BOATING BLUNDERS I WISHED HAD NEVER HAPPENED
Can You Identify With Boating Ownership And Pitfalls?
There are unlimited stories that center around 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 also 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 types of stories that are more in line with those that resemble tall tales. But they are still true and cover events that are beyond anything you could imagine.
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 or not!
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 motorboat made by Higgins Manufacturing. This 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 had enough room 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 down the street in that position.
Heartbroken, I remember returning home after a tow truck righted the unit and temporarily resolved the dilemma. But we had a damaged vessel, and that included a certain degree of marring to the beautiful finish on the bow in front of the windshield. Without giving much thought to possible repairs, my dad decided we would be the ones to handle the damage.
Unfortunately, I was the one chosen to re-coat the mahogany after dad and I did all the sanding and chemical removal of the existing coating. After hours of work outdoors, without the benefit of a carport for protection, I could only hope for any impending rainfall to hold off a downpour until the finish was completely dry. I needed time overnight until the polyurethane coating I had applied was sufficiently hard enough to resist damage.
That wish disintegrated into thin air when a nighttime cloudburst was matched by scads of tears flowing from my eyes. I watched in horror as moon craters developed on the newly coated boat’s deck, ruining my hours of work. My dad was disgusted as well. We had to do it all over again which was a brutal undertaking. I never did that kind of work outside again. It was my first negative experience with boating.
Fateful Sojourn To Catalina!
Dominator Shipwreck 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 complex 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 back then.
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 that I did. One of them had just purchased a new 20 foot stern drive power boat. He wanted to test it by leaving from a Santa Monica Bay marina launch site, and then head out into the open ocean 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 there for a couple of hours and doing a bit of sightseeing, we headed back.
We Just Hit The Remnants Of A Sunken Ship!
As we approached the mainland, our route took us very close to the Cliffs of Palos Verdes peninsula which juts way out on the southern part of the Bay. As we cruised along near the cliffs, the boat owner noticed the remains of a large shipwreck that hugged 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 those cliffs and has been pummeled for years by rip tides and crashing waves slamming into the broken hull. Boaters are warned to keep clear of the area because parts of the rusted steel remnants sit hidden just below the surface of the turbulent water.
Even though we warned our novice boat owner to give this area a wide berth, he ignored our pleas and headed in for a closer look. As we got to within about 75 yards of the visible hull’s twisted metal, I think our speed was clocked at about 20 knots. I felt fear creep over me as I harbored the knowledge of stories about other mishaps that resulted from similar pursuits.
As we motored in, the sudden impact of something scraping against the bottom of the boat grabbed our immediate attention. Next we heard a piercing screech sound followed by a loud bang. I responded by looking over the side of the rear 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 us. It was only held onto the boat with the umbilical lines which controlled the unit. Since the propeller was attached to the end of this unit, we were now faced with the daunting prospect of having no means of moving our craft any further forward towards our destination which goes by the name of Marina Del Rey, the harboring facility that contained the dock we left from.
Once I knew what happened, I shouted out that we had just struck the jagged edge of a broken part of the hull which sat hidden just beneath the surface. Shortly thereafter, we realized our boat was caught in rip currents that were pulling us closer and closer towards the rocks offshore. Once that fact made itself known, an even greater sense of fear encompassed all of us onboard. As for myself, I had visions of our vessel being torn to pieces while the pounding surf carried our remains out into the open ocean. Yikes!
As we looked around for help (no cell phones or ship-to-shore radio were onboard) we were finally able to catch the attention of the crew on a twin-engined cabin cruiser. Wanting more input, they motored over towards us and inquired what was wrong. After explaining the nature of our predicament, they offered to tow us back in, but also let us know that only one of their engines was working! Having to compensate for that problem while dragging us along, the journey was very slow indeed. So I began to wonder what else could go wrong?
