Around an Obstacle in a Cross Wind


— by Charles T. Low, author of Boat Docking

Now, on to Around an Obstacle in a Cross Wind...

This docking, like one presented here recently, recalls a pleasant memory, not only because it went well, but also because it so alarmed my sister-in-law. She recovered, and we are still friends, although I should not have so enjoyed her brief panic.

Why should she have been concerned at all? Well, if you haven\’t been there, sitting in a twenty knot cross wind, seeing what happens when you untie the boat, it can be hard to visualize. The short version of the story is that the wind sends the vessel scooting off sideways very briskly, and then vigorously resists any compensatory attempt you make to turn the bow back upwind.

Worse still, notice the direction of the propeller\’s discharge current as you hold the rudder (or outboard or outdrive) hard over. This jet of water also pushes you away from the dock, and very soon you\’re nowhere near where you want (and need) to be.

It is perfectly acceptable to walk the boat forward by hand, using its railings and lines, pulling it around the obstructing vessel. Alternatively, just accept that this docking is impossible, and maneuver the boat out into open water, from whence to make a more conventional approach.

Nonetheless, this day, when the marina staff asked me to move my boat, I did so from the helm, using throttle and rudder, making a short turn around the in-between boat, after which my sister-in-law was able to breathe again.

Here’s the trick: forget about where the bow of the boat is pointing. At slow speeds trying to make a sharp turn in this beam wind, the hull will very definitely not track straight through the water. Relinquish any concept of fore and aft; accept and embrace that the maneuver will consist of sideways sliding and skidding.

Secondly, all of your attention and effort, at the start, must be directed at getting the boat to turn. Do not wait to see what the boat will do, and then react to it — there isn’t time. Start from a premise of over-reaction, and then be prepared to back off a little, if necessary. More concretely, right from the beginning, have the rudder hard over, and give a firm shot of engine power (just hard enough and long enough to do the job, however hard and long that may be).

You must be decisive. Right off the bat, work very hard to get the boat turning. Combating the wind effects, in this situation, is not a casual exercise, and will require very positive and forceful control of your vessel.

But be careful! The use of such strong rudder and engine power, necessary though it may be, can lead to trouble. Get to know your boat in gentler weather before attempting the rough stuff — your margins for error here are quite small!

Next, notice the very high angle that the boat is turned to. It’s not quite ninety degrees, but it’s close! But look at the diagram and analyze it for a moment and think about where the wind will send the boat if you just point the bow (more intuitively but incorrectly) along the shallower line of its actual intended trajectory.

Different boats handle differently, and as always it depends on whether you steer with a rudder or a propeller (outboards and sterndrives), on whether you have an external keel (and what type), and on whether you have a heavy displacement hull or a light planing one, among other things. But the general principles apply widely to almost any design of boat. You have to know your vessel, and while I trust that reading about docking here will help, ultimately we learn by experience and practice.

Let me add that I really do regard this maneuver as impossible if attempted in reverse gear. It must be done by going ahead, not astern. If any reader disagrees, I would appreciate hearing from him or her (<Charles T. Low>).

Conclusion — This isn’t the only obstacle I have overcome in my life, and not the only time I’ve ever been broadsided. But this was a rare serendipity: doing a difficult docking well while harmlessly frightening my sister-in-law. Still, my wish for myself, and for you, is that your docking\’s will be possessed of more finesse and less drama, so that your hull and your interpersonal relationships will both remain unscathed.