The Light at the End of the Trailer Tunnel

Capt. Tim Ramsey

Okay, admit it. Trailering stinks. It’s not fun. No one looks forward to it. When given a choice, everyone would rather have their boat on a lift close to their favorite fishing grounds. No bottom paint, no trailer storage, no finicky trailer lights or tires, no delays in flushing the engine. No irritated neighborhood association, boat in the garage, wife angry her car is baking in the sun. No more ramp fees, long waits, dinged doors, road tar on the hull or seized trailer brakes. No more boat washing alone in the driveway after the everybody magically disappeared. On the boat, off the boat, easy peasy, lemon squeezy. But all this darkness does have a brighter side.

 

Every year I go from fishing the Ten Thousand Islands to the back bays and marshlands of southern New Jersey. Years ago, we had two boats, one in Florida and one in New Jersey. However, somewhere during continuous overseas deployments toward the end of a 28-year army career, it got unmanageable and I sold both boats. My wife gave me a ton of grief for that stunt so after I retired, I quickly remedied that situation with a Skeeter SX220 Bay boat.

Being retired Army and stuck in Florida taking care of an elderly relative means I’m not exactly swimming in cash. Translation? One boat only. Although not a perfect boat for Jersey, the Skeeter was going north for the summer. Gone would be the comfort of rack storage in Goodland (which also has its limitations), and the antics began.

Truck needed a hitch and wiring. Dealership wanted $1,200 dollars. After the temporary unconsciousness I told them rather colorfully where they could stick that hitch. Two places in Naples wanted $450 and for me to wait three weeks. After a little research, I found out the truck was pre-wired (it’s a 2019), the relays were already there (both things the dealership said I needed installed) and the socket just needed the hole cut in the plastic next to the license plate and sticking it in the metal plate underneath (which all three entities told me I couldn’t do). A little Amazon later and I had the entire hitch system done for $216.

Bought a trailer. Not a new one, but a factory Skeeter trailer that I used quite often working for the boat dealership I worked for in Naples, so I knew it. I also found tricks like the plastic ramp worth its weight in gold when you inevitably blow a tire, a breaker bar and sockets to loosen lug nuts stuck by corrosion, a trailer brake key to bypass the brake system when it gets finicky at the absolute worst time, and other tidbits. Time came and off we went.

1,219 miles Naples to Sea Isle City, NJ. Mostly at night. Left on a Monday. Towed through Pinellas to pick someone up on the way. One pet peeve of mine; re-learning lessons I already learned. Here’s the SHORT list:

    • Don’t trailer on the interstate during the week. Although there are four seats in most cars, people commute primarily alone. That means traffic, which means density, delay, and danger. People are more concerned with getting somewhere fifty feet ahead of you as they text and choose their music and will cut you off with no regard for your safety or theirs.
    • Don’t tow a boat on the Capital Beltway (around Washington DC). The transition from road surface to overpass surface often throws the back of your vehicle in the air, and things bounce and break and come loose…or at least that was what happened to me. Plus, people honk and look at you like you’re nuts towing a boat on a Tuesday morning and cut you off because they must think they should. 301 or the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel would have been easier on the boat.
    • People tailgate boats on trailers. I still don’t understand why.
    • If something happens it will happen at night. At some point after I reached Jacksonville the trailer brakes decided to take the night off.
    • Even new wiring connections will fail. A spare tube of dielectric grease and reattaching a ground wire saved me.
    • Two out of three flashlights will fail in 24 hours. Hello Murphy, why are we so well acquainted?
    • You will forget your outboard motor trailering support and hydraulic steering arm braces. Well, I will.
    • Tow/Haul mode in the truck is essential for adequate braking. It’s also great entertainment when your vehicle downshifts to 5000 RPM on the Baltimore Pike after being cut off by a dump truck that merged without slowing or looking. Touch that brake. Touch it.
    • Summertime is Interstate construction time.
    • You need to use the bathroom two miles after you passed the rest area. Make pre-emptive stops.
    • Gasoline-powered vehicles towing trailers really don’t have fuel stops meant for them. Try to use truck stops if possible since they have larger fueling areas in general. Don’t try to fuel-up with the tractor-trailers. There might not be gasoline, only diesel.
    • It will rain during the trip even if the forecast says it won’t.
    • If you plan to stop overnight, make sure ALL your hatches and doors lock, and anything that can be easily removed from your boat is removed…by you. Leave your boat attached to the tow vehicle and put a lock on it. Lock your spare tire. Park in a lighted area.
    • If you can take off your boat’s windshield, do it.
    • The number of tie-down straps you think you need…you need two more than that.
    • Check your hitch pin and coupler before you leave every stop. You never know when someone will get cute.
    • The tire that fails will be the newest one on the trailer. Check the pressure every few hours. Tow vehicle tires also.
    • Very often, trailer tires tend to take their friends with them when they go. Carry more than one spare.
    • On the trip is not the place to find out your companion has never towed a trailer.
    • Coordinate for trailer parking, docking, repairs, storage, etc. before you arrive at your destination. Get confirmation. Did I say, “get confirmation?”
    • Although your best friend offers to let you park your empty trailer at his house, don’t even think of accepting that offer. Don’t bother asking his wife. The “no” will sound like a “yes,” but it’s not. I didn’t ask.
    • Show up with a boat and your popularity will increase due to friends without boats.
    • Remember that the place you’re bringing the boat might not be the best place to tow it around. The Jersey Shore in summer is crowded. Maneuvering a boat on a trailer is tricky in confined spaces. I parked it in the yard at a local marina instead.
    • Find out if there is REC 90 or non-ethanol gas where you’re going. They don’t do it in Jersey, so I made sure the boat was full in Florida and brought more with me.

And here we are in Jersey! No accidents, completely bleary from making the trip in a 23-hour straight shot. Don’t worry, all that stuff didn’t happen to me. This time. My saving grace was Sirius satellite radio, tea instead of coffee and the proliferation of Wawa convenience stores on the east coast. You can almost navigate by them the whole way. Found a slip here I can use so I coated the bottom and stern in white lithium grease to keep the barnacles and slime at bay. No bottom paint for me. Four days in the water, two days out, and back again. Flounder, bluefish, and the Jersey version of spotted sea trout, the Weakfish. Awesome. The light at the end of the trailering tunnel. Still had to pay to park the trailer. Oh, and if/when I come back, I’m shipping the boat. See you out there!

 

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