Sunday, January 15, 2012

Just About Had Our Fill of Trailering Boats

 By 1990 we had bought a used Ski Nautique and had sold our first condo at Lake of the Ozarks, and committed ourselves to life on the Meramec River once again. The trailer for the Nautique had no spare tire, but the trailer was only used at the boat ramp right there at our house, so I didn't think anything of it, but as things went, I wished I had.
 We had been limiting our boating to the Meramec River, but Rosie's boss had a condo at the Lake of the Ozarks, and offered it to us to use occasionally. We decided to make the trip to the lake one weekend, and Rosie's cousin Roseann, and her husband Denny, agreed to meet us there and spend the weekend boating with us. We had a fun filled weekend with only one mechanical mishap. Did you know that a blown exhaust riser hose repair can be accomplished with a beach towel applied tourniquet style and held in place by a slightly inebriated husband of a cousin? Might be good to know if you find yourself taking on water in the middle of a very big lake at two in the morning.
 Packed up and heading home late on Sunday afternoon, we were rolling along the interstate with Roseann and Denny bringing up the rear in their vehicle when our boat trailer started swaying side to side and I correctly determined the problem to be a flat tire. I pulled off onto the shoulder and Denny followed. The full impact of chancing the trip without a spare tire fell upon me right then, but regrets were not going to solve our dilemma, so I got to work solving ours. I jacked up the trailer and pulled off the wheel, threw it in the back of our truck, disconnected the trailer, and left the boat and trailer along the side of the highway, along with Rosie, Roseann, and Denny. I had to travel 25 miles back toward the nearest town to find a garage willing to mount another tire on our rim, so after a 50 mile round trip, we were burning sun as I hitched up the trailer to our truck and mounted the wheel and tire, as the interstate traffic returning from the lake and other places whizzed past us just feet away. Right here is where I made another key blunder. My routine concerning wheel mounting is to spin the lug nuts on with my "T" shaped lug wrench, with the wheel jacked up off the ground for clearance. Then, once the jack is taken away, each lug nut is then tightened completely with the ground preventing the wheel from spinning. The final lug nut tightening was omitted from my routine as the wind blast from each passing car became increasingly discombobulating.
 Denny kept pace with us as we sped along at moderately illegal speeds until we came up on our exit at Fenton, MO. Denny sped past and I slowed to make the exit when I became painfully aware of my failure to tighten those lug nuts completely. Considering that we had done virtually no braking since the trailer wheel was mounted, the constant pull of the wheel against the studs apparently kept it from coming off earlier. But as I braked I heard a thump and observed the wheel from our trailer pass me doing eighty-plus MPH and bouncing 30 feet in the air.
 If blessings were to be counted afterwards, then the fact that my stupid mistake didn't lead to our wheel finding the windshield of an oncoming car would be on the top of the tally. Once I corralled the rig over to shoulder of the exit ramp and collected the errant wheel, I began once again to solve the riddle of getting the trailer home with one wheel. Working in the dark with no flashlight, and once again just feet away from passing traffic, I was able to take two studs off the opposing wheel and use them where the five studs had sheared off of the wheel with the new tire mounted on it. Making the trip all the way home was out of the question as the wheel with the two lug nuts wobbled like a clown car, so I parked the trailer in a nearby used car lot and made for home.
 To this day, a buddy of mine still doesn't know that I pirated a wheel from his unused trailer to get our boat and trailer home the next day. I put his stuff back together before I bought everything I needed to repair the damage I had done to our trailer wheels, along with a spare tire.

 A few beers at the Saint Louis Boat Show lead to the purchase of this 1991 Master Craft, pictured above on the Hydro Hoist for it. A trailer was included in the deal, and yes, there was a spare tire too. We had no trailering issues with this boat other than trying to make it float one day without a bilge plug in it. Luckily I was able to get the boat back onto the trailer without sinking it.
 We were nearly done with trailering mishaps, as we had one more boat that required a trailer, but it too was kept on a hoist, either at our home on the Meramec or at another condo we had purchased at the Lake of the Ozarks.
 Another brief incident involving a trailer wasn't with our rig, but with a friend's outfit out in Nevada. A buddy of mine was living in California and was keeping his older boat at a marina on the Colorado River about 60 miles south of Las Vegas. When he found out that we were going to be in Vegas for a week one November in '92, I think, he offered the use of his boat. He had called the marina to say we were coming to use the boat at some time on our trip, so when we arrived at the marina for a late afternoon outing on my buddy's boat, the marina owner knew we were coming, but had not prepared the boat in any way.
 As the boat was sitting on a trailer, it was then necessary to get it launched, and after a considerable wait on our part, some help arrived with a tractor to get us on our way. I jumped into the boat as the rig was backed into the river along a launch ramp that was the widest I had ever seen, at least 100 feet wide. I was expecting the yard man to stick me into the water just far enough to get the motor started, so imagine my surprise when he slipped me quickly into the Colorado River and with a perfect stop, sent me and the boat shooting into the moderate, but still moving current. Being at the helm of a vessel totally unfamiliar is one thing, but in this situation, it was particularly unnerving. I quickly applied the choke, pumped the throttle once, and turned the key. Nothing but the telltale clicks of a dead battery were the only response I got from my attempts to start the boat engine before I drifted past the last lane of the boat ramp. Panic never helps, so when I couldn't find a paddle, (slight panic), I grabbed the closest replacement in the form of a slalom water ski and began paddling my butt off towards the last section of boat ramp. To his credit, and his only credit, the tractor driver recognized my dilemma, and brought the trailer over to where I was about to drift past and I was able to get the boat back safely onto the trailer.
 With promises of "gittin' 'er on the charger fer tomorra", we headed back to the comforts of Las Vegas after my ten minute boat ride on the Colorado River. Rosie only got to watch from the bank. The next day, the temperatures dropped and the wind kicked up, making the prospects of another attempt at boating on the Colorado a dim one. At least the battery got charged, I hope.
 Our last trailering incident involved our Jet Ski trailer. At the time, 1997, we had a condo at the Lake of the Ozarks where we kept our Formula 280SS on a lift, and we had a Kawasaki Jet Ski that we used on the Meramec, and also took up to the Alton Pool to use on the Mississippi River occasionally. The Kawasaki normally was kept on the Hydro Hoist that we still had at our dock on the Meramec, so the trailer sat dormant most of the time. It was after one of these dormant periods when I decided to take the Jet Ski up to the Mississippi for the afternoon. As I was heading for Heartland Marina, which is now owned by some friends and called Eagles Landing, I heard some complaints coming from the Jet Ski trailer wheels as I neared the boat ramp. The wheel bearings were red hot and I knew then that they needed to be replaced due to my neglect. I dunk the Jet Ski in the river and tied it up to a dock while I drug the trailer back to a nearby mechanic to get new wheel bearings installed. Not being able to accommodate me while I waited, undaunted, I left the trailer at the boat yard and went back to the river for an afternoon of fun. At the end of the day, I backed my pickup into the river up to the tailgate, and using the rubber truck bed mat as a cushion, I drove the Jet Ski right up into the bed of the truck to take it home. An onlooker replied at the time, "I never saw anyone do that before". "Desperate circumstances demand desperate measures", they say, but I like "Necessity is the mother of invention" better.
 So the preceding tales are the total of our trailering mishaps, and yes, most of them are due to my stupidity or oversight, but a man's got to know his limitations, and trailering boats is apparently one of mine, so we'll keep our boats in the water in the future, or at least on a boat hoist, thank you very much.

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