It was quite dark as we entered the harbor, but the crew of the towboat turned on their search light and located our boat ramp. After bringing us into it as close as they could, we thanked them and took over from there. As they left, my other friend proceeded to release the tow line. Before he could react, 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 by this incident, we took our time and carefully 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 victims. I realized then that if I ever owned a boat, I would have to expect more unforeseen dangers hidden beneath the surface of the water. They would not be welcome ones, for sure, but always there and ready to cause grief to whomever dared to venture into them.
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 up and help me start bailing the water out. I never did figure out the problem with the motor and just parked it on its trailer for the remainder of our stay.
A Mission Bay Mishap
While living in Southern California, one of our favorite escape destinations was San Diego’s Mission Bay. I owned two Hobie Catamaran sailboats, and we often towed one or the other down there for a day or long weekend of just cruising around the bay. The problem with that activity is that you had to know when the tides were in, or out.
A unique problem you face with that type of boating there is that you have to clear the bridges you pass under with your mast. High tides present a challenge and make the clearance for my type of sailboat very tight. I must admit that I did not always do the best job of making correct judgments for that scenario.
On one sunny day I threw caution aside and flat out asked for trouble. The tide was in and the water level was higher than normal. As I approached the overpass while sailing on the boat with no one else onboard, I noticed that the proximity of the steel girders supporting the bridge above me to the top of my mast was like close to zero. For safety’s sake, just before passing underneath, I loosened the sails and jumped off into the water so that I might be in position to pull the boat back in case the mast hit the span.
As I slowly coaxed the craft through, with inches to spare, I finally reached the other side. Then, just as I finished climbing aboard to continue my trek, a gust of wind suddenly filled the sails and the sudden jerk forward threw me backwards into the water. When that happened, I had nothing more than a rope attached to the hull wrapped around 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 length of time, the catamaran finally rotated around and lost most of its speed. Fortunately, the gust of wind that propelled the boat also died down and I was able to get back on. Whew! From then on, I made sure I always had someone onboard with me.
Another Mission Bay Mishap
That micro adventure was not the only mishap on Mission Bay. Another time, while spending a long weekend in a hotel situated at the water’s edge there, 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 floating freely out on the water. He wanted to inquire if it was ours, and I sheepishly told him it was!
Once again, I let my better judgement get clouded up. The incoming tide foiled me and the rising water reached my boat. When that happened, the sucker began to float and 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. I finally reached the point whereby I lost interest in sailing those rigs and sold them both. With that era gone, I never went sailing again.
The Boat With A Funky Personality
Some years later, while living in Utah, we had friends in the church we attended who owned a rather unusual powerboat. They used it for outings at a local reservoir. That vessel had an interesting history as I witnessed the crazy events surrounding its very existence. My concept of boating was changed forever as a result of that experience.
The first time we went out with them, the husband, Ed, launched the boat. Being the forgetful sort of fellow that he was, he didn’t remember to release the straps holding the boat tight to the trailer it was resting on. So, instead of towing the combo back up onto the launch ramp to correct that mistake, he simply pulled his knife out and just ‘Cut The Straps’. Wow! I had never seen something so off the wall like that before. We spent the rest of the day floating on the water wondering why he would even do something like that.
And his hi-jinks didn’t stop there. Spending time alone 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 trailered vessel going down another street away from the direction we were headed.
When we went back and recovered the thing, we found that no damage resulted from the mishap. However, with that lesson learned, we found ourselves being much more careful with it afterwards. Eventually, we did get the boat to its destination with no further problems. It was my opinion that he needed to sell that thing to someone else who would take better care of it. Someone like me!
The Oil Pressure Gauge Is Acting Weird
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 that boat. We accepted, and met them up at his sister’s house in Valdosta, Georgia. After visiting for a day or so, we settled on a price of $100 and towed it back home.
Once things got squared away and the boat made ready for use, we began a new series of adventures with it. After our daughter and her husband moved to Florida, we spent weekends boating on local lakes and rivers with them and included a few picnics in the process. We enjoyed towing a large inner tube like inflatable watercraft behind the boat and even tried some water skiing hijinks in the mix.
