Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Drama on the dock

Monday was a blustery morning, wind 20+ kt, cold, and spitting rain.  I think you can imagine it.  And it was this morning when our neighbor, s/v Wander Bird, prepared to pull out of our shared horseshoe to head to the yard for work.  Now, Wander Bird is a tall boat - she is a Nauticat 52 - lots of wind area.  That will be important in a minute.

Ever the prudent mariner, Ethan shifted into forward and reverse while still tied up, to ensure that all was in working order.  When all was ready, he started to back out of the slip.  I had the bow line, to keep the bow from blowing downwind (and incidentally, into Eolian).  It was a perfect departure, despite the contrary high wind.

And then out in the waterway between the docks, Ethan shifted into forward and gunned the engine to stop the backward progress and to turn the boat to go down the waterway.

Except that the gearshift linkage broke and she was still in reverse.

So the burst of throttle only served to increase her backward speed.  The helm was over in preparation for the forward turn down the waterway, so the net effect is that Wander Bird made a 180° turn stern-first, heading back to the dock.  Amazingly, Ethan coolly killed the engine and steered her so that she ran into the piling at the end of the finger pier instead of either of the two boats tied to that finger.  The inflatable dinghy on davits at Wander Bird's stern gave its all, acting as an exploding airbag to cushion the impact.  Kind of like a Mars lander - well, a 65,000 lb Mars lander.

I had been walking back to Eolian after the successful departure when the commotion started.  I turned around and ran to the end of the finger pier, arriving just after the impact.  And now the wind really began to make itself felt.  It blew the bow down, laying Wander Bird across that piling at the end of the finger pier and the piling at the end of the next finger pier, pinning her there.  I got on the swim platform of one of the boats to fend off.  For the moment, things were sort of stable, and we discussed what to do next.

Ethan decided that the best action would be to go bow-in to the empty slip next to the boat I was on - all we'd need to do would be to back up Wander Bird (upwind!) 4 or 5 feet, and the bow would blow into the slip.  The trick would be to get enough of the boat into the slip by the time that she was parallel to the finger so that the wind wouldn't pivot her on the end of the finger and swing her back out into the waterway again.

Long story short: we made it.   And then they got a mechanic aboard to fix the linkage, at least temporarily.  And today Wander Bird is in the yard, as planned...  with one more item on the list, I think.



Anonymous said...

Wow. What a panic. And, what a cool operating skipper. I'm impressed.

Courtney said...

There is always drama on the docks in high winds. I'm glad Ethan kept a cool head and you were there to help!

Bill Ray said...

Great story - it has gone to my Seamanship class as an example of staying cool and in charge under fire. (And how Murphy's Law can attack even the careful skipper.) said...

Would have been even better with a schematic ;-)

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