The gentle art of mooring

We have long been amused by mooring techniques adopted by the French, ever since we were in Corsica. We were in the port of Calvi, in a marina berth, when a boat came hurtling in, sails flapping, the guy on board crying “no engine”, as his boat crunched into the pontoon of the berth beside us. He tried a line onto his bow, tied it to the cleat on the pontoon and went off. That’s how we remember it.

I sometimes wish that we could be a little more French in our attitude – I don’t mean by being prepared to mount a pontoon, or t-bone your way through a marina – but, perhaps I mean in being a little less British about things. I am sure it’s been through the course of the sailing qualifications, but there’s a routine, a discipline about it. Many a time have we quietly tutted to ourselves if someone leaves port with their fenders still dangling over the side. It is considered very bad form, in a British judgement, although I have no idea why. In France, no one cares, or judges. “Where will we moor”, is one of the most stressful parts of sailing – will there be room, will we be rafted, will it be a catway, will it be into the wind – many things that trip through the British psyche. All things you want to know, so that you can be prepared, and execute manoeuvres without incident or raised voice. The French just don’t seem to carry the same level of anxiety, and that’s why it would be better to be a bit more French.

We, Brits generally, approach a mooring with all available fenders out, set to the height you believe to be right for mooring – high to protect the toe rail if you expect to be rafted, lower to pontoon height if you’re expecting a berth. We have our lines tied. Bow, stern, midships. All prepared, and neatly laid out so that you can easily step off with a coil, throw a coil, or if you’re me, the bow trailed down the rails so that once ashore you can simply pick it off and secure as quickly as possible. There is a routine, a rhythm which gets you ready to arrive. Our friend Rachel won’t leap ashore. If Chris hasn’t brought their boat close enough, they go around again. All of it very British.

None of this seems to enter the French psyche. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not sure that I want to stray very far from being prepared. The French have a very different approach. They have fenders, mooring warps, but not often do you see them actually deployed until after the boat has stopped. The weapon of choice seems to be a boat hook, so that you hook a passing cleat, which acts as a brake. Invariably it relies on someone, a stranger, on the shore, to hold the boat as the crew find the ropes, chuck them ashore and then think of securing them to the boat. It is completely different. Once in berth, every fender seem to come out, and they carry a lot of them. I actually believe this is as defence against other boats mooring, rather than in the protection of their own boat in their art of mooring. The other thing they seem to do, is approach at great speed. Startlingly so. We have seen so many people t-boning pontoons, and other boats. I’m not going to tempt fate by writing what I’m thinking…

Our guide book warns of the habits, and in part advises to be a bit more relaxed about mooring. The funniest is an entry about the French ‘catway’, or finger berth. These tend to be about 2/3 our boat length, suitable for most French boats (which are smaller, and lighter). The catways are short, and extremely bouncy. The writer warns not to jump onto them, as the danger is that you just get bounced back off. Which is the moment of hilarity to a woman on a French boat, when I was standing on the catway with a line, and Pete leapt off to assist, nearly ricocheting me into the water. At home a finger berth is a nice to have, but here, am not so sure! It is fascinating watching at the best of times as people come into harbour, but in France, it is even more exciting. Someone told us of a boat causing chaos (I can’t remember where we were), having mounted the moored boat, causing some damage. Apparently the cavalier boat went around again, trying to come alongside, but was being repelled, until it was understood that he wanted to give details of the ships papers and insurers. It usually ends with people as friends, but Pete has often muttered that he should check the French for “what is the name of your insurance company?” Let’s hope that we don’t need this anytime soon.