Little Water Buggy: The Launch

First posted on 8/5/12

I’m not dead, drowned, or totally embarrassed, just a little embarrassed.

I finally got my Little Water Buggy in the water. My sister was supposed to go with me, but opted for a bike ride when that big, black cloud appeared in the distance clipping along in our direction.

I had my little 15-foot tri-hull all hooked up to the car and had loaded it, for the very first time: battery hooked up to the motor, full gas tank (read: heavy). Oh yeah, always hook the boat up to the car first, before you start loading heavy stuff into the back, or the thing actually tips back and hits the dirt….luckily the back end was on the lawn, not the driveway.

Since I hadn’t ever launched the boat, parked the boat, or even hauled the boat, I figured I’d practice with it on the trailer. The guys make it sound so easy: if you want the trailer to go left, just turn the wheel right. Wrong. It’s way more complicated than that. Just hold the steering wheel on the bottom instead of the top. Yeah, right.

I figured I’d scoot out to Hoppy’s Landing and just drive around, backing it in and out of spaces and that kind of stuff. Meanwhile, the big, black cloud passed by without spitting a single drop of water on us, or kicking up one little breeze.

When I got to Hoppy’s Landing, no one was there except the Harbormaster, Dave; the sky had cleared, the gentle breeze was not the least bit threatening, and I decided to take my chances.

Dave gave me the official safety check, and made a couple of suggestions, but nothing that would keep me out of the water. Then he helped direct me as I backed the trailer down the ramp.

Really glad he was there. Even with him directing me, I put that trailer in the water on an angle I have never seen anyone do before at the big, wide, commercial ramp. But hey, it was in the water.

The guys had all insisted I would need to use the tilt function on my old trailer because the trailer is too big for the boat….okay, maybe I should’ve started this blog with how I got the boat and got it ready for the water in the first place. Nah, I’ll do a prequel. If it’s good enough for George Lucas, it’s good enough for me.

So, while I’m backing the thing down, John shows up. Now, I don’t know John very well, just through newspaper stuff. Our relationship is cordial, but professional.

Anyway, I looked at him and said, “You can’t watch this, go away.”

But really, I was joking. I admit, it was nice to have them both there helping me. It would’ve been much more stressful. It was tricky getting it off the trailer. The little bugger just didn’t want to go. I cranked up reverse a little and the motor popped right out of the water, just the way George B. had told me it would. Thank you, George! I would not have known that and I surely would’ve thought I had broken something. Anyway, I held down the motor with one hand and revved with the other. No luck. That baby wasn’t going anywhere.

So, John and Dave said I’d have to use the tilt function. Of course, no one told me that while it’s in the water, on an angle, that the pin to release the tilt would be all jammed up. I couldn’t have pulled that pin out if you paid me. But that ended up being a blessing in disguise. I backed the trailer down a little more and then pushed the boat in the water.

That was easy, why didn’t I think of it?

I probably would’ve been a little leery about giving it such a shove if Dave and John hadn’t been there. They didn’t interfere, they just told me what I needed to do and had the patience to let me do it myself. I’m also glad I didn’t have to use the tilt function. I mean, really, who designs this stuff? Tilt the trailer? Tip the boat into the water? Really?

It was nice to have familiar faces there. John gave me his cell phone number, telling me he’d be out on the water at the same time so I should call him if I had any trouble. The harbormaster gave me his cell, too. Gotta love a small town.

I also think I would’ve lost the boat in the water if Dave hadn’t stopped me at the beginning and said, “okay, have you thought about how you are going to do this?”

I said, sure….I’m going to unhook it, push it off and then jump on.

“You might want to re-think that,” he said diplomatically.

Um….okay.

Got it. Keep the boat connected to the trailer, jump in, lean over and disconnect it, while you’re IN the boat. That way, if it floats off, you’re not chasing it through the water, you’re already in it.

I knew that.

So, they helped me get it tied to the dock, I think….that part’s a blur. Of course they helped me. Why wouldn’t they? Only my tired old forgetful brain cells know for sure.

Then I took my shaky hands back to the car and parked it, and called my sister to tell her I had changed my mind, but her cell phone was off.

I was on my own.

That’s okay, that was the point of this whole venture: to be able to putter around by myself, communing with the ocean.

So, I hopped in, turned the engine to slow, and proceeded to get pushed around the mooring field by wind and waves. I totally ignored what was behind me as I concentrated completely on turning this way and that, so I had no idea if John and Dave were watching when I hit the marker buoy and almost got tangled up in a mooring line.

All of a sudden, the mooring line was under me and the engine was going over it. What? How’d I get here? What do I do now?

