Margaret: An Unusual Launch

20 Dec
Preparing Margaret for (re)launching

Welcome to SailFeed! The website launched today but as you can see most of us blogging here have already been going at it for a bit. My blog is one of the newest so if you’re interested it won’t take long to peruse my previous posts and catch up. At the moment it’s a bit technical as we’ve been chronicling progress on the refit of my Cape Dory 28 but in the spirit of SailFeed’s first day I thought we could lighten things up a bit with a launch story of my own.

Meet Margaret:
Margaret is a 1967 Cal 20 owned by my friends Benjamin, Walker, and Luke. They bought her sight unseen for one dollar (yes, that’s $1 USD!) in June ’09 from a boatyard in Mobile Bay, TX. The story goes something like this:
They had been looking around New Orleans for a cheap fixer-upper but after inspecting around twenty had yet to see a seaworthy vessel. Unfazed, they decided to simply buy the cheapest boat they could find and make it seaworthy, regardless of its condition. Earlier in their search a friend had told them about a one dollar boat in Texas but it wasn’t till this point that they gave it serious consideration. There was, of course, good reason for the one dollar price tag -what little they knew about the boat was that she had  suffered extensive hurricane damage followed by sitting up for years. Nonetheless they were itching to get started so they got in touch with the yard Margaret was sitting in and soon became the somewhat anxious owners of a beat-up old sailboat they had yet to set eyes on.
When they arrived in Texas Margaret was waiting for them on a crane where they had only a hectic few hours to build up their trailer under her. Hours later they were back in New Orleans with their ‘new’ boat. All that remained were a couple month’s worth of repairs. Well, twenty-three months’ worth, to be exact! By the time they got Margaret in the water they had replaced the entire deck core from the inside, replaced all four interior bulkheads, repaired a two-and-a-half foot section of the hull-deck joint where the boat had been smashed during Hurricane Katrina, made their own chainplates, and painted the entire boat. All this was done in fits and starts when they had time and money. To keep things affordable they scavenged supplies as much as possible, employing cost-saving measures such as making their own chainplates out of hospital doors that they found at the scrapyard! Eventually they managed to cobble together a seaworthy vessel and in May of this year Margaret was launched. 

The hull-deck joint repair area
One of Margaret’s DIY chainplates

After a few months of sailing in Lake Ponchartrain the boys decided it was time for a real shakedown cruise so they hauled the boat again and made preparations for a trip to the Bahamas. This was the launch I attended last week where I was witness to a quite ingenious solution of a rather unusual problem: how to launch a 3’4″ draft fixed-keel boat from a public boat ramp using only a modified trailer and a minivan! Here’s how it went down.
The day started when I was unexpectedly awoken at 8am and told to get over to the house “asap” if I wanted to come along for the launch. I ate as quickly as possible and biked right over, worried that I might, er, miss the boat. This was, of course, completely unnecessary. Here you see Luke and our friend Chris at around 11:30, still working on the trailer.

 This strange contraption was the boys’ solution to the problem of how to get Margaret with her 4-foot draft far enough into the water that she would float. What they did was to find two lengths of aluminum pipe, equalling about thirteen feet, and splice them into the front end of the trailer. This made an extra-long trailer which held the bow of the boat around twenty feet behind the vehicle towing it. The bits of pipe were held together by sleeving them with more bits of pipe that we pieced together (around 9am I got tasked to dig around in the scrapyard for more pipe, so I get to use a ‘we’ here). Finally, everything was thru-bolted and bolted onto the trailer. Hey if it works it works, right?

Butt-joints were held together by sleeving another, smaller-diameter 
pipe inside the two pipes to be joined and thru-bolting it in place.
Once we put it all together we found the extra length in the trailer connection caused the boat to take on a decidedly terrifying bouncing motion with even the slightest movement. Nevertheless, it did the job and held together so we declared our contraption a success and headed for the boat ramp. Of course we restored the trailer to its original (and much more rigid) form for the drive over. You didn’t think we were complete fools, did you?
Once there the boys broke out a couple oars and a tape-measure for some rigorous calculations.

 After a half hour of this, consensus was reached:
‘Aw, hell with it, lets just try it.’
So we did.

 The final moments- everyone is straining to pull the 
nearly-floating boat off of the trailer.
 While the 2WD minivan sits with its rear tires barely gripping 
the slimy ramp. Note the bubbles coming up from the submerged muffler!
Unfortunately the batteries in my camera were nearly dead so I wasn’t able to film the launch. It was a pretty spectacular sight- everyone on the dock was running around trying to tug the boat off the trailer while the minivan was actually slipping backwards into the water a tiny bit at a time. One foot further and it would never have worked.
But it did!

From left to right: Walker, Luke, and Benjamin 
on a successfully launched Margaret

And these are their living quarters for the next two
months. Before loading the boat up. 
Now they’re off- three guys on a twenty foot boat with no built-in tanks or stove, no head, and the bare minimum of electronics, just a GPS and some nav/running lights. And people say K.I.S.S. is dead?

This article was syndicated from Safe At Harbour But Meant For The Sea: DIY Sailing with Paul Calder


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