The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

Self-Defence In Harbour

Those of us with aspirations to cruise in higher latitudes tend to focus on obviously important kit—sails, ground tackle, engine—but sometimes at the expense of simpler and less apparent elements. For example, some of our time will still be spent in port, but that almost certainly won’t be the sort of haven we’re used to in more developed areas.

Over the years a few fishing ports have put in small pontoons that yachts may be permitted to use, but as often as not if you are seeking shelter from bad weather (and you will be, at some stage) it will mean rafting up with fishing vessels and work boats. And here it will be just as important to be prepared for port as it would be for an exposed anchorage.

Production boats these days tend to be designed for marina dwelling, not mixing it up with the big boys—mooring cleats that are too few and too small with inadequate fairleads, and often poorly secured to the deck. A bad night in a small fishing port with a big storm surge finding its way around the corner will soon find any weaknesses. And when F/V Cruncher arrives with an exhausted crew at 0300 and berths alongside you, will they be able to spot your cleats, or even drop one of their hefty lines around one? If not, look out, as they will have to make fast to whatever is most obvious, and not necessarily what you might have chosen.

The answer is to scale up accordingly, both above and below deck. For our new boat, we have specified oversized welded cleats, and added a huge additional pair in the bow, where from previous experience we know we’ll need them. We have no fairleads, simply wide and open access to the cleats, allowing all angle attachment. Extra cleats also allow one warp for one job, essential when additional warps such as shore lines are required.

At least a couple of really long warps are essential, especially in areas with a high rise and fall of tide, to make fast to bollards or rings on the pier. Robust protectors for these (we use reinforced loo pipe) where they pass over the edge of the pier, will stop chafe devouring them in a few hours. We’ve even seen warps with chain ends for this purpose, and didn’t think that was overkill at all.

A must is a robust fender board, especially when alongside vertical pilings, allowing the fenders to remain in place. It is possible to link sausage fenders into a horizontal daisy chain in normal conditions, but once your boat starts to surge back and forth, nothing but a fender board will do—they are also ideal when alongside barnacle encrusted jetties, too.

Our boat is also having a welded, unpainted rubbing strake just below deck level, for those unfortunate moments when a fender slips out of place, and the topsides grind against a dock, which should save paint and pride in equal measure.

For when the storm hits, you’re on your own, and preparation for every eventuality is vital. And if you have made everything as strong as it needs to be, with the gear to back it up, then you will be ready to face the challenge, confident that you and your precious boat will still be there in the morning.

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On our Colvic Watson 32 which was built to go into the ice we have a 1/2″ x 6″ steel plate that goes all the way around under the deck glassed in with all the over sized cleats tapped and threaded into. We tested this by lifting her with a crane attached to the aft and forward cleats NO PROBLEM and when you think we weigh 20 tons I think that’s strong enough. But I agree most production boats today have cleats attached as though they think there will never be alot of strain on them. Ply backing in my mind is a joke and I demonstrated this to a friend one day by attaching a cleat to a piece of 1″ ply and then pulling the cleat with a Landrover with a tension meter attached. It took 1.3 tons to rip the cleat out (not much eh guys). On the other side of the joke is the fact that we spent a Xmas in the Victoria marina in Guernsey British Channel Islands and were subjected to big swells in the marina and gale force winds. You’ve got it we pulled the cleats out of the pontoon as easy as pulling a fork out of cheese. So perhaps you are better attached to a really big fishing boat.