Dave Selby describes the tortuous boat-handling processes which led to him being rear-ended by a pontoon
Have you ever been rear-ended by a car? That’s what just happened to me… in my boat. There wasn’t actually a car involved, but something quite a lot bigger.
I really don’t know where it came from, but all of a sudden this bloomin’ great pontoon came out of nowhere and drove right up my backside.
That’s my version, and fortunately there were witnesses. Unfortunately, they’re proving rather inflexible, and so is my neck on account of my near-mortal whiplash injury in which even the most disreputable no-win-no-fee lawyers are exhibiting no interest whatsoever. It’s scandalous.
I just can’t get any traction, which is ironic, cos one even said my neck was made of brass.
In fact, it was just like one of those incidents in supermarket car parks, which in a way are just like marinas.
They’re both full of hazards and obstacles and totally unpredictable behaviour. Plus, boats in marinas have all the handling poise of a three-wheeled supermarket trolley. The main difference is that when something goes wrong in a car park, people look the other way. That doesn’t happen in marinas.
Here, for the benefit of South Coast sailors, I should explain that I use the term ‘marina’ in the authentic Essex east-coast sense of a boatyard with a tap.
My normal practice when leaving my rather snug mud berth is to spend several hours making a plan, dithering over the endless permutations of tides, eddies, water, wind direction and wind speed. It’s different every time.
Then I go to boatyard manager Adi, who points out the flaws in my plan and tells me what to do. Other berth-holders have come to recognise the signs of my imminent departure and generally take the opportunity to air their mattresses by lashing them to their stanchions on the side of their boat nearest to me.
It also happened that Adi and his dispiriting work ethic were both on holiday. Power tools slumbered, open tins of varnish dried in the sun, no one was splicing ropes. We’d lost focus, and a lot of decadent tea drinking was going on. And without Adi’s wise counsel I was left to my own devices. I had a plan.
I’d recently seen our local marine engineer, a demon boat-handler, reverse out a tricky long-keeler, and as the berths opposite were empty that encouraged notions of doing the same, rather than warping my boat round.
It’s well known that the only thing harder than going forwards in a boat is going backwards, and mine is trickier than most, as you need the limbs of an octopus. My outboard has no reverse gear,
so it involves holding the tiller firmly with one hand and swivelling the outboard with the other.
Then you need a third hand to fumble for the throttle lever, which by now is out of view and outboard of everything else, a long arm’s stretch on the far side of the engine right next to the choke lever, which feels exactly the same, and as left has become right it’s even more confusing.
Finally, there’s a gear lever which is also now on the other side of the engine. Basically, it can’t be done.
Nevertheless, it was going well at first. Then it wasn’t. With each input I was getting nearer the sharp end of the downriver finger pontoons. I was committed, and my options had evaporated.
In a last-ditch effort to save the situation before I ended up long-ways between two finger pontoons, I started spinning the engine round between forward and reverse while it was still in gear.
This is something you’re not supposed to do. Next, I fumbled to take it out of gear, but someone had moved the lever, so I scrambled for the throttle but found the choke instead. It was round about then that the pontoon rammed me up the chuff, which is the traditional East Coast nautical terminology for what South-Coasters call stern.
That night in the beautiful solitude of Pye Fleet I reviewed my options. Most appealing at first was to never go back to Maldon to face the shame, and stay in Pye Fleet ’til my date-expired Pot Noodles ran out. In sober reflection, I realised I simply couldn’t face that many Pot Noodles.
Option B was to bribe all the berth-holders to keep schtum so Adi never got to find out what goes on while he’s on holiday. I liked that plan, but it had a flaw. The scuff on my boat’s bum was a give-away. In haste, I called local boat painter Cally and begged her to touch it up super-pronto.
But like most of my plans, it didn’t work. The very second Adi stepped off his boat after his holiday, he said: ‘I hear you had a bit of a run-in with a pontoon’.
All of a sudden everybody started picking up power tools, varnishing and splicing ropes. Our focus was back.