Leaving a Dock Against an Onshore Wind—Part 1

OK, how do we get out of this one? Reasonably easy in a calm, but what about if it's blowing us onto the wharf? Particularly challenging since the wharf is angled immediately behind us. But even in this situation the right technique makes leaving painless. That said, we better get this right—note the name on the boat ahead of us.

Since I'm now back to adding chapters to our Coming Alongside (Docking) Online Book, it's a good time to cover how to get off the dock, particularly in an onshore wind.

Before getting going on this, I should apologize for leaving all of you stuck alongside for four years since I finished the getting alongside part!

Anyway, as usual, we will assume two people and a right-hand prop for this chapter, as well as no bow or stern thrusters. If you have a left-hand prop you just need to reverse everything.

And, again as usual, I'm assuming you have read the rest of this Online Book relatively recently, so I'm not going to bore you, or wear out my typing fingers (all three of them), by going through all that again.

In particular, you need to clearly understand prop walk and wash to make sense of this chapter.

OK, with all that out of the way, let's get off that wharf with our paint intact and without a knuckle sandwich from that guy with the bulging muscles and the anger management issues on the boat behind us, and his twin brother on the boat ahead of us.

Oh, yes, and it's blowing 15 knots with gusts up to 20 right on the beam.

Of course, we could just stay alongside and wait for the wind to drop, but the brothers have just informed us that their cousin, who shares the same direct descent from the Neanderthals, is due in at any minute and will be taking over our spot because we are leaving, now.

And, further, they are not going to help us and no one else wants to get close to us with them around.

It's no fun if we make it easy. But we are up to the challenge (as if we had a choice), so let's do it.

Reverse or Forward?

As I'm sure you have all figured out by now, we are going to use a spring to get this done, and I will get into more details on setting that up later, but before even going there we have a critical decision to make:

Are we going out in reverse or forward? Both have benefits and drawbacks, but one has a hidden danger.

Let's figure that out.

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Ken Ferrari

I can’t remember where I learned this technique, but I’ve been using it for years. However, I recently stumbled upon “spronging off” but have never tried it. I’m am curious of your thoughts?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1bLf7C-jAG0

Richard Ritchie

Not heard the name “spronging” but that is a technique we have practiced to come off moorings. If the tide or wind is angled right we found you can even hang on the spring pointing outwards with a little power, whilst sorting things out. You can stay at right angles with power to hold the stern clear. So plenty of plan B or even plan C (kettle on whilst sort oilskins) before finally release.
One comment though: I would never rely on slipping a rope that was over other ropes as he has done in the video: they jam.

Matthieu Chauvel

Hi all, big fan of ‘spronging off’ here on a Boreal 47 (using at least one of a couple big fender balls at the stern corner as Christopher suggests below). Tried and tested single-handed against up to 25ish knots many times (above that I just stay put, let braver souls test their third party insurance policies), and just last week against both moderate on-dock wind plus approx 3 kts of current from astern fighting me as well, about 2m of space between Obelix and boats both forward and aft. Against just wind no problem replicating the almost-ideal-conditions video example already linked, against current the entire 180 degrees switcharoo as shown here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GmUJftGmK9g) not really possible: last week I was able to get to almost a right angle off the dock but no further, as expected, but that was more than sufficient to get out. For those who haven’t tried it yet, I highly recommend testing in benign conditions and think those who do will probably enjoy adding it to their toolkit.

Charles Robinson

likewise sprogging off is great. Use it all the time. Also in high off-jetty winds try sprogging on – reverse the stern on to the pontoon, one rope onto the inboard cleat and drive ahead with wheel hard over. Best to practice a few times before you use in anger and when sprogging off, good fendering is essential!

Matt

I tested this the other day with 10 knots dead abeam from port holding us onto the dock, starboard-side to, aft-running spring from the port quarter to a bollard about ten feet back…. and she didn’t budge. So either I have the technique totally wrong, or it takes way more power than I was willing to try with only 6ft of clearance to the next boat, or it needs a relatively wide transom to get enough of a lever arm between the prop’s thrust axis and the springline’s cleat. (I only have about 20″ of lateral separation between the aft port cleat and the offset-to-port propeller.)

