All this time I’ve been thinking that Kevin became an oyster farmer because he feels a profound need to grow things, to create wholesome food, to contribute to sustainable aquaculture. He wants to spend his days doing something constructive, something productive, out in the beautiful waters off Cape Cod.
He did it so he could buy another boat.
We now own four – count ‘em, four! – vessels that qualify as boats. It’s a veritable armada. We’ll be invading Britain any day now.
If pressed, I will admit that Kevin needed this boat. Our other seagoing vessel (the other two are for the pond) is the wrong size and shape for oystering. It’s a nineteen-foot Eastern (christened the Ahoy Polloi), a fine, broad-beamed, smooth-riding fishing boat.
What makes the Eastern a stable, dry ride is exactly what makes it unsuitable for the oyster farm – it has a keel. An oyster boat has to negotiate the shallows, and a flat bottom is what’s called for.
Kevin had been scouring listings up and down the east coast, looking for the right boat at the right price. And then he found it, in Connecticut. It’s a fourteen-foot Carolina Skiff, just a few years old, powered by a 25-horse Honda four-stroke.
It was a little smaller than ideal, but the price was excellent and the boat had been well taken care of. Before we pressed it into service hauling oysters, clams, and equipment, it had served as the launch for the Wesleyan crew team. We suspect it’s experiencing culture shock.
When you buy a boat, you generally find out what’s wrong with it pretty quickly. In our case, the main problem is that the engine is a little too big for the boat. That means it doesn’t run as smoothly or efficiently as it would if it had the right size engine, but it’s hardly the end of the world.
The other problem is with the trailer. It’s brand new, and has carpet-covered runners that the boat rests on. When you’re putting the boat in where there are no proper ramps, and working in very shallow water, it’s important that the boat slide off and on the runners very easily, because you’re essentially pulling it on and pushing it off on dry land.
Carpet’s no good for this. You need plastic skids on the runners, and today was the day we installed them.
What makes working on a boat trailer awkward, difficult, and dangerous is the presence of the boat. No boat, no problem. Or fewer problems, at any rate.
Had we been thinking ahead, we would have taken the plastic skids with us this morning, when we went out to check the oysters. While the boat was in the water, we could have attached the skids to the runners. But we didn’t think ahead, and so the boat was on the trailer, high and dry in our driveway, when we set out to do the work.
Sure, we could have taken the boat to the water, launched it and anchored it, and done the work in the parking lot, but Kevin had a “better” idea.
“We can take the boat off the trailer right here,” he said, gesturing to the driveway. “People do it all the time. They just tie the boat to a tree, get something to hold it up, and pull the trailer out from under it with the truck.”
I took a minute to make sense of this. And then I looked around.
“But there’s no tree in the right spot,” I said.
“Oh, that’s okay.” He breezily waved away my concern. “We’ll use the garage.”
He seemed to have no doubt that a garage was a perfectly functional, safe substitute for a tree, so I went along with it.
Kevin backed the boat, on the trailer, up to the middle of the garage. He attached a rope to a cleat on one side of the boat, looped it around the section of the garage between the two doors, and then attached it to a cleat on the other side of the boat.
He took out the big blue sections of Styrofoam that we use under our swim float, and positioned them under the boat’s stern and on either side of the trailer, ready to be pushed under the boat as we pulled the trailer out.
“Do you want to drive the truck or handle the Styrofoam?” he asked me.
I chose the truck.
“Go very slowly, and stop if I say stop,” he instructed as I got behind the wheel.
I gingerly pressed the accelerator. This would either ease the trailer out from under the boat or pull down the garage. I was fervently hoping for A. As I inched the truck forward, I did a mental inventory of the garage contents, thinking about what I’d regret losing most.
But I lost nothing. It worked like a charm. I pulled the trailer out from under the boat, and Kevin pushed the Styrofoam pieces under it. In just a minute or two, the boat was up on the blocks and the trailer was empty.
We put the skids on and reversed the process by positioning the trailer in front of the boat and using the winch to get it back under. It slid under easily, with its new plastic skids.
The only problem? Stories where nothing goes wrong are much less interesting than stories where something does.
It won’t happen again.