Re: Docking Disaster
A very similar thing happened the first year we had our boat. We had taken delivery in Rhode Island in May, spent a few weeks doing the shakedown and departed in early June on our trip back to our home in Chicago. We had learned many lessons in boat handling those first few months but docking could still be an adventure if the conditions were a bit dicey.
It was early August when we sailed into the marina at Northport, Michigan, motored slowly past the fuel dock where the harbor master called out our slip assignment and pointed the way. There was about 20 knots of wind blowing and when we turned into the slip it would be from astern so I was very conscious of the need to have the engine idling in reverse to keep the boat under control.
We turned into the slip but as the bowsprit passed the outer piling, it was apparent that we were going a bit too fast so I gave the throttle a little bump. To my surprise, instead of slowing, we actually seemed to be going a little faster. Damn, maybe I had misjudged the wind speed.
My wife, standing amidships ready to step off with a dock line, gave me a puzzled look but stayed on the boat. By now, this was beginning to look like a disaster in the making so I gave the throttle a much bigger boost. Suddenly, we were flying forward towards the pier! I looked down at the gear shift lever which was located on the side of the cockpit seat below my knees and, to my horror, discovered that it was in FORWARD! Without bothering to pause at idle, I slammed the lever into reverse at full throttle. By this time, our forward speed was just too much to stop with only the engine. In a panic, I tossed the stern line to the dock attendant who just threw his arms up and let the line fly. He wasn’t going to die for this yahoo who didn’t seem to know forward from backward. No sir. Not on your life. Have a good day, Cap’n. We’ll settle up the damages later.
It was just as well that neither the attendant nor my wife tried to stop the boat. That’s what big, sturdy piers are for anyway, right? Mary Flower hit the end at what seemed like 15 knots and rode up the pier on her bobstay. She hung there at a ridiculous angle for a couple of seconds before the engine managed to pull her back. With the transmission finally in neutral, the boat settled nicely into the slip, rocked just a little from the collision she had just had and then sat there quietly while we got her tied up.
Can anyone guess what day of the week this might have been? If you said Sunday, you win the big prize. Of course it was Sunday. About six o’clock In the evening, when most everyone was back in their slips, sitting around watching the goings and comings. We had a HUGE audience for our fiasco. Oh lucky us.
The good part of the whole thing was that, after a little while, some really nice people meandered over to say hello and to commiserate with us with stories of their own debacles. Since I couldn’t even blame it on mechanical failure, I just had to ‘fess up and take all the blame. But nobody made fun of me. Well, one guy did say that he had half expected us to end up completely ON the pier but he said it with such a sincere smile that I figured he was just being friendly. Later that evening, we shared a barbeque in the park with three couples who couldn’t have been nicer.
There was no damage to Mary Flower (if you exclude her Captain’s ego) but we did get a bill from the marina for the 2x10 plank that got split in half by the bobstay. Thirty bucks. Not all that bad considering.