9.6 Parallel Docking a Single-Screw Trawler with a Spring Line...

[Updated Nov. 13, 2006]

In early 1998 I received an email message from Anne Morris, M/V Tenacity, GB 32 on the York River, VA, as follows (in part):

>May I ask you to post one thing to the list? You mentioned (a while
>back) a special trick your wife has for handling spring lines on the
>approach to a dock, and said you thought you'd already covered this
>elsewhere. Either I missed it, or you were thinking of the 2-handed
>throw that you detailed for making good distance on a toss, as for
>setting up your bubbler lines. At any rate, I'd appreciate it if you'd
>post or re-post it if & when you get a chance, as would others on the
>(Trawler-World) list, I'm sure.

Lessee --

I checked my messages and couldn't find it either (I'm sure I wrote about it somewhere -- maybe on rec.boats.*) Anyway, I'll try to keep it short (ha!). If this is old hat, just hit the delete button... BTW, this sounds like basically the same technique that Jerry & Pam Munson, M/V PassageMaker, use.

The "secret" is that the after spring (leading from the mid-ship cleat to a piling near the stern) is the first line on -- always. Of course, it really doesn't make much difference if there's no wind or the wind is coming from any direction except OFF THE DOCK, when it's CRITICAL. Once that spring line is on, going forward slowly (with the helm hard away from the dock) will virutally pin the boat to the dock -- totally immobilizing the boat as long as you're idling forward and giving you all the time in the world to put other lines on. Since we back to starboard, I try to dock starboard side to if at all possible. That's because my wife stands on the quarter to put the spring line on a piling -- and I need to be able to get her close enough to reach the piling. Since we BACK to starboard, I use reverse to bump the stern over to the dock (the helm stays hard to port throughout, so going forward with a quick "goose" also moves the stern toward the dock. All the while I pretty much ignore the fact that the bow is falling off, because once the spring line is secured, it's easy to bring it back. (Of course, if you have 3 or 4 hands on your arms you can use your bow thruster some, but most of the time it's neither required or effective. But I'm getting ahead of myself...

Here's the setup. Assume the dock is ahead of you and to starboard and a brisk wind and/or light current are coming directly off the dock. Also, assume that it's just you and your first mate (FM) on the boat, and there is no one on the dock to help. The problem of course, is that if you just make an approach at the usual angle of 20 or 30 or 40 degrees (* see below) and then smartly cut the helm to port and use reverse to stop perfectly -- parallel to the dock and just 3 fingers away -- your first mate has about a millisecond (if you're lucky) to tie on just one line before you're drifting merrily away into the creek. If your FM misses, you have to be ready to pull her/him closer for another try. Since we have LOTS of power at the stern (and only 5 hp on the bowthruster) and it can be vectored with the rudder, I place my FM on the starboard quarter, at or near the stern, and consider it MY job to get her close and keep her there until the spring line is secured. When I go into reverse (and "goose"), the stern moves closer, and when I go into forward (and "goose"), the stern also moves toward the dock. If I "goose" quickly, I can get the sideways motion of the stern before moving the boat forward or back much at all. Successive forward and reverse "gooses" can keep the stern moving toward the dock without getting into the 7-figure mega-yachts ALWAYS parked only a few feet ahead and astern. With some practice to build your skills and confidence, you can park UNDER their bowsprits this way. Ah, but I've gotten ahead of myself yet again...

Back to the approach. This spring line is prepared well in advance. (Also, the bow and stern lines are ready to go ashore as well.) We use a line longer than the length of the boat (I'll talk about why later) with an eye spliced into one end. It's lighter (like 1/2") than our usual dock lines to make it easier to handle during the docking process -- it's usually replaced later with one that's appropriate for the conditions and length of stay. The end without the splice is secured to the mid-ship cleat and then it is led aft to the stern outside all obstructions -- fascia plates, shrouds, whatever. Then the standing part is "tucked" through the eye to make a noose. This is going to go over the piling -- MUCH faster than tying the clove hitch and/or half hitches IMHO -- it's also easier to execute if someone shows up pn the dock at the last minute to "help." Just tell them exactly which piling to loop it over rather than trying to explain how to tie something from Ashley's Book of Knots while your boat "sails" out into the harbor. OK, so now the noose is over the piling, but there's still some slack in the line. Your FM then moves to the cleat (I'll describe an alternative later), takes in all the slack, and secures the line to the cleat. At this point, you go ahead very slowly with the helm hard to port and the boat will parallel park itself against the dock. It's important not to go ahead hard because most mid-ship cleats are going to be too far forward and the bow will tend to come in faster than the stern. That's why you hold the helm hard to port -- to help kick the stern in. If the bow comes in too fast, a quick "goose" in reverse will pull the stern in faster -- you want to keep her parallel to the dock, more or less, as you come in. Then resume going forward on the tightened spring line. (If you're too far forward, a tad of reverse will let the line go slack so the FM can take some of it in.) OK, so now you're pinned against the dock. Your FM can now step lightly ashore, carrying the stern line. Once it's secure, you can toss the bow line ashore for her to secure -- then the forward spring line, etc. Hmmm.... I got ahead of myself once again.

