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How NOT To Leave The Dock

A few years ago, I’d just finished a long, dirty, exhausting, fuel-tank-related project on Betty Jane when I decided to pull a goofy stunt. Because making sure the project had been a success required taking on fresh fuel, I started rushing around precipitously—the fuel dock would close in minutes and I simply had to get there that very evening.

Capt. Bill Pike

Off I went, firing up the diesel, tossing off lines, and, in my haste, failing to do three critical things. First, I didn’t remove the sunscreens from Betty’s windshield and side windows, a mistake that just about nixed sightlines from the lower helm. Second, I didn’t try the engine control on the flying bridge to make sure it was working properly—after all, it had always worked before. And third, I didn’t make a general assessment of the situation—I was tired, alone, and the wind was whooping across Betty’s transom at a solid 15 knots.


Before departing any dock any time, first test your engine controls to make sure they work.


Make sure critical components (like window screens) are stowed properly prior to even short-lived excursions.


Sometimes it’s better to wait—don’t be in such a gosh-danged hurry.


Before I had the last line off, Betty was halfway out of her slip. And by the time I’d climbed the ladder to the flying bridge she was midfairway, rapidly bearing down on an array of bow pulpits downwind.

“No problem,” I assured myself nonchalantly, while spinning the wheel to make a sporty, 90-degree turn. But then—tragedy! As I went to shift into forward gear to lustily juice the turn with the throttle, I found the gear lever frozen. Yikes! No forward gear. No reverse gear. And Betty was now almost into the pulpits!

More tragedy soon befell me. After descending to the lower helm at the speed of light, I discovered that, although the gear shift worked there, the only sightline I had was the one that went through the saloon’s back door, now flapping open in the wind. It was just enough, though.

I accomplished a dicey, half-blind turn and then made my myopic way to the fuel dock where, after a nerve-wracking tie-up, I discovered a machine screw had simply fallen out of the engine control on the flying bridge, thereby disabling the thing. Replacing the screw fixed the problem.

This article originally appeared in the December 2012 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.