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Article by Tor Pinney                                                                                                                                        Back to List of Tor's Tips


© 1991 Tor Pinney - All Rights Reserved


Mediterranean mooring, docking a boat "end-on" to a quay as opposed to tying up alongside, is common practice in many parts of the world. Any skipper setting sail for foreign (particularly Mediterranean) ports will find that this method of docking is often mandatory. The technique can be useful in home waters as well. It saves space at the dock, protects the boat from wake damage and, where water depth and tidal range permit, can be convenient for stepping ashore in remote anchorages. Certainly it can be a welcomed alternative to dockside raft-ups, with strange crews tramping across your decks at all hours. Yet many yachtsmen have little idea of how to dock stern-to or bow-to correctly. Here are some hints to help make this simple maneuver go smoothly, even for the short-handed or single-handed skipper.

Whether you choose to moor stern-to or bow-to is largely a matter of personal preference, although boat design, protruding equipment, and water depth may dictate one or the other. For example, boats with narrow bowsprits or high pulpits are often easier to board from astern, via a boarding ramp. A boat with a windvane or davits mounted aft would probably be safest moored bow-to, which is also the wisest alternative when the shoreline water is shallow. In any case, the basic maneuver is the same.

Preparation is the key. First, check out the dock or landing site through binoculars to select a space with convenient cleats, rings, or pilings (or rocks and trees on a natural shoreline) for securing lines. Also, check for underwater obstructions close to the dock, such as shoal water or a protruding foot. Such obstructions may suggest mooring bow-to rather than presenting the deeper, vulnerable rudder to the shore.

Read the water depths where you intend to drop the anchor in order to estimate how much scope is required. As with normal anchoring, a scope of 7:1 is good practice. It's especially important that the anchor doesn't drag when your hull is so close to land. Make the anchor ready to deploy and be sure the chain or rode won't snag when it runs out. Be certain, too, that you have enough rode attached to let the boat reach the dock (you'd be surprised how often skippers don't, especially with stern anchors), and make fast the bitter end. If the harbor bottom is suspected of having debris, ledges or mooring chains, then attach a buoyed trip line to the anchor. Observe the angle of anchor lines running from boats already docked and maneuver to drop yours clear of them. Otherwise, either you may foul their anchor or they may dislodge yours when they leave.

Hang fenders along the port and starboard sides. Even if you're not coming in close to another boat, it's a good idea to leave these down while dockside, to cushion new arrivals. Also for hull protection, hang a fender over the stern to protect the transom, or over the bow if going bow-to.

Make fast two long dock lines to cleats port and starboard at the landward end of your vessel, neatly coiled and ready to use. These should be lead so that when they're passed to the dock they run clear of pulpits and stanchions. If the shore fittings call for them, put loops in the dock lines' ends ahead of time.

Now you're ready to proceed with docking. As with any docking maneuver, the key is to do it slowly, maintaining complete control of the boat, with all crewmembers briefed on the procedure. But remember that a strong cross current or cross wind can make Mediterranean mooring difficult, at times even foolhardy. In severe conditions, warping the boat in may be the most prudent approach. This simply means that after you've set the anchor, you use the dinghy to run lines ashore, and then crank the boat into the slip with the ship's winches.

To dock stern-to in normal conditions, round up to your chosen anchor setting with the vessel's stern facing the dock. Reverse the engine. When the boat's forward motion stops or she just begins to make sternway, lower the anchor. As with normal anchoring, set the hook with intermittent light tension on the rode as it pays out. Fin-keeled vessels with balanced spade rudders are easier to steer in reverse than are fuller-keeled boats. Most vessels will "pull" to either port or starboard in reverse, especially before they're making enough way for the rudder to effect steerage. Ascertain which way your boat tends and steer to compensate. If the bow begins to fall off to leeward, signal the anchor handler to put a little tension on the running rode. If the whole boat slips sideways off course, try correcting it by using short, strong bursts of forward power with the helm aimed first to windward, then to leeward to straighten the boat out. Experience is the only way to improve these boat-handling skills.

As the boat nears the dock, the anchor handler should take tight control of the anchor rode by passing it under a cleat horn, so that he can maintain tension on it without straining himself, and brake the boat if necessary. By now he should be certain the anchor has set well by intentionally slowing the boat with the anchor line. (A single-hander can set a bow anchor while he's at the helm if his vessel is equipped with a reversing electric windlass with remote control.)

When the boat is close enough, signal your most agile crewmember to step (not leap!) onto the dock with the windward quarter dock line first. Once this is made fast to a windward dock fitting and the slack is quickly taken up aboard ship, then the second line can be tossed and secured. If the dock lines are long enough, pass them once around the shore fitting and then back to the boat, so that both ends wind up fastened on board. (This makes departure easier since no one has to go ashore to cast off - you simply release one end of the line and haul it in.) Set the dock lines at a wide angle to prevent the boat from falling off in wind shifts, and to allow for tide. This may be more easily accomplished by crossing the lines. Always take up the lines' slack on the boat's deck cleats, not on the dock fittings, so that adjusting can be done from on board the boat.

