Boating Blunders I Wished Had Never Happened!
Can You Identify With Boating Ownership And Pitfalls?
There are unlimited stories of boating and all the fun times had with owning them. On the flip side, tales and sagas about the trials and tribulations of those watercraft abound in droves. Some of those undesirable events can be scary, to say the least. “Dead in the water” has been uttered many times by a frustrated sea-captain who needs help getting into shore. Weird events happen more often than not, and nobody believes the stories that are more acclimated to tall tales. But they are still true beyond the best imaginations.
A few simple events in one’s boating life would normally be enough. But scads of them are uncalled for and dumping them on one person is totally unfair. I tried leaving some tales out of this article, but I don’t think I want to write another one like it. So here they are, believe them if you will!
Upended Trailer Boat And Tears In The Rain!
It seems that starting with my teenage years while living in New Orleans, I have been involved in various types of boating related mishaps. I don’t know why, but I guess I was just destined for them to occur. This first one was my initiation into the pitfalls of having one of your own.
My dad had purchased a wooden hulled inboard powerboat made from Higgins Manufacturing. It was the same company that built the immensely important landing craft used by the armed forces in World War II. In later years, the company added pleasure craft to their product line. Ours was made with a center-mounted engine and big enough for 6 to 8 people. It had a plywood style hull with a gorgeous deck made of real mahogany. It was perfect for water skiing and picnic trips along the Tchefuncta River, a popular waterway just off of Lake Pontchartrain .
On the way back from one of our outings, my dad, while towing it on a trailer behind our station wagon, swerved in front of an oncoming van traveling at high-speed. He was changing lanes and failed to notice the opposing vehicle. The boat was sideswiped hard and knocked over onto its side, resulting in it being dragged in that position down the street.
Heartbroken, I remember returning home after a tow truck righted the unit and temporarily resolved the dilemma. But we had a damaged vessel, which included the marring of the beautiful finish to the deck in front of the windshield. My dad decided we would be the ones to fix it.
Unfortunately, I was the one chosen to re-coat the mahogany after dad and I did the repairs. We had to fix the side rails and sand down the mottled polyurethane finish. After hours of work outdoors with no car port for protection, I had to hope for no rain. I needed time overnight until the polyurethane coating I had applied was sufficiently dry.
That wish disintegrated when a nighttime cloudburst saw tears coming from my eyes. I watched in horror as moon craters developed on the newly finished boat’s deck, ruining my hours of work. My dad was disgusted as well. We had to do it all over again. Brutal! I never did that kind of work outside again. It was my first negative experience with boating.
Three Men In A Boat!
Photo from Wikipedia Archives
Back when I lived in Santa Monica, California, I experienced some of the most adventurous times of my life. Not knowing why, I allowed trouble of some sort or another to be an intrinsic part of those exploits. It is a wonder how I survived so many adventurous missteps.
I lived in an apartment house just off of the Pacific Palisades Park cliffs which stretched down onto the Pacific Coast Highway bordering the ocean. This presented opportunities for knowing people who owned boats. Racing sailboats on the Bay, scuba diving, and ocean fishing were part of my life.
One clear day I joined two friends for a trip to Catalina Island, located about 29 miles off the coast of the neighboring city of Long Beach. They both lived in the same apartment complex as I did. One of them had just purchased a new 20 foot inboard power boat. He wanted to test it by leaving from a Santa Monica Bay launch site. From there we would head out and then make the long 43 plus mile trip to the island. It’s a jaunt that can start out in calm waters, but then transition into rough waves created by high winds in route.
Our early morning departure allowed us to witness numerous Blue Sharks floating in the serene waters near the surface. Halfway there, one of my friends did some trolling with his heavy-duty rod and reel. A Sailfish showed up and teased him for a while but never swallowed the bait. After plowing through some rough seas we finally reached the island. After staying for a couple of hours, we headed back.
Hidden Danger Lurking Below!
As we approached the mainland, our route took us very close to the Cliffs of Palos Verdes peninsula which sticks way out from the southern part of the Bay. As we cruised near to it, the boat owner noticed the remains of a large shipwreck near the shoreline. He asked us about it and we told him it was a freighter called the Dominator which ran aground back in 1961. It is located just off the cliffs and is pummeled by rip tides and crashing waves. Boaters are warned to keep clear of the area because parts of the broken hull sit hidden just below the surface of the water.
Warning our novice boat owner to give this area a wide berth, he decided to ignore our pleas and turned in for a closer look. As we closed to within about 75 yards of the hull’s twisted metal, our speed was about 20 knots. I felt some fear with the knowledge that stories existed of other mishaps that had occurred from similar pursuits.
Suddenly, we heard a piercing screech and loud bang. I looked over the back of the boat and saw a horrific sight. The stern drive mechanism which rotates down into the water had been ripped free and was just dangling in the frothy mix behind. It was only held onto the boat with the umbilical lines which controlled the unit. Since the propeller was attached to the end of it, we were now dead with no power.
