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Old 08-26-2013
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Docking Disaster

I am just back from a week of sailing on a chartered PDQ36 catamaran (LOA 36', beam 18') in the North Channel of Georgian Bay with my family. We had great weather and everyone had a fantastic time - except for one small incident.

This was my first experience sailing a cruising catamaran, but I found sailing her to be quite straight forward. I was especially enamoured with the dual engines, which allow excellent manoeuvrability even at very low speeds. Basically that boat can sit in one spot and spin in a circle. I played with the engines and made use of this manoeuvrability while anchoring the first three nights of our trip.

The weather forecast for Wednesday was calling for possible thunder showers and a 180 degree wind shift overnight, so I decided that would be a good night to tie up at a marina. I made a reservation at the Kegawong marina, and headed there Wednesday afternoon.

The marina has a high (10-12' above water) pier/breakwall, with several large slips hidden behind the breakwall. All I had to do was come in past the pier, make a 90 degree turn to starboard, and dock port side to the finger. The pier is a popular spot for swimming, so there was a nice audience of 10-15 people watching as I came in towards the dock.

I made the turn no problem, had a nice slow approach to the dock going, and my wife threw the bow line to the waiting marina attendant. I decided to put a little reverse power on to slow the boat further as I brought the stern into the dock.

Well, I reved up both engines in reverse, and didn't seem to be slowing down at all. I remembered that the guy who checked me on to the boat had told me that you have to rev the engines up pretty high in reverse to get any effect, due to the type of prop. So I applied more reverse power. Instead of slowing down, I was accelerating forward! I put more power on, and accelerated even more!!

I yelled to the dock hand to try to stop the boat, but he just had the line in his hand and couldn't do anything. I put the engines in neutral and just cringed as the port bow CRASHED into the pier at the end of the finger dock.

Once I got all tied up, I started trying to figure out what had gone wrong. A little experimenting showed me that no matter what I did with the throttle, the port engine was stuck in forward gear. The mechanic who later came to fix it told me that the shifter cable had broken. So while I thought I was applying full reverse power on both engines, actually I was applying forward power on the port side and reverse on the starboard. The prop being much more effective at pushing forwards, this gave me the forward acceleration (as well as turning me to starboard by about 45 degrees by the time I reached the pier).

Fortunately the only damage (other than to my pride) was to the port bow roller. I shudder to think what would have happened if I had been coming into a crowded marina when this failure occured. It certainly could have been a lot worse. On the other hand, if this failure had happened while anchoring instead of docking, it would have been no trouble at all.

The charter company (Discovery Yacht Charters out of Little Current - no affiliation) were great about it, they sent a mechanic to fix the engine and won't charge me for the damage to the boat.

I'm not sure there's any real lessons to be learned here, I only had a couple of seconds to react and it would have taken a much better boat handler than me to realize what was going on quickly enough to make a difference.

Once I had figured out what happened, I had a very strong urge to track down every person who had been watching and explain to them that it was a mechanical failure, and I am not in fact a complete moron :-).

Mike
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Old 08-26-2013
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Re: Docking Disaster

No one got hurt. Sounds a good result to me.
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Old 08-26-2013
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Re: Docking Disaster

Quote:
Originally Posted by miketucker View Post
I'm not sure there's any real lessons to be learned here...
I don't think so either. Sometimes stuff happens and there isn't anything you can do to prevent it.
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Old 08-26-2013
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Re: Docking Disaster

The only lesson I can convey is unless there is a strong current/wind I come in only fast enough to provide steerage. I can stop the boat with a spring line if necessary. So next time, throw the spring line first.
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Old 08-26-2013
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Re: Docking Disaster

2nd "no one hurt, minimal damage".
This could have happened to anyone.

However, I have been on a diesel powered mono hull where the Hurth tranny needed to be revved pretty high to get reverse to kick in. This makes using reverse thrust in any docking operation a dicey proposition as it might not kick in just when you want it to.

It seems as though the safest Plan A would be to go very slowly in forward (as you say you were) saving reverse thrust only for an emergency Plan B or C. I wonder if you would have been fine without using reverse if you had enough dock lines ready to stop the boat?
If you know that your reverse gear kicks in reliably then have at it.
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Old 08-26-2013
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Re: Docking Disaster

"I'm not sure there's any real lessons to be learned here,"
Maybe just the one: Assume nothing. Even if a reputable charter company assures you that a boat is properly maintained, you sadly can't assume it is. Cables don't just let go, they've either chafed, or unscrewed, or been missing a cotter pin...Isn't it always something?

Nice to know that there was no flack from the charter company and that they did the right thing. (Although, I'd have been even more impressed if they'd bought your family a good dinner instead of just saying "oops".)
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Old 08-26-2013
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Re: Docking Disaster

Yeah, that's one of those things that just happens. As Paul said, no one was hurt (other than your pride), which is the important part.
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Old 08-26-2013
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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 wasnít going to die for this yahoo who didnít seem to know forward from backward. No sir. Not on your life. Have a good day, Capín. Weíll settle up the damages later.

It was just as well that neither the attendant nor my wife tried to stop the boat. Thatís 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 oíclock 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 couldnít even blame it on mechanical failure, I just had to Ďfess 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 couldnít have been nicer.

There was no damage to Mary Flower (if you exclude her Captainís 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.

Jim
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Old 08-26-2013
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Re: Docking Disaster

Hey,

The only lesson I can think of is the old adage of 'never approach a dock faster than you are willing to hit it.'

No harm no foul.

Barry
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Old 08-26-2013
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Re: Docking Disaster

Quote:
Originally Posted by BarryL View Post
Hey,

The only lesson I can think of is the old adage of 'never approach a dock faster than you are willing to hit it.'

No harm no foul.

Barry
That's pretty much how it started out and everything would have been just hunky dory had I realized the transmission was in forward rather than reverse. I was CERTAIN that I had it in reverse as we turned into the slip. So much for certain.
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