Stein Varjord

Hi Ken
I often use a variation of this method, but I sail a catamaran with two engines, so it’s not the same. We can “cheat”, as if we had thrusters. Anyway, my procedure:
– An aft running spring from the stern cleat closest to the wharf, not as in the video. (I don’t need the assistance to get the bow out, as I can use the outer engine in reverse for that.) I make the spring as long as possible, so I can get useful distance from the wharf.
– I then just steer max towards the wharf, put the closest engine in forward with gradually increasing power.
– I use the other engine to adjust the orientation of the boat, but on a monohull I assume one could do some of that with the rudder, at the end of the pushing sequence? I’ve never tried this, though.
– When the distance is suitable, I reduce power to idle, rapidly drop the spring and increase power forward on the same engine, still steering towards the wharf. The other engine in reverse controls orientation. The boat will then move somewhat sideways / forwards.
– Gradually as suited I turn the steering to straight and I’m off.

I like this method of getting off a leeward wharf, because there’s no need to gun it at any point. Just push until the position is good and then let go. If an insane gust were to come just after I let go of the spring, I can just let the boat drift back onto the wharf at the same spot I was. Orientation is very easy to control on a cat, so no fear of any “corners” hitting first.

Edward Sitver

Yes!
I’ve been calling it “barn door,” and it’s become my go-to solution as well when pinned on a dock. It works even with my narrow stern, by easing the helm away from the dock once the line is tensioned and the boat has begun to pivot off. I find it much easier to manage than springing off while single-handed.

Christopher Barnes

John,

Thanks for the lucid descriptions. I’ll put in a plug here for having at least one (but two is better) big fender balls (relative to boat size) to use far aft when going out in forward – a few more inches from the wharf/dock adds up to more degrees of potential off wharf/dock rotation (before stern-mounted stuff hits) which equals bow farther out and makes the committing move of going forward and casting off at least a bit less stressful. And they are very helpful fenders anyway & ours is a much loved bouncy seat on the stern pulpit (because it doesn’t fit inside any locker)

Michael Lambert

I too have had good luck with forward out with my current Sabre, but as I was reading the post I was thinking about how wide my 47.2 will be back there, so was thinking of options like this. Do you find that, despite the spherical nature of that fender, it stays put as you leverage against it? I also wonder if the above spronging technique would be aided by a wider stern…..

Dick Stevenson

Hi John,
I too, prefer a forward exit and, if possible, I talk with the boat in front of me sometimes suggesting their putting out fenders and saying I might have to raft. This prevents them flying out in their jammies confused and upset when they hear a commotion. They can also be asked to move their boat forward a few feet which can make a huge difference.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Rob Gill

Hi John,

We use a small local wharf that has high wooden marina poles as massive fenders, which is located at the end of a long and reasonably narrow marina arm, up which the prevailing wind funnels. Here there is a concrete pad and free use of a crane (for launching Etchells and alike), but also useful for safely removing heavy items like booms etc. But the position of this crane requires us to tie-up starboard side to (so the crane arm can swing clear of our mast). With only about 1.5 boat lengths (47′) in front and behind us to the row of boats moored on each marina pier, it is a challenge to leave (we left part of our starboard navigation light behind on our first exit). One saving grace is there is no cross current.

For our latest departure, there was 12->15 knots coming straight up the reach onto our port side, blowing us onto the wharf. The bow falling off and collecting poles and then probably boats was the most likely outcome of a stern first exit using a spring. As you have noted above and we had painfully figured out, the issue was the lack of control of the bow and the pivot point of our yacht.

But going out bow first is not an option either, as there isn’t room in front to turn out. Also, with our big clipper bows and no bow thruster, we have to turn to starboard going ahead. So here’s what we did.

