Your Stories, From The Edge


Trials Of The Docking Derby

By Steve Schwartz
Published: April/May 2013

When interviewed about what makes them most nervous, several round-the-world sailors said, "Maneuvering around docks." Our author can relate...

What The ...?

Photo of the hold the vise grips to steer
The hero of the day!

Now here's the pressing question: What do you do? The rpm are way up and the boat is accelerating forward quite frighteningly. Without the throttle handle, there's no way to reduce the speed. We could not turn and thread our way out of the marina with this increasing acceleration, and we had only seconds before we started smashing up lots of expensive boats, not to mention our own! This comes about as close to staring into the boating abyss as one can without actually sinking.

Fortunately, I didn't have time to brood on all my failures as a human being and skipper. I couldn't possibly turn the peg with my weak little fingers. Shutting off the engine still would leave us moving forward too quickly with no way to maneuver the boat even as it slowly slows down. Would the engine even shut down at such high rpm? I don't know! If it does stop, then our boat stops powerless in mid-marina, caught by the wind! Get the anchor down? Now, there's a seamanlike idea, but I knew with dreadful instinct that there just wasn't time or room enough in the confines of the marina maze.

Photo of Steve Schwartz
The happy skipper with the solution to his crisis.

And then, with an instantaneous flash of brilliance (although I do not remember thinking at all, just acting — and this is so uncharacteristic of me, a deep thinker), I dove down into the lower part of the cockpit, threw open the lazarette, and grabbed my toolbox. In less than a second, I had a Vise-grip in my hand. Back up to the helm breathing hard, I clamped the Vise-grip onto the peg with desperation bred by raw fear. If this didn't work, we were doomed, and so were a lot of other lovely boats. Not that we were in any physical danger, but oh, what a mess we'd make with an out-of-control sailboat in a crowded, windy marina.

But it worked. Perfectly. It gripped the little steel peg and turned it just as effectively as the handle — nay, better. I smoothly used the Vise-grip to decelerate, and neatly motored out of the marina. We never yelled, or screamed, or swore. We'd been struck dumb. And we had a lovely day on the water. Disaster averted by my quick action, I modestly say.

Of course, we now make sure that all bolts and attachments are secure and solid, and that levers and such are working smoothly. I recommend you do likewise. Just in case, though, have a Vise-grip handy. It's a dandy little device.

Photo of the Wind Dancer safely in her slip in Sackets Harbor, NY
Wind Dancer safely in her slip in Sackets Harbor, NY. The docking derby a dim memory.

Lessons Learned: (This is going to be short.) Make sure that the fittings on the helm (and everywhere) are sound and that everything is not just "unbroken," but working as smoothly as designed. It's not a bad idea to have a toolbox with Vise-grips and other useful tools in a readily accessible spot.End of story marker

Diane and Steve Schwartz, BoatUS members since 1986, have cruised and sailed in New York state, Lake Ontario, and the St Lawrence River for many years. Since 2001 they have based Wind Dancer, their 1993 Hunter 30, in Sackets Harbor, New York. They've trailered smaller sailboats for cruising in the Chesapeake and chartered in the Bahamas. They live in Ithaca, New York and retired from teaching in 2003. Visit their website at:

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