Notes on Marinas and Moorings

This is not intended as a tutorial on boat handling for berthing or picking up a mooring; there are plenty of books on that, as ever Tom Cunliffe's will be a reliable guide, but a few notes on how Sancerre handles will put into context my comments on marinas, plus I include a few practical tips for novices which may or may not be in Tom's books for beginners. I have not read "The Complete Day Skipper" but "The Complete Yachtmaster" chapter 6 "Boat handling under power" gives all of the gory detail in his typically relaxed and readable style.

Tip - best not to berth down tide

If there is a tide running through the marina don't accept a berth you will have to enter down tide unless you really, really have to; better to go elsewhere or wait for the tide to turn. Its not just me saying this, check out this video that includes a brief glimpse of Sancerre on her trot mooring (@ 2:41), but if you blink you will miss her.

Single handed its not quite as easy as Tom suggests because you can't be steering, controlling the engine and making fast all at once, good timing and sequencing are required and some agility especially if your freeboard is much more than mine as it usually is on a newer boat. Strong winds should also be considered before making an entry. If in doubt ask for help with your lines - marina staff don't want boats to get crunched any more than you do, it generates too much paperwork and annoys their customers. If things are really tough they might even come round with the work boat to get you in safety. 

Sancerre's handling

All boats have their own handling characteristics (See Cunliffe etc.), my reviews of marinas are pretty general but are informed by the characteristics of my boat, particularly the prop walk strength and direction and her size, a 45ft boat, especially without a bow thruster, might struggle in a spot easy for me whilst an Achilles 24 could be manhandled into almost any berth. Having said that, in larger marinas I am often sent into corners reserved for smaller boats where Sancerre is the largest they send in, that can be tricky.

Although not as efficient at speed a long thick keel
will not stall as early as a thin short one and with
no flow over it the larger area resists sideways
movement better than a modern keel.
Going ahead the handling of the A9m is very good, the long, thick fin keel is very reluctant to stall and if there is little wind the boat still steers when barely moving, watchers / helpers / berth masters often comment about how slow I can dock, as someone once said to me "slow is cheap" (if you muck it up). 

The downside is a rather wider turning circle than modern designs with high aspect keels and semi balanced rudders, but the propeller is quite close to the rudder so a quick blast of power will help the turn, especially going to port (with the prop walk from the clockwise turning propeller) but being light weight care is needed as she accelerates quickly.

Going astern is a different matter. 

The slope on the back of the rudder, common in the
1960s and early 70s does not help steering when
going astern.
With a lot of power and a 14" three bladed propeller, the prop-walk takes over and with the shape of the rudder means that when going astern Sancerre will not turn to starboard until she is going faster than you would want to go in a marina, even the classical work round of a short burst and drift is problematic and any wind will blow the bow off almost as quickly as a modern boat. 

The good news is that she will easily turn to port when going astern and a multipoint turn is relatively straightforward and possible in quite a narrow bit of water - provided you turn the right way. Also if berthing port side too you can approach as an angle and straighten up and stop with a little power astern. 

When docking one big advantage of Sancerre and most boats of her age is the low freeboard making it relatively easy to step over the guard rail onto the pontoon. A modern boat, even one of modest size, will typically have a lot more and it can be a serious drop even with a gate in the guardrails, which mandates where you or a crew person will have to get off. It is also easier to drop a line over a pontoon cleat when you are closer to it.

Information you need before entering. 

Portland Marina, from the "Boatfolk" web site.
Compare with the chart below.
When arriving at a marina you don't know, it will make your life a lot easier if you have a detailed map showing the layout and berth numbering, and if your memory is as bad as mine when you call up have a pencil handy to make make a note of your berth number. Also if it is not clear from the plan ask which side has odd numbered berths and which are even, they are probably marked but are not always easy to see and you want to plan ahead. This plan of Portland marina from the "Boatfolk" website helpfully shows the numbering, not all do.

Think through your likely options well in advance including your escape plan if things go pear shaped.

Tip - go for the easy berth

You will generally want to berth into wind and on the lea side of a finger so you aren't blown against it. That is fine, but if conditions are difficult it is usually best to go for the easier berthing. For example I went into Ramsgate single handed with a strong wind on the starboard quarter, loads of vacant visitors berths were just left of the entrance and no tide. I cut the power early, jinked a few yards left to avoid the end of a long pontoon and then drifted downwind onto a finger stopping and straightening up with a short burst of power astern, stepped over the side with the midships mooring line and secured the boat port side too with no fuss, albeit needing a lot of fenders. 
Subsequently two other boats arrived and tried to get on the lea side of a finger, one had fenders both sides, gave up gracefully and ended up port side too, the other a new 35 footer with no fenders to port screwed up big time and it took 6 of her crew and me to warp her onto the finger after she was pinned across the finger when the wind blew the bow off.

