RealLife
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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...

Photo of Steve Schwartz

Steve Schwartz gets a surprise.

Where we usually sail and cruise in eastern Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River, many of the marinas have been designed by squinty-eyed engineers with calipers and micrometers, who have determined the exact minimum space necessary between slips and within alleys between the rows of slips to accommodate rather diminutive sailboats. Similar to economy-class airplane seating, or cheap New York restaurants, not an inch is spared for comfort or peace of mind.

Nothing quite concentrates the mind as arriving late on a weekend afternoon at a windswept marina where you've reserved a dock for the night. It usually goes something like this: We've approached with the usual windy afternoon onshore thermal, assigned to D37, or some such slip. The best we can determine from cryptic communications with marina staff is that it's down a long alley, a starboard tie-up. So we proceed, knuckles white as our sun-bleached decks, between boats bow and stern in their slips, with only a whisper between them and our beamy boat. It looks like our assigned slip is on the other side of that enormous sailboat, the one with the bow sticking a yard into the alley, and two bristling, evil-looking anchors on bow rollers waiting to impale us as we try to slide by. The tailwind is really catching us now. There's no turning back. We're in the grip of the causal nexus. Somehow, with luck and bravado, engine in reverse, then idling, then a little more reverse, a little forward, a turn quick here, a shove off, and we're in the slip, the nerves in our legs still twitching.

As we wipe those little beads of perspiration off our foreheads and start adjusting our dock lines, the dock boy comes running and shouting: "No, No, No! You're in the wrong slip! You've got to go back out!"

"Honey, open the seacocks and let her sink, will ya?" I drawl to my wife. "They can't make us move if we're grounded on the bottom here."

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