The usefulness of mooring cleats fore and aft is pretty clear to any sailor. But the mid-ship cleat may be more useful than you realize. Brief stops alongside are surprisingly common. Whether you are embarking or disembarking guests, taking on supplies or for some other reason, the ability to tie alongside a dock simply and securely for short periods, with as little fuss as possible can be a valuable skill.
The method is simplicity itself if your midship cleats are properly positioned. A single spring line leading from the cleat somewhere aft of the maximum beam to a cleat on the dock somewhere near the transom when combined with an engine idling in forward and the helm turned toward the dock will hold your boat in a fixed stable position parallel to the dock.
I am afraid that last sentence makes it sound more complicated than it is.
The mechanics are really quite simple. The engine idling in gear and the helm turned toward the dock are trying to drive the boat slowly forward and turn the bow into the dock. The spring line keeps the boat from going forward and, when properly positioned balances the sterns effort to move away from the dock. Essentially the engine simply presses the hull against the dock at it's greatest beam.
The secret to making this work is the positioning of the midship cleat and the length of the spring line. If your boat has sheet block tracks on the gunwale you can use a sliding track-mounted mooring cleat. A little testing will soon have the cleat in exactly the right spot and the spring at exactly the right length.
This technique can be very useful when sailing short handed as well. Having a properly positioned cleat and a spring line marked at the right length I could motor our 40 footer up to a dock, loop a cleat, set the helm over and step off. The boat would sit quiet and secure while I casually set our standard fore and aft mooring and spring lines. As well as being useful it is a slightly impressive bit of seamanship.
s/v Edward Bernard
World Cruiser and Catalina Direct consultant