New ride for an old boat

The author likes his new trailer because it’s lighter and more versatile. Photo by Tim Plouff

By Tim Plouff

Without a doubt, trailer-boating has proven to be a fast and efficient way for my wife and me to move up and down the coast of Maine, thus exploring the countless islands and various points of interest so close to shore. All boaters – both power and sail – can check-off the various pros and cons of their selected ride. For some, it’s slips or moorings at a treasured harbor. For others, it’s stacked storage that’s protected from weather. Both represent benchmarks that are selected to meet an individual’s particular ambitions. One thing I know for sure: With few exceptions, big sailboats don’t fit the paradigm for spontaneous road adventures. Relatively small power boats do.

Our little 21’ SeaRay has splashed in many rivers and harbors on Maine’s coast, and makes the occasional foray at home onto Beech Hill Pond in Hancock County. We use it a lot. The hours meter is now over 1,000 hours; this on a boat made in 2000. Its previous owner kept the boat in a slip in Boothbay Harbor. For the last 16 summers, however, the boat – her name is Tegoak – has been highly mobile, living on a trailer inside our over-stuffed garage when it’s not on the water.

This arrangement affords excellent 12-month protection for not just the boat, but for all her various accouterment. In the garage, the canvas, the gelcoat finish, the trailer and the trailer tires are beyond the reach of the elements and the various critters that seem so diabolically clever at inflicting damage. Being safely tucked away in the garage also means that it’s easy for her owner to gaze at her and daydream of new adventures – no matter what the season or the weather.

Despite these plush accommodations, and much attention paid to Tegoak’s galvanized trailer, there’s no getting around the fact that salt water corrodes. Everything. While you sleep. While you work. All of the time. I notice it first on the jack, which seemingly fails annually, in spite of the oil, silicone and grease liberally applied both inside and out. Grease spots on my new shorts, my favorite shirt-sleeve, or a long black streak up the calf of my leg? Probably from the trailer jack.

Then trouble starts with the trailer brakes, usually when I really need all four trailer tires to brake heading down a long grade. A glance in the rear view mirror may even reveal a rising plume of smoke that’s being emitted from a frozen brake caliper, or a skidding tire. This has only occurred once in the last 15 years. However, the excitement generated by flames rising from a trailer is incentive enough to make sure it never happens again. There was the time that a caliper froze and we had to remove a wheel, thus operating one wheel down. I wouldn’t recommend making a habit of this.

Then there are the battles with trailer lights. It’s as if Lucifer, Prince of Darkness, designed boat-trailer lighting systems with an operating life-expectancy equal to your trailer leaving the dealership’s dooryard. How is it that you can drive your truck for 20-years, plow snow and ice all winter, travel in blinding rainstorms, and never replace a light or bulb? But a boat trailer’s lighting system, which is theoretically engineered for a wet environment, seems so intent on failing?

And then there are the trailer’s hubs. Up until now I’ve never lost a bearing or had a hub fail in transit. Which means, just by writing this down, I’ve probably gone and jinxed myself.

There have been flat tires, but this is expected. And we’ve been prepared. I have a floor jack in the truck, assorted boards and wood pieces for jacking, plus a spare tire. Two flats have occurred at the launch ramp – sharp cement, debris in the cement, or perhaps what lurked in the deep beyond the ramp – and one tire just got tired and gave up the valve stem in traffic. Our Chinese fire drill/NASCAR pit-stop team got that one changed in Richard Petty fashion.

But the blowout on the highway, headed to Bath and the Kennebec River on I-95 south in Sidney, was memorable for so many reasons. The instant vibration transferred from the trailer to the truck as the tire started to shred itself, the glance in the mirror as the plastic fenders were being torn from the trailer and Frisbee’d into the air, plus the frenetic effort to get to the side of the highway, quickly, in holiday-weekend traffic, leaves long-lasting impressions. Fortunately, the blowout was on the passenger side of the trailer. We could change the tire in the grass on the side of the highway. Feeling the whole boat, truck and trailer shake as traffic roared by was all the incentive we needed to get the job done fast.

With more than a dozen boat excursions a season (as much as 2,500 miles a year on the trailer), and entering the 13th year of the trailer’s life, it appeared another brake replacement was in order, plus three of the four tires showed excessive inside wear. I shopped for a new trailer, but didn’t pull the trigger as wanderlust – some call it two-foot-itis – had also set-in.

The brakework and tires proved to be as much as 45% of the price of a new trailer. Big mistake. And now, the front axle appeared to be slightly bent, as both tires were showing signs of increased inside wear patterns. The die was cast.

Weighing the options, it soon became clear that an aluminum trailer was a better choice. Aluminum is lighter than a galvanized steel trailer, plus I could customize it with the torsion-bar suspension for a better ride and control, LED lights, larger 14” aluminum wheels, a fold-away tongue to still fit inside the garage, as well as a spare-tire stand. The new bunks are about 6” higher from the ground than the older trailer, but the new trailer hauls easier, smoother and with less aggravation than the aging galvanized trailer, which found a home as a yard trailer for a local boatyard.

Before long, the new trailer will have gouge marks on the bottom from pushing back too deep, probably a light will fail or fall off, and the jack will need to be replaced. Yet, the SeaRay has a solid foundation again, and it looks proud, too. All is well again as a trailer-boater, as new destinations await.

Tim has been trailer-boating with the 2000 inboard-V-8-power Sea Ray 215 Express Cruiser Tegoak (“place of breaking waves”) since 2005. He writes the weekly “On the Road Review” automotive column for “The Ellsworth American,” while his day job is as wholesale oil and gasoline sales manager for Dead River Company.