The Blue View - Turning the Boat in its Own Length

Just to remind you that we do live on a sailboat and though we're currently in the middle of the desert, we're still thinking about sailing …. We took a course when we were first learning to sail called “Basics of Bareboat Chartering”. After successful completion of the course, we would supposedly be qualified to charter a boat on our own for a week or so in some exotic place like the British Virgin Islands. It was a fun course – we actually got to live aboard our classroom for four days - and we learned a lot about sailing. One of the things the instructor taught us was torque turns, which is a technique that allows you to turn a boat 360 degrees in an area no longer than a boat length. This is a very useful maneuver. We have used torque turns on dozens of occasions to turn Cups around in a tight marinas, or to line Cups up with a slip when there was no maneuvering room.


torque turn


When making a torque turn, we depend on the boat's propeller walk to help turn the boat. Prop walk is the tendency of the boat to rotate when it is first put in gear, and is much more pronounced in reverse than in forward. If the boat has a right-handed prop (i.e. the prop turns clockwise when viewed from the stern), the prop walk in reverse will cause the stern of the boat to swing to port. Conversely, if the boat has a left-handed prop, the stern will rotate to starboard when the boat is put in reverse.


prop view


Nine of Cups has a left-handed prop, so when we put the engine in reverse, the stern of the boat has a tendency to move to starboard. To do a torque turn with Cups, we turn the wheel hard to port, then put the engine in forward. The boat will start moving forward and to port. As soon as we start moving forward, I move the throttle to idle, put the engine in reverse, and then put the throttle at about half full speed. Cups will stop moving forward, but before there is any perceptible movement backwards, the stern will start rotating to starboard. As soon as the boat starts moving backwards, I again move the the throttle to idle, shift to forward and apply half throttle. As this process is repeated, Cups will rotate in place in a counterclockwise direction. If your boat has a right-handed prop, you would turn the wheel hard to starboard, and the torque turn will rotate the boat clockwise.

There are a couple of potential complications to keep in mind when doing a torque turn. We've learned the hard way that the wind and current have a major effect on how successful the torque turn will be. For example, it is very difficult to turn Cups' bow into even a moderate wind using a torque turn. The best we are able to do is get Cups broadside to the wind while she is being blown downwind. I learned this when we had had Cups only a few months, and I was trying to get us out of a tight marina in St. Pete. We provided the evening's entertainment for dozens of cruisers enjoying sundowners at a tiki bar there. I think we could have dropped anchor between two waterside tables and bought a round of drinks while I figured out how to extract us.


windy torque turn


Likewise, if there is a current, Cups will do a very nice torque turn while moving down-current at whatever speed the water is moving. I learned this a few months later when I was trying to line Cups up with a Travelift slipway. I did a great torque turn before realizing there was quite a strong current. By the time I got us perfectly aligned, we were about a boat length downstream of the slipway.

In most circumstances, the technique works very well. When it doesn't, I'd like to devise a clever way of quickly covering Cups' nameboards. I need to give that some thought.