Stern to mooring is a bit of an art, but if you follow some basic rules it usually ends in success!
The aim is to reverse the boat into a space on a town quay or pontoon with the anchor laid out in front of the boat and then have the boat secured to the quayside or pontoon with two stern lines.
Lazy Lines or Not?!
The first thing to establish is if the quay you are parking on has lazy lines or not. If there are lazy lines you will see thin ropes appearing out of the water tied onto the quay at regular intervals. These ropes are attached to thicker ropes under the water and in turn are attached to a block of concrete or an anchor.
If there are lazy lines, then you must not use your anchor as it may get caught on the concrete block/anchor and cause problems.
See below for mooring up using lazy lines.
Preparation is key
Good preparation and a clear strategy is critical to the success of stern to mooring. All crew members should be clear on their roles and what the plan is! Back seat drivers are not very helpful in these situations!
- As you approach the harbour, you will need to do the following in good time:
- Put all fenders out (3 on each side), so that the top of the fender just sits below the toe rail.
- Move the tender to the front of the boat and tie off on a cleat. Make sure the tender has enough scope to drift well clear of where the anchor will drop down (or the anchor will go through the bottom of it!)
- Turn the electric windlass on (on the control panel) and prepare the anchor for dropping (move it forwards so it is just about dangling off the front of the boat). Have the windlass hand control at the ready, and well clear of the anchor/windlass motor.
- Make sure the anchor locker hatch is tied back so that it does not fall on the operator.
- Prepare two stern lines, attached to the stern cleats and fed up around the pushpit and into the cockpit coiled ready for throwing. Make sure no ropes of any description are dangling in the water or this could foul your prop, just when you need it most!
- Remove the stern cockpit safety lines and lower the transom ladder (if it sits vertical), leaving a clear passage for jumping/stepping from the cockpit to shore.
It is best to do all this in plenty of time before you arrive in the harbour so you can then focus on finding a space and keeping your eyes open for other boats.
If you are on the helm, then your job should be to purely stay on the helm and let your crew do the preparations. Do not leave the helm at any time when in the harbour.
You will need one person up at the anchor and a minimum of one in the cockpit (on the helm). If you have additional crew members, then one can be ready to throw the stern lines and one could stand on the side of the boat ready to help fend off against neighbouring boats.
- Approach the space bow first very slowly, and check depths. You are especially looking for anything close to the quayside which will foul the rudder (the deepest bit of the boat close to the quay). The person on the bow can report back anything that looks worrying!
- Turn away from the quay (or reverse if the space is restricted) and head straight out keeping the stern of the boat square with the space. Slowly, slowly, slowly! When you are at least 5 boat lengths from the quay, and assuming you are still pretty square on to the space, you will need to slow the boat down (bit of reverse) and then when stopped, give it more power to get the boat moving backwards. You can tell when you are actually moving backwards by the tender drifting out to the front of the boat. In this period of transition, you will have very little directional control. Do not panic, but keep the reverse power on until you get steerage back. When the boat is moving backwards, drop the power to a bit above idle and correct your direction. The wheel will try and kick from side to side, so keep a firm grip on it.
- Look at the anchors from neighbouring boats. You want to position your anchor in between their anchors, and not cross over them. If a boat is badly moored, you may have no choice but to drop yours over theirs (see clearing crossed anchors below).
- By now you should be moving slowly backwards about 4 boat lengths perpendicular to the quay, with the stern of the boat aiming for the space. Pick out a feature on the quay (a bollard or a lamp post etc) and keep focused on that as your target.
- When you are at least 3 boat lengths off the quay you need to release the anchor. The best way is to release it manually and not using the electric windlass. The reason for this is so the anchor falls quicker and digs into the sea bottom better. Release enough anchor chain so that it hits the bottom and then when the anchor chain starts to lift (ie becomes tighter) release another 10 metres of so and then stop it again until the chain starts to lift again. It is very important not to slow the boat mid mooring up procedure with the anchor chain becoming too tight. If you stop the boat it will be very difficult to get it moving again in a straight line and you may have to abort and start again. KEEP THE BOAT MOVING!
