Coming Alongside (Docking)—Taming the Wind

Now we get to the tricky (and sometimes scary) stuff: getting alongside when it's breezy.

Fundamentals

The good news is that we have already covered all the base knowledge we need to pull off a great docking in adverse conditions, in previous chapters of this Online Book. Let's revisit:

  • Prop walk moves the stern in reverse.
  • Prop wash moves the stern in forward.
  • Once stopped or moving slowly we can move the stern, but not the bow.
  • When in tight places, lots of power, not much speed.
  • Prop walk is dramatically increased if the boat is moving forward and a turn has already been started that moves the stern in the same direction as reverse prop walk just before going into reverse.
  • The wind causes most boats to pivot at a point well aft of amidships.

This is all we need to know. The rest of becoming a good close quarters boat handler in high winds is just applying these fundamentals to different situations.

That said, a high-wind approach is definitely final exam time, so it's well worth our time to have a quick re-read through the last two chapters (start here) and make absolutely certain we are clear on exactly how each of these fundamentals work, just as I did, before going further with this one.

Not to worry, I will wait right here...

...glad to see you back. I have further good news.

The Goal

Since we all clearly understand how to rig our docking lines and fenders and how to use spring lines to bring the boat alongside in good order and keep her there without drama while we get fully secured, the goal for this chapter is super simple:

  • If we have a cleat or fairlead in the right place: get the balance-point aft spring on the wharf and secured.
  • If we are not so rigged: get the fore spring and bow line on the wharf and secured.

Once more, if the above does not make perfect sense to you, please read, or re-read, this chapter.

Also, I'm assuming for the balance of this chapter that there is no help available on the dock.

I Beseech Thee

One more thing before we get to the good stuff, if you have not already done so, please think seriously about installing the right gear to rig that magic balance-point spring. Yes, you can get away without it, but as we start attempting more and more difficult coming alongside situations, said spring becomes more and more important.

In fact, if we are (or are planning to) really get out there voyaging, far from marinas and floating docks, there are some coming alongside situations we will be faced with that simply can't be accomplished safely without this magic spring. OK, enough preaching about that.

On with the show.

When we start thinking about all the possible docking scenarios in big breeze, it's very easy to get overwhelmed—I should know, since I feel that way every time I sit down to write one of these chapters—so once again the key to success is breaking things down into manageable scenarios and then thinking about how we apply the fundamentals to each.

When we do that there are just eight possibilities (four for each side-to) that have varying degrees of difficulty—well worthwhile knowing since we can often turn a near-impossible situation into an easy one, simply by choosing a different berth or turning the boat around, which we learnt to do two chapters back.

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Marc Dacey

Great…going into the logbook!

Dan Woodward

Hi John. Another great article as usual. I was wondering if you had any tips for the single handed sailor? Having no crew when the wind is up is a real challenge.

Bryce

Hi John,

Great one again, thanks.

One question: In “Starboard Side-To, Offshore Prop Walk Onshore Wind”, one of the steps is to turn hard to starboard. Would that not crash the bow into the dock?

Cheers,

Bryce.

Conny Harlin

Good Stuff John.
My trick As singlehanded I always use the balance point ( mid ship cleat) first to secure the boat in position ,Thereafter I do the stern and bow lines which ends I already have hanging ready midship so I can reach the ends walking the pontoon/ Docs .

Ernest

Hi Conny, the main question for me with singlehanding is always how would I get the first line (the midship aft spring) on the shore, especially in offshore winds, given there is no help available on the dock?

conny harlin

Hi Ernie!
This is what I do,,first I try alongside using my hook “Handy dock”,, if it is piling ,,I throw a bundle of my line to catch,,, if everything fails for me due to the boat drifting off to fast,,,I simply give up alongside and back up my boat to the pontoon which is more handy to catch something ashore.
// Fair winds Conny

Eric Klem

Hi John,

Well explained. Your point about going around again is very true. In addition to this though, I encourage people to think about what happens if they stop doing everything and wait a minute. Once you get the spring on, you can be terribly out of position and still be okay provided that there are not any obstructions across from where you are. On many boats, I have found that if you can’t get close to the dock with an offshore wind for whatever reason so the spring ends up being far too long, driving forward against it and then reversing quickly can free up slack and allow you to slowly walk the boat in towards the dock.

The other thought that I would have is that controlled surging of the spring line can be a really useful skill with a strong offshore wind. This often allows you to get pressure on the line and change the acceleration of the boat from away from the dock to towards it a lot earlier in the process. If you end up with too much speed sideways at the dock and have some room ahead, cutting the throttle and surging the spring can mitigate this without having to hit reverse and have the stern go all over the place. It also means that you can get a very precise alignment to pilings or a ladder or whatever on the dock.

Enjoy your cruise.

Eric

Dave

Ernest

We use a spring with a spliced large loop. Many of our single handed friends have a modified wand / pole with clips. They clip the loop in two places to the wand so the loop hangs open. You then only need to get close enough to slip the loop over a cleat.

