The Microburst, and the Dock

Preparing to go sailing

During the summer months, we didn’t get many opportunities to take Banjo out on the water. This was partly due to work & maintenance schedules, and partly because of bit of caution. This is the tale of what happened to warrant our caution.  It is a tale of the Microburst, and the Dock experienced by the crew and guests aboard SV Banjo in June 2017.

We arrived in the New Bern, NC area in June 2017 and had originally spent a month at the New Bern Grand Marina.  Our first month was spent at “The Grand” and decided to move over and try a different marina, BridgePoint Marina, directly across the tea-colored bay.  We had gone out by ourselves only once and found that docking was fairly straight-forward and brought her back without incident.

Our second time out on the Neuse

A few days before our rental was set to expire at NBGM, we had some friends over and decided to take Banjo out on our own for the second time.  Shannon and I had discussed the possibility of combining the trip out on the water with the move over to Bridgepoint, and thought that this sounded like a great way to kill two birds with one stone.

The forecast was calling for mostly sunny skies with a 30% change of afternoon thunderstorms, with winds from 5-10 knots.  This was a fairly standard Neuse River forecast and we decided, after double-checking the weather, to go out and putt around on the river making it as far south-east as Marker #17 at the Hampton Shoal near Goose Creek.

Our guests seemed to enjoy the day and we decided not to put up any sails but to simply motor around a bit.  After a couple hours in the sun, we decided to motor back up-river, dock at Bridgepoint and head over to the swimming pool.  We began our motor back up towards New Bern.

Up ahead, a vicious-looking storm

As we rounded the bend across from the opening to Northwest Creek, it became apparent that there was a vicious sight over New Bern.  A thunderstorm had indeed moved in and the sky was a deep, dark-grey with multiple flashes of lightening and visible rain falling near the US17 Bridge.  Not wanting to put ourselves in a bad position, I decided to turn back to the south to give the storm some time to pass through.  We turned Banjo to the south-east once again and made our way down the river for the second time.

Batten down

About ten minutes passed before I realized that the storm was not blowing west to east through New Bern, but was, in fact, headed straight for us down the river.  Looking up, I remember seeing a white-wall of rainfall about a mile and a half away from us and getting closer by the second.  Shannon and I immediately began to close hatches and put down the stratoglass to prepare Banjo for a little weather.  The storm caught up with us right as the last zipper was sealed and we watched as our wind meter seemed to be holding between 10-15 gusting to 20-25 knots.

The storm catches up

The wind and rain pushed us down the river and, although visibility had drastically decreased, we were doing fine.  Not wanting to make our way too far down the river, we decided to turn the boat into the wind, which had now moved towards our beam.  We brought the bow to windward and left in a little throttle to maintain steerage and position, when the wind rapidly began to pick up.  It seemed as if it grew from 15 knots… to a sustained 25 knots… to 30 knots in what seemed like a matter of seconds.  Shannon was at the helm and when the wind reached 25-30 knots, she asked me to take over.

Holding fast

I took the helm and, not wanting to place the boat in shallow water, held her at about 30-degrees apparent to the wind.  We heard radio traffic begin to pick up as boats began speaking to each other on VHF due to being in close proximity.  There was a 36-foot sloop about a mile from us when we pointed to windward, and, as the weather deteriorated, we found that we could still make her out, but just barely.  Shannon, and our guests began to wipe condensation form the inside of the cockpit glass.  The glass fogged almost immediately in the summer heat once the enclosure was zipped.

There was a rain pelting Banjo, but we were dry inside her ample cockpit with very little problem maintaining control.  We held her there for a few minutes, with that course and speed waiting for the winds and rain to pass.

The Microburst

After waiting for about five minutes, almost suddenly, Banjo began to heel to port.  We had dropped off the wind somewhat to about a 60-degree apparent angle to make sure we didnt run into the shallows. A touch of anxiety seemed to fill the cockpit and everyone noticed this sudden shifting.  I looked over the instruments, I realized that the winds had almost doubled, putting the speed at about 52 knots apparent across our forward starboard quarter.  Sheets of rain doused the glass completely making visibility out of the cockpit impossible.

I showed Shannon the wind gauge and was able to grab a quick picture.  Look closely.  You may be able to notice the visibility outside the cockpit in the image had dropped to zero!  This photo was taken in the middle of the day.

