To preface this post, I would like to state that I am not a self-righteous boater. I don't care if you sail with your fenders in the water. It doesn't bother me if you don't trim your sails exactly right. I think sailing is a learning process. You should be able to make mistakes and learn from them with impunity. I know I make boating mistakes all the time -- and I think everyone else should have the same latitude.
That said, there are some things that are plainly unsafe for your boat that, given any basic sailing instruction, you should know not to do.
As you may or may not have gathered from my Wordless Wednesday post, there was a horrific storm Tuesday night, extending into Wednesday morning. I don't think I am exaggerating when I say that I think it was the worst storm I have ever weathered aboard Misty Rose. I didn't sleep more than 45 minutes all night -- even after I took Dramamine. To put the storm in perspective, one of the guys who works in the boatyard expressed surprise that I didn't go and sit in the bathhouse or sleep in my car to get out of the storm. We're talking 35 mph winds with gusts and flash flooding, here.
Now that we've set the stage, let's talk about the reason for this post: the proper way to tie your boat to a floating dock.
I have noticed that a startling number of boats are tied up in the marina like this:
This disturbs me, readers, as it should you. Things wrong with that illustration: There are no fenders to keep the boat from banging into the dock. There is no spring line. All of the lines are tied so tightly that there is absolutely no slack in them at all.
But why is this wrong?
Well. Let me tell you about laying in bed around 4:30 a.m. and hearing an incredibly loud flapping noise. I was out of bed faster than you can say, "Jack Robinson." I thought my roller furler had come undone and my sail was flapping away. I flung open the hatch and discovered that the noise was coming not from my boat, but a boat across the dock from mine.
I was fuzzy from not sleeping all night. Should I do something? Their sail was already starting to rip. Confused, I texted my father, knowing he'd be up at 5 a.m. Five minutes later, he called, frantic that something was wrong. I explained what was happening.
"Well, if it was Misty, wouldn't you want whoever saw it to at least try?"
Of course I would.
I pulled on my trusty faux Uggs over my PJ pants and got on my pink Henri Lloyd jacket and an old hat of my dad's I'd found on the boat. I grabbed the sturdiest winch handle I could find and a length of line and set out across the dock.
I was soaked through in seconds. The other boat, tied up like the bad example picture, was bucking violently against the dock. I was a little scared to step aboard in the storm with no lifejacket, but I decided to go for it. The jib sheets must have come undone and wrapped themselves about midway up the sail so that the sail was in a figure eight. I uncleated the furling line and winched it in as tight as it would go, wrapping up the bottom of the sail. Now for the top. I cleated the furling line and uncoiled my line to try and at least tie down the maniacally flogging sail. Unfortunately, the boat was slamming the dock so hard I was afraid to go forward of the mast where there was nothing to hold onto. In the wind, I couldn't do anything for the sail.
Well, I reasoned, the marina staff would be in at 7 a.m. They'd have a solution. I got back into the boat, stripped off my soaked clothing and put on the night's second pair of pajamas.
I heard the guys outside around 7 a.m. retying boats and trying to get the shredded sail tied up. They also failed, but they did tie the boat up properly and they found some fenders.
This leads me to this post.
Things to think about when tying up your boat:
1. Buy good-quality nylon docklines.
2. Buy fenders. Put them between the boat and the dock.
3. Use your boat's cleats. If you don't have cleats, use the toe rail. It's not a good idea to tie up using the stanchions or the shrouds. Too much stress on either of these is not good (i.e. if your shrouds break or the line rubs the cotter pin out, your mast could fall or you could break a stanchion.)
Now. When I tie up my boat, I try to take any stress off the bow line because I can hear it rubbing in the chock and it keeps me awake. That in mind, the first picture I posted is my ideal way to tie up to a floating dock at a t-head (which is how my boat is docked). For the record, you should almost always tie your sailboat up so that the fattest part of the boat, also known as the beam, is the only thing touching the dock. You then put a fender there between the boat and the dock. Voila! No slamming.
It is just a bad idea to tie up any boat with only a bow line and a stern line. I have horrific nightmares about my lines breaking after the time I discovered my bow line worn through to a single fiber. To avoid this, I use a bow line, a stern line, a forward spring and an aft spring. I do not have two bow lines like that picture shows because I don't have a cleat close enough. In an ideal world, I would have that second bow line.
For Misty Rose, I like a bow line with lots of slack, a tight stern line, a tight aft spring and a little bit of slack in the forward spring.
I put fenders anywhere the boat might hit the dock if a wave were to make the boat fishtail.
Above all else, lines should be checked regularly for wear. My lines tend to wear most at the chock on the bowline, so I use a short piece of old garden hose to insulate the line in the chock.
And now you know how to tie up your boat to best keep her steady -- whether it's going to storm or not.