Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Sailing on Lake Fiasco

I alluded to the challenges encountered in acquiring a simple little sailboat in my last post. Here's the whole sordid story.

It started yesterday when the seller of the boat called me and changed our scheduled 4:00 meeting time to 11:50. She thought (rightly!) that we ought to meet at the BMV in order to get the registration of the trailer transferred over to me. The BMV is typically much more complicated to deal with than the Ohio Division of Watercraft. The latter have been nothing but pleasantly helpful in my past dealings with them, and small boats are very easy to buy and sell because there is no title to them. The BMV, though. Shudder!

Meeting a total stranger at the BMV was pretty much what you'd expect.  Is that her? Or how about that one? It didn't help that she was late (I later found out that she had gone back home because she had forgotten to bring the life preservers that she wanted to give me), giving me plenty of time to approach women that weren't the woman I was looking for. They were all probably left wondering how anyone could expect such an incredibly lame pick-up line like "are you the lady that's selling me her boat?" to ever work.

The non-commercial trailer registration process in Ohio is completely messed up. If you don't have a slip of paper providing an officially recorded weight, you have to pay the fee for a 3,000 lb. trailer. That fee is a hefty $43. If I had a weight slip to prove that my under 500 lb. trailer was officially certified to be under 500 lbs, with said certification being provided by an official called a "weight master," the fee would be $16. So why didn't I get the trailer weighed by a weight master? Two reasons: it had expired plates on it and thus couldn't be taken on the road, and because weight masters are only located at the weigh stations on the freeways way out in the boonies. Besides the impracticality of driving out to a weigh station, ask yourself this: have you ever seen one of those open?

The $43 was cash or check only. I had $33 on me. Luckily I was standing right next to a woman that I had just handed a few hundred dollars to. I hit her up for a $10 loan.

After work, I went to pick up the boat. Task one was, of course, to put the new plate on. Naturally the seller had dropped by earlier to retrieve the old expired plate. Sentimental value, I suppose. I can't figure out any other reason for her wanting it. Nor can I fathom why she took the nuts and bolts that were holding it on, leaving me with no way to attach the new one. The way I figure it is she just bought them from me for $10, she just doesn't know it yet.

The drive home was stressful. Not only was I towing an unknown trailer for the first time, I was towing it with a trailer hitch that had yet to be tested in action. And the masts were bouncing around in a most disconcerting way, looking every bit like they were going to fly off and impale someone. If that wasn't stressful enough, I felt that I had to limit my highway speed to the posted speed limit. At rush hour. Talk about stress! I don't know how you slow drivers handle it! You know who passed me while I was crawling along?


With the trailer licensed and the boat safely in the hangar, all that was left to do was to get the boat itself registered. I knew it was going to be tricky. I based that supposition on the fact that the seller had gone out of her way to gather up the entire paperwork history of the boat, including the letters she had exchanged with the Division of Watercraft explaining that a 12 number Hull Identification Number (HIN) simply was not available. She had provided pencil drawings of the factory identity plate in response to their request for a pencil tracing, to which they replied "Thanks, but no thanks." Well, they couched it in more formal language, but that was the gist of it.

She apparently had eventually worn them down because there was the registration card, resplendent with its four digit HIN. Unique in Ohio, that.  I decided that it would be prudent to take a picture of the identity plate with me rather than try to re-convince them that four digit HINs were all the craze these days. Oh, and I brought cash, too. There wouldn't be anyone there to sell license plate bolts to.

It actually ended up being relatively painless, at least from a process point-of-view. They made copies of this, that, and the other, banged around in the computer files, ruffled through the paper files, and eventually decided that they could register the boat for me. Where they managed to scare up the requisite twelve digits from, I do not know and I do not care.

It cost $38. A power boat would have only been $33. Why the $5 difference? Sailboats pay a $5 "conservation fee." Which I suppose is to offset the additional damage they do to the eco-system by harnessing the wind rather than burning pollution-laden fossil fuels. It seems completely backwards, doesn't it?

With everything registered and paid for (I see a lot of bumper stickers and T-shirts these days that say "Freedom Isn't Free"; I think I can see their point), there was nothing keeping me from making my maiden voyage this afternoon. I rushed home from work and got ready to go.  In my haste, I somehow managed to lose the key to the airport gate, but it was eventually found. I couldn't find my good life jacket and the waterproof box attached to it that I use to hold the boat registration card and my car key, but it was eventually found hiding in the trunk of the Miata. I had left it there on the day that I went to look at The Boat That Leaked. I was finally ready to go!

As I was driving out to the lake, my most fervent desire was that there wouldn't be anyone else out there. Knowing that the probability of fiasco was somewhere on the order of 90%, I thought it would be nice to not have any witnesses. And, given that I had not practiced backing up with the trailer, I thought it would be nice to be able to back down the boat ramp without having to deal with the pressure of people waiting for me to get out of the way. When I pulled into the boat ramp lot, I was greeted with exactly what I had hoped for: absolute solitude.

