A Tight Place

September 30, 2017 

     “Just wanted to confirm our arrival and double check about maneuvering space into the slip.  I have to warn you, Exit does not maneuver well in tight spaces,” was Kris’ inquiry to the Harbormaster at Chesapeake Harbour Marina.

     “No worries.  We have plenty of space… you’re on Dock F,” was the reply.


     Docking is certainly one of the highest stress moments we encounter. Its the one situation where our goal is to make contact with something hard and immobile. We’re pretty sturdy as far as boats go; so, with a dock it could be a toss up as to who would come out on top… it would largely depend on the specifics. A long skid alongside the dock would not fare well for Exit.  Bouncing from piling to piling could rip out stantions, tear the anchor clean off the bow roller, or pull the dinghy down from the stern arch.  On the other hand, I’d consider putting my money on Exit in a straight ahead bow-first collision!

     Regardless, they’re all nightmare scenarios; as a rule, we try to avoid any variation of an uncontrolled collision. We follow the philosophy don’t go any faster than you’re willing to hit something! Busy marinas raise the stakes one notch higher as they are populated by big multi-million dollar fiberglass boats that make horribly expensive crunching sounds when run into.

     Kris is becoming more confident in her ace record of docking, but every approach still gets the adrenaline going. Personally, I am glad to not be at the wheel. Kris started the close quarters helm duties and has gotten very proficient at reading situations and understanding what Exit can and can’t do.

     As the foredeck crew, I bear the responsibility of getting the necessary dock lines and fenders prepared and standing on deck at the moment of contact to tie off and potentially fend off any last moment hard impact.

Watching a boat move through the water is very different from making that boat actually move. At 46 feet in length and approximately 42,000 pounds, Exit is simply put, slow to start moving and even slower to start turning. From a dead stop, she has almost no steering in reverse!

We discuss strategies (for docking, entering a marina, etc) as best we can before we commit, and a pass-by just to see the lay of things is even better; but once things begin I have learned to generally keep my mouth shut. Verifying Kris has seen something or helping with spacial awareness is one thing, but oftentimes just shutting up seems to be the most helpful option.


     The entrance to the Chesapeake Harbour Marina was tight, and it didn’t help that the powerboat we had waited on for 10 minutes in the bay to go ahead of us finally decided to pull in behind us, only choosing to pass us just as we reached the shoreline.  There was slightly less than barely enough room for two boats and our forward view was blind as the marina channel took a ninety degree turn to the left immediately in front of us.

As we came around the corner I did little to raise confidence levels when I blurted out, “Holy shit!  That’s a small fucking space!”

Stretched out before us was a narrow corridor of water with the structure of five piers on either side.  Of course, the nearest piling bore the marker “Dock A”, meaning our dock was all the way at the other end…”Dock F”… “F” as in fuck!

Standing at the bow felt like a Loony Tunes cartoon moment for me.  Both eyes literally bugged out and the scene before me narrowed down to a pinpoint, a hundred or so yards away at our goal, the last finger pier.  Lining the docks on both sides of the narrow channel we had to navigate were huge multi-million dollar power yachts, too big to fit inside any of the marina slips!

Fortunately, no one appeared in front of us headed in the opposite direction.

Looking calm and collected at the wheel, Kris threaded the needle from Dock A to Dock F silently saying shit…shit… shit! 

Probably looking much less calm and collected, I went back and forth between the port and starboard toe rails, monitoring whichever side was closest to a mega-yacht, not so silently saying fuck…fuck…fuck!

Kris was definitely Cool Hand Luke as we slowly came around the piling marked “Dock F”.  We were turning to the right into the last channel – on our right was the finger pier of slips which included the one we were assigned; to our left was the building that housed the marina office and restaurant, and directly opposite our slip… perfect… the rather full outdoor bar!  Now… Exit generally turns heads anyway; but, at this moment, we had just become the happy hour spectator event.

Even with a 60 foot mega-yacht to navigate around, Kris absolutely crushed the maneuver.  With only a bit of a push off to clear our bow of a piling, we slid into our slip unscathed, denying the bar patrons an eagerly anticipated disaster to witness.

     Brilliant boat handling skills skipper!!!

As we secured the dock lines it became immediately apparent that we had a very different problem.  The entire reason we were paying $130 a day for a marina slip was for my Mom to have accessibility for getting on and off the boat.  These piers were about 2 feet too short and 20 feet shy of reaching our lifeline gates.

When we pointed this out to the manager at the marina (a nice enough guy) he suggested that we back into the slip to which Kris laughed and said, “that’s not gonna fuckin’ happen.”

The manager (still being a nice enough guy) offered to move Exit for us.  We could only hope that our outward appreciation masked our inward skepticism that anyone could coax Exit into that slip backwards…

    Scene 1 fade to black… Cue Scene 2…

     I believe the guy’s name is Colin.  He asks a number of questions. “Is the prop offset?”  “Is it single rudder?”  “How many horsepower is the engine?” “Is the centerboard down?” He seems to know exactly what he’s doing… and he seems to be a nice enough guy.

Kris re-emphasizes, “I’m not joking.  She doesn’t maneuver well in tight places. You’ll have almost no steering in reverse from a stop.”

The response is, “No worries. I’ve had to do a lot more with a lot less.”

After jockeying back and forth a number of times, and needing a push off from both the mega-yacht and a small power boat whose owner sitting in the bar was a rather willing spectator but much less friendly participant, Colin decreed what Kris had been trying to convey since standing in the marina office… “She definitely doesn’t turn easily.”  After which Colin completed an estimated 9-point turn to get us out from in front of the bar and around into slightly more turning space.

As Colin worked forward and back, then started slowly backing from Dock E towards Dock F, I asked the silly question, “Are you gonna back all the way in?”

He responded, “Yep.

After a bit more aggressive negotiating back and forth I vividly recall hearing the guy standing all the way over in the bar (the less than friendly guy who owned the small boat we had to push off of…) say,  “He’s not gonna try to back that fucker all the way over here, is he?”

There seemed to be a moment of hesitation… and then suddenly we were turning left away from the bar instead of right.  “Screw it,” Colin said.  “I’m putting you right up against the dock wall where it says ‘No Docking'”.

Sweet!  Problem solved.  No damage to anyone’s property or pride and we have perfect placement to get my folks aboard!

I didn’t mention anything, but certainly noticed Kris’ discrete grin… not gonna be one-upped today.  She knows her shit… I’m happy as the foredecker!


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