A true story from Pat Egan, our honorary secretary.
Coming into Leixōes, near Porto in Portugal we berthed at the reception pontoon whilst waiting for our own berth to be assigned. In the interim I took a Dutch boat’s lines as he entered his designated spot. I then accepted, a little too hastily, the berth we were offered by the young receptionist – it looked good on the map in the office. Returning to Aragorn my heart sank as I realised how narrow the fairway was and that I had to squeeze between two fifty footers with little or no room to manoeuvre.
No harm in having a look-see I thought, and we motored cautiously down the ever narrowing fairway, our 12 metres extended another metre by our dinghy hanging out of davits at the back. As we reached the spot it just didn’t look as if we could make the swing onto the finger. However, my new Dutch friend was standing by waiting to return the favour. I couldn’t swear to it, but while his presence gave me some reassurance, I think my decision was more governed by stupid pride and rash bravado.
Arrogantly I spurned my last chance to reverse out to safety and I turned to port
towards the finger.
It was of course impossible!
I knew it now.
From his horrified expression, the Dutchman knew it too.
People strolling the pier knew it.
The people enjoying their sundowners in the cockpits of boats on the opposite side of the fairway knew it as they scrambled for fenders and boathooks to fend off the crazy Irish boat.
The population of the Port of Leixōes gasped in unison, a sound worthy of a missed 82nd minute penalty decider in Lansdowne Road. (Okay, I might have imagined that bit!)
In the lame hope of mitigating the damage I slammed Aragorn into astern. I had no hope of avoiding a collision, but I figured if I could reduce my speed, I’d at least be able to cut down on the repair bills.
Before I go any further, for the sake of anyone who might know as little about boat manoeuvring as I did at the time, let me explain a thing called “Propwalk”.
You can probably understand that when your propeller starts spinning it takes a moment to overcome the boat’s inertia. However, during this moment the propeller is spinning, and it causes a slight sideways movement of the back of the boat in the direction of the propeller’s rotation. This movement is called Propwalk, and it tends to be more pronounced in astern. In most boats the kick is to port, but in our case it’s to starboard.
So there I was, stumbling towards disaster, attempting a desperate last-ditch reverse, trying to watch my bow and stern simultaneously, and somehow achieving 360-degree vision for those few moments – my head spinning like a character from “The Omen”. To add to this my oversized Irish flag unmistakably identifying the stupid Paddy to the dozen or so onlookers, who felt more like a capacity crowd at a rugby international.
So what happened? Aragorn’s propwalk skewed her impossibly to starboard, our stern swung out, with my “Omen”-ic vision I watched the ensign of the cruiser berthed on our right gently brush along the tube of our dinghy on our stern, while at the same time I watched my bow jerk away from the expensive 50-footer in front of us, just enough to miss it by a quarter inch or so, and the starboard movement was barely enough to lift my port side off the stern of the 50-footer on my left by the same amount.
An instant later we were perfectly aligned for our berth. Luke Skywalker couldn’t have done better.
A nudge of forward and Catherine passed a line to the now open-mouthed Dutchman.
I didn’t hear the cheers and applause, because there wasn’t any, but even had my imaginary packed stadium burst into a ten-minute ovation I doubt I’d have noticed; I was too busy focusing on the new and very immediate problem of the need for fresh underwear!
Have you found yourself in an embarrassing situation and got away with it? Send us your story: email@example.com