty spikes sticking out. Each of these situations we handled with a fenderboard. Using a fenderboard allowed us to tie up where we wanted to, sometimes at a location more convenient to the task we planned. At times the bad dock with a fenderboard was safer than the good dock without one. And almost always (and most important to us), using a fenderboard allowed us to park the boat for free.

"The size of a fenderboard should be directly proportional to the size of your vessel and the amount of time and money you've spent on your topsides."
When you look at the accompanying photos, don't be put off by the size of the fenderboard we use. We've found that the size of a fenderboard should be directly proportional to the size of your vessel, the amount of protection you desire, and the amount of time or money you've spent sanding, repairing, filling, fairing, priming and painting your vessel. (We overdid the fairing-painting part, so we've overdone the fenderboard.)

To use a fenderboard, you first need to hang two fenders along the topsides, spaced adequately to support your boat. Then you simply span the distance with a board, overlapping each fender enough so that neither can pop free of the end of the board. There's nothing fancy here, just ordinary cylindrical fenders and a typical wooden board. In our case, we spent so much time on the finish of Windigo that we use 27-inch spherical fenders and a pressure-treated, two-by-12 board that's 12 feet long. Smaller boats could easily use smaller cylindrical fenders and a six-foot two-by-six or two-by-eight board.

We prefer to hang the fenders from the toe rail, just as you would if you were rafting up. The board is simply hung from the rail as well by lines that are tied through holes we've drilled in the wood. Some sailors like to round off the ends of their fenderboards so they'll inflict less damage if ever they're mishandled. It's also a good idea to round or chamfer the edges too. It really doesn't make sense to take the time to seal, paint, or stain the board due to the abuse it receives when deployed.

Obviously, it's important to hang the wood outboard of the fenders. Some skippers like to attach the fenders to the board, making a unit that they then place over the side, but we find it easier to stow the two fenders and the board when they're separated. And that way the fenders are available for use all by themselves in other docking situations. When not in use, our 12-foot board lies nicely on Windigo's side deck, tied off to the shrouds.

To dock alongside this corrugated cement seawall, the author simply coupled his economy-sized fenders with his trusty fenderboard, and slept without a worry every night.
In our travels we've found that you can often avail yourself of free docking and easy access to land-based services if you can park where the big commercial vessels park—along the seawall. Often rusty and filled with concrete, seawalls can be forbidding sights for a boat owner. Sometimes there are small drainpipes protruding or other irregularities. And just 500 yards away sits a floating dock with shiny cleats and a tanned youth to help you tie up—for $1.50 a foot. The wall, of course, is free.

Docking along a seawall like this would ordinarily be impossible, but it becomes inviting if you have a fenderboard available. Here the fenderboard provides a regular, continuous surface for the fenders to ride on, because the board will span the fender-swallowing creases in the wall and guard the hull against protruding objects.

Once you've gotten your boat alongside, the only thing to consider is tying the docklines ashore. Along most seawalls, ship-sized bollards, posts, or mooring rings are available. Sometimes small fittings or holes on the surface of the wall are more than adequate to secure your lines. Of course it's important to always use good anti-chafe protection wherever your docklines are in contact with, or could come in contact with, the wall or an irregular fitting. This is especially so when lines are brought over the top of the wall and down to the deck fittings. Turn your back on an unprotected line for a couple of minutes, and it will eventually become severed.

On board Windigo, we carry a half-dozen concrete form stakes for use as cleats in these situations. Slipping two into adjoining seams of the corrugated wall, or into the crack at the edge, can provide a chafe-free attachment point where you need it. These readily available stakes are inexpensive and sturdy.

Another feature to be aware of is a modification made to seawalls with the addition of a horizontal member, usually a railroad tie-type wooden fending member. This member is usually added near the top of the wall to provide a resting-place for the topsides of big ships. These members can become a real nuisance during periods of low water when the hull of smaller boats ride below them. In a rising tide, or even with wave action, your stanchions could get stuck beneath these timbers. Because of the shape of the hull, moving the fenders very close together between the fenderboard and hull may attain maximum distance between dock and boat. The fenderboard can do its job positioned anywhere alongside the fenders.