Visibility zero, torrential rain and tropical storm-force winds

I relied on my instruments, and my mental image of where the surrounding boats had been last seen.  Although slightly heeled to about 15-degrees, there did not seem to be any immediate danger.  We just had to hold her steady and ride this gust out.  The VHF squawked a blaring “Mayday Mayday” call from some other vessel that was taking on water.  Visibility was reduced to only inside the cockpit.  Wave after wave of torrential rain slammed into the cockpit enclosure.

We hung there, barely moving for what seemed like an eternity, which was really only about 90 seconds.  One of our guests looked at me anxiously, “ummm Shawn, are we ok?”  “Absolutely!” I replied.  “We are dry.  And Banjo has hardly even moved, even with 51+ knots of wind coming over her bow.  We are doing just fine.  And you can probably go get a tattoo saying you survived a near-Hurricane on SV Banjo.”  This seemed to lighten the mood somewhat.

The reprieve

As quickly as it came, the winds fell away, back to 15-20 knots and the rain ceased in unison.  Our visibility improved by a factor of a gazillion.  We were able to see that the boats closest to us (within 2 miles) had done pretty much exactly what we had done.

I looked up river, and noticed that the dark ominous sky seemed to lighten somewhat towards New Bern.  I decided to start making our way back upstream.  Since the wind had been 30-degrees apparent as we were pointing to the west side of the Neuse River, I figured we would have a slight breeze abeam as we turned around.  Instead what we found was that the wind seemed to shift direction again and was now directly astern.  I turned to Shannon and laughed saying, “this damn storm is chasing us around the river!”  The wind was still holding around 20 knots, but it was nothing in comparison to what we had just experienced.

Turning for the marina

We could tell that the sky over New Bern was considerably lighter by that point and the sky abaft was considerably darker.  Looking out of the cockpit, we saw the 36-foot sloop we had seen earlier speeding along ahead of us and to starboard.  We were within about 800-yards and both under engine power.  So I steered Banjo in behind the other boats lead and eased her speed to maintain a nice separation.  There we went together, up the river, in a loose formation.  A small fleet that had just experienced this massive wind gust and were trying to make our way safely back to port.

We neared the US17 Bridge and the other vessel crossed under.  Banjo followed, and then made it thought the Cunningham Bridge about 5 minutes later, with the dark clouds nipping at our heels.  The winds, at this point had calmed somewhat, to about 10-15 knots.

The approach to Bridgepoint

We made our approach to the train trestle side of  A-Dock at Bridgepoint Marina.  Having never pulled in here before, Banjo was set up for a wide turn and then placed on course towards our assigned slip.  Shannon made her way up to the port-side at the bow with lines in hand.  We began to approach slowly.

The current had an immense effect on Banjo and our first pass was aborted.  I steered Banjo back out away from the dock and attempted to line up for a second pass.  There was a bit of confusion that followed because the current seemed to be fairly calm, and although the winds were still holding around 15 knots, it “seemed” as if we should have easily docked on that first pass.  Regardless, I put those questions away and carried on with our second docking attempt.

Second Attempt

This time, from the cockpit, everything looked good.  Several other boaters from Bridgepoint had appeared on the dock and looked as if they were ready to take in lines.  I eased off power and we were only going as fast as I felt comfortable “hitting” something.  Banjo seemed to hold her line of travel.  From my perspective in the cockpit, it looked as if Banjo’s bow had crossed into the slip.  And I was busy making minor corrections to her path.  I heard a couple voices from the dock, followed by Shannon’s, saying that I should back out and try again.  I was befuddled.  From my perspective, we were practically in the slip.  What I didn’t know was that I was still about 2.5 meters short and moving too slowly to maintain steerage.

The Dock, bumps and bruises

I put Banjo in reverse and, in typical Banjo fashion, she began to walk to port as we had just made contact with the rub rail on the dock.  I brought the helm to starboard and added power, but Banjo did not correct to starboard.  Instead, she turned abruptly walked her stern to port and before I could make any other moves to fix it, we found ourselves laying across the back of on of the neighbors transoms two boats over, completely frozen in place.  There was a large trawler next to our slip whose bowsprit had gotten trapped inside Banjos standing rigging.

Banjo was at a dead stop.  I added power and tried to turn to starboard, but Banjos bow moved to port.  I turned the helm to starboard and tried to back out to starboard, but Banjo insisted on staying over to port.  Shannon, our guests, and now the other boaters engaged in pushing the other boats to keep Banjo away.  Several of the other boaters offered suggestions and we tried them all.  But nothing seemed to help fix this precarious situation.

