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Old 07-20-2010, 06:03 AM   #1
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Having sailed around Denmark for the last few weeks, I have observed that in almost 100% of cases where a yacht is manned (?) by a mixed team the male is at the helm and the woman on deck when berthing or departing. Are men better at steering yachts than women? Given some of the fine examples of berthing I have witnessed I sincerely doubt it.

My present boat neighbours, an elderly German couple, arrived yesterday afternoon. The man was at the helm of course and very obviously in command, although he forgot to put out his fenders despite the fact that they were lying on deck, secured and ready just to drop overboard. His wife (or maybe someone else's) was on deck with mooring line in hand.

The mooring situation was a typical one in the Baltic, bow to the berth, two headlines ashore and two stern lines to poles rammed into the sea bed. A nice, neat berthing arrangement in the almost tide less waters. The only problem with this system is that you have to approach your berthing bay bow on and not sideways and being carried by the current as was the case in question. Somehow, the bow slotted into the gap between the poles and the good captain got a stern line on his port pole. He made the stern line fast and with his rudder hard to port and his engine running and in gear (did he notice this?) his vessel swung to port and gave the vessel berthed in the next slot a good, sound whack.

The poor woman was still on the fore deck and, with the stern line bar taught, was some two metres from the shore. Her erstwhile sailing partner was now screaming at her, informing her and everyone else of her incompetency by quoting the list of the things she had done wrong. At this point, their neighbour whose boat had received the unwelcome whack, a very calm Danish gentleman, highlighted for der Kapitän that it was he who was at fault and that the poor woman had made no mistakes bar the one of choosing an incompetent skipper. Obviously, seriously unhappy at being told that he had erred, the skipper stormed down below with the propeller still turning and the poor woman still on the fore deck looking aghast. To her credit, she drops the mooring line, walks aft, kicking the fenders over the side on her way, and disengages the prop. Thereafter she slowly feeds out the stern line whilst allowing the current to carry the vessel into its berth. When centimetres from the quay, she makes fast the stern line again, goes forward and secures both head lines before taking the starboard stern line out to the other pole in the inflatable. Once secured, she uses the sheet winches to position the boat in the berth. A neat rescue from a bad situation!

To me this stalwart valkyrie was by far the better ship handler so why was she relegated to the fore deck in the first place?

Of course, poor ship handling is something which can be seen right across the board. About three days ago I witnessed a large British yacht flying the blue ensign entirely misjudge the current when swinging into his berth. He was carried into the side of a not so calm Danish skipper's vessel. This, of course, also generates a new question - how can a British yachtsman, used to strong tides and currents, so misjudge the currents of the almost tide-less (but not current-less) Baltic? Even in this case the skipper was an elderly male and the deck crew a much younger, curvaceous lady. Had she not been such a stunner, maybe his concentration would not have strayed from the task of the moment?

In anticipation, I am now sitting in my cockpit, coffee Thermos at hand, eagerly awaiting the morning rush and the comic acts that are associated with it.

Aye // Stephen

Yacht NAUSIKAA | Call Sign: 2AJH2



= Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Lithuania
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Old 07-20-2010, 12:09 PM   #2
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Stephen, Great post - great Topic !! I am still chuckling.

Memories:- helping a friend deliver his Mariner-52 from Thailand to Malaysia. The Motor/Sailor with lots of windage - 250hp engine - Bow thruster. Approaching the Royal Langkawi Yacht Club from the West(before they installed a breakwater to protect the berths from ferry wakes)

Wind average NE around 8<>10 knots. Sundown. Took all sails down, prepared fenders - confirmed our berth number and position via VHF with Marina. The owner handed the helm to me about 100m from the marina. Easy stuff!

Took the helm - Then a Sumatra wind arrived out of West (that's where they normally come from) steady 40 gusting 56. Now what? Turn the boat round into the wind - more engine - just keeping our position - maybe half an hour went by before the wind steadied at around 20 out of the West. The owner (my friend? !***!) said "come on take her in"

Called every one to the helm " this is what we are going to do - "the wind will take us into our berth" "Aft end first - Pointy end facing the wind"

So slowly, almost dark the wind eased us into our berth.

WHITE knuckles!! - my friend Stan Randall bought the drinks !! Never forget the wind gods!

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Old 07-21-2010, 09:24 PM   #3
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Originally Posted by MMNETSEA' date='20 July 2010 - 01:03 PM View Post

The Motor/Sailor with lots of windage - 250hp engine - Bow thruster.
Ah Richard, you have broached an issue I feel strongly about - bow thrusters!

On large merchant ships they replace tugs when berthing and, consequently, reduce costs for shipowners. On small yachts, especially the modern fin-keeled yachts which are those most likely to have a bow thruster, they replace good seamanship.

Ironically, the yacht most likely to be fitted with a bow thruster has a split lateral plan and is therefore much easier to manoeuvre than a long keeled yacht on which one seldom sees bow thrusters.

I maintain strongly that bow thrusters, in small craft, have had a negative effect. By releasing the skipper from learning boat handling skills (including anchor work and warping) they have generated a new level of incompetence. Of course bow thrusters are convenient but it is like using a calculator - one really needs to grasp the arithmetic situation before having a calculator put in one's hands.

What does the jury think about this issue?

Aye // Stephen
Yacht NAUSIKAA | Call Sign: 2AJH2



= Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Lithuania
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Old 07-22-2010, 01:57 AM   #4
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Ignoring the question about bow thrusters for the time being:

I am almost never at the helm of my boat when in a tricky situation. I find some other competent crew member (male or female) who can helm it in under instruction. That leaves me free to dash to one end of the boat or another with boat hook and/or fenders to resolve any dangerous issue that arises, or make the calls about dropping/hauling anchor, etc. The use of an experienced Mk. 1 eyeball (the best navigation device ever invented) and a loud voice from the landward side of the boat gives the helm little doubt as to how to manouver.

Practical experience has lead me to believe that competent skippering and competent helming are two separate and unrelated skills.
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Old 07-22-2010, 06:03 PM   #5
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I've often wondered why someone thinks the skipper of a yacht is the the person at the helm. That person is the helmsman, no more nor less. While anchoring is another matter and one can typically manage to anchor solo with a bit of running back and forth between the helm and foredeck, when given tight quarters, the helmsman (or woman) had better be good at the task at hand and the skipper of the boat had best trust that helmsman with the task.

With our boat, it would be foolhardy to give the helm to anyone who does not have significant experience with large, full keeled yachts (without bow thrusters!) though. It is a nontrivial task to maneuver in tight quarters unless one is maneuvering in calm airs and calm waters. Even then, the 11 foot bowsprit can take out an innocent bystander on the dock in no time flat.
"Do or do not. There is no try." - Yoda

What we're doing - The sailing life aboard and the Schooner Chandlery.

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