Life is a wild ride!
Join Date: Apr 2011
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First single-handed docking under sail
I'm still a newbie sailor so my story will probably be a day at the park for most of you. Here goes....
It was a Saturday morning on Kentucky Lake. I had made the 2.5 hr drive right after work on Friday to get an early start for the weekend. I had slept in that morning, just enjoying the feel and the smells of my Endeavour 32, the first boat I have ever owned. The marina is located 3 miles up Blood River and the hills and trees tend to keep the wind high. They were very light and variable that day anyway so I decided to motor out to the main lake before putting up the sails. Since it was summer, the marina ramp located about 30' from my slip had a line of trailors putting in. My slip was actually on the same dock as the fuel pumps and it had powerboats circling like vultures waiting for the feast. Blood river itself had lots of skiers and fishing boats cruising around.
When I was ready I took in my dock lines and pushed her out at an angle to miss the patio dock 5' to port and the 2 pontoons directly behind me, backed out past the end of the dock, turned and headed for the lake. I locked the wheel brake, retrieved my fenders, and removed the cover on the main. It was such a beautiful day! The channel is rather narrow and hugs the bank pretty much all the way to the mouth of the river. I was keeping a good lookout for swimmers in the water, watching for the next channel bouy, and trying to decide whether to go north or south on the lake when the motor revved up unexpectedly. The boat slowed as I throttled back and I lost steerageway and started to drift towards shallow water. My "what the hell" turned into "holy s***"!
My first thought was to get the main up and regain control of the boat, which I did. Not enough wind! I pulled out the jib and as I did so I got a lucky puff of wind! Freya started moving so I turned and headed back to the marina. I had to hug the south side of the channel because of the hills and trees blocking my wind. I would get a gust that pushed me forward on a reach then have to coast through a dead spot. When I turned into the branch to reach the marina the winds seemed to come from right over the top of my slip. Boats were everywhere and I had to constantly tack because of the confined space and shifting breeze.
I circled just outside the no wake zone waiting for an opening in traffic that never appeared, tied on the fenders, and readied my docklines. Since I had the only sailboat in the marina and at 32' LOA, I probably made quite the spectacle. I decided to just go on in and pray that the powerboaters would get out of the way. I figured the law of tonnage was working for me since Freya weighs 11,600 lbs. At this point I was really worried. The winds were so light and shifted so much that I worked my butt off just trying to keep headway. What happened next seemed like an eternity but I'm sure lasted only a few minutes. I rolled up the jib, continued with the main, missed the derelict dock floats to port, lost all wind, tacked to starboard while coasting, got another lucky gust, tacked to port missing the 2 pontoons by just a few feet, doglegged around them, released the main sheet, and coasted to a perfect landing in my 15' wide cubbyhole of a slip, stepped onto the pier and snubbed her to a stop.
At this point I learned a few things.
1. Docking is a spectator sport. People, especially the ones in powerboats that don't know anything about sailing, love to watch sailors dock. I had quite the crowd watching with rapt attention.
2. Always appear as if you have things under control even if you're scared sh**less. I was complimented by several people about just how "totally cool" that was. I also learned that you could not drive a 10 penny nail up my butthole with a 20 lb sledgehammer up to that point because I was so tensed up! I think they call it grace under pressure.
3. It is ALWAYS the smart thing to keep the main ready to hoist even when motoring. I never untied the dock lines thereafter until I readied the main first.
4. KNOW YOUR BOAT! Had I known that the stuffing box would overheat if the compression nut was too tight, the prop shaft probably wouldn't have been weakened to the point it broke.
5. Singlehanding can be pretty rigorous sometimes.
6. And lastly, a cold beer goes a long way for settling frazzled nerves!
This was my first single-handed docking under sail alone, 2nd in my sailing experience, and it had to be in a crowded and confined marina with barely enough wind to work with. Although I will admit I was worried about my boat and pretty scared I was going to screw up the landing or hit someone elses boat, I do feel a bit of pride that I handled what was a very stressful and scary experience, at least for me, with apparent calm and acted sensibly to bring my boat home safe.