Let's go back to the point where you've gotten the stern a few feet away from the piling you want your FM to put the noose on -- but it's still too far away (or too high) to reach without leaning (a BIG no-no). Here's where our "Magic Stick" comes in. This is going to be tough, but I'm going to attempt to describe it in text. The function of this stick is to let her hold the noose out or up 6 to 8 feet and drop it over the piling. There are several designs in the stores, so check the catalogs. Ours is made from a long boat hook. Imagine there are two large clothes pins attached to the boat hook. One is at the far end and the other is about two feet from that end. The "noose" is clipped in to the clothes pins and the standing part is led back to the end of the boat hook you are holding. The noose is open and "loose" -- probably draping down about 3 feet or so -- big enough so you have a BIG hole (2 feet wide and maybe 2 to 3 feet long) to loop over that piling on the dock. Now we don't actually use clothes pins, since they wouldn't be large enough to hold the line, but you can devise something that has the same function that's bigger (I don't think I could manage an explanation of what we use). The key, of course, is that the two clips should hold the line tight enough so the noose won't drop off, but not so tight that the noose won't pull away when it's dropped over the piling and the stick is pulled away and back onto the boat.

If all this sounds too involved (like a lot things, it's a lot easier to do than describe), you can practice Jerry Munson's technique, which is to put Pam on the swim platform and move the stern close enough to the dock that she can get off onto the dock and attach the spring line from there. Choose your poison...

OK, one last thing. The Krogen 42 has a side deck on the starboard side (on BOTH sides if she's not a widebody model). The midship cleat is built in to a hawse pipe. we usually run the spring line through the hawse pipe and BACK to the starboard quarter cleat (just forward of the stern -- that's what the extra length is for). The FM can then take the slack out of the spring line after the noose is on the piling without having to move forward to the mid-ship cleat. If I'm running the boat from the flybridge, I can see her working the lines, and we can talk without "yelling." Of course, we NEVER yell (;^). Riiiight! At least we TRY never to do that -- "secret-agent" radios help a lot with this -- with those we can yell QUIETLY!

I hope all this makes some sense... I hope it's what Anne asked for... I also hope you're still awake. (3<)

PS. If the wind is REALLY strong and/or the current is strong (and BOTH off the dock), the approach is going to have to be modified some (the approach is going to have to be more aggressive) -- by either backing straight toward the dock near that elusive piling OR, probably better, by taking the spring line FORWARD to the bow and bringing the bow straight in to the piling. Once the Magic Stick puts the noose on, the throttle is eased and the bow is allowed to fall away while the slack in the spring line is taken in. Once the bow falls off and the boat is roughly parallel to the dock as before, going forward slowly will haul her in tight. Clearly under extreme conditions, there is going to be a LOT of tension on this line. It is critical that there be clear communication between the helmsperson and the FM. You will have to work closely together to make sure the line is secure and hands are clear before power is applied.


* Nov. 13, 2006

For several years, I've been using a slightly modified version of the above approach to parallel docking. I find it somewhat easier than the above. A couple of the times I've used it, the marina owners (and life-long boat handlers) have been standing on the dock. One of them just kept saying "SHOW-OFF, SHOW-OFF!" over and over until I completed the "3-finger (from the dock) approach" and the other one waited until I was through and simply said, "You give new meaning to single-engine boat handling!" Cool!

The difference is that I'm now using a MUCH steeper approach angle -- as much as 80 to 90 degrees. You simply aim the bow about 2/3 along the space where you'll end up, then slowly approach until the stem is 5 to 10 feet from the dock (maybe those marina owners were either guarding their docks or taking pictures to add to their impending insurance claims!). Stop at that point and turn the helm all the way to port. (Remember, I'm driving a Krogen 42 that backs to starboard.) Shift into forward, still at idle, to start the sterm swinging to starboard. Shift into reverse and "goose" to stop forward motion and continue the stern's swinging to starboard. The point is to keep the bow quite close to the dock throughout the maneuver to end up with the starboard side just a few inches away from the dock. Repeat this "back and fill" operation until the boat is parallel to the dock and in the desired spot. Note that even if the wind or current is coming from the dock, you can keep compensating for their effect throughout the maneuver -- at least until the very end. Also, since the after springline will not be needed until the very end, the pressure on your FM should be a bit less -- at least until the very end. Another "advantage" is that it solves the problem of getting up to a 43-foot long fuel dock located at the END of a slipway between two rows of expensive boats -- and yes I DO know where at least ONE of these fuel docks IS!