Have you noticed how the best sailors seem to put in the least effort!
I taught an Advanced Docking class a few weeks ago, and one of the class participants made a comment that showed a lot of insight! “It’s more about finesse than force!” That is so true.
When I first learned to do a fairway turn, the shifts came hard, fast, and furious and nearly always involved too much throttle which in turn led to another hard shift and too much throttle to correct. As my skills have improved, I find myself only shifting a couple of times during the turn using just enough throttle to hold my position in the fairway. As long as the boat is doing what I want (turning while staying in place) I do nothing. I jokingly tell people that I’m basically a lazy person and don’t want to work any harder than I have to.
The same is true about every aspect of sailing. During the first day or two of Basic Keel Boat, tacks are accompanied by knees, elbows, and arms flailing. By day three, things happen much quicker and smoother.
The best “docker” knows exactly how far it takes to turn the boat and exactly how much speed is required for best rudder control. Coming down the fairway, she sets the required speed and when she gets to the required turning point makes a simple easy turn. Then, knowing when to go into reverse (most likely without added throttle) allows the boat to ease to a stop just before the end of the slip.
All of this requires you to know the boat. How much speed is required to obtain rudder control in varying wind conditions? How far does it take to turn the boat 90 degrees to port and/or starboard under varying conditions? What are the effects of propeller rotation (prop walk and wash) in forward and reverse? Start getting this knowledge during the check out on that boat. But, that isn’t enough … every time you take a boat out practice a couple of basic maneuvers. Test for minimum maneuvering speed, bring it to a stop, back it up, fairway turn to the right, fairway turn to the left, what happens in forward if you let go of the wheel (please don’t let go of the wheel while in reverse … bad things happen). All of this will take only a couple of minutes.
One last thought. Any time you see one of those sailors that make it look easy … WATCH! You will learn so much, and before long, it is you others are watching!