All that fun lasted for awhile, but it all came crashing down one sunny afternoon. While towing my daughter behind us in that inflatable, I noticed that the oil pressure gauge was dropping dramatically. Realizing that something was seriously wrong with the engine, we pulled up and reduced the engine speed to an idle.
Thinking things through, I let it keep running and hoped we could nurse it back to the launch ramp at very slow speed. Meanwhile, my daughter was yelling at us for failing to go pick her up. After coasting back and retrieving this angry sibling, we hobbled our way past my wife and her mom who were still situated at our picnic site that was near the shoreline. We just waved at them and kept on going until we made it back in. After trailering the boat, we went and picked them up and explained what happened.
I later found out that the main crankshaft bearings had deteriorated all at once and that caused the loss of oil pressure. Even though Mr. Ed told me the boat engine had been rebuilt, another complete overhaul was needed before we could use it again. That meant lots of money out the door.
Hard Knocks On TowYourBoat Street
My son-in-law, Shaun, and I rebuilt the engine in my garage. In the process I had removed all internal gear, including life vests, tools, ropes, cushions, and such. I wanted an open and clear working space around the engine compartment. Upon completing the rebuild process, I put the stripped down boat in a storage yard. When the weather warmed up and the time came to put all of that extracted gear back in, I didn’t even begin to envision the fiasco that might happen next.
In my hurry to leave the storage yard, I had a brain fart and didn’t tighten the trailer hitch to the ball attached to my truck. When I hit the first dip in the street, the trailer hitch came loose. I then saw the front end of it fly up in the air through my rear view mirror. Since I did remember 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 nose was forced downwards and the hitch dug into the soft dirt on the side of the road before the front of the boat smashed into my bumper.
After the dust settled, I noticed a big problem. The force created by the sudden 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 rig into the water and re-float the boat properly back onto the trailer. That idea seemed like it might work except for one small problem. The drainage plug was missing. To make this plan 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 scenario!
So, I went ahead and and proceeded with this crazy maneuver. As expected, the boat started to fill up, but I did get it repositioned on the trailer without much fuss. However, the added weight of that water in the the boat presented another dilemma. When I gunned the engine to pull it up the ramp, I couldn’t get traction and move forward. I then realized the concrete cleats on the launch ramp that help vehicles get a grip 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 sitting in my truck going nuts, a heavyset officer that patrolled the lake was standing on a platform watching my antics. He must have realized I was having trouble because he yelled and asked if I needed help! When I told him that I did, he came down to the ramp and stood on my back bumper. Then he jumped up and down while I gunned the engine once again and I was finally able to get some grip. Hallelujah!
That silly procedure allowed me to pull the boat out of the water before any damage occurred. However, since I had previously been in the water up to my chest, my shorts got soaked. To protect the fabric covering of the truck seats, I took them off and drove home in my underwear. Before I arrived, I called my wife on my cell phone 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, but complied anyway. 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. After making him an offer, he agreed to take the boat that we no longer wanted off of our hands and towed it back home. Bye, bye I said as he left and never once regretted that fateful decision.
My father once reminded me of an old saying that states: “The two happiest days of your life are the one whereby 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 will never forget the fun times we had with it, but I would not go through all that ever again.
I am requesting that my readers click on the links provided and download a sample read of each book and give a review on Amazon. You will have free access to the first four chapters of each book. My hope is that you will like the story lines enough to obtain either an eBook version or a paperback copy that you can put on your bookshelf as a masterpiece when you are done. FATE STALKS A HERO I: RESURGENCE, FATE STALKS A HERO II:THE FIJI FULCRUM, and THE SAGA OF HERACLES PENOIT. I will be giving excerpts on these works in upcoming blogs to familiarize you the reader with exciting details about the contents of each one. Thank you!