Sooner or later most cruising skippers are likely to be faced with having to raft up in a harbour. But it needn’t be a stressful experience...
Everyone, it seems, has a rafting horror story. Either they were cast off by an exuberant Frenchman at 0600 or they spent a night with clashing masts and popping fenders alongside a rowdy party boat. In fact, rafting up seems to raise the ire of yachtsmen like no other subject. But there’s no need for it to be an unpleasant experience – if all goes well it is a great way to moor up for a reasonable cost in a sociable environment. Rafting isn’t rocket science, but there’s always something new to learn or consider. Here are PBO’s top tips for a stress-free rafting experience. Do let us know if you have any tips that we might have missed!
How to set up your lines
1 When in Rome…
In some harbours, rafting up is expected, while in others it’s frowned upon. Some pontoons have a two-boat limit on rafts. Before you get there, prepare yourself and check the almanac and pilot books. If in doubt, call the harbour master.
2 Choosing a neighbour
Easy – avoid the party boats and the glowering looks, right? Almost! Try to pick a boat with someone on board to avoid any confrontation later on. A boat of a similar size and shape is a good bet. Mooring alongside high-sided motorboats can be tricky if you’re in a sailing boat, although it’s usually possible with plenty of fenders.
3 Be polite
A quick ‘mind if we come alongside?’ will endear you to your fellow raftees. If you’ve nabbed a good spot, don’t be antisocial by leaving your tender alongside or snarling ‘we’re leaving at 0500’ to dissuade other potential rafters. If you’re in a harbour that is known for rafting, just accept that you’ll have someone alongside you, and be flexible.
4 Leaving times
The ‘we’re leaving at 0500’ trick is so well known that most people don’t believe it to be true any more. If you are, in fact, planning to leave at the crack of dawn, offer to go on the outside of the raft. Let the harbour master know and he may place you in a suitable raft. You’ll often find that a ‘no problem, we’ll get up and help you out’ will weed out the true early birds from the curmudgeons worrying about their paint!
5 Walk around the foredeck
There’s nothing worse than having a quiet drink when a neighbouring crew comes trampling through the cockpit, knocking the Pringles over. When clambering ashore, the etiquette is to go across other boats’ foredecks, so go for a quiet tiptoe forward of the mast, and note the position of spinnaker poles, open hatches and other trip hazards for when you make your way home in the dark.
6 Whose line is it anyway?
Nothing will start your relationship with the boat alongside on a worse footing than approaching without being properly fendered. It’s customary for the boat arriving to supply their own warps and fenders. If you’ve got any spare fenders, hang them out once you’re moored up as a precaution and a sign you’re happy to receive a fellow rafter alongside.
7 Shore lines
Once you’ve rigged your breast lines and springs, grab the shorelines before you open the beer. It’ll show the boat inside you know your onions and put his mind at ease. It can take some tweaking until you’re happy – the biggest problem often being finding a suitable cleat on the pontoon. You may be able to use another line to ‘divert’ your shoreline to clear another boat’s bows.
8 Leave tails on your boat
It’s polite to avoid leaving a large coil of rope on the deck of another boat – instead, pass them a bowline to put around the cleat and leave the mess on your own boat.
9 Stop your fenders popping out
If there’s any swell or an onshore breeze, or the boats are a light displacement and move around a lot, try the trick of tying your fenders to the toerail instead of the guardwires. This way they are far less likely to pop out as the boats move up and down against each other.
10 Rigs – avoid clashing
Light displacement boats have a tendency to heel when the crew stands on one side. This often happens when you’re coming alongside and well-meaning hands all rush to help, so be aware of the danger of clashing rigs. Once alongside, look up and if your mast is in line with your neighbour’s, move fore or aft as necessary.
11 Don’t follow the crowd
Don’t assume that because all the boats in a raft are pointing the same way, you need to follow them. Make your own assessment of wind and tide and come in your way. Mooring bow-to-stern is often the most sensible solution anyway, especially on boats of the same size, as it avoids clashing rigs.
12 Pick on someone your own size
We’ve all seen the Peyton cartoons of a small boat being dwarfed by a leviathan attempting to come alongside – and it’s an uncomfortable feeling. A big boat mooring outside a smaller one may be unavoidable. If that’s the case, ensure the bigger boat’s shorelines are taking the strain and not relying on the smaller boat’s cleats. Conversely, a small boat outside a big one won’t cause too much of a problem. Either way, communication is the key – you may be able to switch places.
13 Your responsibility
Ultimately, you as the skipper are responsible for the safety of your own boat. So that means if you’re unhappy going where you’ve been told to go by a harbour master, let him know your reservations – be they depth-related or because you’ve seen the forecast. He may be assuming you draw less than you do.
Leaving a raft
We’ve all been there – the skipper is fuming and wanting to catch his tide, while the boat rafted outside is showing no signs of leaving any time soon. You’re going to need to slip out. Luckily, it’s not as tricky as it sounds. If the boat outside has a crew that’s awake, they can simply motor off, wait for you to leave and come back alongside in the space you’ve vacated. Alternatively, they can let you out. Here’s how.
1: Get all of your lines, including shorelines, ready to slip. Make sure you don’t forget any or the whole operation will fail.
2: Work out which way you will leave the raft – forward or aft, but always downtide, if possible – and set up the outside neighbour’s lines so they will be connected to the shore as you leave. Take the uptide line ashore, then rig a long line from the downtide end of the outside boat, around your boat’s bow or stern (as necessary) and then ashore. Make sure it’s clear of aerials, flagpoles and fittings.
3: Time to go. Cast off the outer boat and make your escape downtide. Do this as quickly as you can so that the boat outside doesn’t get caught by the wind and tide.
4: Now crew posted ashore or on board the outer boats can heave themselves back alongside the pontoon. It can help if someone is standing by the engine controls on the outside boat to help counteract the tide and wind. But as long as the uptide shoreline is kept tight, the boat should ferryglide her way back alongside.
5: Once the outside boat is safely back alongside, the crew can relax and attach springs and the rest of the mooring lines at their leisure. If there is a shortage of crew to help move the other boats and you have enough, leave some of your own behind to help and pick them up afterwards.
If you’re stuck at the bottom of a cul-de-sac with no means of escape forward or aft, your only option is to persuade the boats outside you to leave for a while. If the crew aren’t on board, you can drop the boats back on to the outside of the raft ahead or astern while you leave, then haul them in.
This can be hard work, however, and there’s always the possibility of causing damage – so it might be best to wait for the other crews to reappear and do their own dirty work!