If you're staying for any length of time, it's a good idea to switch to a length of chain on the shore fittings in place of your lines. The chain saves wear and tear on the lines which, in worst cases, could chafe through and part. Rather than dedicating long lengths of chain-ended line, make up a couple of chain-with-rope "tails". Eye-splice a thimble into one end of a 6-foot length of line. Through this eye passes a 3- to 5-foot length of hefty galvanized chain. A shackle, or more conveniently a caribiner clip, makes the chain into a loop to secure the boat to the dock's fittings. The rope tail ties to your regular dock line with a sheet bend (not a square knot!), and the dock line is then taken up and made fast aboard. Thus, the chain takes the abrasion of concrete piers and coarse objects. If the tail ever chafes, it's a relatively small length of line to replace.

Many boats use a combination chain-and-line anchor rode, rather than all chain. There's a danger that passing boats may run over, foul and sever your rode, especially considering that you have to put out adequate scope, thus creating a shallow angle of submersion of the line. One solution is to hang a 20-lb. lead weight from the rode, attached by a shackle, which slides along the rode. This can be fed out from the deck by a hand-line, to whatever depth it seems to do the most good. It will not only force the rode deeper beneath the water's surface, but will enhance the anchor's holding power by lowering the angle of the rode's pull, and by acting as a shock absorber if the rode comes under sudden stress.

Once docked, many yachtsmen employ a boarding ramp for stepping ashore. This ramp can be as simple as a broad wood plank, or as fancy as a cruise ship's carpeted gangway. There are numerous manufactured ramps made of lightweight aluminum. Of course, whatever you use must be strong and have a non-skid surface. The ramp may be lashed or hinged to the boat, but ideally it is secured to the boat by a single, central pinnel on a hinged cross bar beneath one plank end. The pinnel slips into a gudgeon mounted at the top of the transom. This arrangement not only allows the ramp to be raised and lowered, but also to be angled to the dock if a cleat or bollard happens to be dead center in your path of entry. This set up necessitates guy lines being led from each dockside corner of the ramp to the corresponding stern quarter cleats, to hold the ramp in place. Also to these outer corners of the ramp, a long yoke of line is secured whose apex, about 8-ft. above the plank, is shackled to a halyard. This controls the plank's height, and the support gives you the option of not quite resting the plank on the dock. It's also a nighttime security device, used to raise the plank nearly vertical, like a drawbridge, to discourage uninvited guests. A spreader bar in this yoke, about 7-feet above the plank, makes it easier to walk through.

Beneath the dockside end of the plank should be a roller or set of coaster wheels to eliminate the annoying scraping of the ramp on the dock when there's a surge or wake. By mounting a pair of stanchion bases along each side, guardrails can be quickly set in place to make “walking the plank” safer.

Beware! A strong offshore breeze can lift a boarding ramp, flipping it onto the boat.  Hanging a weight from the ramp, just off the dock, prevents this happening. A bucket-full of water will do the trick.

Docking bow-to is much the same maneuver as stern-to, but it has several advantages: It's easier to steer forward into a slip, and once docked it affords more privacy in the cockpit and cabin. Most notably, it's easier for the short-handed or single-handed skipper to feed out and control a stern anchor line with one hand while steering with the other. Once the bow is close to the dock, the single-hander can make fast the stern-anchor rode, leave the engine in idle forward, and walk forward to handle dock lines. In a crosswind, the helm can be aimed to windward to hold the boat up while the skipper goes forward. With a little practice this technique is very effective.

On too many boats, a stern anchor is an after-thought, if indeed it is there at all. Be sure yours is carried in such a way that it can be easily deployed. Ideally, stow the rode and chain in a proper chain-locker aft. If that's not possible, build a deck box or assign a sturdy bucket to contain the rode and chain. A stern-mounted anchor roller is as helpful aft as is its counterpart forward.

A stern anchor is often led from one quarter of the vessel or the other, rather than from amidships. When this is the case, the moored boat will sag to leeward when the wind blows from the same side as that on which the anchor rode is cleated. To correct this, run a spring line aft from the opposite stern quarter cleat and secure it to the stern-anchor rode with a roving hitch, about 10-feet from the transom. This can be done by first slacking the dock lines, or handled from a dinghy after all lines are adjusted and secured. The spring line forms a yoke that allows you to adjust the angle of pull from the anchor. Running both the stern-anchor rode and this spring line to your main sheet winches gives you the muscle you need to tighten up one line or the other in a blow.

Mediterranean mooring isn't limited to the Med. As marinas become more crowded we may see this method of docking become more common in home waters as well. Meanwhile, for the cruising sailor going abroad, and for the convenience of stepping directly ashore closer to home, be prepared to use this simple and safe alternative to docking alongside.

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