I shouted out that we had just struck concealed metal beneath the surface. We then realized we were caught in rip currents pulling us closer and closer to the rocks offshore. Now I was really beginning to have a sense of panic. I had visions of being torn to pieces while the pounding surf carried our remains out to open ocean. Yikes!
As we looked around for help (no cell phones or on board ship-to-shore radio), we were able to catch the attention of the crew of a twin-engined cabin cruiser. They maneuvered close by to inquire what was wrong. After explaining our demise, they offered to tow us back in, but divulged a nasty caveat. Only one of their engines was working! Having to compensate for that problem while dragging us along, the journey would be slow indeed. What else can go wrong?
It was dark as we entered the harbor. The crew of the towboat swung us by the boat ramp. As my other friend started to release the tow line, it jerked in his hands and he was thrown into the pitch black water. Our boat almost drifted over the top of him as he tried to surface. We quickly reached out and pulled him up over the side. Shaken up, we used paddles to finish getting us in.
Some days later, I drove along the top of the peninsula to a viewing point where I could look down at the wreck. I wanted to visualize what might have been. You could see various sections of the hull poking out of the churning surf waiting to claim other fools. I realized then that if I ever owned a boat, I would have to expect more unforeseen dangers hidden below. Not welcome ones, for sure, but always there and ready to cause grief to whomever dared to venture!
Water In The Boat While The Kids Just Watched!
The next story on my list was nowhere near as exciting, but I wanted to throw it in just for laughs. It occurred when my brother got married. After the ceremonies, my mom took my family and some others to a vacation rental on Navarre Beach, near Pensacola, Florida. Since the groom would be on his honeymoon and not need his small flat-bottomed skiff for a while, he allowed me to take it with us.
The day I decided to launch it off of an inlet, my only hope was that I could get the engine started. My two small children got into in the boat while waiting for me to get it going. I kept pulling the power cord, with all attempts failing. That outboard engine just wouldn’t start.
Meanwhile, small waves were crashing against the hull forcing seawater into the boat while my kids just sat there. As water filled the vessel, I guess they thought that was part of the deal and it soon looked like they were in a floating swimming pool. Didn’t even faze them that sitting in a boat full of water was not the way you go boating. Unbelievable!
Eventually I had to tell them to get out and help me bail out the boat. I never did figure out the problem with it and had it parked for the remainder of our stay.
The Mission Bay Mishaps!
While living in Southern California, one of our favorite escapes was to San Diego’s Mission Bay. I owned two Hobie Catamarans , and we would tow one or the other down there and spend a day or weekend sailing. The problem with that activity is that you had to know when the tides were in, or out. In boating, sailing presents a challenge there with the tall mast. It may not clear when you have to cross under one of the overhead bridges on the Bay. High tide for my sailboat made the clearance very tight. I did not always do the best job of making correct judgments for that scenario.
On one sunny day I asked for trouble . The water level was very high and I was very nervous about the proximity to the steel girders supporting the bridge above me. I tried to get through by myself with no one else on board. When I got close to the bridge, I loosened the sails and got off into the water to be able to pull the boat back in case the mast didn’t make it through.
As I slowly coaxed the craft through, with inches to spare, I finally reached the other side. Preparing to get back on, a gust of wind suddenly filled the sails and I was thrown back. I had nothing more than a rope, attached to the hull, in my hands. I was now holding on for dear life as the unmanned sailboat rocketed forward. Help!
After being dragged under water for a seemingly long time, the cat finally rotated around. Fortunately, the wind died and I was able to get back on. Whew! I made sure I had someone on board after that.
But that was not all of the fun happenings there! Another time on the bay, while staying at a hotel located on the shore, I had beached the our boat just beyond the water’s edge for the evening. Later that night we got a knock on the door. It was one of the hotel personnel asking us if we owned a catamaran. We said yes, and he told us there was one freely floating out on the water. He wanted to inquire if it was ours. It was!
Once again, I let my better judgement get clouded up. The incoming tide foiled me and the rising water reached my boat and allowed it to start drifting away. I had to swim out and fetch it in the dark. By that time, I think, I had my lesson learned. About sailboats anyways.
The Boat With The Weird Personality
Some years later, while living in Utah, we had friends in the church we attended who owned a powerboat. They used it for outings at a local reservoir. That vessel had an interesting history as I witnessed it. My concept of boating was changed forever as a result of it.
The first time we went out with them, the husband, Ed, launched the boat. Being forgetful, he had not remembered to released the straps holding the boat tight to the trailer it was resting on. So instead of towing the combo back up onto the launch, he pulled his knife out and just ‘Cut The Straps’. Wow! I had never seen that before. We spent the rest of the day floating on the water, bewildered as to why he did that.
And the hi-jinks didn’t stop there. Spending time with him on another day, he had me help him tow that boat from his house to a storage facility. I think the wrong size ball was on the tow hitch, because, when we went around a corner, the boat came loose. To my horror, I looked in the side mirror of our towing vehicle and saw an amazing site. I watched the trailer-ed vessel going down another street away from the direction we were headed. No damage resulted, but we had to be very careful, afterwards.
