In the days of sail, how did large boats make it in and out of busy ports without powered tugs or other powered assist?


In the days of sail, how did large boats make it in and out of busy ports without powered tugs or other powered assist?

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Before advanced sail systems, boats had rowers.

But later on they had a much more complicated system of sails and ropes that allowed them to maneuver out ports. They also used their anchors to lean the ship in the directions they wanted to go to.

Sometimes, they didn’t. They used tender boats to transport people and cargo to harbor, because it would be too dangerous.

sometimes, they used row powered tugboats, or the technique of “warping” , where your boat rows out with the ships anchor, drops it, and you then pull in the anchor chain and pull the ship towards the anchor.
other times you didn’t go alongside a quay, but moored off the shore and used rowboats and barges to move goods and people to the shore.

other times, you were just reliant on the tides of the river or bay to pull you in or out of the harbour, and everyone sailed or entered port at the time the tides allowed you to. Everyone was going the same direction at the same time, which made deconflicting between boats easier.

I once had the privilege of being in a sail boat where an elderly highly experienced sailor dropped all sail except the jib and deftly manoeuvred her alongside the quay using the light wind and tacking.

You can actually park fairly large sailboats on a dock quite easily.

Boats regularly need to tie onto some stationary thing; docks, mooring buoys or other boats. The technique is basically the same. You approach from downwind at an angle as if you’re going to drift past your target and miss by a few boat lengths. At the last minute you drop your sail and point at the target. You’ll bleed off momentum really fast and if you time it right you basically come to a stop right before your target. Then you can adjust stuff with ropes if needed.

Everyone learns to do it with little boats at first. If you screw up and hit the dock it’s just noisy and your friends make fun of you. I could easily solo a 30′ boat when I was a teenager. The whole thing goes slowly enough that that after I cut over the turn, I’d have time to tie off the rudder or wheel, walk to the bow, grab a rope and jump on the dock.

Old wooden boats typically take bigger crews but I’d expect any boats rigged with the more modern triangular sails to be able to do it, even the wooden ones. The old square rigged boats were much less maneuverable. I’ve never sailed them so I don’t really know how easy or difficult that would be.