The idea for this article came from a recent trip in our BCC, where at berthing at the end of the day we encountered a howling on-shore breeze that made berthing... well.... let's just say it was tricky.

Going out to sea is quite straight forward - assuming the boat is moored stern first previously. Simply apply a bit of port helm to swing the bow off to starboard to clear the pontoon, then hard to starboard on the tiller to bring the bow to port and heading out towards Bruny Island. A big blip of power will see her swing majestically around 90 degrees and head out to sea like a delivery skipper.

Coming back into port is another matter.
You see our berth is quite hard to get back into. Not necessarily because our pen is killer-hard to access - although it does requires an 'S-bend' manoeuvre to back the boat in (which is necessary to make getting out much easier) but that's normally fairly easy to achieve - albeit with a frequent change in gears. There is also the added 'excitement' of the gap between us and the boat in front being shorter than the length of Ubi - meaning berthing is a bit like Tetris.

No, the real reason is (as most of you BCCers already have sussed) is that a Bristol Channel Cutter has practically no steerage going astern - well, that is what I have been led to believe. When we bought the boat, the previous owner, Chris, did a wonderful job of passing on his knowledge, giving me the confidence to helm 10 tonnes of Huon Pine, and made it abundantly clear that the tiller is just an ornament when the boat is in reverse.

True to his word, the tiller does nothing...well, that's not strictly true. It does provide considerable entertainment when visiting skippers or dockside experts shout helpful 'encouragement' when the wind is doing everything it can to screw up a clean, successful docking - like the one I experienced last time we were out. They seem bemused that I don't try and put the helm 'the other way', that is until I grant them their wish and then gently indicate that stuff-all is happening - at which point you can almost read the mind of the 'docking fairy' currently helping... "that guy's a nut job... he's doing it all wrong... give it here you idiot".

On the times I have obliged then it's been fun to watch how their face slowly shows a kinda frown/bemused look as if the laws of physics have just been reversed.

Anyway... I digress. Back to the story.

That pesky on-shore wind caught Ubique with surprising haste.
I normally explain sailing a Bristol Channel Cutter as 'sailing in slow motion', not because she's slow (she isn't) but mainly because she is so forgiving and stable that every action occuring on the boat appears to give you all the time in the world to react - which is great for your confidence and family fun.

That is... every action but going astern.

For some reason when reversing (and the wind is even the slightest bit unfavourable) Mother Nature seems to catch the boat and throw her into an 'exciting' position faster than you can say 'no I don't need a bow thruster.... no I don't need a bow thruster'. Careful management of the throttle is critical, as is the trajectory of said reversing boat, with the need for a sixth sense for danger becoming a must.

Suffice to say that we ended up blown against the pier you can see in the background photo above, with the S-bend manouveur to come.
Problem was that I had only 20cm of clearance (it's shallow), and only 10m clearance from the rocks on the shore, which shelves steeply up from the dredged channel.
One wrong move, and our pride and joy is in trouble.

I pause for the while, with the wife and kids politely feigning that this is normal, and acting all supportive (thanks guys). I plan various scenarios in my head - kedging her in with anchors, throwing a line to that 70 footer over there and winching her in, rowing a line to her pen and pulling her in from the cleats, desperately trying to remember bow thruster pricing then chastising myself for even thinking about disgracing that beautiful hull with such a monstrosity, praying the wind would drop, and finally convincing myself I can hear the theme music from those old Hamlet cigar adverts when the puppy runs off with the last of the bog roll - leaving the hapless toileter (me) with no means of recovering.

This time we chose the smart option and berthed her forward, which is echoed by Chris as the 'right idea' when pressed as to his chosen option in the conditions. But it made me think. I really must spend more time trying new techniques to cater difficult scenarios - even when there's no wind, so when the time comes again, I can confidently berth that boat.

And then I'll hear the distant theme tune to the Rocky movies instead.


Why not leave your comments on berthing and going astern in the forum?

What do you think?

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