Friday, January 13, 2012

Why I Think Boats Belong on Water and Not on Trailers

 If you've read my earlier post concerning the history of all the boats we have owned, you know that most of the boats we've had were of the trailerable variety. My dads' 13 foot Speed Queen in the late 1950s was no exception, but it was that far back that my first recollection of the pitfalls of boat trailering occurred.
 I know I could have only been 3 or 4 years old at the time when one Sunday our family made the regular trip to the St. Louis riverfront to launch the Speed Queen on the cobblestones that lay along the levee there. The routine dictated that my dad would back the trailer down to the water with me and my two older brothers inside so we wouldn't wander into the river or otherwise get lost. My mother stood as lookout until the car brakes were set, a bow line was handed to her, then the trailer backed in enough to float off the boat and then she would hold the boat just off the cobblestones until the car and trailer were parked. Typically, each one of us were picked up and placed as cargo into the little boat after the engine was started and we cruised upriver to Mosenthein Island, for an afternoon of playing in the sand for me, and swimming and water skiing for the rest of the family. The weather turned sour by mid afternoon and everyone on the beach made a break for it. The waves on the Mississippi River became monsters in the eyes on someone as young as me, as well as for a boat the size of the Speed Queen. My dad maneuvered the boat over to a barge piling where we hung on, apparently for dear life, if the hysterical antics of my mother were any indication. Her panic only induced my brothers and I to terrific crying and carrying on, certain that death was eminent. The wind let up enough for my dad to make a run for the riverfront to get the boat on the trailer. He somehow got us on land and the boat on the trailer and was pulling up the ramp of cobblestones in order to tie the boat down, when a sudden gust of wind blew the boat right off the trailer. My brothers and I stood off to the side with my mother and witnessed the whole episode. The granite cobblestones of the levee were pretty unforgiving to the thin fiberglass hull of the Speed Queen and a hole about the size of a softball was left in her bottom. What seemed to me to be a Herculean feat at the time, my dad and several bystanders lifted the little boat back onto the trailer for the ride home.
My dad on the left, my brother, a cousin and my mom on the Meramec in the mid 1960s

 Another trailering incident happened to my dad in 1967 before I ever got my own rig. My dad had just bought a new Buick Electra 225 a month before, a pretty cool car back then, I was home sick from school and he went alone for a day on the boat to the Meramec River, and launched it at his regular place, Minnie Ha Ha. When my dad returned later in the day soaking wet without car or boat, he had cooled down enough to tell us that while he was retrieving the boat to the trailer, he heard a loud POP, apparently the parking brake, when the car and trailer started rolling into the river.
My dad let go of the line holding the boat and away it floated with the swift current, as he ran around to the front of the car and grabbed the front bumper. He was giving several thousand pounds of Buick a run for it's money when the sharp edge of the bumper became too much to overcome and he had to let the whole shebang go before anyone could come to his aid. The car and trailer quickly became submerged, but by the time a tow truck arrived, a fellow boater had gone to retrieve the boat at least. My dad had to dive down and hook the tow cable to the car as the whole procedure was foreign to the tow truck driver, and rightly so, I guess.
 By the time I got my first trailerable boat in 1981, I had become pretty experienced with launching and retrieving a trailer boat, along with backing up a trailer, and I treated the whole experience with the seriousness and responsibility that it deserved. But early on, the great negative influence of alcohol reared it's ugly head. More about our own boat trailering escapades coming up.

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