Captain's Tips

Docking with Confidence

By
Captains Chris & Alyse
Caldwell

If you've ever sipped a beverage while sitting in a waterside restaurant then you've probably witnessed some awesome docking ... sometimes in a can't-look-away-from-the-wreck awesome. To avoid being the star of a Youtube video you will want to use these docking tricks and tips, many of which only require a bit of practice.

Docking Neophytes

As with anything worth doing, a little bit of effort goes a long way, and practice will enhance that effort! For the first few times you take out your new boat try to do it when the marina is not busy and few boats are underway. A weekday morning when the tide is slack creates the best learning environment. Don't forget to tell the marina staff that you will be in and out of your slip and won't require any help. You will feel less pressure if you have no audience as you practice your close quarters maneuvering.

If you are fortunate enough to work with a training captain, start your very first time at the helm well after the boat is out of its slip. Discovering what it takes to slow, stop and actually reverse your boat combined with how it is affected by tide, current and wind are the first steps to successful docking. Performing these skills while away from the dock allows a new helmsman to build docking confidence without concern for the occasional oops! Soon these skills will become instinctive with diligent practice.

Marina Approach

Whether this will be your home port or your temporary tie-up for a weekend adventure, there's a first time in every marina. Everything looks different from the water so try to learn as much as you can before coming in to your slip. One easy way to explore your options is to stop at the fuel dock first. Fill your fuel tanks or pump out the holding tank then take a walk over to your assigned slip. Scan the surrounding docks for protruding bow pulpits or swim platforms that may require extra maneuvering. Is the power pedestal positioned that you must go bow or stern in? Will the starboard or port side be against the finger pier? Is the pier floating or fixed, as each calls for different fender requirements?

For those boaters in tidal areas, be sure to see from which direction and how fast the current is moving. You may need to compensate and overshoot your slip, allowing the dominant force of wind or current to help your maneuvering. Don't fight the force. Let the force be with you.

Tools of the Trade

While every helmsman should become adept at maneuvering with engines only, it's not cheating to use the tools you have at your disposal. Bow and stern thrusters are a bonus when you must slide right into a side-tie slip, but it's important to know their limitations. Get comfortable with how much power is available, either battery- or generator-assisted hydraulic thruster.

Remember that pilings are your friend, unless they are cement! It's OK to lay your boat's rub rail against a sturdy wood piling, sometimes using it as a fulcrum when the wind or tide challenges your maneuvers. And for good measure, have a walking fender -- one that's loose and easy to grab -- ready for your mate to strategically place when contact is unavoidable. Boat poles can make the difference between getting that line over the piling or launching a dinghy to make it happen. One pole is essential, two is preferred, and three assures you will have a boat pole available when the others go in the drink! A floating boat pole is wonderful, but you still need a second pole to retrieve the first.

Dock lines with large loops are terrific for placing over pilings without choking them. A choked line is difficult to remove from a piling and may need to be left behind. Either splice in a large enough loop or learn to properly tie a bowline, which will create a loop of the size you desire. Many boaters purchase prepackaged cut and spliced dock lines. That's usually fine for smaller boats. Be sure to have long enough lines to spring forward and aft to deal with tidal changes once you've landed safely and are permanently securing your lines.

Breast vs Spring Line

This is always a great topic for a dockside discussion, but our first docking line is almost always a breast line. ?is docking line is attached to the centermost cleat on your boat and unlike the spring line, the breast line is secured at the dock perpendicular to the boat and as short as possible.This is a temporary line that prevents the boat from blowing off the dock or moving too far forward or aft. Once you have successfully landed, readjust this line to become a spring line.

With a bit of practice the breast line can often be secured to the dock without your mate ever leaving the boat. no jumping from the side deck and no dockside help needed! But if you do require help, $5 makes a nice thank you to the marina dockhands.

Crew Communications

Unless you are single handing, it is essential to keep your crew in the loop. Plan your docking strategy, then share the plan with your crew, agree to it and be prepared for changes. It helps if you walk in each other's deck shoes and understand the responsibilities of each crew member but minimally you must find a way to communicate what is occurring --breast line is ON! When the line is secured or Secure stern line first! When the helmsman feels a change in the plan is required.

