December 1, 2021

Putting in the Docks, a Spring Ritual at the Pettipaug Yacht Club in Essex

Former Commodore Sandy Sandstrom directs the lowering of dock sections by means of the electric hoist

You know spring is coming, when the volunteers at the Pettipaug Yacht Club start putting the club’s docks in the waters of the Connecticut River.  Because of the violent ice flows in winter, and the high water run offs of early spring, every fall the club members have to hoist the docks out of the water, and place them safety on land.

Then in spring, the docks go in again.

Pettipaug’s docks are put together by joining 15 separate dock sections, each of which measure 16 feet by six feet, and which weigh 1,200 pounds. The sections, once in place, form an up-river North Dock, constructed with five joined sections, a Middle Dock, designed especially for rowers, of four joined sections, and a South Dock of six joined sections.

Read Commodore David Courcy brought his daughter Aurora, age 8, to assist and supervise

Last Saturday’s work party was only able to put in place the North and the Middle Docks. The South Dock, whose dock sections are hauled to the water with the aid of a large and temperamental back hoe, were not installed last Saturday. The reason was that that the back hoe was once again “on the fritz.”

Past club Commodore Walter (aka “Sandy”) Sandstrom said he would try to fix the ailing machine in time for another work party next Saturday. As for the general condition of the back hoe, another Past Commodore, Paul Risseeuw, says, “Its put together with bailing wire.”

Installing the North and Middle Docks, thankfully, does not entail using the “back hoe.” Rather the sections for these two docks are piled up for the winter within the radius of the club’s electric hoist.

This hoist can be positioned to pick up individual dock sections from the ground, one at a time, and then swing them over, and then down into the water.  The hoist has the capacity of lifting as much as one ton or 2,000 pounds of dead weight, and it always works.

The anatomy of a dock section

As for the make-up of the 15 dock sections, each of them has a wooden deck on top; and underneath there are six fitted “plastic buckets,” each filled with foam, which gives the dock section its buoyancy. In addition to the deck on top and the foam infused plastic buckets below, the floating dock sections have heavy metal fixtures at each their ends to hold the dock sections together.

A motor boat is launched to haul the joined sections of the North Dock into place

By tradition the club’s Rear Commodore is in overall charge of putting the docks into the water in the spring, and hauling them out of the water in the fall.  In charge of this spring’s “launching of the docks” was the club’s present Rear Commodore, Dave Courcy.

Also, generally supervising things at the dock launchings was Club Commodore Chris Manero.

With motor boat pointing backwards the North Dock is floated upstream to its location

Once fully in place, the Pettipaug’s Yacht Club docks in the spring  are heavily used by the sailing clubs of a number of local schools, including Xavier High School, Valley Regional High School, Daniel Hand High School in Madison, and Trinity College.

The Middle Docks are primarily used for rowers. Also, tied up to the dock on a permanent basis are four powerboats, called “crash boats” by club members. These are used to pluck capsized sailors out of the water, when the occasion arises. Also, the crash boats serve as water taxis, taking club members out their boats during season.

Powerboat Classes and Sailing Academy coming up

In addition to launching, hopefully, the South Dock this coming Saturday, Risseeuw and fellow teacher, Beth Robinson, will be teaching a Powerboat Class for 18 Boy Scouts, ages nine to fourteen, with ten powerboats in the water.

The scout’s Powerboat Class will go from 8:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., and both instructors this coming Saturday will be donating their time to the Boy Scouts. Upon completion of the one day course, the scouts are eligible to receive a scout Motor Boating Merit Badge.

Also, day long, powerboat instruction classes will continue to be held throughout the sailing season. The cost of tuition for the course is $175 for a very full day of hands on the throttle.

In addition, ahead on the Pettipaug Yacht Club’s season is the exceedingly popular Pettipaug Sailing Academy. Risseeuw is the Director of the Sailing Academy, the first session of which begins on July 1. The mission of the academy is to teach young people how to sail.

The Sailing Academy accepts 150 students in all for its summer programs, and according to Director Risseeuw, “We have more applicants than we know what to do with.”

The Academy splits its students into various categories. Among the ranks in ascending order of sea competence are, “Seaman, First Mate and Boatswain (pronounced “bos’n).” Also, the Academy has two separate sessions of three weeks each during July and August.

It’s a busy time ahead for the Pettipaug Yacht Club, if they can just get those South Docks in.

Immediate Past Commodore Cameron Taylor poses on completed North Dock