The Speed Paradox
When you’re out in the middle of the ocean with unlimited sea room, you can bob around in your boat to the whims of the wind and waves as much as you like. Once you start getting closer to hard objects that you don’t want to bump into (islands for example, or docks or other boats), some additional control over your boat’s movement is advantageous. When you bring your boat into a crowded marina, anchorage or mooring field, this is an even bigger necessity.
This brings us to what I see as a bit of a paradox, the Speed Paradox specifically. Countless times we watch boats, frequently charter vessels, both with professional skippers or not, come screaming into an anchorage, weaving their way in between boats at 5-6 knots or better. This is in direct violation of the mantra for close-in maneuvering: Slow is Pro. You will often hear people say that you shouldn’t approach a dock any harder than you would like to bump into it. That’s not bad advice and I think it’s pretty obvious that the same should hold true when moving your vessel around other people’s boats! When nearby any object with which you don’t want to make hard contact, slow is almost always better.
A bit of a paradox does exist though because unless a boat is actually making way through the water, or more specifically, has water moving past the rudder, it has no steerage or directional control. In other words, if your boat is stopped in the water but being blown sideways by the wind, or is moving forward but being pushed along by a 2 knot current, you can turn the wheel or tiller all day long without significantly affecting the boat’s movement. So, you can actually be moving too slow at times.
So what do you do about this? Well, being aware of it is a good start but when it comes to docking, one of the scariest tasks for new boaters, plenty of practice will help. Our trip down through the Oswego and Erie canals gave us plenty of opportunities to work on bringing ZTC alongside hard stone walls so we now have a pretty good idea of just how fast she needs to be moving in order to maintain steerage. Your vessel will no doubt be different. In general, when docking with the wind pushing your boat towards the dock, you can approach much slower and at a pretty shallow angle, allowing Mother Nature to help bring you alongside. If instead you’re heading into the wind, a faster approach at a bit sharper angle may be necessary. As I said, some practice will be needed to figure this out. While you’re doing so, remember the mantra, Slow is Pro.
Oh, and if you do end up motoring into an anchorage where our boat is located, please don’t do it as if you’re in a race!
Although not directly related to this topic, the 13 minute video below shows our transit through one of the canals on our way south. It, along with this post on the Tools for Lock Transiting, may be helpful for those planning a journey south from the Great Lakes this fall.