So how do you talk when the wind is howling or your boat is too big to hear each other clearly? Technology is a wonderful thing and options are plentiful. In addition to a two-way hailer there are head-set selections for every budget. Be sure you recognize the possibility of snagging wires and cumbersome battery packs so try before you buy when possible. After you become competent with each other's roles then short, key words can help describe a multitude of situations. No need for long explanations to get the job done.

Docking is an art that can be refined with practice, or for some lucky boaters it is plain ole raw talent. Just remember that sometimes you watch the show and sometimes you are the show.

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The Autumn: Why Haul Out
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Water and Fall foliage at Dory's Fall
Dory's Fall

Why do so many yachtsmen hurriedly haul out their boats immediately after Labor Day? Sure, the kids are back to school, and the weather starts to change. But we have enjoyed some of our most clear, calm, beautiful days boating in the fall. I dare say don’t haul before fall, have a ball while everyone else is buttoning up their boats and turning to watch football or baseball. Perhaps those sun-soaked sandbar rafting days have passed until next summer, but from New England to the southern coasts you’ll still find glorious warm days, less boat wake and less boat traffic in general, which opens a world of late season cruising opportunities. My father always said boating is better once the “summer yahoos disappear.”

Boating Experience: So soon in fall? 

A FEW REASONS TO LOVE THE FALL BOATING SEASON

Red Fall tree with water and boat in the background
Cape Porpose Maine Fall

Fall boating is just quieter. As most boaters vacate the water in lieu of other pursuits, September and October can offer brilliant blue-sky days. Waterways that were jam-packed with everything from inflatables to tour boats a month prior are now more open for you to explore. Loud two stroke “boater-cycles,” as my friend likes to call jet skis and sea-doos (personal propelled watercraft) are trailered away leaving in the absence of their wake- jumping a more serene scene.

Foliage starts to pop on the waterfront come mid-September into October from Maine to Virginia. The sparkling water reflects the kaleidoscope of autumn leaves in their shimmering crimson, gold and orange. It’s spectacular, truly a photographer’s dream, whether you’re on a lake, the ocean, a beautiful bay or waterway. Boating in September, October, even into November a bit farther south, is a gem. Just be mindful of the forecast, hurricane season, and significant temperature shifts that invite pop-up storms.

Man's legs propped up on seats facing stern of the boat with sunset in the background
Block Island, RI.

The weather. With cooler fall days, temps trend toward delightfully crisp and clear. Days are also shorter, so midday boating is best for peak sun. For your boating comfort, have sweatshirts, sweaters or jackets handy, even hats and gloves, especially if you’re in northern New England.

Good news: Gone are the hot humid mugginess and the bugs that accompany spring and summer heat. Bonus: you have less chance of that scorching summer sunburn. Still, be sure to apply sunscreen, refraction on the water is real even when a chill is in the air. You may want to eat steamed lobster by the waterfront, but you don’t want to look like one. Evenings on the water cool off, making for great sleeping aboard. Snuggle under covers and wake to fresh air and hot coffee on deck that never tasted so good in another season.

Fall means more available dock slips, moorings and anchorages as many are pulling their boots “up on the hard,” which frees up marina space for you. The same prime spots that were impossible to get in summer, with wait lists at places like Block Island, Newport and Annapolis, are now wide open. Same goes for waterfront restaurants with tie ups; their face docks are free and on a first come first served basis.

Just be prepared that dockhands and marina staff may not be as readily available in the fall, as students that typically manage the docks have returned to their campuses, and marine techs are pre-occupied prepping folks’ boats for winterization and storage. Be ready to tend your own lines.

Wildlife abounds in fall. Migratory birds are on the move. Enjoy watching geese, loons and birds-of-a-feather flocking south as winter approaches.

Speaking of marine life, if you like to fish, then fall is your wish. As temperatures decline, the fish sense that winter is coming. In preparation of the next season, fish begin their migrating south and their subsequent feeding frenzy.

Sailboat on a mooring with fall trees in the background
Kennebunkport Fall Foilage

Snowbirds of the human variety start their boating trek south too, if they aren’t storing their boat up north. Cruising the ICW in fall can be a social circuit where you may see the same boat owners and crew as you stop along your way at various harbors and marinas. It’s entertaining to compare ship logs and experiences from your adventures, favorite sights and seaports, with fellow boaters along your journey.

I have always loved how friendly boaters can be, and how an impromptu sharing of dock-side drinks aboard yours or their top deck can quickly transpire into an animated evening talking about best and worst boating with your nautical neighbors.