We secured our largest (inflatable) cylindrical fender on the bow horizontally, eased the stern line and then pulled on a bow rope running around the forward pole from our starboard side bow cleat, until hard against the pole and fender, and then made fast. The pole was far enough out from the wharf we hoped, to give clearance for our anchor and pulpit, as we swivelled on this single point.

Casting off the stern line and springs, with an audience of marine trades waiting patiently for the afternoon’s entertainment, we motored forward using starboard helm and prop wash (held by the tight bow line around the pole) until we got the stern out some way (maybe 30 degrees off). We then engaged astern, and using only prop walk we continued pivoting around until the stern was almost heading into the wind and back down the arm, at which time my crew released the bow rope, and we dutifully headed off down the reach stern first.

Our plan B at the time was not to let go until we were sure it would work, and simply let the boat drift back alongside for a second attempt. However I think we surprised everyone when it worked first go, and also by how little power it took to overcome the breeze – maybe 1/4 throttle at most.

This wouldn’t work without the clearance between the pole and the wharf.

Br. Rob

Rob Gill

Hi John, thanks for your reply – now that’s got me wondering if, with suitably large fenders at the bow, and hauled in to start (stern out), would this work at a conventional floating dock (like many newer fuel docks)?

Using a cleat at the bow as a substitute for the pole pivot? Then only using reverse / prop walk (rather than first using forward prop wash driving against the pontoon), and with the doubled bow line preventing the bow from going walk-about until the boat is perpendicular? With no solid wharf, there would be less issues with anchor or pulpit clearance.

Perhaps you could ponder this also for your next article on fenders and fender placement? Experimenting will be the true test, but it would be helpful to have more trial and less error.

Thanks, Rob

Ben Garvey

Good post John. All very accurate, and such a point fo major stress for most sailors and cruisers. it’s the activity that upsets and strikes fear into most couples who are relatively new to cruising and boat handling – and even some very experienced ones. The thing that really can mess it up is… ego. I’ve learned this over and over again… excessive confidence and a non-rational evaluation of the situation will nearly always bite you in the arse!

I grew up in the day charter business- 5 trips/day for 16-18 weeks per summer; running a range of boats from 20′ open runabouts to 45′ longliners to a 75′ traditional ketch that was woefully under-powered… After I got my ticket and was handed the wheel I think I probably did 450-500 departures and arrivals on a dozen or so different locations per summer, for 5 summers. It was quite an indoctrination- and I still screwed it up occasionally. usually when there were guests who i was trying to impress, or when a particularly lovely person caught my eye on the boat or the dock… some professional!

One practical issue with the forward departure method that some cruisers will face is when you have a dinghy hanging on davits off the stern. Even though I have a large arch and davit structure on my stern, I’m not a big fan of them – especially when they overhang the deck plan of the stern… but damn, aren’t they convenient. We can debate the seaworthy-ness of this arrangement in general, but it is very practical for calm weather rapid dinghy access and storage; and is very common. it results of course in a relatively fragile assemblage of pipes/structure and an expensive tool projecting many feet further off the stern – and usually a bit wider than the stern too. I know also from experience that scraping a dinghy along a dock, watching your solar panels ripple on the arch as you leave is also not a way to impress people.

as recently as this spring I have to admit to sticking the bow of my walker bay directly under a bull rail of the dock on departure (using the forward method with 18 knots on the beam, exactly as you describe above), which immediately screwed the departure and locked us back to the dock with some awful sounds and groans from the stern. All survived, but the tubes on the walker bay have a lovely creosote smile now.

When I am faced with this situation again, I will be sure to remove the dinghy from the stern – probably just tie it alongside the outside of the mothership- and fold in my davit frames to the space within the stern envelope. then I can swing it wherever I want and know that only steel and fenders will be involved…

Alistair Cunningham

There’s a minor typo in “It it goes wrong”.

Tom Witzel

John,

In his book “Offshore Sailing”, Appendix 6, Maneuvering Under Power, author Bill Seifert describes taking a 50 ton, 76′ schooner away from a concrete pier against a 40 knot onshore breeze in St. Georges, Bermuda using the Forward Departure method. It’s a fun read and confirms your advice. He continues on to describe a successful Reverse Departure, port-side tie, right-hand prop, at a prestigious Long Island Sound club that earned him a free pass at the club’s bar courtesy of the Commodore, also an entertaining read.

