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Could you moor in a box berth under sail?

With an onshore wind and little space to manoeuvre, how would you tackle getting into a tight box berth? James Stevens answers your Questions of Seamanship

Box berth at a marina in Holland
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Question:

John and Juliet own a Hallberg-Rassy 342, 10.3m, well kitted out for offshore sailing.

They are cruising the Danish Islands with sons Nick, 20, and Sam 18.

After about a week they are becoming proficient at mooring in the Baltic box.

This is a way of securing the yacht bow-to against a dock with the stern attached to two piles.

With a bit of practice and preparation it is possible to motor between the two stern piles, attaching a warp to each, move forward to the dock, then hop ashore and secure the bow lines.

The HR 342, being a Baltic boat, is designed for this with a rubbing strake down the topsides to protect the hull from scraping down the piles.

John, who is a good boat handler, frequently moors stern-to if the wind is on shore to protect the companionway from the wind and rain.

Over the past week John and Juliet have been concerned about a problem with the alternator, which is clearly not charging the batteries as it should.

Neither of them are expert with electrics so it’s time to get advice.

They sail towards a port which the pilot book says has a marine electrician.

Every berth is a Baltic box in rows along the dock.

John turns the key to start the engine. Nothing. The battery is dead. What does he do now?

Is it time to anchor or is there a way he can moor in a box under sail?

As there is a good chance the batteries have to be replaced, ideally he would like to be stern to.

There is a 10-knot wind blowing on to the dock and no tidal stream.

Answer:

Years ago when engines were less reliable than they are now, Baltic sailors regularly had to sail into boxes.

To enter bow-to under sail, four warps should be prepared, one on each quarter and one on each bow cleat.

The approach is downwind so the main has to be dropped.

The speed can be adjusted by rolling up the jib.

James Stevens

James Stevens, author of the Yachtmaster Handbook, spent 10 of his 23 years at the RYA as Training Manager and Yachtmaster Chief Examiner

The final approach is best under bare poles. If the yacht is going too fast a few zig-zags will slow it down.

The idea is to arrive at the box with minimum speed to make securing the stern lines easy. Without them attached there is nothing to stop the bow hitting the dock.

If the wind is at an angle to the dock or is too strong to sail straight in, the safest option is to sail alongside the outside of the piles under jib alone and secure  there while you make a careful decision about what to do next.

It may be worth launching the dinghy and taking a line ashore through the box.

Alternatively the manoeuvre can be attempted with just the warps.

Either way the yacht is warped between the piles, the stern secured to them and the yacht pushed towards the dock using the wind to help.

It is, of course, possible to use this technique to warp the yacht in stern-to if you don’t want to be bow-to, though sailing backwards accurately into a box is extremely difficult and involves pushing the boom out to windward where it would be likely to hit one of the posts.

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