Word of caution: don’t be like my dear deceased, super-dedicated-to-boating Dad who insisted there’d be one more great boating day in late fall in New Hampshire. He would hold out on hauling his 28’ Eastern well into November, insisting it’s not winter till December. I recall more than once having to chip the ice of the dock lines to free up his pride- and-joy, then boating to the nearest icy ramp while frost clung to the windshield, and it was bitter cold on the slippery decks. That’s taking fall boating to an extreme.

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Cruising Grenada
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Sugar Spice and Everything Nice

When the end of the cruising season in the southern Caribbean was upon us, we did what many Caribbean cruisers do: We sailed south for Grenada. We delayed as long as possible, knowing the hurricane season was upon us, but we didn’t want to be forced south. I had one impression of Grenada, and that was of rotting boats and retired sailors. It was a cruisers graveyard, or so I thought, and I was far from accepting an end to our sailing days.

Grenada is the southernmost group of islands in the Lesser Antilles archipelago as well as the name of the main island in a cluster of eight smaller islands and about a dozen smaller islets and cays. The only thing I knew of its geography prior to arriving was that it was one of the few island groups in the Caribbean far enough south to be considered out of the hurricane belt. So, it was ironic that on our first day in the country we had to shelter in the mangroves from a Category 1 storm.

As we lashed our boat Ātea’s bow to densely bound tree roots and secured lines to the cleats of yachts on either side of us, our small unit became part of the larger, unified collective. Little did we realize that this interconnection would be representative of our Grenadian experience.

Safely through the storm, we disbanded and spread out to explore our new surroundings. We completed our clearance in Carriacou, Grenada’s northern sister island, and were amazed to see a hundred or so yachts anchored in Tyrell Bay, Carriacou’s main harbor. I knew Grenada was popular, but if the numbers of boats in Carriacou were anything to judge by, I’d have to cope with much larger crowds when we travelled farther south.

The south coast of Grenada not only provides the most settled weather, but it’s riddled with about a dozen safe harbors from the dominant easterly swell. It’s the reason cruisers gather on Grenada’s south coast and also the reason why they remain. Some stay for hurricane season, some use the island as a base for a few years, others retire from active cruising and either settle or sell. One thing was certain: Grenada was far more than the end of the line.

Before making the journey south, however, we wanted to stretch out the season by adding a short circumnavigation around Carriacou, known as “The Isle of Reefs” to the Kalinago people (the original Island Caribs). We spent our time there dodging bommies (submerged coral reefs) and soaking up the tropical island experience with our feet in the sand, our bellies in the water and our hands on a bottle of rum.

We stopped at Petite Martinique, the third and smallest of the three main islands. There we enjoyed rugged, rocky beaches and side-stepped clusters of goats grazing the green rolling hills as we hiked up Mount Piton for panoramic views of the surrounding islands. We climbed down into the Darant Bay Cave for framed views of the same islands at sea level.

Of course, we couldn’t miss a few sundowners on Mopion, a tiny sand mound rising amid expansive coral reef with a single thatched beach umbrella perched in the center. While technically a part of the Grenadines, its proximity to Petite Martinique made a quick dash across the border for a sip in the shade of this unique little spot a worthwhile experience. Carriacou is an island surrounded by unspoiled reef, and it did not disappoint. A quick tour of her perimeter was the perfect way to salute the end of an amazing Caribbean season.

With a quick stop-over in Ronde Island, a beautiful private island that’s halfway between Carriacou and Grenada, we continued our transit south. Again, I hadn’t prepared myself for the wild beauty of Grenada’s west coast. Mile after mile of dense, lush forest cascade down the leeward side of the island from peak to sea.

We hugged the coastline as we sailed the 13 miles down the west coast, looking up at 2,700 feet of volcanic rock and shear waterfalls that fed small rivers that ran down the slopes of the mountainous interior to the coast. While Grenada is well reputed as a tourist destination for holidaymakers seeking either a sun- drenched party or quiet refuge on one of its 45 beaches, I knew from sailing the coast that my preferences would draw me inland.

Grenada’s coastline contains many large bays, but most yachts head for safe anchorage behind one of the many narrow peninsulas that split up the southern coastline. As we pulled into Prickly Bay, the first of Grenada’s southern harbors, I knew from the crowd of yachts that I would escape to the interior as soon as possible. As it turned out, I didn’t get that chance. As soon as we dropped anchor, we were invited ashore for a cruiser’s jam session to reconnect with friends from past seasons.

