Having “the (dock) talk” with my doctor

First the doctor told me the good news.
I was going to have a disease named after me.
-Steve Martin

March/April 2021

By David Roper

I had assumed it was just a routine checkup. So I wasn’t particularly nervous. Plus, I really liked my doctor; we were beginning to become friends. Plus, he’d been reading my books and this column. Writers really like that. We don’t often see our audience.

And so I sat on a narrow paper-covered vinyl table in the examination room. And waited. (Have any of you ever NOT waited longer than expected in that little room?) A nurse finally came in, saying she needed to do some “vitals” and also an EKG. I was fine with that; it’s fun watching the nurses get frustrated when those little sticky electrodes (or whatever they are) keep falling off my ape-like chest. Anyway, we did it, and she hurried out.

I waited. My doctor arrived, holding a clipboard. (I know, you’re wondering at this point what all this has to do with a boating magazine.) Stay with me. So the doctor sat on a little stool. He was not smiling. “Boy, do I need to talk to you,” he said, looking down at his clipboard. My mind raced back to the EKG, my “vitals” tests and . . . well, my world stood still.

“Just give it to me straight,” I croaked.

“Boat docking,” he said, finally.

“Excuse me?”

“I’ve been wanting to talk to you ever since I read something of yours. It was either in your last book, or in Points East. You wrote ‘Most boaters don’t have the foggiest idea how to dock a boat. But that’s another story for another time.’ Well, this is that other time.”

Who am I to argue with my doctor.

“Well . . .” I said. And I began to explain to the renowned man the nuances of docking: how things can really go wrong; how I learned the art of great docking from captaining small ships; how this method applies to any sized boat; how it’s all about physics; how you only need one docking line (a spring line) while docking; how you don’t need anyone on the dock trying to catch lines (I guarantee that they’ll drop them anyway, or your toss will be short or they’ll yank the boat in too soon); how you should dock into the wind; and how completely unnecessary bow thrusters are, especially on small boats. I explained the dangers of “traditional” docking – putting someone on the bow, and how they can slip and fall when jumping between the boat and the dock. And also how if they throw the bow line to someone on the dock, and that person cleats it too soon, the physics of it all will make the boat’s stern swing out away from the dock and out of reach of the stern line.

The good doctor looked at me inquisitively. “And?”

“Okay, so imagine using just one line, tied to a cleat amidships, the other end can be spliced in a loop, tied in a loop or just be a loose end,” I said. “You slowly pull up alongside the dock, stop the boat amidships near a dock cleat or bollard post, have your crew or even yourself (I’ve done this alone many times) step onto the dock, holding the end of the line. When stepping ashore (easy, as you’ll be at the widest part of the boat and hence closest to the dock), drop the loop onto the bollard post or tie the line to the cleat. No need to worry, the boat can’t get away now, as it’s tied with the spring line. The rest is pure physics. If the boat is, let’s say, docked port-side to, put the engine in gear at idle and turn to the right. The boat will have no choice but to flatten itself against the dock as it tries to move forward and away. Then leave the boat in gear at idle. No worries again. The boat will happily stay there forever or until it runs out of fuel. Then take all the time you need to rig bow and stern lines. You already have your spring line rigged.”

“Got it,” my doc said. “No questions.”

“Well, I have one,” I said. “What about my EKG?”

“Oh, that?” He looked down at his clipboard and smiled. “It’s fine.”

Look for David Roper’s forthcoming book, “Beyond Mermaids . . . Life’s Tangles, Knots & Bends.” It’s a sequel to “Watching for Mermaids,” a three-times bestseller available on amazon.com.