I’ve discovered an embarrassing fact about myself over the past couple of months: I’m not really great at trailering boats.
Yes, that sounds pretty dumb when I reread it. It’s like saying, “You know, I’m not absolutely fantastic at throwing knives while standing on the back of a galloping horse with a rose clenched between my teeth.” The obvious question is, “Why would I have ever expected you would be great at such an activity?”
But it’s not really your expectations I’m worried about failing, dear reader, so much as my own. I grew up on the water and was around boats all the time, and I always kind of mentally listed trailering boats as a skill I inherently possessed. To such a degree that even if I hadn’t done it in decades, the muscle memory would still be there to just pop boats in and out of the water like a pro.
It’s the introduction of my brother’s old pontoon boat into our lives that made me aware of my deficiencies. He’s had a multitude of boats and drags them all over the place, launching them with the ease and confidence I’d imagine the younger, less-drunken Ernest Hemingway might have had dropping a 60-foot Hatteras off a pre-commie Cuban boat launch to go in search of marlin.
I’ve managed to keep my trailer-backing skills relatively sharp over the years helping my brother launch boats. It is so strange what trying to back up a trailer does to your brain — left is right, right is left, up is down, right is wrong … You get the idea. You’re moving backward, looking in a mirror, having to remember to turn the opposite way you want the trailer to go, as well as figuring out the geometry of the angle the slightest turn of the driver’s wheel creates. It’s the rub your belly and pat your head of driving.
Perhaps because I can still back a trailer around fairly well is why I just assumed the rest of my boat-launching skills were intact. In reality, though, backing the trailer up is really the easiest and least deadly part of the process. As long as you don’t accidentally back the truck all the way into the water, you have a shot.
I haven’t ever actually owned a boat, but my father would buy one intermittently for family use until he would get fed up and sell it, only to be lured back again. My pops grew up in Arkansas and Ft. Worth, so he didn’t exactly have saltwater in his veins when we moved onto the Mississippi Sound in Gautier. But he adapted — to a degree.
My brother got a new boat recently and my dad decided to buy the old one so we could all use it. Right out of the box his plan was to keep it trailered in the yard and to launch it whenever we wanted to go out. That immediately gave me PTSD recalling several horrific boat-launching events as a kid. While my dad learned about driving boats and sailing, he has always been a complete disaster at the boat launch.
I short-circuited that plan and quickly found a small marina in Pascagoula where we could keep the S.S. Pontoon. The idea was to take trailering completely out of the equation. But I forgot about the boat having to come out of the water for hurricanes.
So, in a fairly short span of time, I’ve had to trailer the boat three times, and the best of those could best be described as an embarrassing situation. The worst was nearly an ER trip.
My son and I attempted to take the boat out of the water for some engine work one day and that ended with a brand new rope completely wrapped in the prop. It only took about 30 minutes to cut it out while other boaters laughed. Grade C-/D+.
The next time I was with my parents. We decided to get the boat out in case Hurricane Laura had eyes for us. We motored up to the ramp and I got out to back the trailer in. My mother started freaking out that I was going in too far about the time the trailer actually touched water, but I eventually managed to convince her it was OK to submerge some part of it.
It was windy and that was making it hard for my dad to drive the boat up onto the trailer, so I risked dislocating my hip by walking down the insanely slippery ramp, climbing onto the trailer and reeling out several feet of strap so I could just hook it up and wind S.S. Pontoon onto the trailer. Dad was idling the boat, but then for some spastic reason jammed the throttle forward. The boat came flying toward my thighs and a vision of Lt. Dan and his “magic legs” flashed in my mind.
I jumped up trying to get my legs out of the way. My mother screamed. I was simultaneously trying to fend off the boat with my right hand when my dad slammed it into reverse and the boat instantly backed away without touching me. But I still fell like a bag of hammers onto one of the crossbars of the trailer. Luckily, it just pulverized the fat between my hip and ribs and didn’t break any bones or lacerate internal organs. It felt like someone really strong — maybe Bo Jackson or Hulk Hogan — had hit me with an aluminum baseball bat.
But the fun didn’t end there.
Once the boat was finally on the trailer, my dad and I were sitting in the boat and my mom was on the dock. No way either of us was going up that slippery ramp, so she had to drive us out. This involved her stomping the gas pedal and flying up the ramp at full speed then slamming on brakes, sending us flying around the boat.
Two guys in a bass boat watched all of this and didn’t even have the decency to clap. I’m amazed the pathetic episode isn’t a huge hit on YouTube. Grade F-.
Thanks to Hurricane Sally we got a third shot at it this week. It involved having to get into the water to clear piles of vegetation off the trailer by hand, and a kindly stranger catching my son before he took the same kind of fall I did. No bloodshed or broken ribs. Grade B. (On a curve.)
So, clearly I ain’t as good as I once was, as the song goes. Maybe I never was. Regardless, I think I’m just going to leave that boat out of the water until hurricane season is over.
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.
It looks like you are opening this page from the Facebook App. This article needs to be opened in the browser.
iOS: Tap the three dots in the top right, then tap on "Open in Safari".
Android: Tap the Settings icon (it looks like three horizontal lines), then tap App Settings, then toggle the "Open links externally" setting to On (it should turn from gray to blue).