I watched helplessly, never thinking that I should put the motor in neutral and pull it up: Just like every other ding-a-ling (or weekend warrior as ML Baron likes to call us neophytes) who doesn’t know what she’s doing on the water. Ah well.

As I watched the mooring line pass under my boat and wondered how utterly embarrassing (and dangerous) it would be to get tangled up in a mooring line, divine intervention saved me. Either the hand of God, or my old friend Jimmy Mellen* just gave that big old boat a tap, the mooring line went just a tad slack, and my propeller chugged right over it.

Phew….50 feet off the ramp on my first trip…that would’ve been awful.

So, one of the first things I learned was that there is such a thing as too slow. You need a little power to actually maneuver.

After that, I just puttered around getting the feel of the motor, Jimmy’s old motor that still has that Parkinson’s shake. Everything worked fine, but I was really glad no one was around. A boat came flying into Hoppy’s and I was scared out of my mind that I wouldn’t be able to maneuver out of his way, but he was way over to my port side as I was heading out.

I thought I gave the point and that rocky shore a wide berth out there as I did figure eights and circles, and just tried to figure out where to sit, how to sit, and finally realized I have to stand. The old tri-hull is designed to use a steering wheel near the windshield, but someone cut that out. So I have an old 25 HP Evinrude with an extension on the tiller. I can’t sit on the port side, because the tiller angles to the left, so there’s not enough room to turn that way. i can’t sit on the right, because then the tiller is too far away. Can’t sit in the middle, because the whole thing shakes like crazy. So, I stand up. I’m told that’s a West Island thing to do anyway.

The only problem with it, really, is that it use up space that two people could use to sit.

On the way back I saw that big rock at the end of Long Island and realized how close I had gotten to it and all the other rocks on my way out. I couldn’t see it at all as I left but it was ominous as I headed back in. The tide must’ve gone out a little. But I’m glad I saw it because you really need to know where that thing is!

A couple of big boats were just tooling around out there making wakes. My little boat got tossed around a lot. I still wasn’t sure about how to maneuver the thing but I started to get the hang of heading into the wakes head on.

Is a tri-hull easier to capsize or harder? Just wondering…

Then I headed back, and not a soul in sight. I figured that was good because I was sure that loading the boat onto the trailer was going to be ugly, and I didn’t want anyone to be waiting for me to do it (okay, I didn’t want anyone to see me TRY to do it).

It’s a funny thing. My sister insists that women our age do not try new things that are this far outside of their comfort zones. On the one hand, I surely get that. I was a bit shaky, I admit it. On the other hand, I was never one to really care what people think of me, and at 55, I care less than ever. But, women are trained to be careful, and it is ingrained since birth that we are NOT to make mistakes, especially mistakes that might hurt us or someone else. It is designed by society to keep us in our places: we must have a man to help us with these things or we should just be happy not to do them.

I try not to be like that.

Anyway, back to our story.

I made about four attempts to get to the dock, each time ending up about halfway and at the wrong angle. Then I looked up and there was Hoppy at the end of the ramp with his arms out….what are you doing?

I said “I’m trying, I’m trying.”

He called out to go wide and come back in straight. He doesn’t understand that I don’t do “straight” well at all, but it worked. I almost fell off the dock when I jumped on, learning that I should grab the line on the dock and pull the boat towards it, not jump off with my line in my hand. Watching those kids at Earl’s Marina, that young and fit James, et. al., as they jump in and out of boats and crawl around them like cats, is lots of fun for those of us old enough to be their mothers, but it is not wise to imitate them.

The learning curve is going to be tough on this one….one little itty bitty piece of information at a time.

So, Hoppy asks if I let the motor out all the way. I said no way, I’m still learning how to steer the stupid thing.

So, he says “jump back in, I’ll show you.”

So, I got back in and grabbed that windshield with all my strength; I know he likes to dump people. Anyway, it wouldn’t have worked. He said the prop is slipping, or capitating, or some such other thing I never heard of. But that’s okay, we’ll get another prop, we’ll drop the motor closer to the boat. Meanwhile, it chugs along just fine for my speed.

Then he loaded it onto the trailer for me. Guess he couldn’t bear to watch me try to do it, and he wanted to get out and do what he had to do.

The good thing is that he motored right up onto the trailer, which the other guys said could not be done. They all said I would have to walk it up and crank it the whole way and use the tilt function. Hoppy said bullshit to that!

I know I’m no Hoppy, and I won’t be motoring up the top of the trailer, but I won’t be touching that stupid tilt pin anytime soon, either.

So, that’s my story….day 1.

*Visit http://www.neighbnews.com/ and click on archives and find the 11/3/11 issue, page 3, to learn more about Jimmy and see an old clip of him in an interview for an oral history project of the fishing industry.

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