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How would you tackle a berth in a gale?

Would you know how to berth in a gale? James Stevens answers your Questions of Seamanship

A person wearing a lifejacket and bobble hat on the pontoon holding a rope while the skipper tries to berth in a gale
One person has stepped ashore in a gale. How do you prevent the boat from being damaged? Credit: David Harding

How would you tackle a berth in a gale?

Question:

Jim is the skipper of an 11m chartered yacht, Zenith, which he has booked for a week. He has three crew, John, Rick and Nick.

On the day they arrive the weather is foul; a full gale complete with horizontal rain.

Jim, who as an instructor knows that morale is higher if they move every day, has decided to motor to a marina up the river, set in farmland with a few houses and a café.

On arrival they are allocated a hammerhead berth with a yacht in front and the wind blowing diagonally off the pontoon.

Jim realises he has to moor with the wind on the port bow and that it’s going to require lots of power and an agile crew to secure the lines.

A diagram showing how to berth in a gale

Credit: Maxine Heath

Jim turns the yacht with some difficulty downwind of the hammerhead and powers into the wind.

He has positioned John on the bow line, Nick on a midships line and Rick on the stern with instructions to take a turn on the pontoon cleats as soon as possible.

On arrival, Nick jumps ashore but the other two are too late and are still on board.

By the time Nick has secured the central line to the pontoon cleat, the bow has been blown half a boat length to starboard. He is still on the pontoon.

The yacht is held by one bar tight midships line and the stern quarter is being damaged against the pontoon. What does Jim do now?

Continues below…

Answer:

If there was no yacht in front, Jim could motor forwards and try and spring in, although in that wind it might not be possible.

Motoring ahead with a stern line would also be difficult.

Even with two crew on board it is going to be impossible in a full gale to sweat the midships line in to bring the yacht alongside.

Leading a long bow line to the stern and across to Nick is a possibility. He could secure it as a bow spring and Jim could motor ahead.

The problem is that the bow line might not be long enough and while they are extending it the stern is getting damaged.

My preference would be to release the midships line leaving Nick on the pontoon and go round for another attempt.

This stops the quarter being damaged and on the second attempt it should be possible to hand Nick the bow line.

Once that is attached it should be easy enough to pass the other lines to Nick. Any attempt at throwing lines to windward would be futile.

It might be slightly easier to approach the pontoon astern, without the difficulty of preventing the bow being blown off.

However, unless the yacht has a cockpit tent, being stern to wind in a gale and rain on a pontoon is pretty miserable and wet.

Handling a yacht under power in a gale in a marina is certainly not for the faint hearted. It requires large bursts of power and skilful steering.


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