Harrowing docking experience

Capt. Katherine Redmond


My favorite story revolves around an experience my husband and I had while travelling on the Intracoastal Waterway in our first powerboat during our first live-aboard experience. (We had previously been sailors.) Having no experience with powerboats and after spending three weeks in a V-berth on our friend’s sailboat, we bought what should have been a houseboat. It had a full-size refrigerator and stove and a large bathtub! It also had a single inboard engine (which, in my opinion, is the most difficult to control, especially in reverse), a shallow keel, and was so top-heavy that a sneeze could cause its 46-foot frame to heel precariously.

We were heading south from New York to Florida and had planned to stop early in the day since the weather forecast went downhill after three. We arrived at our arranged destination only to find that the proprietor had exaggerated his marina’s slip sizes and could not accommodate our vessel.

As we progressed down the ICW, the weather turned ugly, the wind picking up steam. We arrived at Southport, North Carolina, which is close to the Atlantic Ocean, with winds approaching gale force.

We frantically called the marina staff, who told us there was only one slip left; the marina was at capacity because of the storm. Entering the approach, I threw the boat into neutral to slow its forward movement. Nothing happened; it was as though it was still in gear! Boats were everywhere. I shouted to my husband that the wind was pushing our vessel, making it nearly impossible to control. Never one to miss an opportunity for humor, he told me to hit the cheapest boat.

Unbeknownst to us, a few minutes earlier a new 65-foot vessel, driven by a captain hired by the owner who was on board, had slammed into a piling, severely damaging its port side. I could hear the VHF blaring: “Woman at the helm; woman at the helm!”

Next to my assigned slip was a sailboat. Its owner and two other men were standing with boat hooks in positions of defense, like sentries awaiting the enemy. They’d covered the side of the vessel facing me with fenders in an attempt to fend off any collision that might ensue.

Our single-engine “houseboat” was horrible to maneuver in reverse and did not have a bow or stern thruster. My husband, in an attempt to make it easier to attach the engine to our dinghy, had mounted the motor on the stern of the vessel and ingeniously began using it as a stern thruster, pushing the back of the boat in the appropriate direction. Fighting against the wind, I aligned the boat as well as I could and threw it into reverse, full throttle. My husband worked his magic at the stern, and we plowed our way perfectly into the slip.

I heard loud applause but was distracted by my trembling limbs.

The professional captain who had damaged the large yacht shouted, “I want to buy that woman a drink!”

My husband replied, ”She will have a shot and a beer, and I’ll have a Chablis.”

Capt. Katherine Giampietro Redmond of Palm Beach Sail & Power Squadron/8 is a NASBLA-honored boating safety instructor with a Six-Pack Towing Captain’s License. Author of “The Chartracker Navigation Guides” and “7 Steps to Successful Boat Docking,” she created boatinglady.com to provide boating guidance for women.

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