Cole to the rescue

Finally, one of the other boaters, Cole from SV Hooligan, who was helping to push to keep Banjo off of the other boats asked if we had a bow-thruster.  I answered that we did.  He said, “turn the thruster on and push your bow to starboard until this damn thing is clear.”  I immediately reacted to follow the other captains advice and saw Banjo’s bow start to move slowly to starboard.  That dark water  and gusting wind seemed to be helping pin Banjo against the dock but once she moved about 20-degrees, I added power to get Banjo moving again in the right direction.  We pulled away from the dock and my pucker-factor at this point was about a 11 on a 10-point scale.

Clear of danger

Finally, we were moving again and clear of danger.  Steering back to open water, it took a few minutes to try to get lined up for another pass.  The boat owner we had bumped came outside and sounded their air horn at us.  Perhaps thinking we were leaving.  We shouted across the water that we weren’t leaving, but just trying to figure out how to get in safely.  It was at this point I became concerned.  I did not seem to have a good understanding of how Banjo moves.  More-so, why she was not responding to starboard in reverse.  Sitting in the bay, we turned and I decided not to attempt another approach to the slip at this point.

I decided it would be better to see if we could make it safely to end of the dock, commonly known as a “T” dock.  If we had problems getting on the “T,” we would be further away from other boats.  This could help prevent any damage to other boats.

Time To Regroup

We made our way back towards Cunningham Bridge and decided to approach into the wind on the T-dock.  The water remained choppy.  Reading the current, however, proved difficult..  The wind and the current were coming from different directions.  I approached into the wind and many other people had poured onto the dock to assist.  A couple began shouting instructions from the dock.  We followed their advice bringing Banjo towards safety.  I can honestly say that “nervous” did not even begin to cover my state of mind at that moment.  I had already pulled a “bolter” on one approach, had completely screwed up another.  We now had everyone’s full attention, yet I was sure I was going to make another mistake.  My only hope was that no one got hurt and nothing got damaged.

Making the lines fast

Shannon threw our lines ashore as we approached the dock, which were immediately caught.  I saw them slip loops around the cleats.  And felt Banjo was now under control as we inched forward slowing to a stop.  A huge sigh of relief was heard inside and outside of the cockpit and the lines were made fast.  There was chatter amidst the other boaters.  After shutting the engine down, both Shannon and I made our way to the port side of the boat.  I immediately introduced us, “Hi. We are Shannon & Shawn and we are your new neighbors.”  ” If anything was damaged, anything at all, we will be glad to have it fixed.”  There was a slight chuckle at this and the other boaters began to introduce themselves.

The boat owners of the other boat had already checked and there was no damage.  Banjo obtained a slight scratch to her gelcoat, where we scraped against the boat’s outboard motor.  But no one was hurt and there was no other damage.  After getting Banjo hooked up to power and adjusting all of the lines again, we got to know our new neighbors.  All of which seemed to be great, great people and they welcomed us to BridgePoint Marina.


Addendum: One of the other captains approached me the following morning.  The captain informed me that we had had a stout current the day before.  In addition to the wind, docking on the train trestle side of the marina was notoriously tricky for those who had never docked there before.  “The problem, ” he explained, “is that there is a current that comes around a jetty of land that accelerates near the pump-out dock.”  This was directly in-line with where our slip was located.  “The problem you had, ” he continued,  “was that the wind and current were doing two different things.  “And you couldn’t see what the current was doing because it was being masked by the wind.”

A little practice getting to know Banjo

I gratefully agreed when he offered to help us get Banjo into the slip.  He took us out and showed us anything important factor of Banjo, and any heavy single-screw boat.  “The trick,” he said, “is that you can go to port just from prop-walk.”   He continued, “but the ONLY way you will ever get this boat to reverse to starboard is to have speed.”  “You must have water moving over the rudder.”

It had never occurred to me that the problem wasn’t what Banjo was doing.  The problem was that I did not understand how she moves in reverse.   Cole demonstrated that in order to turn to starboard, Banjo would have to be moving well in reverse FIRST.  Reduce power to remove the prop-walk.  Finally, only then would turning the rudder to starboard allow her to turn.  We practiced for awhile before we finally brought Banjo into the slip safely.

Read More of our boat life adventures here!

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3 Thoughts to “The Microburst, and the Dock”

  1. Cole

    feel free to use my nams

    1. Sailor

      Revised and added

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