Walking the Docks at Night

Different marinas have different sounds at night. Down below and forward in the vee berth, a fast running tide divided at the bow sends water gurgling by on both sides of you, and sometimes a bit of debris bumps along as it passes. If the air is warm and stale and  you’ve opened every hatch and porthole to encourage even the slightest breeze, all the sounds of a new place are let in too. They come alive when the sun is down. They come out like nosy cats –lurking, sniffing, looking in– curious about your boat and you. You hear them walking all around –on the docks and then on deck.

There’s a constant metallic “tinkling” (like wind chimes) from the forest of masts. There’s the occasional thunk, clank and bumpity-bump bump. What sounds like a garden hose pouring water into the sea is either a bilge pump –or an actual garden hose– pouring water into the sea. It runs for a while then stops, runs for a while then stops. The dock lines strain and creak.

The path to restful sleep becomes lost in the symphony of boat slips at night.

Eventually, you give up wanting sleep and go topsides to walk the docks under the stars. You observe the culprit fenders (“bump-bump …bumpity-bump-bump-bump”) and the loose halyards (“slappity-slap-slap” against metal masts) and then, a few boats further down, a handsome wooden dinghy tapping against a not-so-handsome (near dilapidated) wooden ketch.

Welcome to the neighborhood, a foreign place of familiar habits.

Walking further along, accustomed to the sounds by now, you’re become more interested in sizing up the personalities of your new dock neighbors. Initially you weigh in one man’s choice of a cutter versus another guy’s ketch. Or a pilothouse canoe stern versus center cockpit or a catamaran. You look to see whether lines are neatly coiled or still lying where dropped in a madman’s heap. Rust weeping from portholes in combination with lines neatly stowed indicates the likelihood of a veteran sailor having just come in from someplace far.

As you go along (“thunk, clank, bumpity-bump-bump, slappity-slap-slap” and the tinkling wind chimes sounds of masts), you draw what conclusions you can from boat names –from what they say and also how they look –painted, stenciled or decaled– across different transom shapes.

Perhaps you have to be a boater yourself to appreciate the slightly teetering and bobbing festival along the docks, an odd, open-air cultural experience combining music, visual art and at least a bit of poetry sometimes. 

—Tim Bryant
   Surf Director at Pineapple Hill