Having a fenderboard at your disposal gives you a lot of options and that's nice when it comes to the variety of docking scenarios you'll encounter in any given region.
In the situation shown here, a rather high dock has been modified to accommodate smaller boats. Or perhaps a seawall has been made into a dockwall by placing on it vertical ‘fending members' that extend out away from the nasty wall. The trouble with this kind of arrangement is that the designers didn't spend a lot of time or thought in putting these members eight to 15 feet apart. Given this situation, it's nice to know that the fenderboard can be used in two ways.

If it is long enough to span two of the members and overlap beyond them, it is pretty much the same as using them to span corrugations of the seawall. If it isn't long enough to hit two members (as is the case in the photo here), you'll need to place the boat so that you use just one. Yes, if properly tied with breast lines and spring lines, with the board centered on one supporting member, it will ride waves up and down and absorb the wind sliding forward and back slightly. Be sure the single member you choose is sturdy enough to handle the weight of your boat against it.

In the situation pictured below, we had to adapt our fendering system to a nice wooden walkway about five feet wide that was fixed alongside a paved parking lot. To the visiting mariner, it looked inviting from the water. But closer inspection showed that the steel seawall was located at the edge of the pavement above and the wooden walkway was added as an afterthought. It wasn't not a dock, just a wooden platform jutting out from the seawall, supported by 18-inch I-beams every six feet. So the structure at the water that we had to protect our boat from was two feet, three inches from the edge of the wooden walkway, plus whatever the thickness of the horizontal fending member was. Someone should inform these harbor engineers that water levels change!

By adapting to the constraints of the location and using two additional fenders, the author makes his fenderboard even more versatile.
Attaching two fenders directly to two of the girders, and then tying up with the fenderboard sandwiched between the girder fenders and the regular boat fenders solved the problem for us. We had to ride out a storm with this arrangement, so we used lots of anti-chafe material, and we still threw away one piece of line after a week's time spent there.

I thought it was pretty humorous that after we received permission to stay there, and had been there for a few days, a part-time employee asked us to register and pay the fee that would be charged for one of the slips in the harbor across the way! Docking for free is all fine and good, but you definitely need to seek out the property owners and get permission before you get all tied up, and be sure to leave the site as you found it. Taking all your line and stakes, etc., with you.

Windigo has six-and-a-half feet of draft, which allows good heavy-displacement performance in a seaway, but prevents us from even entering some small harbors. Once we get into a comfortable bay or harbor, it's often disheartening that we can only get within several feet of the dock or seawall due to this draft. That's when we take the 12-foot fenderboard, flip it sideways, turn it 90 degrees and use it as a gangplank from the quarterdeck to the shore. Everything on our boat has two uses!

Dial Before You Dock

Here, the author employs his fenderboard as a gangplank due to the shallow draft near the dock.
A few notes of caution here regarding the safety and security of docking along seawalls: Always get permission to use the space you plan to dock in, and find out if any commercial vessels are expected to use that space in the near future. Also, if you must leave your boat unattended for an extended time, keep in mind that there's no guarantee of security along a seawall. A marina can provide a bit more piece of mind in that regard, and seawalls usually don't offer shore power or water.

Often a seawall will actually put your boat closer to the road, or stores, making a quick trip for supplies much less involved than dealing with marina gates and extended walkways. One marina we stayed in actually insisted that we remain on our boat after dark as the entire complex was wired with motion detectors!

And on occasion, you'll find that seawalls can be quite tall, requiring access to be made with a ladder. Accordingly, we carry a 12-foot, telescoping ladder on board Windigo for such occasions.   —KH

Suggested Reading:

The Art and Science of Fendering by Sue & Larry

The Particulars of Rafting Up by Mark Matthews

Docking With Grace and Skill by Michelle Potter


SailNet Store Section: Docking Accessories

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