My Best De-Docking Yet!

Man am I proud to tell this story.  You all know what a stupidly frightening part of cruising docking has been for me. I’ve shared many times on this platform my worst fears in cruising.  Number one has to be hurricanes—the sickening feeling that everything we’ve worked so hard for could be wiped out with one callous sweep of Mother Nature’s hand (although I could never blame her with the unforgivable way humans have absolutely ravaged this earth).  Number two, however, used to be docking.  And, I do hope you noticed the phrase “used to be” there.  While I still think Phillip and I have a perfectly admirable healthy fear of docking, after this last voyage to the Bahamas, I think I finally knocked docking down a rung or two where it now resides under heavy weather sailing and running aground.  Number five is running out of booze.  Always has. Always will be.  

Ahoy crew!  When I last left you here on the blog, Phillip and I had just experienced our best and worst days on the trip in Bimini, Bahamas. Well, I have to admit this docking day would probably rank up there as well, at least in one of the top five best days of our trip for sure.  It was when we de-docked after staying five days in Bimini.  (And, I’ll admit I’m not even sure de-dock is a true word, but it’s an acclaimed one here at HaveWind, respected, revered, and used often!)  

Phillip and I knew, when we arrived in Bimini, that it was going to be a while before we could leave.  The GRIBS were telling us it was going to blow a hard east, southeast, upwards of 18, 20, even 25+ mph for days.  As leaving Bimini to travel anywhere else in the Bahamas would be a no-fun bash to windward, all five boats on our finger pier decided to stay in Bimini for a week to let the winds die down. And, this was no setback by any means. Bimini is a fun, funky place with several little restaurants and bars, good grocery stores (I mean, good for the Bahamas). If an island gets a boat in every week with fresh produce, you feel like you’re in heaven. There was also a stunning bluewater shore on the north side of Alice Town.

I would also be remiss if I did not mention Joe’s Conch Shack in Bimini. The fun “friendly” place, the sign says with a huge conch pasted on some even huger boobs. Yes, very friendly. But, honestly, they were. We had the honor of meeting Joe, himself, who told us his tale of how he got into the conch salad business, the many years he spent making conch salad roadside as well as table-side at fancy events, and all of the “running around” he did. “I’ve got twelve wives and fifteen kids,” Joe said. “I did my running around.” Ha haaaaa. Love that guy. And, watching him dice an onion into pieces smaller than my pinkie nails without even looking at it will blow your mind. I’ll be he’s cut somewhere north of a million onions in his life.

While it was howling, Phillip and I were grateful for the time it afforded us to really explore Bimini and immerse ourselves in the island culture. And, thankfully, when it blows, we know we also have another fantastic activity option: kitesurfing.  I will say, that is one of the best things about being a kite-surfing-cruiser.  Usually sailors like to sail in winds of 10-15, often downwind in the direction they want to travel, but we all know it’s not very often those two things happen: wind in the right speed and the right direction.  So, for many cruisers, days of winds of 20+ that would be on the nose, force them to stay hunkered down in their boats with little to do on the water. 

This is one circumstance where being able to kite-surf truly gives Phillip and I an exceptional alternative. When the wind is too rough to sail, it often lends us the perfect conditions to tear it the *bleep* up on the kite!  And, we do get a lot of looks from folks in the marina, biding time in their cockpits, wishing the wind would die down, watching us walk back and forth with all of our kite gear and, if they can see us on the water, watching us zip and slide while riding the kite—often with a face of envy.  I will not lie in saying Phillip and I kind of like that face.  It reminds us how much the work and investment we put into learning how to kite and acquiring the gear to be able to take it with us on the boat so we can kite while cruising was 100% worth it.  

In Bimini, we were lucky to have an awesome dock neighbor, Justin, docked right next to us at BlueWater Marina who turned out to be a professional photographer with some high-end equipment. He and his sweet girlfriend, Rosie, spent a couple of very fun afternoons capturing photos of me and Phillip kitesurfing, offering us some of the best pictures Phillip and I have ever seen of ourselves kitesurfing, and we were super grateful.  And, it seemed a fun way for them to pass the time on the dock while the wind was hammering us in Bimini.  Many thanks to Justin and Rosie for these amazing kitesurfing photos!

But, when many cruisers are waiting for the winds to settle down so they can make the jump to the next location, they often all seize the same weather window to leave.  When the forecast finally showed a lighter south wind day, all five boats on our finger pier decided to leave the following morning—some headed east toward Nassau and beyond, others headed west across the Gulf Stream back to the states.  The next day we were all gathered and walking the dock early, ready to help toss lines and make sure each boat got off safely.  I love that comradery and generosity among cruisers.  

The first boat off the dock was a Catalina 42 on the farthest dock out near the channel.  The winds were blowing a light ESE not expected to have much effect on the boats so we were all anticipating fairly easy shove-offs.  That was the idea anyway … 

NOTE: No boats were substantially harmed in this de-docking or the remake.