The following day we crammed into the back seat of a taxi on our way to an event for the annual Chocolate Festival, and our schedule quickly filled after that with tours of cocoa plantations, cocoa grinding competitions, chocolate tastings and chocolate drawing contests. In additional to the island’s cultural events, we were also immediately drawn into the cruiser’s social scene.

On our first week of arrival our mornings were already booked into early morning yoga and bootcamp on the beach. The kids joined a cruiser’s homeschooling collective and regular extracurricular activities that were held under the shade of the trees. If we weren’t listening to live music or joining the locals’ beach barbecues in the evenings, we were sitting poolside and sipping beers from a $5 bucket with other cruisers at Le Phare Bleu, a boutique hotel that opened its amenities and services to cruisers during the pandemic.

Every morning offered an activity, and every evening we joined a social get-to-gether, so the weeks flew by in a social extravaganza unlike any we’d experienced. As yachts gather in Grenada every year for the hurricane season, the regularity of this influx of boats resulted in a solid cruising community and a variety of services and events. Far more than a collection of retired boats and sunburnt seamen, my preconceived notions of Grenada didn’t come close to the reality of the vibrant cruising network that existed on this popular island.

As we made new friends and reconnected with old ones, we really enjoyed the buzz that the tight community offered.

Pulling myself out of continuous activity took a concerted effort, but I eventually dragged the family off the beach and up the mountains.

After our trip into the interior, I developed a new passion for my time in Grenada: A short bus journey followed by a hike into the forest would lead us to one of Grenada’s many waterfalls. Unlike other tourist destinations where fees were handed over and you’d stand under falls next to groups of other tourists, we had the rivers for free and all to ourselves. Some of the trails were near the road, and we’d hop on and off a bus to walk the short distance to the falls. Others, such as Seven Sisters and the Concord Falls, required planning as it took a full day to hike in and out of the forest, clambering up steep banks and crisscrossing the river to wind through deep forest and get a view from the top.

Each part of the river that ran down from one of the six inland lakes had its own magic, and I was enthusiastic to see what each had to offer. Later I appreciated all that I’d experienced of Grenada’s inland beauty. As I paid $20 per person to stand in crowds under cascading water at Costa Rica’s most popular waterfalls, I couldn’t help but compare it to all that I’d seen in Grenada’s secluded, remote interior.

In additional to nature, we explored some of the historical roots of Grenada’s past. Grenada’s original economy was based on sugar cane and indigo, and with that, slaves were imported in the mid-17th century to work and harvest crops. We set out to search for some of the old plantation houses and slave pens that remained from that period, which took us on a wild tramp through the backstreets of quiet neighborhoods and into unmarked bush to find these lost relics.

It was quite the education for our children to see small, dank, windowless, stone slave quarters set behind grand old houses, a potent reminder of darker times in this beautiful and vibrant country. We also smelled and sampled some of Grenada’s current crops, nutmeg, mace and cocoa at the top of the list of exports, and enjoyed local culinary treats such as oil down, a vegetable stew that is the country’s national dish. Thanks to these excursions we can say that Grenada is, both figuratively and literally, full of sugar and spice.

Cruising often leaves you tied to the boat and, therefore, the sea. Grenada offered a wonderful period of enjoying the most of both land and sea in equal balance, so we were able to get the most of what the country has to offer. To see the beaches but not the forest, lakes and rivers offers only half the experience; likewise, to spend time inland but not explore the coast leaves only half an impression. As Grenada offers safe anchorage throughout the hurricane season, cruisers remain nearby for an extended period, sharing experiences and building friendships. This is unique for a community that is typically very transient, and it offers plenty of opportunity to create a home away from home atmosphere.

In addition, suitable yacht services are available, so that time spent waiting for the next season gives everyone a chance to get much needed repair work done. Far from being the end of the line, Grenada offers an interim rest stop where friendships are forged and yachts are restored on an island that offers a range of activities and opportunities both on and above the waterline.

Article and photos by Kia Koropp

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Safety Drills
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Are you willing to practice being a safe boater?

Recreational boaters can learn a lot from commercial fishing fleets. While we may not spend days at sea with trained personnel aboard our boats, we share a
common goal of departing and returning to the dock safely every time we go out on the water.