I got busy rigging the boat. That went pretty well considering that I had just practiced it the night before. I was just about ready to try backing the boat down the boat ramp when two pickup trucks pulled in.


The first truck contained a shaved-headed man carrying a six pack and a woman with a purple mohawk hair cut. The second truck was driving by a guy that looked like he could have been cast as lead for any biker movie ever made.

Beer guy: "Hey! I thought that was chew!"

Biker guy: "Yup. It's me!"

Mohawk girl: "When'd jew get out?"

Oh, great. Yeah, yeah, I know. He paid his debt to society and all that. But still.... great.

I went about my business, albeit quite a bit self-consciously.  All was going well, though. I was having no trouble at all backing down the ramp. Until, that is, I heard a tremendous "THWACK!" and leaves fell through the open sun roof. The mast had brushed against an overhanging tree branch. Everything seemed okay, though, so I backed the trailer on down into the water. The rear end of the boat floated off of the trailer, so I stopped and got out. I floated the boat the rest of the way off of the trailer and started looking for something to tie it to so I could move the car up to the parking lot. There was nothing to be found.

Great. No help from the witnesses - I think they were comparing the relative merits of probation vs. house arrest.

I ended up pulling the boat around to the other side of the pier and yanking it up onto the bank. I didn't want to have to do that - that side of the pier was filthy with yucky green algae and floating trash, and it smelled horrible. There was no choice, though.

I went and parked the car ("How long was you in fer this time," I heard as I walked by the happily disinterested witnesses) and went back to retrieve the boat. I thought I'd go ahead and get my life jacket on and put my car key in the water proof box before putting the boat in the water. As I was trying to snap the buckle on the life jacket, I heard "PLOP," and looked down just in time to see my car key sinking below the algae.

Great. Just great.

If you think I was reluctant to pull the boat through that crud, how do you think I felt about reaching down into it to fish around looking for my car key?

Once I found it and rinsed everything off on the other side of the pier, it was time to launch the boat and finally do some sailing! I carefully climbed aboard and pushed away from the pier. And....

Just sat there. I had launched into absolutely no wind at all. Not even a light breeze. Completely dead air.

I suddenly missed my kayak.

I wobbled the rudder back and forth in an attempt to propel myself out away from the inlet, hoping that there would be some breeze further out on the lake. With no wind to fill the sail, there was nothing to hold the boom out. I had to push it out to keep it from flopping over on me. I tried moving to the other side of the boat, but it just followed me. The boat tips towards whichever side I sit on, so the boom just falls over to that side. There still wasn't even the whisper of a rumor of a breeze.

We were moving, though. I don't know if it was the current or if the boat was simply just falling forwards into the ever-increasing depth of my despair and frustration, but we were moving forward. Very, very slowly, but forward none the less.

Captain Bligh made better time in his lifeboat.

An interminable eon later as I approached the far bank of the lake, I was becoming concerned that I wouldn't be able to get back. I turned around and got the boat pointed back towards where I had launched. Very, very slowly we made our way back. As I finally approached the pier, I saw a small eye bolt that I had missed before. I'd be able to tie the boat to it while I got the sail down and readied myself for debarkation. I finally got close enough to tie the bow line to the eye bolt and busied myself with dropping the sail. Once I had it down, I looked up to see that a breeze had finally kicked up while I wasn't paying attention and pushed the boat away from the pier. The line I had loosely tied to the eye bolt had come loose. The witnesses, having finally finished their impromptu reunion with biker guy, were sitting there fishing. And, I have to say, looking quite amused.

I wasn't about to raise the sail again, so I had to ignominiously wobble the rudder back and forth in an attempt to push the boat back up to the pier. Once I managed to do that, I wasted no time at all getting out of the damned thing. I dragged it back around to the other side of the pier and beached it while I went to get the car.  Backing down the ramp went fine again, and it wasn't very hard to get the boat back onto the trailer. I pulled the trailer out of the water until the mast was just shy of the overhanging tree branch and got out to bring the mast down. All that was left to do was pull the trailer the rest of the way up the ramp and over to the parking area so I could get everything taken apart and put away. Then I'd just need to strap the boat down and the whole fiasco would finally be over. That's when I heard a combination of "WHUUMP!!" and "CLANG!!"

The boat had fallen off of the trailer. It was at this point that I decided that I needed to take a picture.


I swear, I was sorely tempted to just leave it there.

I decided instead to just busy myself with getting the sail and the other various pieces-parts put away. Once I had calmed down a little, I'd deal with getting the boat back onto the trailer. It's not actually all that heavy and I was able to get it back up there without having to resort to asking for a hand from the witnesses, so there is that. A small shining victory.

The boat's back in the hangar now and I'm looking forward to trying again on a day with a wee bit more wind and a lot less fiasco.


  1. I know that was quite the exercise in frustration but I have to admit that it's hilarious to read about after the fact!

    Hope the new boat works out better on trial number two.

  2. the sure way to be a leader in this life is drive the speed limit.