The Mediterranean style of anchoring and mooring stern-to understandably presents the uninitiated with great dread. In fairness, it is not without its challenges. Even those experienced in the deft art of going astern to moor between two vessels do screw it up sometimes.
Whilst pulling into an alongside berth shouldn’t generally attract too much attention, cruising yachties and locals alike will often while away the afternoon watching hapless skippers and their crew attempt to pull off this manoeuvre.
These days most yachts over 45ft, and quite a few smaller ones, have a bow thruster which is a godsend for mooring astern.
Forget the supposed accomplishment of avoiding its use as some kind of badge of honour. Use it! It will enable you to get into the berth with the minimum fuss. When your in and sitting comfortably, maybe with a congratulatory G&T in hand, watching the mayhem as others come in remember, there but for the grace of god go I!
There are a few tips that will hopefully improve your chances of success.
Practice going astern in open water to help understand how your boat will behave. All vessels have a tendency to ‘walk’ to starboard when going astern due to the rotation of the prop. This means when going astern she will be more responsive going to starboard. How easily you can steer her astern will depend greatly on the length of the keel. My first boat, an Endurance 35, had a full-length keel without a bow thruster and I was often asked ‘how does she go astern’? My answer was ‘yes, great, as long as I want to go where she does’! The answer is this…PRACTICE. Try to find an empty stretch of dock without onlookers and keep doing it until you get it right.
It is vital to consider the wind direction, a strong breeze athwartships will create difficulties as the bow will blow off while the stern stays where it is.
Don’t listen to the dock crew, who will assure you “it’s no problem”, even though you think it’s tight and there’s a strong wind. They mean no problem for them. If you’re not happy turn round and go out and anchor until the wind has dropped. The major problem you really don’t want, is to lose control of the bow so that you drift helplessly across the bows of neighbouring boats and their mooring or anchor lines.
Buy lots of big fenders and use them. On a 50ft yacht, 3 fenders per side are not really enough. If you have only a limited amount of fenders, say 6 (as is often the case), deploy 3 of them from stern to midships and one right forward on the leeward side and put another right at the stern on the windward side, and keep one as a roving fender in the hands of one of the crew – their job is to shadow the point of contact and nothing else.
If storage space for fenders is a problem buy two or three inflatable fenders, they are not cheap, but neither is repairing a neighbour’s freshly done brightwork or gel coat.
A note of caution: Bear in mind that inflatable fenders, which don’t have much weight, will lift up and get pushed out of the way much more easily than the permanently inflated type. It’s useful to fill the inflatable fender with 2 or 3 pints of water before you fill it with air. It’s a bit fiddly but you only need to do it once.
A key issue is getting control of the bow as early in the manoeuvre as possible. If it is a marina or port with pre-laid dock lines and there is a dock crew with a rib, make sure they give you the dock line right at the start. Don’t allow them to then clear off thinking their job is done. Keep them standing by with a rib ready to help push your bow with their rib. Don’t be afraid to tell them what you want them to do.
Special note: Right at the start of the manoeuvre the mooring line may be slack in the water so be wary that it can easily be drawn into the bow thruster. Brief your bow crew to look out for this very common disaster.
Give some heavy gauge riggers gloves to the crew member that will handle any pre-laid lines, most likely they will be full of barnacles and small mollusc shells that will cut your hand to ribbons.
Here we go…
If you’re using your own anchor chain for the bowline, get straight at least three boat lengths from the dock and drop your anchor. Move astern 5 meters and stop paying out chain so you help the anchor find a bite, then drop all your anchor chain by freeing the gypsy and letting it go fast. It doesn’t matter if that’s double the length of chain you might eventually want out, what you absolutely don’t want is to run out of deployed chain before you’ve got your stern all the way in. The drag of the chain playing out from the pile on the sea bed will keep your bow straight. The bow crew are finished now so can help elsewhere with the rest of the maneuver.
Now motor astern. If you have a bow thruster don’t touch the helm, use the bow thruster to push the bow around to correct your line, once you’ve got in between two yachts the game is won.
You will often be expected to push in between two yachts where there doesn’t even seem to be a gap, especially in the high season in the western Med. Don’t be afraid to lay against a neighbouring yacht on your fenders; it’s what they are for.
Motor further back and get your lines ashore and adjust them to the right length, allowing for how far off you want to be. Now go to the windlass and collect up the surplus chain that is still sitting on the sea bed. Tighten it until the anchor chain is hardened up sufficient to have buried the anchor and so the stern lines are reasonably firm.
If the sea is clear, as it often is in the Med, it’s a good idea to jump in with a mask and snorkel and check that the anchor is doing its job.
If you’re anchoring it’s a very good idea to deploy a small anchor marker buoy. This will tell boats coming in after you where your anchor is.
Watch the other boats coming in and look for the possibility that another boat has dropped its anchor across yours. Make sure you tell them to redeploy their anchor before you try to leave.
For anchoring astern outside a marina or port, you will need very long shorelines. If there is any wind at all, one of the crew will need to deploy one to windward before you start to complete the anchoring process. These lines should ideally be yellow (or orange) and they must be floating lines.
Floating lines are important so they won’t drop to the bottom when slack or during deployment and foul around rocks or obstructions on the sea bed. Floating lines are also light and they can sometimes be swam ashore if the shoreline is too rocky for the dingy or rib.
Bright yellow so that any jet skiers realize that they can’t go speeding past your stern without decapitating themselves!
The shorelines should have 3 or 4 meters of light chain with a shackle at the shore end so they can be laid around rocks ashore without chafing through in the middle of the night.
Be aware that in Turkey and other Mediterranean countries tying up to trees may land you with a hefty fine.
The Mediterranean offers some of the very best cruising grounds in the world, especially the eastern Med, so it is very worthwhile acquiring the skills needed to enable you to fully explore and enjoy it all.