August 4, 2009

Warping out of a slip

(Keep an eye peeled for a new column by John Vigor every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.)

JEFF YOUNG contacted me after reading last week’s column about the difficulties of backing out of a slip. He says he has a small boat and not much experience, so docking and undocking is still nerve-racking. He likes the idea of a “snap line” to aid in backing out of a slip, “but I’m not quite sure how the line is rigged on the dock.”

Well, Jeff, it’s really very simple. Like most simple things, however, it takes longer to describe it than to do it. I’m presuming you’re bow-in, in a slip.

I use a 3/8-inch braided nylon line, but 1/4-inch would probably be enough. Make the line twice the length of your boat on deck.

At the stern (outer) end of your dock, you need some kind of fitting for the line to run through freely. For example, my floating concrete dock is attached at its outside end to a thick wooden post driven into the seabed. The attachment fitting is simply a horizontal metal hoop that runs from the front face of the dock, around this piling, and back to the dock. The whole dock goes up and down with the tide, and the metal hoop rides up and down the piling.

I take one end of my line, pass it through the hoop and hold it in one hand. I take the other end of the line and hold it in my other hand. Then I walk back along the dock the length of the boat until I come to the end of the line. At this stage, standing next to the bow of my boat, I have a doubled line that runs from one hand, down the dock, through the metal hoop, and back up the dock to my other hand. I lay this doubled line down on the dock.

Now I go back down the dock and grab the doubled line near the hoop. I coil the doubled line down upon itself on the dock in figure-eight loops (best for running free without tangles) until the two ends of the line come to hand. In one end I make a loop and drop it over the cockpit winch. The other end I make fast around a nearby deck cleat.

When I cast off the stern line, I make sure to leave it under my coil of doubled line, so there’s nothing to hinder the line as the boat, in slow reverse, pulls the line off the coil on the dock as I back into the fairway.

When all the slack in the doubled line is taken up, the boat will jerk its bow around about 90 degrees toward the side opposite the doubled line. I then cast off one end of the line from the cleat and quickly haul in the whole line, starting at the end on the winch. The free end of the line runs through the hoop on the dock, and back to me. I gather it all into the cockpit.

If you find it more convenient or have an extra crew member, you can coil the doubled line in the cockpit and feed it out as you back out; but I prefer to let the boat pull the line off the dock.
The essence of this maneuver is to find something at or near the end of the dock (or an adjacent moored boat) that will let your line run through it freely when you need to retrieve it. One sailor I read about built a little vertical roller on the end of his dock for this purpose. A pulley block would do the job, but a knot might jam in it. A large steel ring would be fine, or a simple piece of galvanized water pipe (or a hunk of 2 x 4) sticking straight up for a foot or so – anything for your line to run around. If you’re using an adjacent boat, the pushpit or pulpit provide good turning points.

If you are permanently moored in the slip, you might even consider a single light chain the length of the boat, permanently attached to the end of the dock and looped around the cockpit winch when you need it. You can then just cast it off the winch when your turn is completed, and it will sink and not inconvenience any other boats. No need to retrieve it. A nylon line, weighted in places so that it sinks to the bottom, would also do the trick.

Incidentally, I always keep a sharp knife in my pocket to cut the line if anything gets stuck, and I make sure the line doesn’t get near the prop.

Don’t forget to put the gear in neutral or forward while you retrieve your line. It only takes a few seconds to get the line aboard, and then you’re all set to proceed along the fairway in forward gear under perfect control.

Today’s Thought
Avoid business with the sea, and put thy mind to the ox-drawn plough, if it is any joy to thee to see the end of a long life. On land there is length of days, but on the sea it is difficult to find a man with gray hair.
—Phalaecus, Epigram

What do you call a Frenchman who explodes a grenade in his kitchen? Linoleum Blownapart.

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