A Little Learning

I woke up in the middle of the night in a hot sweat, convinced that we’d fouled the forward warp and Blue Mistress had swung with the tide, hard against the boat in front of us. Somehow every boat in the area had sprouted a deckload of people – all laughing at us. The fact that I was lying in my own bed, thirty miles from the boat made it no less real.

The problem for the following day was that there would be a particularly high spring tide and my single crewman – (my son), was going to arrive at about half ebb when the weight of tide against the stern would be at its strongest. We could wait for it to ease, but then we would lose precious sailing time. (This is the lot of the weekend sailor).

Blue Mistress is moored fore and aft, with doubled warps, on a line of trots. Mooring this way is secure and safe, but getting on and off it requires some concentration. Like the boats around us, we are moored facing downstream – into the flood tide, and the technique for leaving the mooring depends on whether the tide is ebbing or flowing. 

Normally, we have little problem, but this time the speed of the tide was worrying me – and I like to get it right. Get it wrong, and we contact the boat in front and, maybe, others. At best, this would be untidy; at worst, expensive. 

The plan was to let go both the aft warps before we start, replacing them with a longer, light, slippable warp; and to let go one of the forward warps, while holding the bow close to the forward buoy with the other, able to let it go at a moment’s notice. 

By gently slipping the light stern warp, and easing the tiller to starboard, the stern should turn out into the main stream.  Once well clear of our neighbour, a nudge astern on the throttle should pull us into the main fairway. As we move away, the bow warp is dropped and the stern warp slipped. When clear, we go ahead.  

Sounds easy enough. However, too much stern throttle combined with too much rudder will bring the boat side onto the stream, causing it to slew round rapidly to face upstream. This is manageable when the stream is fairly slack, (I’ve done it before), but with a strong tidal stream, there would be a danger of being carried too close to the other boats in the few seconds between going astern and ahead. Hence my bad dream. 

In the event, we were helped by a light but steady wind pushing us in the right direction. I put the engine slow astern to hold her in the current, we rearranged the warps, and I let the stern warp slowly bring the stern out. At this point, I was still worrying about slewing round because the current was obviously strong, leaving a marked ‘wash’ around the nearby buoys. 

Then I noticed that something else was happening.  

There was none of the expected tight pull on the stern warp. We were held in the current by the engine and the lightest of touches on the tiller was moving her gently sideways.   

Pete let go of the forward warp and I slipped the stern warp, and, free now, still slipping slowly sideways – 20, 30, 40 seconds – still level with the mooring, Blue Mistress was steady and easily controllable.  

Two men, on 25 foot or so of deck, with the ebb tide flowing past, could have been on dry land for the stability and strength they felt beneath their feet. Here was a fine hull shape, working as it was designed to do in wind and water, making the helmsman’s life easy. 

Once clear of the other boats, the engine now firmly ahead, we shot down the line of boats towards the sea. And the moment had gone. 

The young man said, “See, I told you you worry too much. It was easy.”

The older man (in that way older men have) said, “Yes, but you’ve got to do it right. Be prepared for things to go wrong and mostly they won’t but sometimes they will, but you’ve got it sorted.”  

Inside he was thinking, “Yesss – this is why I like this boat. She may not be as light and fast as many of the newer racing-cruisers, but she rewards you with moments of sheer, seamanlike pleasure – and these are the moments I go to sea for.”

One thought on “A Little Learning

  1. You never know what will happen when you’re on the water. There are so many factors to look out for. My boat was moored and I went away for vacation. When I got back, a storm had hit and let’s just say where my boat was moored… it was no longer there. I mean, thankfully I had boat insurance, but it was still mortifying to see my lovely boat suddenly gone. You just never know.

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