Three Ways to Dock a Motorboat (Part II)

Continued from: Three Ways to Dock a Motorboat (Part I)

The first way was – as you hopefully read in the previous post – with precision. Well, the second way is…

The Second Way: With a Bang

Or How to Get Confused by the French

To dock a boat with a bang takes a bit more effort than the first method. To begin with, it requires involvement from somebody else on shore (although I suppose somebody else in the same boat might do just as well).


The important part is that you have to take instructions from somebody who – you think – knows what he’s talking about. It helps if this person is talking in French and your French is on the under side of minimal; it makes it much easier to misunderstand him.

We had taken a small motorboat – just big enough to seat the four of us – a long way down the River Rance in France (the same River Rance on which a handful of jolly French day-trippers had introduced the kids to folk music) and now we were coming back to the pier where we hired it from.

I was driving. I brought the boat round in a beautiful arc aiming for the empty berth between two other boats, lined it up at an ideal angle and reduced speed. The scene was that of peace and rural beauty: the river ruffled by small waves, the light breeze on our cheeks, the fluffy white clouds ambling across the azure blue sky above and the people being so French on the terrace of the riverside café… And for the first time since I last drove a dodgem in the amusement park at age fourteen, I was driving. In short, to paraphrase Voltaire, all was well in this best of all posssible worlds. As for the rest of the family, the kids were thinking about how to wheedle a second ice-cream out of us after landing while Mr Anglo-Saxonist was enjoying being a passenger, without a care in the world…

Unlike the French patron of the motorboat hiring company who for some unfathomable reason was shouting and waving his hands in an agitated manner on the pier.

At first I ignored him. Whoever or whatever he was worried about, it wasn’t me. I mean look at this perfect line of approach! And the speed was just right too. The Frenchman, however, was evidently not happy.

As we approached, his excitement seemed to increase. Slightly nettled, I looked around to see who he was getting so worked up about but I couldn’t see anybody. There were several boats towards the middle of the river but unless he was terribly squint-eyed, he could only have been addressing himself to me. I began to pay attention to him. Not that I could understand a blessed word he shouted but his hand gestures seemed clear enough: he wanted me to slow down.

This surprised me a bit (being a naturally cautious person driving my first motorised vehicle and with the kids on board, I was driving quite slowly) but I assumed he knew best and I reduced speed a bit more. Strangely, this resulted in even more vigorous hand gestures and an agitated bobbing of his head. I took it that I was still too fast, and throttled back a bit more. More shouting from the Frenchman – he was now practically tap-dancing on the pier. He couldn’t possibly want me to reduce speed further?!… I stole a glance at Mr Anglo-Saxonist but he seemed to think all was well. We were quite close to the pier now but the current was against us; it seemed impossible to reduce speed any further without losing steerage way and failing to reach the pier altogether. But there was nothing for it; the Frenchman was clearly very excited. Distinctly nervous now, I reduced speed even more and…

…and duly lost steerage way.

I freely admit that at this point, in addition to losing steerage way, I also completely lost my nerve. I mean here we were being swept away backwards right towards another boat coming up the river.

After that, everything happened very fast. Instead of treating the throttle with the gentleness I’d used up to that point, I shoved it well forward. The increase of speed was gratifying, and sure as hell I had steerage way again. Unfortunately the pier was still looming directly ahead and we were charging towards it like a Greek galley intent on ramming the Persian flagship in the straits of Salamis. I turned the wheel hard and we went around in as tight a circle as the boat was capable of. White water foamed under the gunwale. It would have been really quite enjoyable but for the fact that there was not enough space to turn. The stern of our boat whacked hard against another boat moored by the pier. It was a good, solid, loud bang and all the people on the terrace of the riverside café took a lively interest in it (not to mention the patron on the pier). And then we were past the pier and out in the middle of the river with enough space and to spare.

I reduced the speed to something more fitting to a boat driven by a landlubber with her kids on board. Wisely, Mr Anglo-Saxonist refrained from comment.

After a while, having calmed down sufficiently, I decided to approach the pier for the second time. This time the Frenchman stood absolutely stock still; Lot’s wife in the book of Genesis had nothing on him. Free from his interference, I docked the bloody boat in exemplary manner, without so much as bumping the pier. He took the painter without a word and helped the kids to climb out. I thought of all the French words I didn’t know to try and apologise for bumping two of his boats together… there was no way. I slouched off in silence. The kids had to wait for their ice-cream: I didn’t have the nerve to brave the looks of the people in the café.

After we were some distance from the river, Mr Anglo-Saxonist remarked in a conversational tone: “You were doing quite well until you decided to go round.”

“The bloke on the pier didn’t seem to think so,” I said grumpily. “He kept shouting at me to slow down more.”

Mr Anglo-Saxonist looked surprised. Unlike me, he can speak French. (In a fashion.) “Er…” He cleared his throat. “Actually, he was telling you that you were doing fine and keep her like that’.”

I took some time to digest this.

“The patronising bastard,” I said.

The Third Way

Oh, the third way… The third way is not something we had tried so far. It involves getting it right the first time.

I’ll let you know when we managed it!

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7 thoughts on “Three Ways to Dock a Motorboat (Part II)

  1. Jajaja, no puedo ayudar pero preguntarse por qué señor Anglo-Saxonist no te ayudó entender lo que el francés estuve diciendo.

    Oh, ¿y lo que quieres decir cuando digas la gente estuvieron estando tan francés? No tengo mucha experiencia con esa cultura fuera los Estados Unidos.

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    1. Pues creo que verdaderamente no le ocurrió a mi marido que yo estaba confundido por el francés hasta que se lo expliqué. 🙂
      Y lo que quiero decir con que los franceses eran tan franceses… jaja, no estoy segura que puedo explicartelo si no tienes una idea en la mente ya. (Especialmente en español.) Tienes que viajar a Francia… y recuerdas que ¡es sólo una broma!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Chris Robb

    As a seasoned sailor and Royal Yachting Association Yachtmaster, the story had me cringing as much at the lack of correct use of nautical jargon as the lack of sailing skills!
    So paianed was I that despite being well-written and delightfully humerous, it failed to crack my granite jaw into a smile.
    I shall begin to address myself to your nautical education a step at a time.
    Lesson 1.
    “I took the painter and went outside,”
    One never goes “outside” or indeed downstairs or upstairs on a vessel. It’s below or on deck. If it’s a small motorboat with a cuddy or a cabin, you could perhaps say, “I emerged from the cabin”.
    Lesson 2.
    Never leap ashore. It will lead to disaster. A seasoned sea dog steps ashore or drops onto a pontoon or jetty or climbs onto a harbour wall. But they never leap. Things at or beside the sea (or any stretch of water) are inevitably more likely to be wet and slippery than ashore, and leaping imparts momentum, which is the enemy of wet and slippy.
    I shall now go and seek solace in a book with the appropriate level of genuine nautical jargon to soothe my jangled nerves. Perhaps a chapter or two of “A Manual of Heavy Weather Sailing” by Jeff Toghil.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. At least I knew the word painter! 🙂 I will reconsider the wording of the illbegotten ‘outside’ although it wasn’t really a cabin this boat had… it only had a… I don’t know, a windshield like a car’s in front with a tent-like whatever set up over it? I looked up cuddy in the dictionary in the hope that that’s what it was but the dictionary told me a cuddy was Scottish for a donkey or a stupid person. I clearly need to buy a nautical dictionary!

      But I’m very disappointed to learn that I shouldn’t leap – they always seem to leap daringly in the various films! (With a sword between their teeth too in some cases!)

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