Friday, October 25, 2013

A lesson in proper vessel command

I have had to learn to give up control of our 52' Nauticat if I want the smooth professional docking experience.

It has been a counter-intuitive lesson.  I have studied the many docking situations, I know in theory how the dock lines should be worked with the prop and I have studied the wind, tide and current impacts on boats during dockings.  I plan for every docking including how to abort and how to handle emergency situations such as throttle or engine failure.  I have Visio diagrams of dockings for our boat to share with crew.  I am the "man" on the boat which society has ingrained into my head that I should be in charge.

BUT, that doesn't work if I want our boat to lightly touch against the inside docks at the exact proper point after maneuvering in tight quarters between other expensive yachts. 

At this point I want to yell out to my father and mother in-law and to other relatives asking "do you REALIZE that Mary Beth routinely docks a 55,000 lb boat at over 60' in length?  This is a massive sailboat with a single prop and NO docking aids?  In strong currents, she very lightly touches the docks and knows how to play the dock lines and engine to move the stern or bow in and out???  I challenge anyone else in the Fowler or Meinberg households to attempt this feat like she continuously proves that she can do."  She is a great role model for our young girls.  I hope our young girls can learn these skills.

Early on, we decided that it made much more sense for me to be a dockhand and her to be the captain when going close to shore, anchoring, or catching moorings.  I am taller and I have more reach.  I can pull a little harder on the lines.  I feel bad when I watch all the other boats with the man at the helm and the women being yelled at while they reach over and try to correct mooring problems caused by too much throttle.

What works for us is if my wife is captain and helmsman, and I limit my comments to distances and speeds.  My job is to plan with her our approach beforehand and then I must focus on catching the dock with proper lines, catching the mooring ball, or dropping anchor when my wife tells me the depth and position is good.  My wife IS the captain and SHE decides when to apply throttle, when to turn the rudder, and when / if to abort.  (Since I have learned my role, we have never had to abort and our dockings have impressed everyone who watches.) 

On our initial voyage from Rhode Island, I (we) had yet to learn that my role must be limited.  We attempted to approach a simple side-pier docking on the Hudson and I kept yelling commands at her.  The result was that we actually missed the dock.  We looked very silly.

In my mind, I wasn't just trying to catch the dock, but I was also judging currents, wind, etc. for a very large boat and trying to help my wife in the pilothouse.  I felt responsible for the whole activity.  I couldn't let go and let her perform her task as the captain of such a large boat.  (It is actually 62' with the dinghy on the back davits.)

Then, on our next docking, something happened and I bit my tongue and my wife place the boat neatly along side the dock without my telling her when and how to throttle/steer.  She planted the boat exactly where it needed to be.  This pattern has repeated itself over and over again in the last few months at dockings, moorings, etc.  If I help her plan ahead of time, and then I limit my comments to how far we are from dock or the mooring ball, and I limit my comments to how fast we are moving relative to the destination, then we end up exactly where we need to be. 

Today was a perfect example.  As we approached an unfamiliar marina for an inside dock, a passenger commented that we might not fit between the expensive boats.  That passenger and I kept the fenders ready and we kept our concerns to ourselves.  Basically, we stuck to our role as deckhands who should provide distance/speed data and who should be ready with fenders in case we came too close to another boat.  It was my wife's choice if she wanted to abort.  She did not.  She slowly moved us past the expensive boats, turned us to starboard, gave us a nice reverse kick to walk the stern into the dock, and made our family look like 30 year professionals.  We threw the dock lines to hands on the dock who quickly secured us to pilings.  (My wife showed me how to properly coil and throw lines for very long distances if I ever needed to do that.  I have not needed that skill since I let her control the boat.)  

There is some bragging right to our not having bow thrusters or other docking aids with this large a boat.  All the expensive boats we are docked next to have expensive docking aids.  What we have is a woman who told me she can "feel" the prop under the 55,000 lbs of displacement and "feels when the prop is in neutral."   (Sometimes, our neutral isn't easy to find...  I should fix that, but it isn't really a problem given that she can feel the prop and the boat move.)

After docking today, I felt really good.  It is fun when everyone else walks away thinking "the Fowlers really know what they are doing with that large boat.  They are obviously experienced at docking and must be very, very experienced large boat sailors."  Everyone walks away feeling they had fun and feeling they had a very safe outing on the boat.  All of this occurs because I learned to keep my big mouth shut in the last few months.  My job is chief deckhand.  My job is handling the anchor, fenders, and lines.  It hasn't been an easy lesson for me to learn.

1 comment:

  1. You are too kind. This is definitely a team effort, including our girls on the roving fenders. I do agree, though that it is much easier and goes more smoothly when everyone sticks to their own job, and trusts the others to do the same.