Tom Witzel

James Evans

A little wrinkle for singlehanders: if you leave in reverse you can slip the bow spring and recover it at leisure because you’re not going to run over it while it’s streaming off the bow. It may mean you spend quite a while going backwards, of course…

Matt

If possible, I like to cut my bow line lengths to reach from the forward chocks to just ahead of where the prop shaft comes out. That’s the length they’ll end up if you drop them overboard, so why not start that way?
There are times when a longer one is handy, but for routine use, this has worked out well (and has saved us from a snarled prop a few times when inexperienced crew drop them overboard).

Ben Logsdon

I love that trick! And all perplexed looks when other boaters are yelling warnings you that you have lines in the water and you reply with a calm thumbs up.

Eric Klem

Hi John,

Good points on all of these. As someone who has dealt with bowsprits a lot, I certainly always worry about what that is going to hit. When you are standing over 100′ from the tip of it, it always looks like it is about to cause major destruction and it has given me more than a grey hairs. The bigger issue is that it often prevents you from springing the stern out very far if that is the preferred direction as it will hit a piling, pier, etc at relatively low angles. I will admit to being a bit less formulaic about bow out or stern out than you, I tend to assess my options then pick a method. A significant portion of the time, we seem to be in a situation where we can’t go ahead due to depths,end of dock, etc so need to spring the stern out then back up and that can force your hand. Of course, in bad situations, I do sometimes choose to back in but often it is easy enough to just go in bow first.

I realize your example talks about a beam wind pushing you on but as I am sure you know this works for any wind direction. It can even be handy if you are being blown off the dock with a boat whose bow has a bad habit of being blown off and you can’t proceed forwards after getting off due to being up the end of a finger and don’t feel like backing and filling a lot to stay parallel. If the wind or current has much of a component from behind, I usually spring the stern out as the risk of hitting your bow on the boat behind goes away and the risk of being pushed onto the boat ahead is still there or can even grow.

And I am definitely guilty of using the fisherman’s trick of no line springing off but it definitely has limited use unless you have a lot of power and a boat that can be bashed around a bit more. Unlike springing off properly, you can’t take the early part slow.

Probably the best is doing it on pilings with fenderboards as you can often spring out close to a full 90 degrees but if you have a head-rig, there is much more risk of catching that if you are backing out. I find doing it while hanging off the end of a dock super tricky the keep fendering in place, it is hard enough when you don’t have this complication.

Eric

Eric Klem

Hi John,

That makes sense. When you posted this, I had some of the intricacies in my mind as a good college friend had just been able to visit for the first time since before the initial lockdown and had recently started as captain on an almost 300T displacement single screw sailing vessel that is tricky to maneuver.

Eric

Terence Thatcher

I have used both your bow and stern methods. The one issue I have with both is that no matter where I put them, I don’t feel I ever have enough fenders or that they are in the right places or they move around and I worry they will not protect the boat. Somehow, I haven’t had major or even cosmetic damage, but it always seems about to happen. All my fenders, however, are oblong shape. I don’t really have enough room to carry lots of big round ones. Four are kept inflated and five are stowed deflated and only inflated when needed. So, any advice on fender use and placement as you continue the series would be much appreciated.

Dick Stevenson

Hi Terrance,
I am a big fan of the very light-weight inflatable fenders that augment the 4 traditional robust basically indestructible ones I have had for decades now (and “tried” to destroy upon occasion).
I have 4 of these lightweight inflatables, both fat and medium length and 2 longer for ~~10 years now and they have held up pretty well. The longer ones have made my use of my fender board a once a season event. The robust ones go between Alchemy and a wharf or concrete pier. The lightweight ones are for rafting off and any other uses where needed (such as where fender boards are called for).
A nice thing about the lightweight inflatable ones is that they are quick and easy to move to where needed: the robust ones are heavy and can be awkward to get from one place to another around shrouds etc.
Mine are inflated all season and live on the foredeck out of the way from the work that goes on there. The robust ones live in a locker. I found that the round ones could not find a place on my boat. This may be a size thing as I am a 40-footer.
That said, on wharfs when things get ugly, I have been happy to borrow a big round fender from a neighbor fishing boat as they really keep you away from the wall and, because they roll, I believe are easier on the boat/hull.
Random thoughts, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Mike G

