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aaronwindward 07-17-2013 06:00 AM

First time singlehanding, bad things happen, the sound of breaking fiberglass, etc
2 Attachment(s)
Alternate title: The big ship wharf to leeward is not your friend

True wind speed: 15 knots
In the channel, minimal tidal current
Approximately 8-9 PM, evening to dusk to night
Clear, 60F

Minor damage and scuffing of port rubrail, port topsides
Serious bend to bow pulpit

I've been sailing my Ericson 27 for almost three years before, but never alone, for one reason or another. I'm planning a longer sail alone to take the boat to the boatyard for miscellaneous maintenance, and I wanted to do a brief sail to go through all of the motions to make sure there were no major problems.

Well, for most of the voyage, everything went fine, surprisingly easy.

The hardest part was dealing with the tether, which I've never seriously used before; it was constantly getting caught on things, tripping me, preventing me from going where I wanted to, or worst, getting caught up in other lines. I can see a tether working well for a fully-crewed boat, where everyone has a job/station, but I can't figure out how its supposed to work for a singlehander, when you need to go all over the place and do many things, frequently when things are in the middle of going wrong somewhere on the boat--and usually, about to get a lot worse if not resolved within N seconds.

Maybe I'm doing something wrong, but my simple West Marine tether also seems to require two hands to unclip at the far end, due to this safety bracket thing. I think I could figure out how to do it with one hand, but it's basically a huge pain, and probably puts me at more risk of falling overhead than if I didn't have a tether at all.

One of the most valuable functions that crew serves is preventing me from doing things that seem like a really bad idea. I don't do the authoritarian captain absolute chain of command thing; if I can't convince my girlfriend, crew, or other guests that it's a reasonable thing to do, we don't do it. (Among friends in emergencies, trust seems to work just as well as the chain of command does in the navy and merchant marine.)

So I've been trying to figure out how to calibrate my wind transducer, or at least, verify that it's reasonably accurate. There's this weather station with real-time wind reporting, and it seemed like it would be a great idea to pull up right next to it, and compare readings. It's on a wharf on the leeward side of the channel. The wharf is one of those big ship things, constructed from concrete and steel pilings and beams with a bunch of (mostly broken) pieces of wood over it. Basically, really nasty looking; I have no idea why I ever thought that would be a good place to tie up. (The best I can find is a photo of the backside of the structure; the front is the same construction, with the metal and wood nasty stuff hanging off the front.)

My thinking is that I'd just barely kiss it, sit there for a few minutes taking my readings, then be off. I found a "nice" part of the wharf that had the most wood and the least nasty-looking things poking out of it, and just sort of edged up to it. At first, everything worked, and although I found it hard to get the fenders into an effective position, everything was mostly OK.

The problem was leaving. When I tried to push off, I realized the wind was much to strong; I just ended up where I started from. There was pretty much no way to make headway or sternway without rubbing up against a million terrible things, and without headway, I couldn't turn. If I had a helper, I could have had them help push off while I gunned the motor, and it would have been totally OK.

(I've since learned that one of the proper ways to leave such a dock is a fender on the bow stem and a spring line, but this still would have required crew I think, and I'm not even sure it would have worked on the wharf, since it isn't actually a solid surface, just a bunch of pilings and beams.)

What I ended up doing was reversing and going forward in succession, running back and forth between the cockpit (where the outboard motor controls and tiller are, and the side, fending off. Terrible scraping things happened, but it sort of worked.

Somehow in the process of getting free, one of the pilings pulled off one of my fenders, and I made the really dumb decision to try to get it. The fender sucked, and was old and nasty and I was going to get rid of it eventually anyway. I don't know why I went back for it, but I basically ended up back on the wharf, but in an even worse place.

In the process of trying to get free again, because things were basically getting much worse rapidly, I motored forward into one of the pilings, which caught my bow pulpit. It wasn't fast, but, well, the boat weighs a few tons. Rending fiberglass is a terrible noise, and when you hear it on your boat, you'll feel it like it's corporal damage to your own body.

