Docking the Boston Whaler

Boat: Boston Whaler Montauk 17, 1976 hull, 90 horsepower engine

Visiting my parents in Georgia, I’ve finally overcome my fears and have 1) maneuvered a boat in tight quarters, and 2) docked it. At 2pm, about 2 hours after low tide, on an incoming tide and with wind coming from offshore, I piloted the boat out of my parents’ small tidal creek and into the Back River and Lazaretto Creek before handing the helm over to our 11-year-old daughter.

My dad talked me through getting the boat ready at the beginning of a trip and about using the tachometer to guide the speeds at which to run the boat for docking, no wake zones, cruising, and crossing wakes. He talked our daughter through steering, taking the boat on a mid-speed figure eight so she could feel the different turns and the boat’s response to the steering wheel, navigating the rivers and heavy boat traffic on a busy Sunday afternoon, speeding up to get to a good cruising speed, and slowing down to cross wakes:

  • When the wake is coming from a boat going in the opposite direction, it will be rough and will pound the hull at speed. Slow down to navigate those wakes.
  • When crossing a wake going in the same direction as us, it will be smoother and will not always require slowing down.

Our daughter drove the boat for about an hour or more, taking us from Lazaretto Creek up the Bull River to the bridge where Williams Seafood used to be, and back again. She guided us through the no wake zone, took us under the bridge, and then turned us around and brought us back, in a fairly stiff wind.

When we slowed for the neighborhood docks in our home river, I took over. We puttered at about 1400 rpm mid river, and as I steered to toward the creek, I dropped it to about 700 as we approached the dock that marks the creek entrance. The wind was pushing the boat too much, so I throttled up to 900 rpm. I made the bend in the creek, and the wind was coming from the east (starboard), from the ocean, pushing us towards the docks on our port side.

On the other side of our dock, the creek was full of neighbor grandchildren (~10 kids from toddler to tween). Normally, Dad goes beyond our dock and turns the boat around so it’s oriented in the proper direction — pointing out of the creek — for the next trip. Because of the kids swimming in the creek, I pulled straight in instead of turning the boat around.

“You get to experience a skipper’s worst nightmare when docking,” my dad said.

“What, a million kids in front of you in the water?”

“An audience,” he said.

About 10-15 feet from my parent’s dock, I put the engine in neutral. At that time I would have had about 2 feet of clearance on the port side — the dock side — had we been next to the dock. I needed more than that. The wind pushed us over too far as I approached, so it was dicey for a couple of minutes. Mom and Dad were there to push the boat off and keep us from colliding with the dock. Mom pushed us off a bit, I gave it a little gas to straighten us out, and then pulled up alongside the wooden platform. Mom got the bow line and Dad got the stern, and once we were all tied up and had the fenders out, I cut the engine.

This morning, before the tide got too low, and when there was less wind, no kids in the creek, and no audience, I turned the boat around in the tight quarters of the creek with my dad’s guidance, and I docked it.


Notes for next time:

  1. Pump gas into engine using hand bulb until bulb is firm.
  2. Use the down button on the engine control lever to put the engine in the water.
  3. Put the key in the ignition to check the engine’s trim, and continue to adjust the engine height until the gauge indicates the halfway mark.
  4. Turn the key to turn th engine on.
  5. Push the big round pad at the base of the control lever to keep the engine in neutral, then push the lever forward to give it some gas and warm up the engine.
  6. When ready, cast off the bow first (or have first mate cast off).
  7. Cast off stern second since it is near the helm and easier to access as skipper.
  8. Put the boat in gear at about 700-900 rpm to steer out of the creek.
  9. At bend in creek, get around the curve before turning — don’t hug the inside of the turn to closely in low water, there are oysters.
  10. To avoid destructive wake to neighbor’s docks, either cross the river to come up to speed or keep the throttle at ~1000 rpm or less if staying close to the docks.
  11. A good cruising speed is ~3500 rpm for this boat.


May 31: Evening after-rain sail

We sailed last night. I shut down work immediately after my final meeting of the day so my husband and I could get to the lake and squeeze in a sail while the weather was good. I wasn’t able to sail last weekend because of work, and I wanted a chance when the wind was right and the water was quiet.

We drove through a cloudburst to get to the water. My husband rolled down the window to pay the park and launch fee, and rain wet the interior while we waited for our receipt. The temperature dropped from 80°F to 63° during the squall. I was prepared to sail in the rain but wasn’t very excited about it. It would be cold and wet.

We sat in the empty parking lot with the radio on, listening to news and talking about our kids’ summer screen time. Raindrops spattered the windshield. Brian occasionally ran the wipers to clear the glass and see how hard the rain was coming down. Each clearing of the glass, we’d tilt our heads to look up the sky, searching for signs of blue.

After about ten minutes, he put on his rain coat, opened his car door, and got out to step the masts. As soon as they were up, the rain stopped. The breeze was calm but usable, and the sky was clear with white puffy clouds over refreshed, green mountains. I wore my new teal fleece and my swimsuit bottom, and I was comfortable.

The lake was entirely ours except for a mahogany Chris Craft power boat with red bottom paint and a red rear bench: two boats out that evening — ours and the Chris Craft — and both were wooden. That was quite a treat.

We were on the water about three hours, and Brian did most of the sailing the first half of that. He tried different methods for tacking to see how the boat best performed, and a slow tack gave the best results: jamming the rudder too fast tends to stall the little yawl.

