The Blue View - Fender Boards

fuel jetty Some of the most interesting places we've visited also had some of the roughest piers and wharves to tie up to. Hobart, Tasmania is a good example. The downtown wharf is a wonderful place to visit, with great old buildings, a plethora of pubs and chandleries, and a wonderful seafaring ambiance, all within walking distance of the waterfront. Unfortunately, we were required to tie up to a commercial wharf with pilings that probably dated back to Flinders' visit in 1798. Lying against the rough pilings, especially with the large tidal swings there, would have been a problem for our topsides and varnish had it not been for a couple of fender boards.

fenderboard with tire

Fenders are the inflatable bumpers that are hung from the sides of boats to protect the topsides from getting scratched or damaged at a dock or jetty. They work well when lying against the typical marina jetty or pleasure boat dock. They are, however, pretty much useless when used to fend the boat off from a commercial wharf or jetty. They aren't wide enough to stay between the boat and a piling, and may be chafed and ruined by a concrete wharf. Some wharves have huge tires attached to them which provide protection for ships and large fishing vessels, but which are much too large, coarse and dirty to lie against a sailboat. Attempting to use fenders when tied alongside these huge tires is not a good idea either. With harbor surge and tidal changes, the tires will likely snag the typical sailboat fender, and may break the line holding, it or even rip the stanchion out of the deck. In addition, the usual tar, muck and oil deposits on a commercial wharf will quickly coat those pretty yacht fenders with a sticky black residue, which will, in no time, get ground into the boat's topsides.

fender board illustration

Fender boards are large planks of wood that are suspended between the boat's fenders and those nasty commercial wharves. We have two dedicated fender boards that have kept Cups' topsides reasonably intact at dozens of some of the nastiest wharves and docks you can imagine. We also have three more planks that are primarily used as supports for our fuel cans, but could be drafted into action as fender boards should the need arise.

To make our fender boards, I started with two 2x10x7 (50mm x 250mm x 2.1m) planks. I drilled a couple of 3/4” (18mm) holes in the planks about four inches (~100mm) from the ends. Then I cut four 8 foot (2.4m) lengths of ½” (12mm) line and attached them to the fender boards using bowlines.

better fender boards

One of our friends has a much better method. He started with the same type planks and drilled a 1-1/2” (37mm) hole about three inches (75mm) in and three inches down from the upper corners of each plank. Then he drilled a vertical 3/4” (18mm) hole from the upper edge of the plank and down to the 1-1/2” hole. The line was fed down the vertical hole and pulled out the the 1-1/2” hole. He tied a stopper knot in the end of the line and pulled it back until the knot was taut in the hole. It was more work, but there was no possibility of the line chafing against the piling, whereas in my version, the bowline might rub against the piling.

Before deploying the fender boards, we make a reconnaissance of the wharf to determine where, how many and how high we need them. Marcie attaches the fenders, then secures the fender boards in place. We use either two or three fenders behind each fender board, depending on the wind and surge.

fenderboard in use

The next part of the plan is for me to maneuver Cups to within a foot or so of the wharf and come to a stop while Marcie lassos a cleat or two. Rarely do I manage this. More often, I come to a nice stop 8 feet off the wharf or I come in too close and snag one of the fender boards on a tire or piling while still moving forward with interesting results. We've provided entertainment in a variety of exotic places around the world, but eventually we get tied up.