Finnish docking


To the editor: Taking delivery of your dream boat is a great experience. It can also be a challenging day because you need to learn how to operate it effectively. A few years ago my husband Con and I had that experience with our 51.5 Nauticat, Big Sky

We had toured the world looking for the “just right” boat before finding her in Finland at Nauticat. Once the Baltic Sea thawed, we leased out our 5,000-square-foot home in Calgary, Canada, gave away most of our possessions, packed up the can’t-part-with-items and arrived in Turku, Finland. Con, born in the Netherlands, had sailed most of his life. This was a first for me. Con and I met in 2004, and he introduced me to his wild and crazy dream — and I was about to learn what it was all about.

Bright and early we tossed off the lines, setting sail to Nagu, Finland, a nearby island — our get-the-kinks-out sail. It was spectacular with cool April breezes and smooth narrow waterways. Our Gill foul-weather suits kept us warm in the cockpit along with the northern sun rays. Finland’s raw nature unfolded around us. The only sounds were water slicing at our bow, and the occasional calls from cormorants, gulls and swans. Nearing the marina, we spotted orange buoys about 50 meters from the pier and approached them cautiously. A metal ring sat on top of the buoys and, quite frankly, neither of us had a clue what to do with them.

“Look! I see another boat,” I called out. “It appears to be clipped at the stern with … well … a fireman’s hose and a long stick-like hook.”

We eyed a buoy, slowed down, circled it and then lined up for it, all the while pondering what we’d do when we got to it. I hauled out our 200-foot heavy anchor line and dragged it to the bow. For the next 45 minutes, I attempted to thread the ring like a giant needle while lying on my stomach, stretching my arms down as far as I could. I couldn’t reach it nor could I coax the line through it. I sat up and shook my head at Con. He was rubbing his chin between his index finger and thumb, thinking, “Okay, we’ll back into it.” 

Using the control, I dropped the back gate while Con backed up to the buoy very slowly. I leaned over the water further than I believed, possibly hoping to grab it. No luck. We lined up again — missed. Third try, I got it, threaded it and pulled the line back through the fairlead, handing it to Con. He fed it slowly while motoring to the pier. With lines ready at the bow, I signaled with my fingers that we were 2 meters from the pier, using my sketchy conversion: One tall man equals two fingers (two meters). I was taught the Imperial measurement standard in North America.   
Busy readying the bow ladder to climb down with our lines, I noticed a lone man standing on the pier with a large lensed camera around his neck wearing, well, a bird-watching outfit. He called to me through a bug screen attached under his Tilley hat, “Did you just sail here from Canada?”  

I didn’t mean to be rude, only realizing much later that I didn’t answer him, totally engrossed in the docking procedure, ensuring the lines were under the rail, redoing them and securing them to the cleat. Yes, ladder attached, one finger to the pier, “Okay, stop Con!” Ah, what’s a half-meter? “Back up Con!”  

“Toss me the line,” Bird Man said.  

Suddenly my ears recalled what he had been saying, I tossed. He looped the lines like a pro, handing them back to me and stood still waiting for my answer. “Oh, um, no, but this is our first Finnish docking.”

He lifted his camera, click, and left. 

Big Sky at the dock on the Finnish island of Nagu. Sprenger and her husband Con were a little slow in making the stern line fast to the buoy, only discovering later the boat was equipped with the proper reel and line.

Barb Radu Sprenger

Thirty minutes later, a 36-foot sailboat approached. We pulled back the pilothouse curtain to watch. They motored alongside the buoy, and the woman stepped out of the cockpit holding a long hook with one end attached to … yes, a fireman’s-style line, neatly wound around a reel secured to a side rail. At mid-ship, she casually clipped the hook to the eye of the buoy and returned to the cockpit, handing the slack line to the man who was still motoring forward. As the line fed from the reel, the woman walked slowly forward, pausing for a moment to observe swans fly overhead. Reaching the bow, she stepped to the pier, pulled down the lines and tied them, pulled down the coiled electric cord and plugged in before climbing back aboard. 

Con and I were still peering through our windows, analyzing their maneuver, when they waved to us from their cockpit. “Hello Canada!” 
We stepped out and waved back.  “We’re getting one of those fisherman lines,” Con said to me in a whisper while waving. 

“And hooks,” I added, smiling at them. 

Our return to Turku was on glorious beam winds, after which we biked seven kilometers to a marine store. We bought a reel and line and mounted it to the boat, but we had so many other tasks to complete on our new boat, like V-berth storage.  

I balanced the heavy mattress with my shoulder and pulled the board aside. We both burst out laughing. On top of the whole lot of tarps was a never-used fireman’s line and reel! 

Later I waved goodbye to Con as he cycled off to the store, balancing the repacked line and reel to be returned.   

—Barb Radu Sprenger is a freelance writer and retired founder of the Kids Up Front Foundation of Canada. Since 2007, she and Con have visited 53 countries while living aboard Big Sky. Barb’s book, Sailing Through Life, can be purchased through Amazon, and their sailing adventures are available on their website:

By Ocean Navigator