For all you old boat experts out there, this will just seem like a silly entry. But try to remember the first time you took the helm of your boat and had to move it from point A to point B.
Our friends Markita & Tony asked us a favor the other day. Her Dad’s Catalina 34, Guadalupe had just been sold to young French guy after being on the hard for a long time. Fabrice was going to launch the boat this morning but Tony & Markita would be on their way to Guadalajara and wouldn’t be available to help. Would I help? Of course I would. They also asked a local guy, Jimmy, who does lots of work on boats around the marina.
So, this morning at 9:00, Jimmy and I were waiting for Guadalupe to launch. They were supposed to put her on C dock but there’s so much work going on on C dock that it was unclear where she was to go. I asked at the office and they finally decided to put her on B dock until things get finished on C. Looked like a port side tie so we wouldn’t have to change the fenders or mooring lies or anything. Looking good.
Finally, about 9:30, Guadalupe showed up. The yard crew backed her down into the water and tied her off. Before they could leave Fabrice crawled down below to check the thru-hulls for leakage as well as the dripless shaft seal. The thru-hulls were fine but the shaft seal was leaking a little. Not much, maybe about what you’d expect from regular packing but a dripless seal isn’t supposed to drip anything. Fabrice asked me to come down and take a look, which I did. Clearly, it was leaking a bit. Certainly nothing to be alarmed about, though. Keep in mind that I speak English and a little bit of Spanish. Fabrice speaks French, some Spanish, and a little bit of English. We found that our best common language was Spanish. So, I’m trying to explain in Spanish, with a lot of sign language thrown in, just how a dripless seal works and that, after running the engine a bit, the faces would probably polish up and seal tightly. He was asking me if I thought it was OK to stay in the water with the drip. I didn’t have a good enough handle on the language to be able to get across that it was his boat and therefore, his decision, so I just said, Yes, I thought it would be fine to leave the boat afloat. The alternative would be to pull the boat out again, screwing up the haulout schedule for the rest of the day, and take him back to Marina Seca where he’d have to sit waiting for someone to bring a new seal down from the States or pay Star Marine’s ridiculous markup, if they even had one in stock. No, if it was me, I’d launch. Like I say, the drip was no worse than a packing gland.
Next step, fire up the engine. Fabrice turned the key, pressed the Start button and…. naturally the engine didn’t start. Tried it again. It still didn’t start. Had me try it while he was down below with the engine exposed. Still nothing. I asked if there was fuel shut-off valve. He didn’t think so and he’d started it 3 times in the yard. He got on the phone to somebody and they discussed it. After he hung up, he didn’t try anything new so I suspect the phone call wasn’t any help. He asked what he should do. I started to say the we could go to the office and arrange to have a panga pull him to his slip. This is what we did when Siempre Sabado wouldn’t start after a lay-up. But Jimmy said that the marina won’t do that anymore. Only other thing I could think of was to try to get some cruisers to bring their dinghies over and act as tug boats. Didn’t really hold much hope that I’d get much response. So, we were all really happy when Fabrice tried the engine again and it started right up. No idea what the problem was but at least she fired up.
Jimmy and I untied the dock lines and jumped aboard. Fabrice started to back away from the dock but his stern wanted to go to port. Jimmy called his attention to a whole bunch of little runabouts right behind us on that side. Fabrice asked Jimmy if he’d like to take the wheel. Not in a snarky way, he just really wanted someone else to drive. Jimmy said no and called me back to help Fabrice out. Next thing I know I’m driving!!! WTF? This is a 34′ boat with a dinghy hanging off stern davits making it closer to 38′. And I have enough trouble with my own boat. But, I knew just how helpless and overwhelmed Fabrice was feeling and I just couldn’t bring myself to say, “Sorry, bud, your boat, you drive.” So I drove.
Oh well, how hard can this be? It’s a fin keel, after all. Those things are supposed to back up like a car. Not like our stubborn full-keeled mule. But, for some reason, I could not get the beast to back in any direction except to port. Maybe if I’d been able to get some way on it would have straightened out but we had no room to make way. So I pulled forward to try again, but still no luck. Each time I tried pulling forward to get straightened out, I found my bow just a few more degrees to starboard than before. Basically, by going forward-reverse-forward-reverse-forward, etc, I was making a tight 180 degree turn. Not what I’d planned seeing as how the width of the opening is barely wide enough to accommodate the length of the boat, but that’s what was happening anyway. Finally I just decided to go with it. With Jimmy at one end and Fabrice at the other to fend us off pilings and other boats, we made the turn and were then headed forward out into the main fairway. Whew!
We’d no more than made the turn into the fairway than we had to stop because a trawler was doing some maneuvers to try to get backed into a slip and had the fairway blocked. Knowing so little about how this boat handled, I was rather nervous but managed to pretty much maintain position until the trawler was out of the way. Okay, should be pretty smooth from here on out. I hoped. We went the short distance and made the turn into the space between B and C docks with no mishaps. Now I had to do what I hated most: pull up alongside the dock between the dock and another boat. In my experience, sometimes this goes well and sometimes it goes to shit. I came in really slowly, made my turn at what turned out to be the right moment, and slid on into the slip. Jimmy and Fabrice and a guy on the dock took care of the lines and I secured the engine. Big WHEW! Lulu said that when she looked out and saw Guadalupe coming down the fairway the first thing she thought was “What the hell is he doing driving that boat?” Kind of wondered that myself. But Fabrice looked so relieved to be in his slip that I couldn’t help but feel okay about my decision. Oh, and we checked the dripless seal again after docking: not a drop.
One of the things I found out from this experience is that docking a boat with wheel steering and the engine controls right in front of you at about chest level and no dodger is WAY easier than docking with a tiller, with the engine controls down in the footwell and a dodger obscuring your vision. I felt so much more in control and was.
Looks like there’s a ton of room, huh? Doesn’t look like that from the helm when you’re coming in.