- Keep releasing more anchor until the boat is about 1 meter from the quay. Ideally the anchor should be fairly slack at this point, otherwise as you reduce engine power the weight of the chain will start to pull the boat out again! So, you are 1 meter off the quay, you have a fairly slack anchor, the engine is just idling in reverse or neutral to maintain the gap. If you are shorthanded, then the person at the bow now needs to move fairly quickly to the stern and grab THE UPWIND stern line and either jump ashore or throw it to a willing passer by (usual practice). You must attach the upwind stern line first. Get it wrapped around a ring, bollard, lamp post or whatever you can find quickly to just secure the boat. You still must not leave the helm at this point as you are needed to maintain the gap using engine power. Little continuous blips of forwards, reverse etc. No big power surges please or you will either hit the quay or pull your crew into the sea…
- If you are throwing the rope to a willing helper, make sure it reaches them. Do not throw it too early and make sure it is not going to be restricted by anything on the pushpit (GPS aerial, life bouys, outboard engines etc etc) Check all this before you start the procedure.
- You cannot secure the boat by simply holding the mooring rope. You can only secure it by wrapping it around something to give extra friction. Once you have the UPWIND mooring rope secure, the downwind rope can be secured in similar fashion. You want the stern lines to come out an angle from the boat, and not straight back, as this will not stop the boat from moving from side to side. You may need to be a bit creative at times, as mooring rings and bollards are not always located in the most convenient places!
- It is normal practice to pass the other end of the mooring rope back to the boat and tie off on the same cleat. This is known as “doubled up”, and is a benefit when it comes time to leave.
- Once you have both stern lines attached securely and doubled up back to the boat, you can tighten up the anchor chain. Still the helmsman should be maintaining the gap with engine power, or just leave slightly in forward gear so it is pulling against the two stern lines. Using the electric windlass, wind in the anchor chain, until it rides up out of the water and becomes tight. Do not strain the motor too much. But it should be clear if the anchor is holding or not. The chain should be fairly tight and heading off the bow of the boat at a nice shallow angle. If it is entering the water at a steep angle then either it is too slack still, or the anchor is too close in! It may take a while for the anchor chain to tighten up if the anchor is being dragged in – keep going in bursts until it holds. If it just keeps on coming in then you will need to do the whole procedure again.
- You want to aim to get as much anchor chain out there as possible. You cannot have too much out, but you can have too little. Each boat has a minimum of 50m of chain on board. If you have dropped it too early and you do not have enough to get back to the quay, then you need to start again.
- If there is a cross wind, then you will need to position the boat slightly upwind of the space as you will be blown down wind during the procedure. A slightly faster speed may be required if it is very windy to keep directional control.
Done – open a beer and chill out and get ready to help your neighbours in!
- Create some hand signals so that you can communicate with the person on the bow with regards to dropping the anchor, and when to stop dropping it when you are close to the quay. Shouting instructions is not ideal as it can be unclear, plus you will look totally in control…!
- If it is windy, try and select a space when you can avoid cross winds, ie stern into wind or bow into wind.
- The boats have a little bit of “prop walk” when they are put into reverse. This means that the rear of the boat will initially steer itself either to right or left (depending on boat). Work out which way your boat “walks” in the safety of the open sea, and then allow for this when starting your reversing. Ie you may want to initially have the stern pointing to right if it walks to the left. Then as you engage reverse it will naturally straighten up.
- Slowly slowly slowly. Keep calm. If it is not going well, then abort and try again. In particular if you lose direction and are way off track then abort and start again. Personally I start my reversing procedure a long long way off the quay, so you have loads of time to get it lined up properly and counteract any prop walk.
- In some places a taverna owner may come out an assist. Listen to their advice and follow their instructions.
- Upwind mooring rope attached first!
- As much anchor chain out as possible!
When mooring up using lazy lines, you do all the same preparation, apart from preparing the anchor. You will not be using it.
Reverse in to the space slowly and square on. It is usual for the taverna owner, who has run the lazy lines to come out and assist you. When you are close the quayside, he will pass you the thin rope attached to the quay. Engine in neutral, so you do not foul the lazy line.
