James Stevens answers your Questions of Seamanship. This issue - with a fouled prop, can the crew sail back to Cowes in a 10-knot westerly and pick up a mooring without incident?


Chris, Pete and Steve have set out from Cowes on their annual cross-Channel trip.

They are on board Compass Point, a 32ft fin-keeled Najad 320 owned and maintained by Chris. Chris holds a Yachtmaster Offshore certificate and the rest of the crew are experienced sailors.

There is a 10-knot westerly wind and because they left a bit late, they decide to motor against the wind to take advantage of the last of the favourable ebb tide westward to the Needles before turning south.

Soon after engaging the prop, there is a clunk 
and the engine stops.

Chris looks over
 the side. The end of some polypropylene line is floating near the transom. The rest 
is presumably round the prop. Without 
an engine, there is no chance of beating 
to the Needles before the tide turns and floods at around 4 knots.

Steve looks at the shipping and thinks 
it’s a real emergency and fully warrants a Mayday call.

Pete thinks the best option is 
to sail back to Cowes, 
pick up a mooring and phone the marina. The problem with that idea is that if the marina sent out a boat and arranged a lift in the hoist, the cost would be well over £100.

Continues below…

Marina with boats with engine

How do we sail into this berth?

James Stevens answers your Questions of Seamanship. This issue - how to come alongside without an engine in a sheltered…

Chris has realised that any hope of getting across the channel that day has gone and that Cowes is the best option.

There is the 
Town Quay which he knows can be used 
by yachts which can dry out against the
 wall. They would have to pick up 
a mooring until high water and sail alongside.

Compass Point will dry out safely against the wall if he can sail it there. The Town Quay is in a tricky place with the wind from the west. Is it possible?



James Stevens

James Stevens, author of the Yachtmaster Handbook, spent 10 of his 23 years at the RYA as Training Manager and Yachtmaster Chief Examiner

Yes it is possible, but it’s
 not for the faint hearted
 and you have to be a strong, confident sailor. The crew has to be well briefed.

As the approach is to windward, you have to keep the mainsail up as long as possible but have it ready to drop instantly.

Set a small jib. Set up the fenders and warps and approach from the south on port tack, tack on to short starboard leg giving just enough boat speed for the final approach, which will be almost head to wind, starboard side to.

Let the main halyard go just before arrival.

If it goes wrong and you need to get out, it is much safer with just a jib. Bonkers? Well, in summer, fleets 
of keel boats do something similar in West Cowes every Saturday.