But the pulpit's sacrifice is basically what helped position the boat to get free again, and then everything was OK. The rest of the voyage was completed without incident.

I'm pretty bummed now about the damage, and not feeling very good about singlehandling. My understanding is that pulpits are not especially repairable, and this one isn't replaceable being out-of-production. I'd actually much rather just gotten holed or something, since that would be a straightforward fiberglass repair.

Early on in the Golden Globes race, Bernard Moitessier bent his bowsprit (3" steel pipe) in a collision with a freighter, and it was so emotionally crushing to him that he almost dropped out of the race. It was less about the loss of functionality, and more about the aesthetics. Fortunately, in his case, he has able to bend it back using his winches, so that you could hardly tell. I'm not a match of Moitessier, and I don't think I'll be able to bend this one back, even at land.

Me and Boo 07-17-2013 06:08 AM

Re: First time singlehanding, bad things happen, the sound of breaking fiberglass, et
Only two comments:
If you do not have a sailing school nearby, you can rent a lot of how to sail videos from Netflix.
Although I have not had this happen it is why I wear my harness and tether anytime I am going to the bow in most conditions. I imagine how bad a feeling it would be bobbing in the water watching my boat sailing away from me at 6 knots.

FinallySailing 07-17-2013 07:18 AM

Re: First time singlehanding, bad things happen, the sound of breaking fiberglass, et
Sorry to read about your mishap. Things could have gone much worse. Nobody got hurt and you are ok to tell the story for others to learn. I tend to panic in situations like this, particularly at the end of a days sailing when tiredness and lack of energy kicks in. That's where I really appreciate having somebody with me on the boat, to look out for signs of fatigue.

Adele-H 07-17-2013 07:25 AM

Re: First time singlehanding, bad things happen, the sound of breaking fiberglass, et
For the tether, you coud set up a dedicated line that runs from bow cleat to stern cleat, both sides...inside or outside of the shrouds.

polaris2.11 07-17-2013 08:08 AM

Re: First time singlehanding, bad things happen, the sound of breaking fiberglass, et
I've wondered about tethers. I used to do a lot of mountaineering and one of the biggest hazards was getting tangled up in your rope. If you read 'Accidents in North American Mountaineering' (yeah, I know, a grim pub, but useful), you see a lot of accidents caused by or related to what is supposed to be 'safety' gear.

Jeff_H 07-17-2013 08:49 AM

Re: First time singlehanding, bad things happen, the sound of breaking fiberglass, et
I am really sorry to hear that your first single-handing effort did not go well. I know that has to be a little upsetting, but as others have said, at least no one was seriously hurt, and the other good news is that you are looking at this critically and trying to learn from what happened.

There is a couple things that I would suggest. First of all, I use a mix of strong points and jacklines to attach my tether. In my case I have been recycling old kevlar core halyards for jacklines but its easy enough to make jacklines out of webbing, s.s. cable, or low stretch lines. At least in the short run, these can be cleated to your bow and stern cleats and run down the side decks. I have spent time studying how to run my jacklines so that I can move the length of the boat without having to clip and unclip, and to minimize tripping hazzard. (In my case, when not in use, the jackline sit against the crease where the cabin sides meet the deck) Basically, the jackline needs to pass over all sheet leads and you should get in the habit of using the windward jackline and making sure there is slack in the lazy sheets before you leave the cockpit.

Practice using the saftely clip on the teather. Once you get used to it, you can use it one handed. It takes some practice figuring out how your specific clip works and where to grab it to allow it to work efficiently. (And they are all a little different so practice on your own will not assure the same efficiency on a different teather.)