Dick Stevenson

Hi Dave & Ernest,
That is a technique we use quite frequently even double handed. We use a boathook, but some of the devices such as you describe can be quite handy. We had one for years to help us get lines over pilings from a distance, but it went swimming at some point and a boathook works nearly as well.
As to a spliced loop, why “ruin” a dock line with a fixed spliced loop when you can throw in a bowline-tied loop of any size at any time? (I very much agree with John that a spliced loop has no place on a dock line.)
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

RDE

Hi John,
Love your technique of giving the dock hand just enough rope to splash himself!

re singlehanded dock rope handling:
If you are from Wyoming, getting a line ashore without assistance comes naturally. Just make up a nice loop, spin it over your head a couple of times and dab it over the horns.
Enjoy your summer cruise—.
Richard

Pete

Could you please comment on docking a boat with twin rudders?
In this case wash just slips between the rudders so what do you recommend?

Pete

Thanks John
My boat has bow and stern thrusters and they don’t feel like the luxury they sound like.
Good to know there is nothing obvious I’m missing.

Dick Stevenson

Hi John, Pete and all,
With regard to thrusters, bow and stern, if you care about sailing performance, you might check the boat speed hit you will take by installing them. I believe it is quite consequential, more than the fixed vs folding/feathering prop differential. This goes particularly when in light air/lower boat speeds. Not ever having been tempted to install a bow thruster, I have never researched the topic and, therefore, my knowledge is only indirect.
Dave Gerr (naval architect/writer/propeller guru) had a very good article quite a while ago talking about the importance of fairing the holes cut into the hull for the tunnel. He discusses the turbulence generated by these holes which causes the speed decrease and suggestions of ways to mitigate with fairing. I have noticed, over the years of wandering boatyards, how few times I have seen fairing done on the cut outs for the thruster tunnel.
I would be interested in any articles pertaining to this subject. I have lost track of Dave’s and have seen little written on this subject.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Dave

Dick

Check out Dave Gerr’s Boat Mechanical Systems Handbook 2009. He has authored 13 books in total and is one of the first places I go when I have questions.

Dick Stevenson

Hi Dave,
There are few people who I will buy their books/writing without reviewing, but Dave Gerr is one of them. I always learn. I do not remember anything in the handbook about thrusters, fairing and the effect on boat speed, but it has been a while. I do not have the handbook with me, so I can’t check.
Thanks, Dick

Marc Dacey

I remember seeing a Sun Odyssey DS 49 at a boat show a few years ago and marvelling (in a bad way) at the lousy fairing and generally rough appearance of the bow thruster tunnel. Even with a steel sailboat, I’m sensitive to drag and this wasn’t that. Lines and practice are a better option.

Robert Tigwell

John:

Just renewed my subscription and your advise and ponderings are worth every penny. And I am not saying that just because we no longer have pennies in Canada.

I just purchased a new boat – bigger (as they almost always are), so a bit of learning on my part moving from 30 ft and 5 ton, to 39 ft and 10 ton. Still not the caliber of what you handle with ballerina like ease.

Comment – your balance point work is outstanding. I will be testing for my balance point next time I am able. Unfortunately, I am going to have some serious challenges getting any hardware attached. New hunters have a luxurious dish drying cabinet inside with a fan to dry your dishes, but don’t have a gunnel capable of receiving any modifications like I will require to add a cleat or fairlead at my balance point. I guess I’ll just weld one one like you would 🙂 Let me know when you boat is for sale. Seriously.

Question – prop walk. Slightly off topic of docking, so my apologies. I have searched your archive on it as well and read what exists. The amount of prop walk I experience is beyond ridiculous. The boat is un-steerable in reverse. I do have a bow thruster (still not working, although continues to add the same drag coefficient even without the added benefits). And I have learned to use the prop walk to my advantage, and making severe accommodations for it when both docking and leaving dock. She has a fixed 3 blade propeller. Eventually I will put on a Variprop or similar (read your history on that too – thank you) which should have slightly less prop walk. Finally, the question is, how will my balance point work if I bear down in reverse with forward spring lines? And if so, how will the differences in it’s position be between my port (the side to which i prop walk) and starboard?

And a note about newer Hunters – love my dish drying rack (aka how happy my wife is) and 5 foot draft, but sailing this RV is going to take some getting used to.

Anthony Salotto

Thanks, John. I have a new 32 ft sailboat, and I’m learning so much from your articles. My biggest challenge so far is getting secured safely into the slip, with big expensive power boat to my to my side. I know you’re speaking of docks, but it seems the same principles apply to slips, just with less room to drift off. I’m mostly reversing into my slip, then attaching the magic aft line first and driving forward against it.

Anyway, my question: in the two onshore wind cases, with high winds, why not simply stick all the time to the magic aft spring line (only one technique to master!) and steer away from the dock to keep the bow off and stern on? Prop wash should solve this, no?

Separately, you mention above a later chapter on docking with currents (being different than winds). I’ve read the rest of this book, and maybe missed it? Thanks!

Anthony Salotto

Thanks, John. But this article is discussing getting on the dock, not off. You seem to suggest above using a forward springline to get on the dock. Why not just use the magic aft spring line? I understand about springing off, that’s a later chapter. But here is getting on the dock, no? Thanks!