17th December

Pontoons and harbour walls, and the joys of sharing

Norman Kean

In the last two editions of Inshore Ireland, I’ve written of marinas and visitors’ moorings. Filling the gap between the two extremes, as it were, are pontoons and harbour walls. A modest pontoon provides a wonderfully convenient berth for a visiting yacht, not to mention its short-term use by local boats.

10.2yourview marina

Greencastle - a little crowded, but rafting the yachts all together helps! Photo Geraldine Hennigan

Step-ashore facilities are not only handy but a good deal safer than scrambling into a dinghy. The pontoons in Cork City, Sligo and the Layby in Galway add a whole new dimension to cruising – step off the boat right in the city centre.

Courtmacsherry is transformed by its 36-metre pontoon. Baltimore needs a marina, but meantime its pontoon makes a vital difference. Dunmore East, Sherkin, Foynes, Rosmoney, Mullaghmore, Rathmullan, Portrush, Rathlin, Strangford and other places around Strangford Lough now have these excellent facilities, and many more places could benefit from them, while Dungarvan Sailing Club’s pontoon, though it dries out, still provides welcome berthing for a visitor.

Key components

These are facilities that can be provided at modest cost in many places where circumstances conspire to make a marina development unlikely, and they are a key component of any marine infrastructure plan.

Pontoons ought to be managed, and that needn’t mean paying a full-time attendant. But visiting yachts expect to pay for the berth. In many places, a harbour wall is the best thing available. And here, the skippers of leisure craft should exercise great sensitivity.

Some stretches of harbour wall are plainly out of bounds to them; others may be available with permission. Sometimes there’s an opportunity to raft up. And harbour walls, and rafting up in particular, offer endless opportunities to the unwary for making a bags of things.

Alongside the wall, don’t hog the steps. A yacht rafted up to fishing boats (or indeed other yachts) should always be prepared to put her own lines ashore, and not throw the additional strain on the inside boat’s warps (unless of course the inside boat is many times her size).

Rafting sense

The key to rafting up is courtesy on both sides, good fenders and (above all) a willingness to be up and about at short notice to lend a hand when the inside boat – leisure or commercial – wants to leave. It is bad practice to raft up to boats that are smaller and lighter than yours, and good seamanship dictates a limit to the size of a raft. Be careful that as the raft moves, it doesn’t collide with an adjacent raft, and anticipate the effect of changes in wind and tide.

All this is the standard advice provided to leisure skippers. Regrettably it isn’t always followed, but that is best treated as an opportunity for a little education. With courtesy and consideration, every day’s a schoolday. And I’d have to say that I am constantly gratified by the welcome and help extended by the fishing community to their hapless fellow-sailors in leisure craft.

It should also go without saying that a boat on the outside of a raft should be sure of enough water to float her at low tide – it’s often deeper next to the wall, and small fishing craft usually draw less than a typical yacht.

The situation has boundless possibilities for farce, and has been an endless source of inspiration for veteran cartoonists like Mike Peyton.

Watch your depth

Once upon a time, in a deep-keeled yacht, we were rafted up to a Galway hooker at Kilkieran pier in Connemara. The hooker’s crew turned up in the morning, going out to race. We offered to cast off and back out, but they said no bother, just undo the stern and we’ll slip out. So they did, and then we backed out. Or we would have done, had we not been hard aground, 20 feet out from the pier with the tide falling.

It’s the only time I’ve ever rowed an anchor out in the dinghy, attached to a halyard, and hauled the boat down away from the pier. We got some funny looks, right enough, as she dried out, to which the answer was “unorthodox, but quite secure.”

Every day's a schoolday....

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