Single-handed #sailing – handling marinas

Getting a yacht into or out of a marina is often a stressful time for the skipper. Yachts do not manoeuvre easily, the space is usually crowded, there are plenty of things to run into and break, including other yachts, and the wind and tide can play havoc. On top of that, yachts using engines to go astern are subject to propeller walk: the stern will be pushed to one side (port if you have a right-handed propeller) and steerage is almost non-existent. My own yacht suffered damage last year when another boat trying to exit the marina in a breeze lost control and bumped into our stern, breaking off the solar panel from its fittings at the pushpit. The panel went to the bottom.

The main problem for the single-hander is how to let go the mooring lines when departing, or attaching them when returning, without losing control of the boat. I use a bridle method, as shown in this diagram:


The bridle is made by running a line from the cockpit forward inboard to a cleat at the bow, out through the lifelines and around a dock cleat, then back in to the cockpit. The line is then secured to two fitting points in the cockpit.

If the dock cleat used is near the bow, as for the boat on the left in this diagram, then having the engine in dead slow astern will hold the boat against the dock. If the dock cleat is near the stern, as for the boat on the right, then engine dead slow ahead will do likewise. Once the bridle is taking the load, the other mooring lines will be slack and are not required. I use the forward dock cleat when departing and the stern dock cleat when returning.

From the cockpit, the sailor can control the bridle. When departing, haul on the inboard end – the line will come around the bow cleat and back to the cockpit, and the engine and steering are used as normal. When returning to the dock, have the bridle rigged and fenders set beforehand, then use the engine to control boat speed to a stop alongside the finger jetty, throw a large bight of the bridle over the dock cleat nearest the stern and tension it around a winch. Once the boat is held by the bridle, secure all the mooring lines, then remove the bridle.

This method is very easy for a single-hander, and so effective I use it with other people on board. Everything is done from the cockpit and there is no need for a crew-member to jump onto the dock or hang over the side with a boat hook to pick up lines. Also, the skipper remains in the cockpit in control of the engine and rudder at all times.