Dock-line Duty

2 AM September 13, 2014 (55o 27’N 6013’W): Hopedale Dock

It is 2:00 in the morning and I’m taking my turn at watching and adjusting the lines and fenders between Lillian and the jetty at Hopedale. Peter and Eli are asleep. The night is clear with  “puffy” clouds and a gibbous moon. One of the workers in town said that tonight would be a good one for the northern lights, but unfortunately I have not seen any. The predicted storm has passed and the winds have dropped to a calm 20-25 knots. Despite this relative calm, the lines securing the boat to the massive stationary granite dock need to be repeatedly adjusted, as the tide rises and falls seven feet every six hours.   

Thursday afternoon we were still pressing hard to get to Hopedale in   time to weather the storm. As nightfall approached, we were still over 30 miles and the path to Hopedale a convoluted “inside” passage threading through an archipelago of islands. Given that the storm was not predicted to arrive until late the next day, one option was to spend the night at the  anchorage Windy Tickle, which was on the route, and then complete the passage to Hopedale at first light. With that in mind, we continued towards Windy Tickle, but with the wind against us, three hours of darkness had already passed by the time the entrance to Windy Tickle was near. At that point, we decided to adopt Pete’s suggestion   to press on through the night to get to Hopedale.  

Without the GPS, chart-plotter, and accurate charts, continuing to Hopedale would have been virtually impossible. Visibility was poor in a cold drizzle and the few navigational aids along the way  are not sufficient to negotiate the various turns and narrow pathways between the rocks.  With the aid of the electronics, navigation was as easy as  a slow speed video game, requiring only that the helmsman attentively follow a dotted line on the screen, specifically designating the safe course to Hopedale. After each having taken a damp turn at the helm, we arrived at Hopedale at three in the morning (Friday Sept. 12) and dropped anchor, with the lights of the town a glowing along the shore, less than  a mile away . 

By  9:30 the same morning, the winds were already above 35 knots. The storm was arriving early. With a sudden sense of urgency, we raise the anchor and motored straight towards the harbor in the hopes of finding a dock to secure the boat. There were two docks shown on our  chart, but both indicated a depth of only 3 feet at low tide. Lillian draws six. As we approached, Pete got on the radio and contacted the local Canadian Coast Guard station asking for information on the docks, while Eli and I carefully motored up to one of the docks with the Forward Looking Sonar measuring the depth. The sonar indicated plenty of depth, which the   Coast Guard confirmed,  going out of their way to help us out.

Confident that there was sufficient depth to pull along side, we circled around for a landing while preparing our dock lines. Two sides of the dock were obstructed by small boats and mooring lines, but the west side was clear. With winds predicted from the northwest, a west side tie-up was not optimal, in that the storm  would be blowing Lillian up against the pier, but given the alternative of trying to maintain an anchor in sustained winds over 50 knots, the pier looked like a gift.  By 10:30,  Lillian was secured to the pier.  With the winds now above forty knots, she was already pushing hard against her fenders and the 10 inch  vertical columns of hard rubber fenders integrated into the dock.  Through the afternoon the storm increased in intensity and the boat pulsed up against the pier as we anxiously adjusted the lines and fenders in an attempt to distribute the load and respond to the changing tide.  

At some point during this onslaught a  three foot section  of the beautiful wooden railing along the starboard side of the boat separated and splintered.  In addition to the dismay over the damage, the immediate concern was that if the side loads on the boat were   strong enough to splinter the railing, other damage might follow.  In response, Eli went off into town and returned with three used tires which we added to the fender collection to  more evenly distribute the load. Having done the best we could to buffer the boat and with no place else to go,  we had little choice but to wait and watch as the storm eventually moved on.  In retrospect, the damage to the rail was most likely caused by a notch in  the vertical hard rubber columns integrated into the dock. As the tide dropped and the wind pushed the boat against the fender and the lip of the railing must have gotten hung on  the edge of the notched cut.  Once hooked, the railing was unable  to support the 30,000 lbs  weight of the boat as the tide went.  Confidence  that the damage was not due to side loads relieved the concern about the stresses on the boat, but not the concern that something else might get damaged,  so  even under the calm conditions, we maintain a tight watch schedule  to  adjust the lines and look for potential problems.  As badly as I feel about the railing, I also feel grateful that that was the only damage sustained. The railing can be repaired, but  if we had  not pushed through on Thursday night, the early arrival of  the storm on Friday might have caught us by surprise in transient through the inside passage from Windy Tickle to Hopedale, with no place to hide.

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