Saturday, January 21, 2017

No. You Can't Have Our Bow Line.

It was Cuba that finally made us tough.

At both Cienfuegos and Cayo Largo, we had to tie up to a marina dock to make our peace with officialdom.

At both of the marinas in question, Alisa glumly handed our bowline to the waiting marina worker, hoping against hope that this would be the time that the person receiving our line would know what to do with it.

No luck.

Both times, the worker took our bow line to the nearest dock cleat, pulled it as ever tight as he could, and then made it fast.

If you do that with a moving boat, and the dock cleat in question is towards the stern of the boat, only one thing can happen.

The boat is brought to a screeching halt by the bow. That's something like halting a trotting horse by the nostrils. The bow can only come slamming in towards the dock (and the stern can only go shooting out away from the dock) with a speed and violence that is commensurate with the force generated by the (slight) speed and (massive) weight of the boat.

In Cienfuegos, the dock was concrete. Alisa managed, with alacrity and disregard for her person, to fend off.

In Cayo Largo, not so.

In this case the dock was aluminum. We're steel. The resulting BANG was enough to make the onlooking mangroves shiver. Result - a big fat dent in the dock, and a teeny little scratch in our paint. I'll have to remember to hit that spot the next time I do touch-up.

The thing is, though, that while these were two quite egregious examples - "Great, you stopped us five meters short of where we were going. Now let's untie the poor boat and move her forward" - they were far from unique.

All too often, people running forward, eager to help you dock your boat, have no idea at all what to do. They grab the closest line on offer - from the bow - and, wanting to do something, pull on it or tie it off too soon and generally screw up everything.

As a result, Alisa and I had over the years developed a strong but diffuse aversion to any help docking the barky unless we really needed it. We couldn't exactly put into words why we hated help. We just hated it.

But Cuba made us see the light. Our dislike of help is actually very specific. It centers on the fascination that various forms of landlubber have for the bow line.

With recognition, comes solution.

Take today. I am about to jet off to Alaska to give the outstanding problems of boreal marine ecology my personal attention for a week or two. As such, our goal for the day was to get Galactic tied up in the marina where Alisa and the boys will live while the Mothership is captainless.

(I have discouraged Alisa from that hideous nautical custom of the relief skipper.)

We came into something of a screaming horror of a docking situation. Tradewinds right up our stern, and fresh. Our designated spot far far into the nether reaches of the marina, in the armpit where two docks come together with barely a Galactic-length between them. And the dock taking a little turn just before our slip so the trades would both be blowing us bow-first into the dock and towards the 36' Hunter (read: the single boat in the world that is less tolerant of being run into by 18 tonnes of steel than any other) that would be our neighbor.

Alisa and I were firm. We would not give up the bow line. The very nice worker with whom we were chatting on the VHF would get our spring. And he would bloody well like it.

Elias, as AB, was set the task of standing by with the bow line while Alisa tended spring and stern.  She explained the plan to him: "Don't give the man the bow line. He'll ask for it, but don't give it to him. We're doing spring line, then stern line, then bow last."

We came in, got the Mothership far far back in the trap of the narrowing docks, and predictably, I couldn't make the turn into our slip given the available room and wind speed.

A series of tiny little turns ensued as I repeatedly backed the barky up into the wind until we were nearly touching the boats at the dock behind us, and then risked a little forward gear to push our bow where it needed to be.

The dock worker, seeing everything not going to plan, began loudly demanding the bow line. That way he could give it a heroic tug when we got close, and our stern would go crashing into the defenseless Hunter, and everything would end according to the script that seems to have been written by the evil gods who govern all things in that third ring of hell, the marina.

Elias consulted with his mom. This grownup was demanding the line that he was holding. Should he give it to him?

Alisa stood firm.

Our helper had to make do with the spring.

And, except for a leetle hiccup when he decided that the spring line would be much more useful if it were led to a cleat downwind of us, rather than to the upwind cleat which was our entire hope and plan for stopping our 18 tonnes with the trades behind her (quickly set right by a burst of volume from the skipper's voice box), everything went perfectly.

It may be slow. But we do learn a few things as the years go by.


  1. HaHa Reminds me of an experience unloading a 70,000# boat from an ocean going barge in Honolulu harbor. Barge was going up and down with a south swell into the harbor and the crane was on the dock. When I realized that the crane operator was a clueless trainee receiving instructions from a 300# Samoan on the dock I yelled "Pick the M----. with such force that it scared the operator into yanking back on the control levers and jerking the boat clear of the cradle that was threatening to punch holes in the bottom.

    Looks like the magnetic field in the Great Land has you in it's tractor beam---.

  2. ALWAYS give a dockline WITH A LOOP already tied into it. Then all you have to say is "place that loop over that bollard or cleat or post or whatever it is you want them to use and point to it just in case there is a language difference.

    Have you ever seen a ship pass a rope without a loop in it? Yep that's right never. They always adjust the tension they require and make it fast onboard, just as you should be doing if you like you can have the end of your line tied off incase you need to drop your loose end for any reason, you can always come back to it that way and make it fast.

    I learnt many years ago that seamanship is judged by the way you manouvre and dock your boat not by the flag you fly.

    1. To Wayne:
      Many places, including most public floats here in Alaska, tie-up is to a bullrail. There is nothing to put a loop on or over, the line has to be passed over and under the bullrail and either tied off there or passed back to a crewmember on the boat. A loop would be of no use and actually may be more difficult to pass through quickly. Ships normally don't tie off to bullrails; they have bollards or some other connecting point where a loop is useful.