One pre-departure check can make the difference between a nice sail and an aborted trip. This tip comes from Larry Webber, part of The Boat Galley team (he’s the one who researches and writes our cruising guides).
Larry’s boat, Catriona, is on a mooring ball about 4 away from us. He’d mentioned that he had some friends from New Hampshire in town and was going to take them out sailing this past Friday.
Suddenly, we got a call: “Are you around? My shift cable broke, and I could use a short tow back to the mooring.”
Basically, Larry had dropped the mooring lines, drifted back a little to clear the ball, and when he shifted from neutral to forward, the cable had broken. He quickly dropped his anchor and got a bunch of fenders ready in case the boat swung close to another moored boat.
Dave and I quickly went over and side-tied to motor Catriona back to her mooring ball. However, even with our 15 HP dinghy motor, as soon as Larry pulled the anchor up, the wind pushed Catriona’s bow towards another boat. Larry quickly dropped the anchor again.
Luckily two other dinghies came along and offered to help and with three of us, we were able to quickly get Catriona back where she belonged. Whew!
Review – The Rights and The Wrongs
So . . . what went right and wrong?
- John Herlig, another of The Boat Galley’s team, says that he always puts his boat in forward and reverse for a pre-departure check before leaving a dock or mooring ball (if at anchor, he motors up to the anchor before raising it). It’s a quick test of the transmission and linkages. Had Larry done this, he would have discovered the problem while still on the mooring ball.
- Larry had the anchor ready to drop and let it go immediately when there was trouble. Having fenders at the ready was also good.
- A community where everyone helps out is a godsend (Larry did have SeaTow if dinghies couldn’t have done it safely).
- Clear communication between all the dinghies that came to help.
- Larry, his guests, and everyone on the three dinghies – and people on the surrounding boats – all stayed calm.
We’re always learning. Neither Larry nor Dave and I had ever thought to put the boat in gear as a test before untying from a mooring ball or dock, but it’s absolutely going on all our pre-departure lists now. You should make your own checklist too. Use our checklist as an example. Or check our our free resource, Documents for Boat Buyers and Owners. It has 6 editable checklists.
Be Ready – Have a Pre-Departure Checklist
Still, that’s not a guarantee that something can’t happen when underway. Having the anchors and fenders ready to deploy whenever you’re in close quarters is a good idea, as is moving relatively slowly (just fast enough to have steerage). Whenever I’m at the wheel in close quarters, I’m always aware of where my bail-outs are – what direction should I turn if we lose the engine? A pre-departure checklist that includes checking your transmission is just one more way to be ready.
Things will happen. Hopefully you’ll catch them before they become a problem. But if not, have some plans in place – such as the anchor ready to drop and fenders at hand – to take care of the immediate issues. Then you can stop, evaluate, and ask for help if needed.
Above all, stay calm!
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