We wanted to hopefully get the boat to its destination with no further problems. It was my opinion that he needed to sell that thing to someone else. Like me!
Why Is The Oil Gauge Acting Funny?
After leaving Utah we eventually wound up in the West Palm Beach area of Wellington, Florida. While living there, Ed and his wife finally decided they wanted to sell us the boat. We accepted, and met them at his sister’s house in Valdosta, Georgia. After agreeing to a price of $100., we hooked that thing up and towed it back to our home.
There was lots of fun to be had with it after our daughter and her husband moved to Florida near to us. We would spend weekends boating on local lakes and rivers, including a few picnics in the process. But that all changed one Saturday while towing my daughter behind us. She was being pulled in a large inflatable watercraft that resembled a large inner tube.
Without warning, the motor’s oil pressure gauge suddenly dropped to almost zero. I determined the engine had blown some internal part and stopped the boat. We would have to try to nurse it back to the launch at very slow speed. Meanwhile, my daughter was yelling at us for failing to go pick her up. After coasting back to pick up this angry girl, we hobbled back in.
We made it to the landing and I later found out that the main crankshaft bearings had deteriorated quickly. Time for a complete overhaul and money out the door.
Hard Knocks On Tow-Your-Boat Street
My son-in-law, Shaun, and I rebuilt it in my garage. In the process I had removed all internal gear, including life vests, tools, ropes, cushions, and such. I needed to create an open and clear working area around the engine bay. Upon completing the rebuild process, I put the bare boat in a storage yard. When the time came to put all of that gear back, I did envision the mishap that was going to happen next.
Getting the boat ready again meant going to the storage facility where I kept it and towing it home. All internal equipment needed to be reinstalled to prepare it for water use. I was anxious, to say the least.
In my hurry to leave the yard, I forgot to tighten the trailer hitch to the ball attached to my truck. As I hit the first dip in the street, the trailer came loose. I then saw the front end fly up in the air through my rear view mirror . Since I had remembered to connect the safety chains, the unit was loose, but still attached to my vehicle, so to speak.
As I pulled off the road and applied the brakes, those chains acted like a slingshot. They caused the boat to jerk forward towards my tailgate. Fortunately for me, the front end of the trailer was forced downwards. The hitch section dug into the soft dirt before the front of the boat smashed into my tailgate.
After the dust settled, I noticed a big problem. The forceful stop caused the boat to become “skewed” on the trailer. It sat in a dangerously “cocked” position. I needed to come up with a quick solution to fix this issue.
What, The Water Plug Is Missing?
My decision was to take the boat over to a nearby lake and see if I could lower the trailer into the water and re-float the boat properly back onto it. The idea seemed okay except for one small predicament. The drainage plug was missing. To get this plan to work, I knew I would have to act quickly to keep the boat from filling with water while I re-positioned it. Good luck with that!
As I performed this crazy maneuver, and the boat started to fill, I encountered another dilemma. The concrete cleats on the launch ramp that help vehicles get traction were worn down to nothing. My rear tires were just spinning and I could not could not pull the boat out. Meanwhile, water was starting to reach the newly built motor. Panic time!
As I was going nuts, a heavy-set officer that patrolled the lake, was watching my antics. He was standing on the front steps of his nearby office. He yelled at me asking if I needed help!
Yes, I shouted back! He then came down to the ramp and stood on my back bumper jumping up and down while I gunned the engine. I was finally able to get some grip. Hallelujah!
The procedure worked and I pulled out of the water before any damage occurred. Since I had to enter said water up to my chest, my shorts got saturated. I decided to take them off to protect the fabric covering the truck seats and drove home in my underwear. I called my wife ahead of time and told her to meet me out in the driveway with another pair of pants when I pulled in. She was flabbergasted by the story I told her. Enough said!
We did have other mishaps, unfortunately. One of those included a boat full of people crashing into a dock when the stern drive failed to go into reverse as we approached.
Another was the beaching of the boat next to an inlet subject to fast rushing water when the tide flowed out into the Gulf! I could not bury the anchor deep enough to keep the resulting force from yanking it out of a 3 foot deep hole and pulling the boat towards open water. The only thing that saved the situation was going after my rig and jumping in at the last-minute. I started the engine and maneuvered to a safer area.
End Of An Era
After a few years of fun-filled use, and some regrets, Shaun and Stephanie moved back to Nevada. We eventually stopped our weekend outings with the boat. Later on, my son, Eric, and his wife, visited us driving his Jeep down from upstate New York. He agreed to take the boat off of our hands that we no longer wanted. Bye!
My father once reminded me of an old saying that states the “two happiest days of your life are the one where you first buy your boat and the day when you sell it”. That $100 bargain cost me over $6,000 to keep it running. I don’t regret the times we had with it, but I would not do it again.