Making single handed mooring easy – even on a 70′ vessel

One important consideration when choosing a charter vessel is how your profits will be affected by the requirement of deck hands.

Even leisure sailors will get more use out of their vessel if they are not reliant on finding a crew on every occasion they wish to move the boat.   

The illustrations below show just how simple single handed mooring can be aboard Global Surveyor. Here we put your mind at ease about this key deciding factor…

ARRIVING AT DOCK:

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Magic Rope “Henry”

 

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Fixed to Boathook

 

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Ready for use on sidedeck

 

 

 

 

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Ready to catch shoreside cleat

 

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Recovering slack line

LEAVING DOCK:

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Backspring set up from bowsprit

 

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Pulling line instantly releases spring from cockpit 60 ft away

 

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Can be instantly released from cockpit 60 ft away

 

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Spring set up from stern

 

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Quick release from stern

Singlehanded Docking.

Why Jump off? 15 years ago I returned from a circumnavigation with my family to find myself owning a 70 ft yacht but without any reliably available crew. If I was going to get any use out of my vessel I would need to learn how to sail or at least motor and berth her on my own.

I find fellow yachtsmen to be very helpful with most more than willing to take my lines. However such volunteers are not always wandering down the jetty at the exact moment I arrive and relying on such happen stance is not in the best traditions of seamanship. Increasingly these days even when present in body, their minds are often 100 miles away, talking to a spouse or lover, with mobile phones pressed tightly to their ears.

So I started experimenting. Provided I could manoeuvre to within 200 mms of the pontoon I could at least get a midship line ashore. With a freeboard of 1.6 m, jumping off onto a wet pontoon invites a broken leg, so I had to climb down the 4 rungs of my boarding ladder dragging my 24 mm mooring line behind me. At 3 knots her 50 tonne displacement gives her the same kinetic energy as a 1 kg hammer travelling at the speed of sound. Interposing any body part between boat and dock is therefore likely to be lethal and stopping any forward motion by hand is unlikely to be successful.

The 23.5 m mast and extensive topsides gives her the same windage as a 30 footer under full sail, while her 100 sq m of wetted surface seeks to follow any tide. Therefore trying to hold her alongside against any wind above 6 knots or any water flow above ½ knot is somewhat futile. The urgent necessity was therefore to quickly find a mooring cleat before my pride and joy drifted off, unmanned into the sunset. Even after this was accomplished I often found myself on the jetty with the boat held tantalisingly out of reach by these natural forces, while totally lacking the physical strength to pull her any closer.

When I did manage to get aboard I was faced with multiple trips ashore to get the bow, stern and springs lines fast.

I needed to work out something more reliable and less taxing on the legs. So to avoid heart attacks I have over the years adapted a couple of pieces of gear and employed a precise strategy so I can reliably berth alongside, despite offshore breezes and depart against onshore ones. All with the minimum of effort and without having to leave the deck.

The ideas will work on any size of yacht especially if circumstances dictate that you cant be absolutely precise in your boat handling, are beyond middle age, have a vessel with a high freeboard or are not fully crewed.

So this is the check list I hold in my head. There is no time to rectify mistakes when nearing the berth so experience has shown that being lazy and missing out even one, generally leads to trouble.

Check List: Docking short-handed even with an Offshore breeze.

  1. It take time to get fenders and ropes up from the focle and fixed in place. Randomly available 25 m long berths are also hard to find in the crowded Solent. I therefore phone the marina 20 minutes before arrival to ascertain availability and importantly determine which side-too. Starboard side is greatly preferred even if this means berthing with some following wind or tide.
  2. While still in open waters on autopilot and keeping a good lookout I fix a minimum of 5 fenders along the full length of the hull and at the height to suit the marina pontoon or dock wall.
  3. Lay out bow and stern line and springs all ready to be run out on a bight.
  4. My first indispensable item is a rope I have christened “FLO”. (First Line On-shore) (see photo) This is 20 m long with a small eye splice at one end and a large eye at the other, held open with ¾ inch marine suction hose. A small loop of chord is fixed on the outside on one side of this large eye.
  5. For berthing the end with the small eye is secured loosely with a couple of turns around a cockpit sheet winch. It then stretches along the deck through a turning point about 60-65% from fwd then over side under the bottom rail. The spare is looped back aboard over the top rail. (see photo)
  6. Ready boathook attaching it to the small bight of chord on “FLO” which sees it lying in line with the pole. (see photo)

This is my second bespoke item. It was fabricated using a scrap “Topper mast.” In my case it is 3.2 m long, very sturdy yet weighs less than 2 kg . My radius of opportunity to get a line ashore has now expanded from the previous 200 mm to 2500 mm. This is very reassuring and every mm has proved to be vital when operating alone in gale force conditions.

