Thursday, February 25, 2010

"Docking" The Boat

A couple of years ago I had a small sailboat. The Catalina 27 was about the perfect size for day-sailing around Los Angeles with an occasional over-night anchoring, usually off Isle White in Long Beach (an oil platform.)

Most of my activity was Monday through Friday — leaving the weekend to the warriors. I sailed in a wide range of conditions from drifters to gales and enjoyed every minute of it. There was nothing better than getting out there at 10:00 AM just as the sea breeze picked up and sailing down to Rainbow Harbor to have lunch at one of the restaurants at the Downtown Marina. And there were excitements; like the day I was inbound in LA's main channel, inside the breakwater, and a whale surfaced right in front of me. Or, the little races that occurred any time I met another boat. Or, the days that started out with a nice gentle breeze and ended with a gale.

My slip in San Pedro was on the weather side of the dock. During normal daytime wind conditions my stern faced the wind. That made it hard leaving my slip if I waited until too late in the morning. Getting the bow to swing into the fairway could be a challenge, and it was compounded by the outboard engine wanting to pull the stern straight back. There was a trick to getting enough momentum going, then shutting the power off and using the rudder to get the bow out.

I had some exciting returns when the wind was blowing hard. My approach, always under engine power, was with the wind on my starboard side and as I turned into the slip it came onto the stern. On really windy days it was very hard to keep the speed under control as the boat sailed itself across the wind. One particularly windy day I was controlling my speed very closely and was perfectly setup to get into my slip. Thirty yards out, I slipped the engine into neutral. As I slid up the fairway approaching my turn into the slip I realized I was going just a little too fast so I put it in reverse: I didn't realize the shift cable had slipped out of its bracket leaving me in forward. Since I was still fast I gave it a little gas to slow down. As I turned into my slip I was still too fast and gave it more gas to slow down. Now I was in the slip going way too fast (AKA ramming speed): I still didn't realize what the problem was. I hit the dock so hard that the bow slid up onto the dock.

There was enough keel showing that I could check for the Catalina smile. The maintenance guy was on my row, about thirty slips down, and, looked curiously for a minute then resumed his dock repair: I guess he figured I know what I was doing. In the mean time, I was trying to push the boat off the dock, but it wouldn't budge. The engine was still in forward: After a minute, I walked back to the cockpit and noticed the engine still thrusting so I reached over and put it into neutral, then was easily able to push off the dock. The boat seemed OK, I gave it a good look-over while it was on the dock, and other than breaking the dock's water line there was no other damage. When I told the maintenance guy about the line and resulting geyser he acted like it was a normal thing to have boats moored on the dock.


No comments: