Stupid boat tricks

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.

12 people are having a conversation about “Stupid boat tricks

  1. That method is similar to the way we used to skin deer. Tie deer head to tree, put golf ball under deer skin at neck, tie one end of rope around golf ball and other end of rope to bumper, pull away slow, hope deer stays in one piece. Voila, one skinless deer.

  2. I think the anxiousness alone I imagine you experienced was enough to make up for a flawless execution. This is the kind of story (gone right) that reminds me of all the crazy problems my husband and I had every time we took his grandfathers boat out to crab in. Countless hours and late nights in wal-mart for parts, countless beers needed to soothe frustration. But when it was worth it we had our limit to bring home in a day. Mmmm… crab.

  3. Reminds me of unloading very tall stainless tanks from a shipping container/truck with a forklift. I am the official nail biter!….sounds like you did fine…that’s the good news..the bad news is that you’ll now try scarier..more nerve wracking stuff next time.

    Btw…the golf ball trick stated by your first response above sounds amazingly gruesome…but would make a cool YouTube video…I’ve got a golf ball…go get a deer! (grin)

  4. I don’t think you’d need all your boats to invade Britain. What with budget cuts and one of our nuclear subs beaching itself this weekend I think we’re a pushover 😉

  5. Remember the water rat from “The Wind in the Willows” who liked nothing better than messing around in boats? Kevin may resemble him–with perhaps a bit of “Hagar the Horrible” (who’s constantly trying to convince his wife Helga that he needs a new boat) thrown in.

  6. Darren – I’m having a hard time picturing that technique. How does the golfball get the skin off the deer? I hope you’ll explain it, because I’m hoping to have to skin a deer this season.

    Brooke — That’s the trade-off. You have to deal with boats, but you get to eat seafood!

    Beth — I appreciate that selfless offer to share.

    Sarah — That is officially the first treasonous comment I’ve gotten. For both our sakes, I hope MI6 isn’t reading.

    Paula — Just realisitc.

    Mom — Alarmingly, that’s pretty accurate.

    • Aha! NOW I get it. Thanks. This will undoubtedly be our method of choice, should we bag a deer this season, as it A) looks quick and easy and B) involves tying something inappropriate to the truck and pulling, which is one of Kevin’s favorite activities.

  7. Oyster reefs, once so plentiful they blocked shipping traffic, have been in decline due to overharvesting, pollution, and recent oil spill activities, experts say. But scientists are working to restore the reefs using special material called oysterkrete.

    Read about Oysterkrete at National Geographic; they have a video on its use there.

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