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How to Undock Your Sailboat with Natural Forces

by Captain John Jamieson on 22 Jul 2011
There’s more time to work it out when you are undocking .. .
When undocking, you will always have more time to work things out. Check the clearance of boats tied up ahead or astern of you. Observe the wind and current. Do these natural forces blow (or flow) from bow to stern or stern to bow? Or do they push your boat off the pier or onto the pier?

Use the after bow spring or forward quarter spring for undocking. Spring lines are named by the way they lead from your boat to a piling or cleat on the pier and where they attach on your boat. The after bow spring leads from your boat aft (the 'after' part of the term) to a piling or cleat on the pier, and attaches to a boat cleat located near your bow. The forward quarter spring leads forward to a piling or cleat on the pier, and attaches to a boat cleat located near your quarter (stern).

Follow these simple rules:

* Use an after bow spring if...
Wind or current pushes onto the pier.
Wind or current from astern.

* Use a forward quarter spring if...
Wind or current pushes off the pier.
Wind or current from ahead.

Follow the undocking steps shown below along with the illustrations. Notice that all springs are looped around the pilings and back to the boat. This allows short-handed crews to work all lines from the boat.

Wind or current onto the pier or from astern:

Here you have wind or current setting the boat onto the pier or from astern (in a direction from the stern toward the bow)...

1. Loop an after bow spring from a boat cleat, around an aft piling (or dock cleat), and back to the boat. Use a roving fender at the bow.
2. Turn the sailboat wheel toward the pier (or hold the tiller away from the pier).
3. Cast off all lines except the spring. Shift into idle ahead and use minimum throttle.
4. Wait for the stern to clear the boat behind you. Then, shift into neutral, cast off the spring, and bring it aboard.
5. Back out into the channel.

Wind or current off the pier or from ahead:

Here you have wind or current setting the boat off of the pier or from ahead (in a direction from the bow toward the stern)...

1. Loop a forward quarter spring from a stern cleat, around a forward piling (or dock cleat), and back to the boat. Use a roving fender at the stern.
2. Keep the wheel or tiller amidships (centered) and the engine in neutral.
3. Cast off all lines except the spring.
4. Wait for the bow to clear the boat ahead of you. Cast off the spring and bring it aboard.
5. Shift into forward propulsion to move into the channel.

Undocking from a slip in a cross-wind:

Here you have wind or current flowing down the channel. In the illustration, you need to back out of your slip and turn to the right. Use a spring to turn the boat in the direction you want to go under complete control...

1. Make up a long spring of polypropylene line, at least 3 times the length of your boat.
2. Belay the bitter end to a stern cleat on the opposite side of the turn (see illustration).
3. Loop the line around the outside piling. Wrap the bitter end several times around a sheet winch.
4. Cast off all lines except the spring.
5. Back out at minimum throttle. Keep the spring slack until your bow clears the outside pilings.
6. Tension the spring. Watch the bow pivot into the channel.
7. Cast off the spring, retrieve the line, and place the shifter into forward propulsion.

These are just a few of the hundreds of tips you will find at Captain John's SkipperTips.com. Visit his website for all it has to offer at www.skippertips.com.

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