The Snow Goose

Guest Perspective

Dad aboard Snow Goose. Boats often have personalities, and this one’s was a bit on the destructive end of the scale. Photo courtesy Randy Randall

By Randy Randall
For Points East

Snow Goose was a Marblehead cruiser designed by Eldridge-McGinnis and built in the late ’50s at Marblehead Boatyard on the Biddeford side of the Saco River in Maine. My dad owned the boat for over 20 years, and, as with any long-term relationship, there were many good times – and some not so good. But all memorable. Here are a few of the more exciting mishaps I recall from the ’60s and ’70s.

The Snow Goose was a heavy boat. She was only 23 feet long, but still weighed a few tons. Easy. Maybe five or six thousand pounds. Her Palmer engine provided substantial ballast. Dad found an old racecar trailer at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway and built a cradle on top of that. He extended the trailer tongue with a long piece of 3” pipe and twice a year used that rig to haul Snow Goose to and from a marina at Old Orchard Beach. He pulled the boat with a little Toyota Hilux pickup that was dwarfed by Snow Goose coming along behind – an obvious case of the tail wagging the dog.

One spring day Dad crept slowly down the hill at the marina and turned into the parking lot, making a wide sweep to get lined up for the launch ramp. He was just about to pull ahead when friends yelled, “Hey, Bob, stop. Stop!” That long trailer tongue was bent at a right angle. The momentum of the heavy boat rolling downhill was responsible. If Dad had tried to straighten out the truck, the tongue would have surely snapped off. Now what? We had to somehow get the boat off the trailer.

Well, never underestimate the old guys. The first problem was how to get Dad’s little truck disconnected from the trailer. They chocked the trailer wheels with blocking and used a jack to pry the bent trailer hitch off the ball. Dad scooted out of the way, making room for us to back up the marina winch truck, run out the cable, make a loop around the car trailer and take up the slack. The old truck pulled Snow Goose up the hill and got it lined up with the launch ramp. In those days the marina roadway was gravel and we had to chock the dual wheels on the truck with cement blocks. We put the winch in reverse and slowly let gravity lower Snow Goose down the ramp and into the river. Once the old girl floated, the rest was easy. After winching the trailer up to dry land, we jury-rigged a hitch so Dad could haul what was left of the trailer back home. Of all the many launchings for that old boat, that was probably the most memorable.

Then there was the time Snow Goose left a distinct impression on Dad’s truck. A different truck – a Ford with a cap over the bed. The launch routine was to back the trailer down the ramp at low tide, disconnect, and wait for the incoming tide to lift Snow Goose off. I spent some fun evenings aboard the old boat waiting for the tide to flood and lift us free. On this particular afternoon, Dad had help. We blocked the wheels and undid the trailer hitch and safety chains. Dad’s buddy, Mac, said he’d drive the truck up to the parking lot. However, when Mac released the parking brake, the truck rolled backward and smashed into the stem of Snow Goose. The heavy boat didn’t budge. But the impact left a nice neat crease dead-center down the back of the truck cap and bumper. That big dent was still there when Dad sold the truck a few years later.

On another beautiful summer evening my father-in-law and his neighbor and I couldn’t resist taking a ride in the old wooden boat. We didn’t realize it at the time, but the head gasket on the engine was leaking. We motored down the river at a nice clip, turned around at buoy #4, and headed back upriver – only to have the engine begin skipping and bucking and losing rpm’s. We pulled back on the throttle and the engine smoothed out somewhat, but the Snow Goose was barely moving. We crept up the river. After a couple of miles the engine gave a last gasp and died. By now it was dark, but luckily we managed to snag someone’s private dock and tie up. Looking back, we should have just left things alone, but we were focused on getting home with the boat. So I decided to swap out the sparkplugs. We only had a weak flashlight to see by, but we felt our way around the engine and sort of knew what we were doing. Then the wrench slipped and I drove my hand into the manifold. A loose piece of tin left a gaping cut. Our attention now shifted from the sparkplugs to my bleeding hand. We wrapped it in an old fish towel, walked up the path, and knocked on the homeowner’s door. My father-in-law called home and told the women where to come get us. The wives were quite surprised when the three of us tumbled into the car and told Mother to drive us to the hospital. No doubt we had lots of ’splaining to do. I think my Dad rescued the boat the next evening and nursed it back to the marina. Meanwhile, I was out of commission with six stitches.

Of course, these mishaps all happened over the many years Dad owned Snow Goose. As the summers passed, these stories became part of the old boat’s history with our family. Boats are funny that way; not like cars or trucks. Boats have personality and provenance, and seem to write their own stories.

I wonder if Snow Goose remembers?

Frequent contributor, correspondent and friend Randy Randall is co-owner of Marston’s Marina in Saco, Maine, and a dreamer and waterman of the first order.