You take this rope and walk to the front of the boat whilst pulling up the thick rope attached to the thin rope. It is hard dirty work! When you are at the bow of the boat, keep pulling up the thick rope (it will be wet and maybe muddy!) and get it wrapped around the forward cleat. Keep pulling up until it will come up no more and tie off around the cleat. This is effectively your anchor.
Whilst the lazy line is being secured to the bow, the stern lines will be attached to the quayside (UPWIND FIRST) as with mooring with an anchor.
Getting away from a mooring
The most important factor here is to remember not to put the engine into gear until the lazy line has sunk to the bottom, or you may cut it with the prop.
- Release the DOWNWIND stern line first. If doubled up, then you can do this from the cockpit which is much more preferable.
- With one person on the bow, release the other sternline. The weight of the lazy line will pull the boat away from the quay. Fend off neighbouring boats. Do not engage gear!!!
- Ensure stern lines are safely in the cockpit and not dangling in the water, and when the boat is well clear of the quay, release the lazy line from the bow cleat and throw clear of the boat into the water. It will sink slowly. When you are sure the lazy line has sunk clear of the keel and prop, then you can engage gear and slowly drive out forwards from the space.
- Fenders in, tender brought around to the rear of the boat and away you go!
- Release DOWNWIND stern line first and then prepare to release the upwind stern line. When released, pull into boat as quickly as possible, make sure it is clear of any obstructions on land and get it into the cockpit. Instruct the anchor to be pulled up using the electric windlass. The weight of the anchor chain will again pull the boat out clear of the quay, so no engine power is needed – engine in idle!
- You may need to slacken the anchor chain a bit before releasing stern lines if too tight.
- Keep anchor coming in, and engine in idle. Person pulling in anchor needs to make sure that the cable connecting the hand control to the motor is kept well clear of the motor. Keep your arm outstretched, to keep the cable away!
- As soon as the anchor is seen to be clear of the seabed, you can put the engine in gear to gain directional control. And drive slowly away out of the harbour.
Crossed or fouled anchors
It is part of life in the Greek Islands, to experience a situation where your anchor chain is crossed over a neighbouring boats or vice versa.
You will have a good idea if this has happened, by looking out from the bow of the boat at the angle of the chains.
If you suspect this is the case, then do not stress about it!
Alert the skipper of the affected boat to your suspicions. If you are over their chain, then you should depart first in the morning, and hopefully it will not be an issue. You do not want to drag your anchor in across the seabed so that it catches their chain or anchor so keep the boat moving outwards from the quay slowly winding in the chain. If you are directly over the anchor when pulling it out of the seabed the risk of any problems is quite low.
If they are over your chain, then they should depart first. When you or they leave, make certain that they know you are departing, as they may need to take some action if you pull up their anchor (ie put the engine on to maintain the gap) or wind in slack chain.
If you do get your anchor caught under another chain, then you will need to pull it up slowly to the water surface. You will see the chain caught over the anchor.
- Tie one end of a rope to the bow cleat and pass the other end under the other boats anchor chain and pull it tight and tie the other end to the cleat (so in effect you have a tight rope under their chain). Lower your anchor on the electric windlass a meter or so, until it swings clear of the chain (as the chain will not lower with the anchor). Once the anchor is clear you can then pull it in the remainder of the way and then release one end of the rope so the other boat chain is release. You are then clear.
- The other boat will then need to wind in the slack on their chain.
- Do not be tempted to try and hold the chain up with your hands or a boat hook. You will not manage it…!!!! And you will break either your hands or the boat hook….!!!!
- Do not panic, because as you are in effect attached to their chain, you are still fairly secure. So take your time and think it through. Keep your fenders out just in case.
- If you have many hands, it may be easier to despatch a crew member in the tender to pass the rope under the chain, rather than reaching down from the deck of the boat. As you are in effect secure, and there is no wind, the helmsman could do this task in the tender, but of course returning to the helm before releasing!
It happens – do not panic, or get stressed by it. It is all part of sailing in Greece!