Thar she blows!

If you live up the coast and especially if you live ‘on the water’, you need a boat. If you have a boat, you pretty much need a dock. 70% of residents have docks, 20% use community docks and 5 or 10% use ‘lines’, anchors and floats and then they just make-do. Virtually no one has a boat totally exposed to the prevailing winds (SE) altho a few boats temporarily at anchor might make the mistake of anchoring in that direction and then, when there is a major storm, they either move the boat or just worry the whole time.

So, from that paragraph just written above, you’d think that most people can relax in a major storm. NOT SO!!

Of the aforementioned 70% barely 5% have so-called legal docks. Most folks have temporary docks (which makes them legal) but the definition of temporary is the lack of pilings, dolphins or other fixed elements that keep the docks in place securely. And safely. The vast majority have docks that are really just large floats. Those floats may be anchored and tied with lines-to-shore but they do not have fixed-point pilings or dolphins. When a major storm hits, these dock/floats move around. A lot!!!

Today, a lot of temporary docks all up and down the coast are leaping, jumping and dancing wildly.

Our neighbour’s dock (the one on which we rely for our boats) is leaping like Mikhail Baryshnikov on a mechanical bull. It is crazy wild over there. We should know – we just came back from checking on it. Holeeee!!!

Because the float is essentially just anchored, the lines get tight and get slack as the wind and seas change from minute to minute. The ramp which ties the float to the land is swinging fifteen feet to the North on a strong gust and then ‘bounces back’ an equal amount South when the wind abates. Our ramp was describing 30 foot plus arcs down there.

When the ramp is going left and right like a windshield wiper (albeit a lot slower), that means that the dock way out at the end is moving even more so. And, while everything is moving sideways, it is also leaping up and down. One minute you can see an anchor line get taught and the next you can see that line disappear under the water while the line on the opposite side is as tight as a bow string. What actually keeps all this ‘flotilla’ together is, of course, just wet wood, ropes and cables. Some ropes are new and strong (but small) and others are old and thick (salvaged hawsers) but they have weight and the weight dampens the shock.

If you want to dampen the shock on the lines properly, you put kellets half way down the line. A kellet is a weight and at least 30 pounds is ideal. Flat sheet steel is even better (heavy and with surface resistance). They make the line just that much heavier and, if used with a ‘bottom’ anchor, it also improves the pull-angle. Kellets are good and we have them on the critical lines.

The true weakness in the ‘temporary float’ system is that the dock-float is usually made of wood and the lines are tied to wooden cleats and/or frames. The ropes can take a lot more force than can the actual wooden float unless it is very well engineered and even then….

The advantage of temporary dock floats is that you do not need a permit (a bureaucratic process designed and administered by demons and cretins), it is cheaper to install and the property taxes don’t include them as an improvement. Why? Because in concept the float is just a different kind of flat-boat at anchor. And then smaller boats tie up to it. Boats are not considered improvements.

The disadvantage is that it is just not as safe. In fact, our dock comes apart every year at some point or another. At least once. The rope breaks, the wood comes away, the anchor moves, the lines somehow get tighter and looser. Temporary dock/floats are permanent work. But the upside is the demons and cretins are happy.

Today, we are experiencing a real test of our dock/float system but it seems to be holding. Rather well, actually. Sal and I, on the other hand, returned to the warmth of our wood stove after half an hour of being diligent about checking on it but we (poor babies) got kinda wet and cold. A half hour of that was enough!

9 thoughts on “Thar she blows!

  1. Wind is always a danger for the float cabin. We have four steel cables anchored to the shore rock wall. They are anchored below the high water mark which is part of our water lease. The rocking motion can break the cables or the bolts drilled into the rock wall. To help reduce tension on the cables John installed large steel belted tires in the middle of each cable run. They dampen the wild swings. My first time home alone at the cabin I lost two cables in a nasty storm. Since then (20 years), we’ve only lost two more during a storm, old cables we left in place too long. John is going up tomorrow to check on our cabin for us. Hopefully all will be well. – Margy


  2. Hmmm.
    A Kellet.
    I know a guy with the same last name.
    A heavy, inert object tied to something useful that drags it down is a very apt description of him.

    The wind in Burnaby has been slowly and inexorably increasing all day.
    Supposed to peak around 6 or 7pm.
    Blowing and POURING right now.
    The streams and rivers are full. Not sure where all this water is going……..


  3. Storms
    I have a 100ft out of 5/8″ studlink chain @4# a ft attached to a 360 # anchor, im in 20 feet of water in one of the most sheltered lagoon on the coast. The first gust hit so hard this am my anchor chain was all off the bottom, leaning the hull so much that trapped air bubbled out from under. The second gust tore my sternline out of the rocks with a bang and somehow wrapped around my outboards leg? How?? When on a boat ” if it can happen it will” is my living motto, I plan always and nature brushes that away with alarming regularity. Only 23 knots but from constantly shifting directions. Nice to know I got the anchor set proper last effort. I sit inside in 21c heat from woodstove admiring the storm go by.


    • Very good to know the anchor was holding and that your wine-time was not cancelled. Tragedy averted. But it does sound like Murphy paid a visit…..the stern line snapped back and wrapped itself around the outboard? That is strange, even for us.


  4. Is there a means to increase the size of your ‘Gallery’ AND dispense with the arrows that take up most of the field of vision? It would have to be fairly simple as I’m a fairly simple (computer wise) individual.
    Am fascinated by your weather experience! We (North Okanagan/Shuswap) Have yet to experience anything worse than minus 2 and went over 4 weeks with NO precipitation. If it weren’t for the calendar I’d swear we were experiencing Spring! Time to get the cauliflower seeds out.


    • I’ll ask Sal to play around with the gallery. I kinda lose my patience quicker. Today, the seas are a mill pond. A duck causes the only ripples. Everything is calm (unless I try to mess with the gallery). We’ll get on it. But it is still winter here. The temp is OK but geez, the grey mist can get a smidge oppressive and the almost biblical rainfall can be a bummer when out on the water. Still, we are good and getting through the winter by burning a lot of wood and trying a few new recipes.


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