The Greatest Danger to a Ship at Sea is a Dock!

It’s been a few weeks since we have pumped out the holding tank.  We don’t use it much because our dock has a floating “house” at the end with restrooms and a laundry.  The tank gets reserved for emergencies and for our granddaughter, Caroline.  It’s only 15 gallons and that’s assuming that it starts out COMPLETELY empty.

The forecast this morning was for the wind to be from the east and increase from about 8 to 10 MPH to approximately 15 MPH around 11:00.  Typically, if the wind is forecast at 8 to 10, it will be gusting to 15.  If the wind is forecast at 15, it will be gusting to over 20.

We don’t have a working anemometer aboard Emet.  I looked at trying to fix the one that we have, but the transducers are terribly expensive and a new system is in the neighborhood of $1000.  Too rich for my blood and when sailing, the exact speed of the wind is not necessary.  I need to learn to read the wind with my own senses.

I decided to pull out of our slip and head over to the pump out station this morning at 10.  The wind was blowing pretty good.  I would say it was a strong breeze.  But, it was forecast to increase and start raining.  Better to do it when it was still dry.   We situate everything on Emet and I walk her as far out of the slip as possible.  I then jump on board, run back to the helm, put her in reverse and attempt to back her out without incident.  I say “attempt”, because once she is about to clear the last concrete piling, her nose is exposed to the wind and it gets blown to port.  Jodi’s at the bow and I hear “bbaaannnggg!!”  I already knew it was the anchor hitting the piling and getting knocked out of the bow roller.  She looks back at me and I can only shrug.  I say, “It’s only the anchor.  Nothing to worry about.”

We were motoring over and boy was the wind howling.  With no sail up and the headsail even completely removed, Emet was heeling to starboard a few degrees.  No worries.  I don’t want to be a fair weather sailor.  We need to learn to do things when conditions are not quite optimum.  This wasn’t great, but it certainly was not dangerous.

Our pump out is on the port side.  There are two pump out stations at the marina fuel dock.  We go to the east most one because it’s an easy approach and it puts the dock on Emet’s port.  The wind is from the east and as we are heading to the dock it is hitting our starboard side and wanting to blow us to port.  The plan was to approach the dock and keep it 10 to 15 feet off our port side.  I would come in and once Emet was at least 50% inside the dock, I would throw her in reverse to drastically slow her forward momentum and then the wind would blow us into the dock. With the fenders out, it would be a soft landing.

What actually happened was I approached from the South with the dock 10 to 15 feet off our port side.  When I got to within 20 feet, I put the transmission in neutral thinking that we would keep our forward momentum.  I didn’t want to come in too hot.  Suddenly, with forward momentum, but no forward propulsion, the stern of Emet began getting blown to port.  We were already about half way into the dock and I had the rudder turned to drive Emet to starboard to counteract the wind.  This in effect created rear steering that exaggerated the stern port motion.  I threw her in reverse and increased the throttle simultaneously in an attempt to kill all forward momentum.  Too late!  CCCRRRUUUNNNCCHHH!!! Emet and the dock both gave a tremendous shudder.  It was one of those moments where your conscious brain just shuts down for a moment due to shock and the subconscious, recognizing that it’s much weaker sibling just crapped itself and went catatonic, kicks in.  I can’t really describe the events that unfolded immediately after the crunch.  But, I got Emet off the dock, albeit while scraping her hull against the dock rub strip, spun around, and headed away from the dock.  I called to Jodi, “Make sure you don’t see any punctures in the hull.”  I doubted that we hit that hard and Emet survived being pounded on rocks during Ike with just some scratches. A rubberized dock should have simply left some rubber scuffs.

Lesson learned.  I came in this time with the dock off to port by about 20 feet.  I kept her in forward gear until she was about 50% inside the dock.  I then threw her into reverse to kill all forward momentum.  With the east wind blowing at 20+, and our continued residual forward momentum, we got blown square into the dock.  It wasn’t the softest of landings due to the wind strength, but that’s what fenders are for.

We proceeded to tell the dock hand we needed to pump out.  I’ll make this part of the story extremely short:  the infernal pump was out of commission and nobody knew why.  We beat the tar out of Emet AND we didn’t even get to pump out.  Sorry girl.  I know you’ve been through a lot and we’ll probably be through a lot more.  I know you can do it.

We go to leave the pump out dock and I attempt to leave without incident.  I will now simply copy and paste from the fourth paragraph above:

 I say “attempt”, because once she is about to clear the last concrete piling, her nose is exposed to the wind and it gets blown to port.  Jodi’s at the bow and I hear “bbaaannnggg!!”  I already knew it was the anchor hitting the piling and getting knocked out of the bow roller.  She looks back at me and I can only shrug.  I say, “It’s only the anchor.  Nothing to worry about.”

I can only laugh.

I would love to add more drama about returning to our slip, but with the lessons learned earlier, we got into our slip without incident.  Soft landing and everything.

If you look just above that cleat, you’ll see two brown streaks that are just above the dock rub rail. That was the initial impact into the marina dock.

Ship's Log
Writing About Peace and Truth

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