You want to turn one way to get out of your berth, but both the boat and the wind have other ideas – so what do you do? David Harding has some suggestions, including giving it some welly!
Sometimes the position of your berth, the marina‘s layout, your boat’s prop walk and the direction of the wind conspire to make life difficult.
Either you don’t go out or you find a way to manage.
It was like that when I sailed with John King on his Westerly Konsort, Sarnia. John was keeping the boat for the winter at Hayling Yacht Company’s marina in Chichester Harbour.
We had an easterly wind, blowing from the exit towards the end of our cul-de-sac and, because we were facing south-east in the berth, the right-handed propeller allied to the boat’s natural weather-cocking tendency made for a challenging set of circumstances.
We got out – but there would have been neater ways.
Wanting to explore some of these with John, I waited until we had another fresh easterly and a suitable tide – it’s a drying marina – and went back to try a variety of exit strategies.
Boat handling tips: Planning an exit
We were berthed starboard-side to a finger pontoon, with a fresh breeze on our port bow blowing diagonally across the run between the two main pontoons.
Ideally we would reverse out with the tiller to port, swinging the stern to starboard and the bow to port, towards the exit.
The we would change gear and motor out forwards. Simple? Not exactly.
The problem was multi-fold.
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First, in astern the Konsort’s right-handed prop would pull the stern the wrong way: to port.
Second, the wind would be working with the prop-walk, blowing the bow off and pulling the stern to port, into the wind.
Third, with only a few boat-lengths between the berths on either side, there would be little opportunity to build up enough speed through the water for the rudder to start working efficiently and steer the boat the other way. It might work – or it might not.
So, what to do?
Sometimes the best approach in such situations is not to fight the elements, but to work with them.
Allowing the stern to find the wind and then simply reversing out of the marina into open water where there’s space to turn around can work well, though it’s useful to be familiar with how your boat handles in astern.
Using the lee
An alternative would be to take advantage of the slight lee presented by the boat in the adjoining berth: keeping some tension on the stern line upon engaging reverse would encourage the bow to start swinging to port.
Then the boat would exit the berth at an angle and wouldn’t need to swing much further before getting the wind on the starboard bow to help swing her the rest of the way.
Boat handling tips: marina exit strategies – the obvious way
1. With the wind blowing from the port bow, all the lines can be dropped in advance and the stern line slipped last. John has engaged reverse and Sarnia is pulling out of the berth.
2. John has given the throttle plenty of welly to establish water-flow over the rudder as quickly as possible. With the tiller over to port, he now knocks the engine out of gear so the prop is no longer pulling the wrong way.
3. Now within about a boat-length of the boats opposite, Sarnia has begun to respond to the rudder. John changes gear from neutral to gently forward…
4..then moves the tiller across to starboard before giving a good burst of throttle, using the prop-wash over the rudder to swing the bow to port.
5. The prop-wash can clearly be seen in the water as the boat lines up nicely and faces towards the exit.
Boat handling tips: marina exit strategies – the contingency
What if Plan A doesn’t work?
1. The boat reverses out as before, with the helm over to port…
2.…but this time she’s getting close to the opposite side and hasn’t begun to swing, perhaps because she wasn’t moving fast enough or a strong gust of wind came through.
3. It’s time to operate the contingency plan: engage forward gear, leaving the helm over to port.
4. Use a short burst of ahead, still with the helm over, to straighten the boat up…
5..and then reverse out. Plan A didn’t work, but there was an easy escape route.
Boat handling tips: marina exit strategies – reversing all the way
If there’s any doubt, this is the simplest approach
1. The stern line is kept until last but it’s slipped earlier this time because we want the stern to go to port. Now John engages reverse, keeping the helm almost central.
2. As soon as the bow is clear of the pontoon, John puts the helm to starboard. Combined with the weather-cocking effect of the wind, this starts the stern turning to port.
3. Wind and rudder between them soon do the trick and the stern is pointing towards the exit. Now it’s just a matter of reversing out through the entrance before turning around where there’s more room.
Boat handling tips: marina exit strategies – swinging with a warp
Taking advantage of the lee
1. Again, all lines are dropped except the stern line, which this time is kept under tension and dropped once the stern has begun to pull to starboard.
2. The fenders are earning their keep as the bow swings nicely to port in the lee of the motorboat in the next berth.
3. The turn can be seen in the water. The bow is now through the wind so it’s time to change from reverse to forward gear and head out towards the entrance.
There are often several perfectly good ways to get out of a berth – in this instance including others that we didn’t have time to try.
The best will often be the one you feel most confident with.
If you’re trying the equivalent of our Plan A, it’s no good being timid. Unless you handle the boat positively and use enough throttle, it simply won’t work.
In this case as in so many others, however, you really do need a Plan B.
The greater the likelihood of something going wrong, the more important your Plan B becomes.
It’s also worth practising reversing and turning your boat around in strong winds so you’re familiar with how she handles.
When going from astern to ahead, whether you should change gear before moving the helm across or vice versa can be critical, but the order depends on so many factors that it’s impossible to stick to a firm rule.
If prop-walk pulls you the wrong way, try building up speed in reverse to get the rudder working before going into neutral to eliminate the prop-walk.
That way, the boat will often respond.
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