Friday, June 7, 2019

Dock Line Heroes

So, a few nights ago I'm sitting in the galley doing what I do best:  wasting my time surfing the web, when the boat starts rocking a little.  I had been aware that the wind had come up a little, but this was different.  I started hearing voices and a boat motor revving and falling off and going quiet and restarting and revving again.  Okay, somebody's having trouble coming in.

So I stick on my shoes and go topside.  It's dark out, but sure enough, one of my slip mates is having trouble getting in.  He was coming back in late and had lost an engine and, on top of that, the wind had unexpectedly kicked up.

Here's the thing (which, of course, those of you with multi engine cruisers will know already), the rudders on most inboards are quite small, just intended to vector the thrust from the propellers. I can just about scull the boat with a massive sailboat rudder, but not on power boats.  At low speeds, they're not terribly effective, and with one engine out and engine steering impossible, your ability to manouvre is more than limited;  It's damn near nonexistent.  A bunch of us in the marina had gathered on the dock to try to help them get in.  It took a couple of tries, fighting a broadside wind, to get them in line-flinging range.  It was then that we discovered a problem.

See this stylish black dockline?  You won't after sundown.

The docklines on this stylish gofast were stylishly basic black.  They looked wonderful against the blue and white hull in the daytime.  At night, they didn't exist.  We missed the line being tossed again and again.  The only way we could tell when and where it was coming was by trying to judge the throwing gesture of the guys on board.  Even flashlights didn't help.

Finally the now-soaking-wet line quite literally swatted me in the face and I caught it.  Never did see the thing.  We got them in safely, but it started me thinking:  We see a lot of questionable things here in the marina when folks tie up their boats.

The black or dark and speckled dock lines (not to mention the ones using camo rope, which, to me, is an error right up there with camo-pattern keys.  Why on earth would you do that?) are, of course, an obvious problem, as is the use of a line too thin to realistically hold a 36,000lb boat in a wind or boat wake.  However, most of the difficulties we see stem from the fact that folks just aren't thinking through how these things are to be used.  It's basic:  lines have to hold securely, but need to be able to be freed rapidly in case of an emergency.  Let's say, for instance, that your boat is next to mine, and a fire breaks out on the dock.  We've got to get your boat out of there.  I go to untie it.  Time is of the essence.

Is this a dock line or macrame?
That mess above can take minutes you may not have to get free.  Similarly, folks trying to be really tidy can create an orderly pile of line that might take you a weekend to get unlaced, even if you can figure it out.

yeah, it's orderly.  It also will take you ten minutes to unwrap.
Another way to court disaster is to wrap things on the cleat along WITH the line.  Electrical cables, crab trap lines, fender lines, any number of things can get wildly in your way just in that moment when it's raining cats and dogs, flashing lightning, screaming windy, and you're trying desperately to get a line free or tightened.

I can think of a whole raft of reasons why this is a bad idea.
So what should you do?  Think about it.  Secure the line on the cleat with a simple, secure figure eight wrap, then neatly put the excess line on the dock, but away from the cleat.  Keep the cleat clean of other lines, wires, and excess line.

Keep it simple.
Then I get to be a hero and leap from my boat and free yours, saving your beloved vessel from certain destruction.  No need to thank me.  Oh, sure I'll take a beer.  All the day's work of a liveaboard.

more shortly, and lots more over at Life, Art, Water.  Gail's got a big show coming up.  You all should come.