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Sailing to the dock advice

Jim Stumpf

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Chime in you motorless Coresound sailors.

What do you find works best for coming into the dock, sure it is a very vague question but what is your go to plan for safe arrival at the take out dock.

Yesterday in a 12-15 mph wind, heading downwind in a relatively narrow channel, I needed to come into a dock that is perpendicular to the wind and the channel. The problem I am having is that the sails are a bit messy with all that line and sprits and such to just drop them into the boat and still be able to move about. At the beach I just get in close enough to round up into the wind stalling the boat and then hop out, drop the sprits and roll the sails around the mast all nice and tidy. I did the same at the dock yesterday but had we not been in near drought conditions here the water would have been too deep for this tactic. I could have stalled outside of the channel stow the sails and then paddled in (my oars are not quite done yet). I have only been out a couple of times now... will the boat be balanced enough with just the main or mizzen up for maneuvering into the dock.

What say the cat ketch gurus. Thanks,


Picture from Pymatuning Reservoir this weekend.


Took Thursday and Friday off. Rained all weekend long. Meg anchored in our camp site.


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You can let the sails fly forward of the boat to luff up.

The beauty of unstayed rig. No shrouds getting in the way. Unsnap shackles to let the sail and sprit fly fully forward and luff.

Make sure to ease the snotter too.

Ina storng wind blowing down on the dock though you still only have one shot as you are being pushed down on it and you have no reverse...

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There's a few ways to tackle this sort of thing, the best are the ones that let you remain in control, rather than hoping you've timed it right. If you're being driven onto a dock or other hard place, you can kill drive by letting one of the sails luff, which will often bring your speed down to more then half of what it was. Another method is to use one sail against the other, to kill drive. This method is one I use, as it allows me to stop the boat in her tracks and even reverse her momentum (yep, sail backwards) or skid sideways. This is the approach I use at a downwind landing, as it will let me round a bit as I approach the dock, the boat comes to a stop and then can skid sideways or even aft a bit, for the landing.

It's all about practice. This rig can be right handy in close quarters, once you understand what it'll do and how quickly you can do it in given wind strengths and points of sail. Learn how to back the boat, pivot by back winding and how to kill drive in a secluded location without hard stuff around, so mistakes aren't costly. It will not take long and you'll be handling her expertly in no time. Once you've got some practice, the biggest thing you'll learn isn't the sail handling part so much as how far the boat will "carry" once you've done something. This is the most valuable information you can have, as it'll let you predict where the boat will be once you've started a maneuver of some sort. You should be able to land you boat within an arm's length of where you planned, which is enough to grab a handful of dock during a landing.

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I had a really stout galvanized bucket that I used for just about everything ....except drinking water.

I'd tie 6 - 8 feet of line to the bucket and attach the other end to a rear cleat. On a downwind approach I'd loose the sheets and as I got close I'd throw out the bucket. I don't think it's mentioned in "Piloting, Seamanship, and Small Boat Handling" but it worked remarkably well when I tried it. One nice advantage was that the bucket, once deployed, could be left on it's own and retrieved after more urgent docking tasks are addressed.

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Thanks for all the great advice.

Crashing the dock although great entertainment for ramp watchers can get expensive :)

Unleashing the sheets from the sails sounds a bit risky if you need to make another pass.

Throwing out a sea anchor (bucket) would slow you down and could even pull you to the dock in the right current neat thought

Next time out I will try sailing just under the mizzen to see how it feels, coming in under one sail would simplify things plus still give me way and steerage

I agree stopping, stow sails and then coming in under oar is probably the safest route

PAR you touch on a couple techniques that I would be interested in a little more info if you care to elaborate

Thanks again to all that have shared what works for them

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Next time out I will try sailing just under the mizzen to see how it feels, coming in under one sail would simplify things plus still give me way and steerage

Under mizzen is fine if you can luff it at the dock. If directly downwind I drop the main, use the mizzen to get close then release the mizzen halyard which is within easy reach and do the last boat length or 2 under bare poles.

If it is really blowing I've used variations of Gordy's bucket theory with good effect in the past.


Peter HK

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If the dock is perpendicular to the wind, can you sail past it, then turn upwind again and sail back up to the lee side of the dock? That might be my choice, as I never like to have a wind pushing me against the dock.

If you have a boat hook, you could sail close to the dock, turn upwind shortly before you reach it (allow a safe margin for the turn), then sheet in the mizzen and let the main go (a quick "hove to" position). The boat will drift backward slowly, with some steerage, and you can use the boathook to keep the rudder from colliding into the dock. As soon as you contact the dock, release the mizzen too and swing the boat sideways to lay along the dock (with fenders deployed, of course). As long as there are no kinks or tangles in the sheets, the sails will swing parallel to the wind (across the dock in this case), and then you can release the halyards and the sprits/sails should drop onto the dock.

A third option, depending on the shoreline, is to sail down near the dock, release the sheets, and turn into the shore/ramp to run aground just a few feet upwind of the dock. Then drop your sails and tidy up. Then use the docklines to move the boat to the dock if desired. That's what I do at my regular launching area here. There's no dock, so I run aground about 6 - 15 feet from the ramp, back the trailer into the water, then use the dock lines to reposition the boat for retrieval. (By the way, I ease the sheets to reduce drive as I near the shore, then release them entirely about 15-20 feet from running aground, which stalls the boat's speed enough that I run aground very gently.) Of course, you wouldn't want to do this with a jagged rocky shoreline.

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Lots of good advice above.

I like to come in charging, with enough power in the sails to steer the boat exactly where I want it. The snotters are the key to the power in the sails. .Even with the sheets loose the sails can still power up if the sail shape is retained. The snotters on my boat are accessible from the helm. At the last moment I let the snotters run to the stopper knots, which completely depowers the sails. The boat coasts to a halt.

When it is blowing I tie a dock line around the mizzen at the thwart. This line is easy to drop over a piling or cleat and hold the boat in tight to the dock while things get settled.

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A good place to practice these techniques is away from a dock, using a buoy as your marker. Less stress on the boat vs. dock if you mess up :rolleyes:

I will look to employ some of these techniques when I get to sailing my Belhaven, since a cat ketch is a new rig to me. Thanks for all of the ideas.

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