Accepting help while docking
I'm looking for some advice on when and how to accept help from ashore while docking.
First some background. I back my 36' Hunter into a nice wide slip. There's a 41' Hunter on my starboard side, and a finger dock on my port. This is my first full season of sailing.
My usual technique is to head for the end of the finger dock at about 45 degrees (did I mention there's a very wide, generous alley between docks?), which takes me past the Hunter 41, keep up just enough speed to maintain steerage by feathering in and out of reverse gear, and slowly turn as I approach the finger dock. I have one crew member standing at the gate on the port side (which is astern of the shrouds at the widest part of the boat) holding the bow line. My instructions to that crew member are to step onto the finger dock when it is easy to do so. If I misjudge and don't get close enough to the finger dock, they are to stay on the boat. As I approach the main dock with the stern, I apply a little forward thrust to prevent a hard impact with the dock (there are lots of fenders at the stern, both on the boat and permanently attached to the dock), then quickly put it back in reverse to hold me on the dock and prevent the stern from moving to either port or starboard. I then step off the stern and if required (in cases where my crew member could not or did not step onto the dock), move quickly forward on the port side finger dock, take the bow line, and secure the bow. Now I can position and tie up the boat at my leisure. The most difficult (for me) conditions to dock under are when the wind is blowing from the port side, which tends to push me away from the finger dock (making it more difficult for my crew member to step off) and towards the Hunter 41 (making me very nervous).
The only times I have had trouble docking are when one of my friendly dock-mates comes over to help. Generally I wave them off as I prefer to practice docking unassisted (side note - is this considered rude? I'm friendly about it and explain that I prefer to practice without help, but I certainly wouldn't want to offend anyone). I've accepted help two times, the first was a bit of a mess, the second a near disaster.
The first offer of help I accepted, the person on the dock grabbed the stern line from the rear cockpit seat where I leave it for easy access, tied it around the middle cleat on the finger dock, and used it to stop the boat when it was only 3/4 of the way into the slip. Fortunately my crew member had stepped ashore with the bow line and held the bow from drifting into the other boat. Once my 'assistant' left, I had to untie the stern line and walk the boat back into it's slip. No real problem, but I would not call what this person did 'help'. The docking was going very smoothly without them (I don't think there was any wind to speak of), and they caused a potential problem when they stopped the boat that way, if my crew member had not been ashore with the bow line, the bow would have swung to starboard and right into the Hunter 41.
The second offer of help I accepted was yesterday. The wind was blowing around 10 knots right across the port side, so I was pretty happy to see someone standing on the dock waiting to help. As I approached, I instructed my crew member to hand the bow line to the person waiting on the dock, meaning he wouldn't have to step ashore. Unfortunately, I guess I didn't communicate that clearly to the person on the dock. They grabbed the stern line (same as the first time - maybe that line is just in too convenient a position?) and went to secure it to the rear dock cleat. This is where the trouble starts.
First, I'm paying too much attention to what the dockside helper is doing, and not enough to steering. I realize I'm coming at the dock pretty fast, apply some forward thrust (too much), and start to move forward. Meanwhile, my crew member has not stepped off the boat, thinking he was going to hand his line to the person on the dock. Now the wind has blown us off the dock and he can't step ashore. I ask the person on the dock to grab the bow line. He sees the problem, jumps up, grabs the bow line, and holds the bow. In the mean time, I've put it back in reverse and am headed back to the dock. But now with the bow being held (and even pulled in), the stern is swinging towards the Hunter 41. Wasn't the stern line secured already? I thought so too, but my dockside helper was in such a rush to grab the bow line that he didn't secure the stern line, just gave it a couple of wraps, so it's rapidly slipping. Fortunately we're close enough to the dock now that I can jump off the stern, run over and grab the stern line. The boat stops about 8 feet from the finger dock, and maybe 2 feet from the Hunter 41. Thank goodness for those wide slips!
Obviously a lot of mistakes got made there. I really think everything would have been fine if I had waved the guy off, the docking was going smoothly to that point and I got close enough to the finger dock for my crew member to easily step off.
I think my big mistake was not giving clear instructions to the helper on the dock. I should have told him to take the bow line and told him what I wanted him to do with it. As a relatively new sailor, I just assume everyone else knows more than me and will just do the right thing. Bad assumption, even if they do know more, they don't know my plan, so don't know the best way to help.
Any thoughts or advice on how to avoid these kinds of issues in the future would be much appreciated.