The Catalina came off the dock no problem.  With five hands on the dock helping to ease the boat out, everything was going very smoothly.  The captain then began to back the boat up a bit further and turn his stern to his left (the north) so he could then shift to forward and navigate his way out between the two finger piers.  

As he was backing up, however, the wind and current was clearly impacting him more than he anticipated.  The captain and his mate were waving and saying goodbyes not quite aware of how quickly his port side was nearing the dock.  Then we heard him shout, “The wind’s got me!” when he realized how far his boat had drifted toward the finger piers and pilings he had just escaped.  

Everyone on the dock immediately began running either to the stern of their own boat to fend off or to the end of a finger pier and we all began pushing on the Catalina anywhere we could—the toe rail, stanchion posts, the stern.  It was like a human assembly line working the boat off the dock at each contact point.  

And, despite a few light bumps, our team of five was soon able to get the boat moving safely back in the middle of the aisle between the finger piers.  

Whew! we all breathed collectively.  

Next up to leave was the Benneteau to the right (south) of Plaintiff’s Rest.  This was the boat owned by Justin and his lovely girlfriend, Rosie, who had taken our kitesurfing photos.  Phillip and I and the rest of our de-docking team were up on the dock and ready to help them with their lines.  Thankfully, again, everything went smoothly as Justin exited the slip.  He started backing up and turning his stern to the north to navigate his way out.  I remember someone saying, “Alright, this one’s got it.”  To which I responded: “It’s not over yet!”  

I didn’t mean to jinx them but, unfortunately, just as the Catalina captain had done, as Justin and Rosie were farewelling and saying goodbyes, Justin’s Benneteau was drifting perilously close to the dock.  When Justin realized how close he was, we all could see the whites of his eyes as the folks on the dock ran through the same drill we had just been through, fending the Benneteau off at every stern, finger pier, and piling we could reach and—again—it took a five-man team to keep the bumps light and get the boat moving safely again.    

Having watched both of those boats de-dock, I knew I was in for it.  Phillip and I had decided at the beginning of this trip that we were going to split helm duties 50-50.  It didn’t matter the conditions or if the various entrances, anchorages, or docks seemed trickier than others, if it was “your day to helm” it was simply your day to helm.  Sailor up and grab the wheel.  

Well, today was my day. 

After we saw the first two boats bump their way out of the marina, Phillip asked me if I wanted to let him take the boat off the dock that day and I said no.  I had to man up.  This was our deal.  And, I did feel much more confident in my de-docking skills at that point.  I mean, I haven’t side-skidded into a tiny slip with cross winds and current … yet, but I had done my fair share of some backing up and maneuvering—even in tiny spaces where the docking was not super easy.  Marathon, FL was one example where I had to make several circles before I could get turned the way I wanted to and docked on the fuel dock, and I felt in control and calm the entire time.  Primarily, I was now much better at using thrust, forward, reverse, and the rudder to move the boat the way I intended.  There was no getting out of it.  It was my day.  But, I did have one condition: “I want that beefy guy on the dock helping when we leave,” I told Phillip.  

That beefy guy is Scott. He and Heather from www.cheapasstravelers.com on s/v Amun-Ra, a beautiful 37-foot Endeavour, cruise with their incredibly well-mannered dog, Jetson.  

They were a lot of fun to hang out with on the dock while we were in Bimini and they’re both cockpit-fitness gurus, which Phillip and I can appreciate.  Cruising is a lot easier and way more fun if you’re fit, and they both definitely are.  But, with the number of boats left on the dock dwindling and Scott having shouldered the brunt of the boat-shoving that morning, I definitely wanted to leave while he was still there.  So Phillip and I checked the fluids, cranked, and readied the boat to leave while we still had some strong hands on deck for help.  I didn’t want to need the help, but I darn sure wanted it there if I did happen to need it.  

Thankfully, the docking debacles of the previous two boats that had just left had taught me a lot.  They are both able captains and were just surprised by the swift force of the current in the marina.  I definitely had the benefit of hindsight and experience. The lesson was: back way the heck up before shifting to forward and throttling my ass off to get out of there. That was my plan anyway.  And, it was one that would have served me far better had I done that during my most memorable (and emotional) de-docking: my first one, where I almost ripped one of our shrouds off and suffered a teary come-apart afterward.  If you haven’t seen that awesomely-raw footage, please feel free to view it, the first video in the article, here.  You’re welcome.  

I was not going to make that mistake again.  Nuh-uh.  No way.  Not Captain Annie.

I kicked it in reverse and the 2-3 folks left on the dock helped our boat off and tossed Phillip the last of the lines.  I kept backing up, backing up, and backing up, until I could see the whites of Phillip’s eyes worried I had gone too far.  I could tell he was trying not to say anything, but he finally caved. “Don’t go back too far,” he said.  But, I have to tell you I relished in this moment.  

