Tuesday, January 18th, 2011
By Chief Mate Michael Moreland
After a near perfect Indian Ocean crossing, with steady, fresh trades on our port quarter nearly the whole time, we made landfall on Ile de Reunion as the sun was setting on another beautiful day of sailing. We sailed through the night around the northern side of the island with the wind pushing us along to the pilot station, heaving-to there, precisely at our scheduled time of 10 AM. With all hands up and alert, ready to go alongside after a month at sea, we backed the main yards to hold station and boarded the pilot on our port side. Now just about one mile off the narrow entrance to the basin of Le Port, the pilot informed us of our berthing assignment. It’s going to be tight, the Captain told me casually. With the engine online and ready to go after almost a month dormant, we took in all sail and braced up sharp for our approach on Le Port.
A man-made basin was built out of necessity along the rocky, volcanic sloping northwest shore of Reunion to accommodate bulk shipping like molasses, a principle export of Reunion. Shaped almost like a street in the suburbs with several cul-de-sacs ending in terminals, we found ourselves with our berthing assignment off the main road and down a narrow winding private driveway where all the yachts go. After successfully passing through the buoyed entrance into an open area where all the side basins feed into, we initiated a 180 degree hard-right turn into a 50 foot wide opening.
Due to the Picton Castle‘s variable pitch propeller and right hand turning shaft, she does not like to turn to starboard. Since her propeller is always turning clockwise (when viewed from astern) whether she is in forward or reverse, there is always a sort of “paddle-wheel effect” that pushes her stern to starboard and therefore her bow to port, making turns and maneuvers to port much quicker and easier. This effect is much more pronounced when she is moving very slowly or dead in the water. Therefore the shiphandler will favor a left hand turn when possible. However, in this case there was no other real option then to make a tight hard right turn.
Luckily, we have a rescue boat which also doubles as a push boat in calm to light conditions. The wind was light and with Logan driving the rescue boat, the Captain placed him on our port bow to push the bow around 180 degrees. A bit of a slow maneuver with just a 30 hp outboard pushing 600 tons of ship, but eventually we got lined up nicely, with our bow pointed straight into the 50 foot wide entrance. Slow ahead with Nadja at the helm, the Captain conned us through the cut and into the long open but narrow basin. Further in we steamed until almost the end where we saw our open berth ahead on our starboard side. From here it seemed like a pretty easy approach, not much room sideways but plenty of room fore and aft, put her alongside starboard side to, just like she likes to do. But that would have put us in an awkward situation when it came time to leave in a week or so, as we would have to get turned around and pointed the right direction in a turning basin just a bit wider then our ship length. In anything above a light breeze this would be next to impossible. Easier to do it now with no wind the Captain said, the push boat warmed up and ready and everyone alert and snappy.
The Captain yelled up to me forward of his intention to pull a 180 turn to port and go port side to. I got the push boat in position on the starboard bow and this time with more help from our engine and it’s paddle wheel sideways force we spun her around with our jibboom sweeping over a few docked pleasure craft and mere feet of clearance in the stern and then put her alongside no problem. I realized halfway through the maneuver that everyone along the docks, including the rowdy dock pole-fisherman, was stopped and staring, not just at the sight of a Class A tall ship but of the spectacle of an oversize ship doing a pirouette in their basin.
Another creative and precise docking and shiphandling done by the Captain with many crew onboard taking notes and also glad they didn’t have to do it!