Monday, 25 August 2014

Boat Handling in Confined Waters

Out and back, then out and then back again, and again. When I was minded to purchase this boat I read a comment on the internet that Westerly Nomads were built like tanks and they sailed like tanks also. I didn’t discover much about this boat when I launched and brought her up the estuary – except that the engine seemed reliable, the mainsheet was badly located in view of the adaptations I had made, and that she seemed to head generally in the direction I pointed her.

There were two of us aboard that day and a party of willing helpers waiting on the pontoon to grab lines and help secure her. Once secure in the marina there was further work to do, the cabin had to be cleaned of wood chippings and GRP dust and I had to wait for the delivery of new mainsheet fittings – then we had the tail end of hurricane Bertha. All in all, today was the first day when the boat was truly ready for a sailing trip and the weather forecast suggested easy sailing.

Now put me on this boat ten miles from shore and I’ll be happy. I’m confident that I can sail her and, with that much sea room, I can afford to make a few mistakes. Anyway, out there if I muck-up a manoeuvre who is going to see it? But I was much less confident about getting her in and out of her pontoon berth under the gaze of all the other boat owners, dockside strollers and the clients from Joe’s bar at the top of the slipway. In fact, I was so scared of knocking lumps off other vessels nearby that I decided to limit today’s activities to simply getting used to manoeuvring her in confined spaces. The plan was that I would take her out and bring her back while Susan remained on the pontoon ready to grab lines, cast off and fend off from the pontoon if required. Well, I can now tell you that, as the man said, Westerly Nomads are built like tanks. Going astern she pretty much does what she wants and when travelling forward her weight drives her onward forever.  Under sail, yes she sails like a tank but under motor – think tanker.

For our first attempt Susan held onto the bow while I pushed her stern out from the pontoon so that I could take a diagonal course astern until she was in mid channel. From there, with luck and with the tiller hard down I could put her in forward drive and hopefully she’d turn her bow down channel. Mmmm well she didn’t like taking a straight course astern. She’d started turning when I pushed her stern and so despite whatever I did on the tiller she kept right on turning. She ended up much too close to a neighbouring boat but anyway I got out with only a mild to high adrenalin rush.

Returning to the pontoon twenty minutes later I wrongly assumed she wouldn’t like sharp corners and so turned in much too early – no damage done but not an ideal landing. More adrenalin in the system.

On the second attempt, without pushing the stern out she turned in completely the wrong direction and I was left in mid channel with bow pointing to the land and stern to the sea but by some miracle I managed to make her execute a three point turn in her own length by using reverse and forward gears in succession and pushing the tiller to the opposite extreme with each change of direction. On the return, I delayed my turn into the pontoon until it was right on the beam. She turned perfectly but despite throwing the engine into reverse I couldn’t get the speed off her – a minor crunch but a crunch nonetheless. Adrenalin pumping like crazy!

Third time lucky? Susan walked the boat along the pontoon until she was almost adrift, a short burst of reverse gear then tiller hard over in forward drive and we were in mid channel pointing to the sea without fuss. On the return I crept down the channel at the lowest speed I could, waited until the mooring space was right on the beam, threw the tiller over and – the engine stalled - not enough revs – surely she wouldn’t turn tightly enough without power – no time to restart the engine – keep the tiller over and hope we can get close enough for Susan to throw me a line. --- . She turned, she straightened up, she glided into the space and came to a halt perfectly placed to reach over and fasten the lines! Wow – another shot of adrenalyn followed by a significant hit of endorphins.  Result euphoria! Think I’m getting the hang of it now.