There have been many times where Phillip was at the helm, and I was at the bow, feeling unsure of the boat’s movement, what hold the conditions may have on it, or whether Phillip had the control I desperately hoped he did.  And the reason I did not know any of that is because I was not at the helm.  Holding the helm tells you everything you need to know about how the boat is responding.  In that moment I knew.  I knew I needed to go a bit further back and I could feel the minute I put it in forward, the boat was going to start lunging back toward the piers on my port side.  It’s hard to explain, but I could just … feel it.  “Just a bit more,” I told Phillip.  “I see it,” referring to the boats and piers I was coming perilously close to behind me.  

When I felt I had got as close as I safely could to the finger piers behind me on starboard, I then threw her in forward and gunned the shit out of that thing.  

Brandon would have called me a “throttle jockey” and boy was I one that day! I’ve never throttled that thing so hard!  I revved her up, threw the wheel over hard to starboard, and rocketed out of that marina without hitting a thing.  

Scott, Heather, if you’re reading this: while I’m so glad I didn’t need you on the dock that day, I’m so grateful you were there.  This one goes out to all the cruisers who have run to help a struggling boat while docking or de-docking, because you know that is going to be you someday and you will want every hand on deck possible to wrestle your boat to safety.  

It was a pretty cool feeling that day to be the first boat that didn’t bump on the way out (thanks mostly to experience and hindsight, that always helps) and to be the only female among the boats that had left from our pier so far that day to do it.  Rosie the Riveter would be proud.  Phillip sure was too, grinning from ear to ear as we pulled out into the channel in Bimini, unscathed. Whew! Another de-docking behind us.  And, Heather from CheapAssTravelers was conveniently walking around at the north tip of the island, where we kited, as we motored by, and she snapped a few pics of us heading out that day.  Thank you Heather!  

Despite my small accomplishment in successfully de-docking, however, I cannot claim the Most Badass Female Award that day.  Ironically, while I thought it was quite a big deal I had got off the dock without a scratch—with five hands helping and a two-member crew—we later learned another female that morning had de-docked entirely alone, while traveling single-handed, AND sailed her boat solo across the Gulf Stream back to the states.  I mean … damn.  

It was such an honor to meet Jessie from Kate and Jessie On a Boat which was a very popular series in Bob Bitchin’s Cruising Outpost magazine in 2017.  Jessie is now married to a right and witty English chap named Luke, and the two of them had just completed their first Atlantic circle as their honeymoon which they concluded in Bimini.  Yes, you read that right: first two-crew offshore ocean-crossing + honeymoon. I mean … Yes, I had to keep saying that when I was around her.  Jessie is just so stinkin’ impressive!  While Luke had to ferry back to the states to check in, Jessie sailed herself ALONE across the Gulf Stream and into Miami.  She cracked me up with her reasoning: “I’ve sailed across the Atlantic Ocean twice, and Luke was asleep half the time, so I’ve practically crossed the Atlantic alone. I’m sure I can do this.”  That girl.  This one goes out to you Jessie, and your incredible feat!  You can follow Jessie and Luke’s continued adventures at www.instagram.com/jessiebrave and www.onaboat.net

We’ve got more fun Bahamas stories and lessons to share here with you next time at HaveWind.  Next up, we make our way across the Grand Bank and have one of our biggest scares and wildest moments (of course they happen at the same time) outside of Andros.  Stay tuned!

More photos from our time in Bimini – enjoy!

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6 Responses to My Best De-Docking Yet!

  1. Pam Wall says:

    Wonderful wonderful!! Annie and Phillip! I just love your adventures!! Soooooo proud of YOU!!!

  2. Thom says:

    Nice graphics! I like the puff of smoke in particular, nice touch!

  3. warren149 says:

    Annie, There’s a time to be cautious and a time to be bold and you certainly nailed that one! I did actually wonder if you might have gone out in astern the entire way but I don’t know what the wind was doing or how your yacht goes in reverse.
    I grew up sailing a boat with a long attached rudder that could not steer in astern for love nor money so that had never been in my kit bag but I was amazed years ago in Holland when a Dutchman backed his 30′ yacht right out of a very long dock with boats all double and triple rafted up on both sides and barely a boat width to fit and he went straight out with nar a scratch or touch. I learned then a new respect for a fin and sked hull design. Something I now practice in open water when I’m on the helm of a different yacht.
    Cheers Warren

    • anniedike says:

      Thanks Warren. Yes, I had a pretty good idea of how the winds and current were going to push me having seen two others before me maneuver in the same situation. That was very helpful. But, we’ve also faced a situation where the wind grabbed our stern and pointed our nose the exact opposite way we intended and Phillip just gassed it backed her out of the ‘aisle’ in complete reverse. We got some looks, but hey, we got out safe! Thanks for following!

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