The Cordova NAPA has a BBQ every year on Memorial Day weekend. There is a savings on things that fishermen need to have, like oil and fuel filters, oil, and tools. I like to stock up for the season. The whole town shows up but not so much for the sale as for the free hotdogs. In a town where hotdogs are $9 bucks at the local lunch hit, free hotdogs are a treat.
It was my third or fourth season fishing my own boat and I was working on being more independent. I guess fishing one of the most dangerous waters in Alaska alone at the age of 31 or 32 just wasn’t enough for me. I wanted to be more independent. Anyway the tide was falling and I, true to form, was running late. I needed to pull my boat to fix something on the lower unit. I didn’t own a truck and relied on Lenny to pull me out with his two-tone tan 1983 Ford F-350. Feeling like a bother since high tide was so early in the morning, around 6 AM, I waited until the last possible moment to pull out. And, wanting to be more independent, I hooked up the trailer myself, even though I had never done it before. Plus, I was in a hurry. This is always a recipe for disaster. This morning was no different.
Lenny backed the truck up to my trailer and I latched locking mechanism above the ball hitch and my safety chain to the truck. Lenny drove the truck and trailer to the ramp where my boat was already waiting as I ran down and jumped aboard. At 7 AM on a Saturday morning, the harbor was still pretty quiet, no one around except for Gloria mending gear on the airplane float just behind the boat ramp.
The tide was over half out and I was pushing the envelope by pulling my boat out, as I needed at least a 2.5 hold up tide to have enough water. I climbed aboard, fired her up and untied. I backed up a bit to line my bow up with the trailer while Lenny backed down the ramp until the back tires just touched the salt water but not enough to cover the rims. He locked the front hubs and put it in four-wheel drive in order to have more power to pull my 28 foot, 15,000 pound bowpicker.
I got the bow lined up and slid right in. I gave her a little more power and scooted her up. While leaving her in forward I grabbed a safety line from my front cleat, went around the tow post of the trailer and back to my other cleat, making a bridle. This way, she can’t slide off the trail on the way up the ramp as some boats have done in the past.
I ran inside the cabin, cut the engine and raised the lower unit. Since we were in a hurry, I just stayed aboard instead of jumping into the truck.
I went back to the bow and gave Lenny the signal that I was all ready to go. He put the truck in low and started up the ramp. I looked over the side of my rail as we went up and everything looked fine, the boat was straight and even on the trailer. We got about half way up and I heard a bang and knew that wasn’t too good a sign. It was followed by a loud clank, clank, clank, clank, clank. I looked up to see that the locking mechanism of the trailer above the ball had come up and the trailer disconnected itself from the truck. That was the first noise. The clank, clank, clank, clank, clank, was the safety chain liberating itself from the tongue of the trailer but stayed attached to the truck. The truck and the trailer were no longer joined. In that split moment of sheer panic my eyes got wide as saucers. “Holy shit! What do I do?” I cried. Lenny, who is always cool as a cucumber, casually and calmly said. “Hold on.” I grabbed the wheel. She was only idle for a split moment then I was surprised how much speed my boat and trailer gained in that short distance of down the boat ramp. It couldn’t have been more than 50 or 60 feet. She was really flying fast, backwards, heading for the water completely out of control and there wasn’t a thing to be done about it, except to hold on. The boat didn’t go straight back, I went back at a bit on a angle, my stern, with my $15,000 lower unit raised up, was heading straight for the dock. The only thought I had time for was “This is going to cost me a lot of money”. Then I hit the water and the force almost knocked me off my feet. Luckily, I took Lenny’s advice and held on.
The boat didn’t torpedo too much, since it was still attached to the trailer, which acted as a big sea anchor. It also acted as a big bumper and smacked the dock instead of my lower unit. The whole episode only lasted about 15 seconds but to me, it seemed like an eternity. Still a bit dazed I looked up to see who just witnessed my folly. Gloria, barely glancing up from her work nonchalantly commented “At least the truck didn’t go in with it. I’ve seen that happen before.” Gloria, who used to spend all day everyday down on the docks for years has seen it all and clearly wasn’t impressed. I, on the other hand, had to push my heart out of my throat and back where it belonged before I could even speak.
It only took a second for the surprise to wear off then I assessed my situation. I was standing on my boat, which was tied to a trailer, which was completely submerged in the harbor. I wasn’t close enough to the dock to hop off, nor was the truck anywhere near being able to retrieve the trailer. No matter, I had the perfect solution. I would just drive the boat and trailer back to the dock and try again. I lowed my lower unit, fired up the engine and put it in forward from my forward helm and the boat moved. I figured I was genius for coming up with this plan so can imagine my surprise when I realized it wasn’t going to work. I got the boat to move forward about five feet or so, but then it wouldn’t go any more. So close, but so far. I was still about three feet away from the dock and the trailer wasn’t anywhere near where we could grab it with the truck.
Huh. Now what?
Lenny suggested that I untie the boat and go get Howard. But, I didn’t want to. I wanted this to work. And where there is a will, there is a way, right?
I tried again.
Still didn’t work.
I tried again.
Again, it didn’t work.
Eventually, it slowly sunk in to my somewhat stubborn head that the plan would only work in theory, not in reality.
I was afraid to just leave my trailer turned submarine turned navigational hazard unattended and unmarked at the bottom of the boat ramp “What if someone hits it?” I questioned Lenny. “No one else is going to try to pull their boat this stage of the tide. Just take your boat back to your slip. Come on, I’ll give you a lift. Lets go find Howard.”
I ran my boat back to my slip recalculating todays plan in my head. My plan was to pull my boat, get it to Cordova Outboard before they close for the weekend closes for the weekend and launch it that next morning. Then I’d have Sunday to finished mending my torn net, get fuel and ice and head out to the fishing grounds that evening for Monday’s opener.
You’d think after a few years of these set backs I’d get used to them. But no, they pissed me off every time.
I met Lenny at the top of the ramp and got in. We drove down to the Cordova House, locally known as the CoHo, to look for Howard.
Turn in next week for rest of the story…..