Reed's marina guide, included with the Almanac, is a start but the diagrams are very small and numbering is sometimes not that clear, or present. 

Reed's Almanac may well be better than the Marina guide which is essentially advertising but the pilot for a given area is likely to be more detailed, but check the date it was published, most are not updated that often although some do have important updates available on line. Marina websites are usually the best place to check.

Portland Marina on current charts. The pontoons
on the left are not part of the marina, fingers are
not shown and the visitors and fuel berths are
not there. 
In any event you need to check the radio frequency to call in on (if there is one) and to see if you need permission to enter as you do at many commercial ports.

Beware of diagrams on charts, printed or electronic; the layouts may be way out of date, my completely up-to-date Admiralty chart including Portland marina is at least 2 extensions out of date and misses bits that have been there for years. If you check the "Sources" panel on the raster or printed chart you find that the data is from surveys in 2008-2009; this warning will not normally be available (2024) on chart plotters for the leisure market that will be using the same information.

Tip - fenders.

Berth masters sometimes get it wrong so be prepared to come alongside on the opposite side to what you expect, this is also a sensible precaution in case the wind, tide or just a sharp turn against the "propeller walk" makes it difficult to get onto a finger and you end up coming alongside the boat next door or just that the space you are going into is limited as it usually is. 
I generally put out  2 or 3 fenders on the opposite side plus I have a spare fender ready (I carry 9). A single mooring line to the midships mooring cleat is usually enough to hold the boat whilst sorting things out. The downside is that if you come alongside a boat with its fenders out they can get tangled but it is far easier to flip your fenders up out of the way than to get them out of the locker and in place.
Put a large fender well forward, your first line ashore should normally be from a midships cleat, that all boats should have but often don't, as the boat stops against it, or if you gently motor forward once its secure, the bow will swing into the pontoon and the boat will be stable whilst you get other lines out.


For the novice and to define how I use the terms in my reviews.

Pontoon: a long stretch of floating pontoon either to moor directly onto or forming a spine from which there are fingers, or sometime both.

Mid stream pontoon: A pontoon moored away from land and with no way to walk ashore, quite frequently seen e.g. Fowey and the Truro River. Usually you have to pay to use them, those around Milford Haven being an exception.

Fingers: Short, narrow sections of pontoon, sometimes little longer than half the length of the boats that use them, secured to the pontoon as right angles. One boat moors either side, occasionally where the fingers are widely spaced a third boat may be slotted in between two boats rafting on one or both. Newlyn is the only place I know of that does this regularly and only on the outside row.

Bay: The gap between two fingers usually with room for two boats, often very close together - see my tip re fenders on arrival.

Hammerhead: A pair of fingers or a cross piece at the end of a pontoon. Often reserved for long boats or wide multi-hulls that won't fit on a finger, be careful using them uninvited, you might be asked to move by the management or by the skipper of a large boat arriving that can't go elsewhere.

Avenue: the gap between the ends of the fingers (and/or the pontoons), in benign conditions narrow ones are usually the biggest challenge getting on or off a finger.

Pontoons running out from the shore, fingers leading off, the avenue
 between. Sancerre inside the hammerhead at Port Ellen, Islay in April
before many are at sea in the area and most locals have not launched.

Trot mooring: One mooring for the bow and another for the stern usually with a buoy at each, one or both may be shared by the boats next in line. There should be a connecting line with a small buoy to pick up mooring warps that are permanently in place, these should sink but its a good reason not to go between two buoys when there are trot moorings around. Common on rivers to save space by stopping boats swinging but rarely used for visitors moorings. They can be difficult to get on and off single handed as there will often be a strong tide running the length of them and boats fore and aft, with a crew and a decent engine they are usually fairly straight forward to use, at least motoring into the tide and without a serious cross or stern wind.

Trot moorings on the lower Hamble. The small motor boat  (the water
taxi) centre is in the main channel, there are over 3,200 boats on
the Hamble and the vast majority come through here to get to sea.

Pile mooring: Common on the Hamble and some other rivers although since I started sailing many have been displaced by marinas, you moor the bow to a ring on a vertical rail on one and the stern to a second, often to cram more boats in, two boats will share each space with fenders between. These days rarely if ever seen as visitors moorings but many now have a pontoon between the piles for a boat each side to make them easier to use, one of these might be offered.

A Nicholson 55ft yacht I sailed in the 70s on a Hamble river pile
mooring converted with a pontoon between. The pontoon is secured
to rings on the vertical bars as would a boat without the pontoon.

Swing Moorings: very common where there is no marina and sometimes an option offered by a marina such as Tobermory, see my post how to secure to a visitors buoy.

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