I didn’t volunteer to skipper. I hadn’t taken the tiller at all this year, and I’m still nervous and new and don’t know what I’m doing, which makes me lack confidence and not want to try it. It was a perfect night for me to practice though: there was enough wind to sail without being squirrelly or dangerous in any way. There wasn’t even a chop on the water, just 2-3 inch ripples. At the same time, the wind wasn’t so light that we’d sit dead still, in irons on the lake all night.

I finally took the tiller about an hour in. I headed into the wind for a bit, then tacked to take us downwind in a straight run. It was quite easy. There were a couple of times the wind stalled, and the mainsail went slack because our forward motion was greater than the wind that pushed us from behind. I thought the mainsail wanted to jibe, and I got all worried, but it was just calm and it wouldn’t have hurt anything even on an accidental jibe.

My favorite part of the sail last night was the quiet of it. The wind was calm — a breeze more than a wind — so the plywood-thin wooden hull didn’t rattle and thump against chop. Instead it slurp, glurp, glipped. The wooden masts creaked, the tiller squeaked, wavelets splished against rockys bank that rose up into mountains, and the basin was silent of other human activity.

Beams of light shone through storm clouds onto mountains like rays from heaven. The breeze brought the sweet scents of flowers — maybe jasmine, or honeysuckle — and the sun’s low angle reflected a path of light on the water’s rippled surface. There’s an untranslatable Swedish word for the moon light trace:

Mangata (Swedish): the roadlike reflection of the moon on the water

(from Ella Frances Sanders’ Untranslatable Words From Other Cultures)

Further down the lake, when we were back at the ramp but not ready to stop sailing, I jibed intentionally, and correctly, just to stay on the water a little longer. We didn’t want to go further downwind and risk getting stranded trying to get back, so we sailed across the lake on a beam reach. I tacked again and come back on a close reach. Sailing close the wind is still hard for me, trimming the sail, holding the course, correcting appropriately instead of _over_correcting when the sail goes slack. It takes practice for this to become intuitive.

The two things I had the hardest time with and I want to watch for next time:

  • Knowing where the wind is coming from to know how to use it to get to where I want to go.
  • Harnessing the wind: knowing which point of sail to use and trimming the sail appropriately.

May 1: First sail of the season

We took the yawl out on Claytor Lake yesterday for its first sail of the season. The sky was a brilliant blue, the clouds a crisp white, and the wind made us fly over the water: we ran wing on wing from launch down to the dam, farther and faster than we’ve been before.

Of course while we were doing this, we knew we’d have to get back up to the ramp, tacking back and forth into the wind. As we ran with the wind at our backs, we didn’t care.

When we came about and the first crash of frigid lake water soaked us to our skin, we felt a little differently. Continue reading “May 1: First sail of the season”

April 16, 2017: Our canoe’s first trip

In the summer of 2016, we bought a canoe kit from Chesapeake Light Craft. Over the past 9 months, my husband and the kids stitched, glued, sanded, varnished, and painted what became a shiny, red, wooden canoe.

canoe on car

Today, Easter, we tied it to the roof rack, drove the 30 minutes to Claytor Lake, and launched it. There were white caps in the lake — it was quite windy — so it wasn’t really a great day for canoeing, but we wanted to try it anyway.
Continue reading “April 16, 2017: Our canoe’s first trip”

Tying knots on the plane

Since it’s winter, and we’re not sailing, the closest I can get to being on a boat is to read novels that feature sailboats, build upper body strength for when we can actually sail, and practice tying knots.

On a flight to Boston last night, I used the What Knot To Do app to get familiar with a few boating knots. Before leaving on the trip I had tried using the instructions in The Complete Book of Sailing Knots, but the illustrations apparently did not match the way my brain needed to see the knot instructions, and I couldn’t follow the steps.

The What Knot To Do steps worked really well for me, though, and I practiced the bowline, anchor bend, clove hitch, and my favorite, the highwayman’s knot.

I keep a length of line in my laptop bag now (really it’s just a sweatshirt hoodie string) so I can keep practicing. I tied knots for about 20 minutes on the plane, and I’m not sure I could do any of them again right now. So much to learn!

Recommended apps from Capts. Bill and Sara

Navionics — online charts. Get the US/Canada combo if there’s any chance we’d be boating in Canada since it’s not possible to just add-on Canada, you have to repurchase the whole bundle. Fee-based.

What knot to do — knot instruction from Columbia Sportswear. Categorized by sport, so there’s a sailing category. The reef knot is in camping, fyi. Free app.

My Radar Pro from NOAA  — great for locating storms; can set alerts for if there is precipitation or lightning within a certain radius. Fee-based to get the pro version.

December 29, 2016: Day Two of Sailing 101

Boat: Chomsky, Catalina 22
Location: Sarasota Bay, Sarasota, FL
Sailing Course: ASA 101, Basic Keelboat Sailing
Wind: light in AM; 5-7 knots in afternoon.

sailing-101-day-2-florida-keelboatWe expected wind this morning, and for it to strengthen throughout the day as a front moved through. When we arrived at the dock, the wind was flat. We spent some time in the office with Captain Sara going over points of sail and rules of the road, then motored out again like we did yesterday. We visited another boat at anchor, this time friends of Captain Sara, then motored through a mangrove-lined canal to get to a marina to fill the gas tank.

By 11am, there still was no wind, so we Continue reading “December 29, 2016: Day Two of Sailing 101”