Boat Docking Classic event attracts the champions

Will he make it? photo by Patty Handcock
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How are your boat docking skills? Whether you have a sailing or power boat, getting safely into the dock is a serious undertaking. A mistake that you make on the ocean is rarely witnessed by anyone, but coming into the dock can sometimes be the most nerveous event of the day, potentially boat-damaging, and made more nerve-racking if there are crowds watching on.

In Crisfield, Maryland, USA, they are so keen on upgrading their docking skills that every year for the last 40 years they have held a boat docking event and it's watched by huge crowds.

On September 2, for the 41st time, the annual Crisfield Boat Docking Classic will take place again and it's very serious business. With a purse of approximately $35,000, the potential reward for entrants is high, but so is the risk. With the high skills required and the high stakes, most of the participants are not leisure boaters but full-time commercial watermen who use their boat to make a living.

Boat docking - part of the admiring - or otherwise - crowd - photo by Patty Handcock
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There are both team and single handed events. The size of teams vary, but they include a captain, dockers and a safety man, who holds the boat in place before it accelerates about 400 feet away from the dock, then heads back for the boat to be tied down. In the singles competition, one man must perform all the tasks on his own; competitors with the top 10 singles times advance to a final event.

Top contestants can dock their boats in 30 seconds or less; the record is 18.5 seconds, set by Mark Crockett.

The slightest mistake can damage the boat and keep the watermen out of work.

'It's very unnerving,' one of the participants said this week. 'You have so much at stake. This is my livelihood. I've got to have this boat. If something happens to it, it is going to cost me more than what it costs just to fix the boat. It's going to cost me a day of work or more.'

Personal safety is also a consideration. If the boat's cable breaks, the craft could become incapable of changing its speed or moving forward and backward. If the steering line breaks, it would cost 'thousands and thousands of dollars' to repair, according to Marshall.

These risks are similar to the everyday, unappreciated concerns that watermen face, according to Clint Sterling, a Crisfield native and co-chairman of the event.