How to Stop a 630' Great Lakes Freighter on a Dime




About: Hi everybody! I'm a Great Lakes District 2 ship pilot! As a result I don't have many other instructables to offer.

At glance it may not look as exciting as the twisting river of the Cuyahoga but, today we are going to land the guys on the end of the dock at Marblehead Ohio.
I can't emphasize enough how difficult this can be. Today is an extremely rare calm day. More often than not, the wind and sea make this a damaging approach.
Keep in mind, you have only a single bow thruster and a rudder that only goes 45 degrees in either direction.
This is your mission, good luck!

Step 1: Chart Time!

We are going to approach the dock as the same angle of the dividers. The tip of the dividers is where the target is.

Step 2: Small Boat Saturday, Yuck!

As always, check for traffic and hazards. Today is a Saturday so everybody and there mother is out fishing. (On a side note, the best fishing is actually done ONLY in shipping channels and directly in front of moving freighters! I bet you didn't know that!)

Fishing tricks to be aware of: 1.) the guy who turns his back to you and pretends he can't see you, 2.) the guy who pretends he doesn't have a 2 way radio and wont answer you (this is also the guy who calls for a radio check every 10 minutes anywhere else) 3.) The sail boater who drives everywhere with his engine BUT, keeps his sail up, on purpose, thus giving him the right of way. 4.) the guy who really does have his back turned to you, sees you at the last minute and gives himself a heart attack trying to pull start his engine.

Slow down, be prepared. Every dot on that radar is a boat. You are the fuzziest of the dots with the heading line coming out, pointing at the tip of the dock.

Step 3: There She Blows!!

You are steering right on the end of the dock and getting close, fast! better get that speed down or you will pay for it later. It looks like we are a small mile, I want to slow down, but, I can't take all day to get there either and I really don't want to explain why it took so long to my office.

Let's figure 4 - 5 mph.

Step 4: Game Face in 4, 3, 2, .........

Let's discuss what we are really doing. If you look carefully between those boom cables, you will see 3 adult male heads (to give you a sense of scale). We have to get a 6 foot space on the boat (where they are standing) over the only available 8 foot of space on the dock in which to lower them. If we go faster than .8 mph, we will, in all likely hood, blow by the end of the dock, missing the opportunity. If that happens we have to back up. However, the stern will wrap around the dock, the wrong way, depending on wind and current.

In short, it gets ugly fast around here! We are landing the guys on the dock, by the way, because there is nobody else to tie the boat up.

Step 5: Please God Let This Go Well.

Ask the mate up there how much further ahead to go. Thrust the bow in until you can't stand it anymore. Do it to soon though, and you have yourself a nice big hole in the bow! This will be the longest 200' of your life!

Step 6: Hang on Tight, It's a Long Way Down!

Start yelling the phrase, "Send them over as soon as you can!" take the rest on faith. This is also a good time to put the rudder hard right. We want to keep the stern pressed into the dock as much as we can. We still have to turn 90 degrees and when that happens, all bets are off!

(1/2 mph now)

Step 7: There's No Turning Back Now, We Own It.

If you were thinking about bailing out at this point, forget it. This boat is only going one place. It also behooves you to do a good job in that, right now, directly over the bow is the Marblehead C.G. station. Don't hit them!

You may also think you have it made at this point, you couldn't be any more wrong!

Step 8: If It's Going to Go's Right Now.

So close, yet so far. We have both the deck hands down, that has to count for something? Doesn't it? Not really. Do you see how water flows through the open cells making up the dock? That's all current going through there, generally moving from left to right. It blows you right off the dock. If you have any kind of East/ North East wind you will break your 1" thick mooring cables (~ 5000.00/ a piece) like a wet noodle. Boy I've done that before! It makes a horrible sound too!

Step 9: Why Me God?

And right on cue, there goes the stern. We still have the rudder hard right, I'm going to blast the engine and see if I can get the stern to come in. Too much engine and you just keep driving her ahead into the beach. If you back up you continue away from the dock.

Step 10: Wow, You're Good at This, Good Job!

Our plan worked, this time. The deck hand is able to get the cable and no one was hurt. (My buddy lost the tip of his thumb here a few years ago, yuck!) you know what kind of paper work that is? see: C.G. 2692 if your interested. enjoy these summer months, November will be here before you know it! It's the exact same process but with twice the sweat running off your forehead.

TIP: In November/ December, make sure your deck hands take there cell phones and wallets with them. Many employees have been left behind (don't worry, we get them hotels right away) in bad weather. The boat comes off the dock so fast they can't get up the ladder!



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    12 Discussions

    Isn't a Dime difficult to see while at the bottom of a lake? So, how would you know that you stopped on a Dime? What if it's a Quarter? Half Dollar? Just kidding, I have a hard enough time getting my 24 foot boat in and out of the slip.


    4 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks for sharing. I've been really enjoying your series.


    4 years ago on Introduction

    this and the stuck in the ice story are both a fun read. thanks again for sharing your stories


    4 years ago

    i dig your ibles...... the closest i have come to what you do daily is handling the wheel of a 600' helo carrier while in the U.S. Navy, pulling into San Diego. But once we got close to the dock the tugs took over. Fair seas and safe sailing mate!


    4 years ago on Introduction

    It is cool to see how things like this are done, even if very few of us would every have the opportunity to try it.

    Running Wolf

    4 years ago on Introduction

    I've lived by the Jersey Shore and on the Great Lakes (Cleveland/Erie Area). The Great Lakes have storms come out of no where, they might not last days like a Nor'Easter but for the hour or so they last they spawn some nastier weather.

    My hat goes off to the folks sailing for a living on the Lakes.


    4 years ago on Step 10

    Nice write up, and I would like read one on your winter docking.

    I actually live closer to Marblehead than Cleveland, but have never taken this sight in. I guess I have something to add to my summer activities! What is the logic behind building the dock like that? This is a fabulous series - thank you again.

    1 reply

    Yes, being from Toledo, my dad used to bring me there all the time as a little boy to climb on the rocks. It's wonderful in the summer. To answer your question, there's sort of two parts to it. First and foremost, it's the cheapest way to build. It's also very simple to make a circle out of the pilings, fill it with cement and be done with it. The second half is, it doesn't stop us from going there. The mentality becomes one of, "You did it yesterday, so....". The poor Great Lakes take a massive beating when it comes to infrastructure. Some of these docks haven't changed in 60 years, the docks are dilapidated and sinking in, there are jagged rocks, poison ivy, mosquitos, skunks, etc. The deck hands have to drag the 1" cables for 200' sometimes to find a mooring cleat. Thanks for the gracious comment.


    4 years ago on Introduction

    You guys would be surprised, you could do it. It is very scary at first, especially that first day you go on your own. But, it becomes easier over time, you learn what to anticipate and you know what's going to happen next in most cases. You have to learn to drive aggressively and with a lot of intent. Dealing with crabby crew members and the office is far more difficult than the actual driving part.


    4 years ago on Introduction

    This "Great Lakes Freighter" series is way-cool. I will never, ever pilot (or captain) a freighter, but it is really fun seeing a glimpse of what it is like running one of these behemoths. (Plus, what happens if "never say never" comes about - I'll just run to these 'ibles and have a tiny start.) ;-)

    Thanks for the insights.


    4 years ago on Step 10

    just need a freighter now and ill be all set or maybe I can ride with you