In terms of tripping over your teather, there are tethers which have elastic in them that 'scrunch' up when not under tension. When scrunched the clip barely reaches the deck and so is less of a tripping hazzard. The factory made ones are pretty expensive and the elastic lasts maybe 6-8 years, so I have made a replacement using very heavy webbing and shock cord and the old hardware. (Don't make your own if you are not skilled at this kind of structrual hand worked stitching.)


Jeff_H 07-17-2013 09:02 AM

Re: First time singlehanding, bad things happen, the sound of breaking fiberglass, et
In terms of leaving the dock, I have several key suggestions. First of all, I would suggest that you probably should have rigged a couple dock boards. These are horizontal planks that are perhaps 6-7 feet long with a line on each end that allows the dockboard to hang from the lifelines in a horizontal position. A fender is hung between the hull and the dockboard on each end of the dockboard.

Dockboards are the hot ticket when tying up against a piling since they are more tolerant of the position of the piling than a single fender, and keep the vulnerable parts of the boat further from the piling. You would have wanted one against a piling near amidships and astern. The trick in using a spring line single-handed is setting it up so you can deploy it from the cockpit. That means a springline rigged from the stern cleat around the piling forward and back to the cockpit.

Leaving the dock you would initially back against the springline which would push the aft dockboard against the piling and then pivot the bow away from the dock. This takes patience and timing, but once the bow is angled out, (perhaps as much as 45 degrees), then you put the boat in forward. The trick is to release the free end of spring line and quickly pull it around the piling and back on board before it fouls your prop. (Some folks carry a polypropolene springline only for this purpose) By starting out in reverse it does not require you to be in two places at once.


jimgo 07-17-2013 09:09 AM

Re: First time singlehanding, bad things happen, the sound of breaking fiberglass, et
Don't get bummed about the stainless. If you're OK putting out the money, there are shops that can fab a new one. The fact that the boat is out of production is irrelevant.

I know nothing about the folks in your area, but this might be a start:

Stainless steel fabricators in South San Francisco, CA | South San Francisco Stainless steel fabricators -

Near me (in NJ), there is a place that specializes in stainless steel for marine purposes. They make the flying bridges for the big fishing boats, stainless steel rod holders ("rocket launchers") for center console boats, stainless steel floating docks and railings, etc. A place like that can knock out a bow rail in no time.

I'd call some of the places above, explain what you need, and if they don't do what you need, ask for a recommendation.

You may also be able to find someone to repair that section. I'm not as certain about that, because of the kink, but it may be possible. The fabricators above may be able to remove the bow rail and fix it or, if you are OK with the aesthetics, may be able to sister in a piece.

OK, so now all hope isn't lost. Your baby can be brought back to close to her original appearance, and possibly even better than before. Now let's talk about single-handing. I'm still a novice, so I can't give you advice drawn from years of experience, so take this all with a grain of salt, but you did fine under the circumstances. I'm not sure I would have tried single-handing the first time in 15+ winds, because of the freeboard of my boat. I would just get blown around, and I'd be panicing. I also probably wouldn't have tried to tie off alone in those conditions. That being said, I applaud your confidence in TRYING got farther than I would have. You also just learned some very valuable lessons, including how to leave a wharf.

I share your concerns about tethers. I am afraid all it will do is get me tangled up. To what were you clipping in?

In the end, I can understand why this would have shaken your confidence. But I think, with all due respect, that you're being too hard on yourself. You got home! You didn't have to call for a tow, and the only boat or other property that was damaged was your own. That's a good start.

zeehag 07-17-2013 09:43 AM

Re: First time singlehanding, bad things happen, the sound of breaking fiberglass, et
28 Attachment(s)
tethers outside the shrouds cause overboarding.....not cool..make em centerline.

deniseO30 07-17-2013 09:53 AM

Re: First time singlehanding, bad things happen, the sound of breaking fiberglass, et
I've used a line looped around and back to the boat rather then tied to a dock cleat. Then after the boat swings I'd just let it slip off and haul it in. Using spring lines is or can be a fun learning curve.

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