 

  1. Approach the berth as closely as possible at the lowest speed which will prevent being blown off. If nothing is in the way do this at a narrow angle, say 10 degrees.
  2. When nearly in place give a burst astern aiming to stop the vessel with “FLO” opposite a pontoon cleat.

If port side-too use the rudder to give the stern a substantial initial swing towards the berth before going astern. However starboard side-too is much better, as the propeller will automatically paddle the stern positively towards the pontoon, even against a moderate wind. (left hand screw). This reduces the distance and trebles the available time to get “FLO” ashore.

  1. Quickly take two steps from the cockpit to the deck and picking up the boat hook sweep “Henry” over the side, placing the large eye over the cleat (see photo) and remove the boathook.
  2. Quickly take out all the slack on the sheet winch and make fast.

We are now firmly attached to the shore and the vessel wont go far. No need for any more inclusions of the word “quickly”.

  1. Using the engine dead slow ahead and taking as much time as you like steer the bow gently towards the shore.
  2. I hold the rudder at the required angel with the autopilot, walk to the bow and use the boathook to place the bight of the bow rope over a shore cleat. I Leave enough slack for the bow to swing out parallel.
  3. Returning to the helm I steer the stern alongside and similarly attach the stern line.
  4. I make fast the springs, stop engine and remove “FLO” for future use.
  5. Lastly and perhaps after a cup of tea, I go ashore and finalise the position and length of all moorings throwing a second security turn round the shore cleats. In my case adjustments often require the use of my two tonne electric capstan or a sheet winch.

Job Done.

Check List: Departing against on-shore wind.

  1. All moorings are on a bight. I go ashore and throw off the second turns on the cleats. All ropes can now be released from aboard.
  2. I decide if if is best to spring out ahead preferred, or astern.

The spring is attached as near to the stern (or bow) as possible. This gives the maximum leverage for the engine to force the other end away from the quay, even against a strong onshore wind or tide.

The critical moment in any springing operation is to quickly get the vessel moving rapidly in the required direction before it can drift back alongside, while simultaneously letting go and recovering ropes. This is easy if you are fully crewed or can gain a passing volunteer. Not so easy on your own.

  1. So more use for “FLO” It is fed out to a shore cleat on a bight. The end with the small eye splice is passed through the opening in the middle of one of the vessel cleats or a deck “U” bolt and is fixed in place with a stainless steel rod. (see photo) The other end is tightened and made fast aboard.

Removing the rod will instantly allow the rope to slip. One end of the rod has a shackle and a line so in my case the release can take place instantly from the cockpit even when letting go the forward spring some 60 feet away.

If leaving astern: The spring runs from a “U” bolt on the deck out through the bow roller to the shore cleat and back to the bow bollard.

  1. Start engine. Check all systems and that there is no conflicting traffic. When clear release all other moorings which can be done from the deck..
  2. Steaming slow ahead with the helm hard over, drive the stern efficiently to windward.

Keeping the spring short helps prevent the bowsprit invading the pontoon too far and wiping off electric points.

  1. When at a good angle take another quick look to check the way astern is clear and warn third parties ashore not to panic or interfere. Without damaging the gearbox the propeller is put rapidly half astern and the helm centred. As the weight comes off the spring the chord is given a sharp tug and the stainless steel rod pulled out.
  2. Nothing happens to the spring for a while and curious observers will see the boat moving rapidly away while still apparently made fast. Hence the warning not to panic or interfere. When eventually the rope tightens it drags the free end from the deck, around the cleat and clear.

The reason for the tight eyesplice at this end is to prevent it catching the horn of the pontoon cleat which could spoil your whole day. It is also important that the total length of this spring is shorter than the distance between the bow and propeller or you smugness at a smart manoeuvre will be short lived if it fouls your propeller as you start to move ahead. Finally the rope can be retrieved when completely clear.

If leaving Ahead, Most of the above applies although the engine is first put astern to get the bow to point well offshore before going ahead and manually removing the pin.

 

Single handed mooring – to find out more please contact Graham Lascelles on 01983 883142 or email sailglobalsurveyor@gmail.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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