According to fishing vessel accident data compiled by the U.S. Coast Guard, commercial fishing has become safer since the requirement to conduct safety drills was
implemented in the industry. Crews must perform and document safety drills on a regular basis for potential situations such as persons overboard, fire, flooding and personnel injuries.

Source Superelakes

Statistics show fishing vessels continue to sink due to poor maintenance or going out in adverse weather; however, the loss of life in these accidents has trended down over the years. This increased personnel safety largely attributed to the crews practicing safety drills.

Unfortunately, when most recreational boaters free their lines and head for open water, they do so in a mild state of denial, an innocent but dangerous unwillingness to admit something could go wrong aboard the boat. They are understandably but also unfortunately more focused on the day’s adventure.

You may believe you are heading out as a safe boater, after all, you carry all the required emergency equipment onboard, but having it and being prepared to use it are two very different things. Many who work in an environment where the unexpected could occur, regularly rehearse safety drills of emergency procedures and practice them repeatedly, so the response behavior becomes second nature.

Aboard your boat, you are not just the host to your friends for a fun day on the water, with your spouse or regular fishing buddies along as good company for the day, you are also the emergency personnel. Only through repeated practice and rehearsal of emergency situations will you be fully prepared to handle an unexpected event.

Most boaters, however, are reluctant to rehearse emergency drills, feel a little silly, or don’t want to ruin the excitement of the day with the dose of reality that an actual emergency could occur. But if you are not prepared and willing to practice safety drills, you are not prepared to be a safe boater.

Wired for Safety

Source Getty Images

It is well known that different activities you perform are controlled from different regions in your brain. Routine activities like brushing your teeth and activities you do repeatedly in life are controlled from a specific part of your brain. You perform these activities with very little conscious thought.

You do them so frequently, they are permanently wired into your brain. On the other hand, activities that require reasoned thought come from a different place in your brain. If when turning on the faucet no water came out, the reasoning part of your brain would go into action to figure out why. In an emergency aboard your boat, wouldn’t it be nice to rely on response behavior that was well wired into your brain? Trust me, there will be plenty of need for the reasoning part of your brain to figure out what is going on, but the ability to place well-rehearsed behavior into action could make the difference between tomorrow’s dock story and something more tragic.


State of Mind

Safety aboard the boat is more than the latest safety equipment, it is a state of mind, a willingness to say “what if ” and an unwillingness to become a statistic. A safety drill rehearsal is the only way you will know if your emergency equipment is in the right place and can be accessed quickly.

Safety drill rehearsals can be used to finds holes in your plan — problems that can be worked out before the boat or someone aboard is in real danger. Is the fire extinguisher easy to take out of its bracket when you’re in a hurry? Are the life jackets easy to get out of the locker quickly? Time yourself or a family member as you go through the drills. A safety drill rehearsal will allow you to determine critical roles each can fill quickly without time-consuming conversation when the emergency is real.

Unquestionably, it’s easier to get into the right state of mind when the danger is real. During a peaceful night at anchor recently, my wife was awoken by the boat anchored next to us engulfed in flames, it was a terrifying event to witness. Fortunately, those aboard escaped into the dinghy they were towing.

Suffice it to say while underway the next day, it didn’t seem silly for us to rehearse firefighting and abandoning ship procedures. This is not a tutorial in safety drills, this is a call to action. A plea to encourage you to take performing safety drills aboard your boat seriously.

Different Boat, Same Risk

Every boat is different. The safety drills on a 30-foot center console fishing boat will be different from those rehearsed on a 60-foot motor yacht, but all boats share the same risks of fire, flooding, first aid emergencies or person overboard.

Decide the situation, determine what resources you have to address the problem and assign roles for each individual onboard to help. Walk and talk through the actions to address each situation. Literally, find the life jackets and put them on, take the fire extinguisher out of the holder and go to the galley with it. Time yourself and others on the boat to see how long it takes. If you regularly have children on board, it’s easy to make a game of it, while you know this is actually for their safety.

Of course, safety drills don’t have to be practiced every time you go out, but a few times each season would be helpful. If you boat regularly with the same people, include them in the drills. If you frequently have new or different guests aboard, script a non-alarming but thorough briefing of what they should do in an emergency and get over being embarrassed to deliver it. Be willing to practice “what if,” because only through practice are you truly prepared to be a safe boater.

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