Great presentation. We found ourselves in this exact scenario last summer and resolved to Plan C. We did wake up MV Teeth Breaker’s captain and crew, but we had plenty of fenders out and no damage.

Matt

Getting off our fuel dock is always a bit of fun, and I might try this technique next time. (It’s on the end leg of a narrow L-shaped channel, with the prevailing wind somewhere between dead abeam or just forward of that, pushing you onto the dock.) Most boats there get off by having a couple of fuel dock attendants hold onto the stern rail after giving the bow a good hard shove, which works for a 25-footer but is inelegant and potentially dangerous for bigger boats.
The other problem at that dock, and many like it, is that keels often touch a bit of mud once you’re alongside. All the usual dynamics of how a boat will react to thrust, rudder, and springline tension go out the window when the keel is “soft aground”, not taking any weight vertically, but definitely being a lateral restraint. That’d be an interesting topic to explore in a future article.

Dick Stevenson

Hi all,
And do not forget warping one’s way out of a difficult spot. I have more than once gotten a very long line across the water expanse to a fixed spot upwind. The benefits are that one is in total control and you can move slowly, usually with a winch, sometimes a windlass. When accomplished, it helps to have a bystander untie the line and toss it back to you, but often there is an easy spot to re-tie up and get sorted.
Which reminds me: I always check the weather the night before a departure. Sometimes, if weather dictates and I want to sleep better, I will stage elsewhere that gives an easier departure (especially if a mooring looks available) and in those areas where the wind comes in with dawn and the sun heats things up, I will leave at first light.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Robert Andrew

John, this book, which I have read multiple times, is really helpful. I am glad that you have returned to it. I have used both of these techniques myself though never in the kind of conditions you describe (don’t have the confidence or skill yet). Several questions/comments about this chapter (1) under plan B going out forward, you start out with “put the boat in forward as above” – did you mean reverse, which was the first step before? (2) As long as the spring line is taught, isn’t that the main determinate of how the boat moves (by changing the pivot point) more than the rudder/prop action? (3) For less experienced folks like myself, some discussion of the port side departure would be a helpful addition I can see how it would have fewer issues, but your diagrams would make it very clear I expect. .

Carl Johanson

Great chapter and comments, I have learned a lot! You are all more experienced than me but here is a comment to the June 11 – 14 discussion, started by James Evans, on spring line and propeller on a single-handed boat departing in reverse.
When single-handed, I usually prepare my departure by leading all lines that may drop in the water through fairleads to a cleats or a winches in the cockpit. In that way I can haul the line/s aboard while steering as soon as they are slipped or cast off. Not every helpful hand on the jetty will succeed in throwing the line aboard. This can of course be applied to all lines; bow line, spring and stern line, whether slipped or cast off, where appropriate.

Michael Lambert

Idk where this fits in the discussion, but here’s a fun trick some folk don’t know. IF you find yourself a dock hand for a departing boat, AND you have ended up holding a line with the boat far enough away that you don’t think you can toss the whole length on board, AND there is nobody ready to pull it in quickly, wait till you’re at the end, with it sagging between you and the departing boat. At the last second pull hard so the rope tightens and slips from your fingers as you pull. It will fly into the boat, if there is a crew to catch or the rig in line. It’s quite fun as I said, but usually said crew should just pull it in.

David Britton

One of the key tricks with Spronging is to adjust the helm correctly as you come off the dock. As the You tube video shows below, just keeping the helm fully turned into the dock(stern out)will not always put your bow where you want it. It’s amazing to see the bow position change with slight shifts of the rudder.