Art's Boat Finally Meets Water

(and Lives!)


My friend Art has owned boats for as long as I've known him, which has been close to 25 years now.  But for the last 10 or so of those years, none of his boats have been even near the water.  Once he sold his last sailboat, and parted with the "evil" jetboat, he picked up a Wellcraft 255 Suncruiser, a real basket case in need of a LOT of work.  Art has always had a soft spot for those hard luck cases who's prospects for ever seeing water again are iffy at best.  The Wellcraft had a totally shot engine, a missing outdrive, and most of the rest of the valuable mechanical parts had been pilfered.  But Art was determined to make a go of this project, and had been making some steady intermittent progress.  Then about 4 years ago, while the Wellcraft was still very much a work in progress, he decided to buy yet another project boat, a 21' Celebrity.  This was supposed to be a "working" boat that Art could use while working on the Wellcraft.  But soon after he brought it home, he found that this boat too would need work.  First off, while the Mercruiser 3.7LX engine ran (Wow!), the integral alternator was shot.  Replacing it was an expensive proposition.  An better alternative was an aftermarket alternator kit which used a standard alternator with an additional belt pulley mounted to the harmonic balancer on the front of the engine.  This seemed like the best option, but there was a problem. The clearance in front of the engine was not sufficient to allow mounting the alternator drive pulley.  This started a chain reaction of events which had Art pretty much gutting the interior of the boat to gain access to the engine.  In the process, he pulled out the gas tank, the seats, carpet and some of the floor board.  Besides the issues in the boat, the trailer had problems as well, requiring brake, bearings and tire replacement.  The leaf spring shackles were rusted together and one had even broken away from the frame.  So it looked as if this boat was not going to see water anytime soon either.  Then Art had to concentrate on selling his house and moving to a new one, so the boats took a back seat for a while.  So now 4 years have ticked on by seemingly like the blink of an eye.  Art's boats have become a bit of a standing joke. "Driveway Yachts" are what they're commonly referred to by his friends (and his wife).  For the last few years, my wife and I have had a standing bet on whether Art will splash one of his boats by the end of the season, and for the last few years, she has easily won the bet.  But her winning streak is about to come to an end.......

So here we are, we're just about at the end of the 2006 boating season.  Once again, the daunting question of whether the Celebrity (I've just about given up hope for the Wellcraft) will see any quantity of water greater than a rainstorm, is dangling in front of us, with only a small window of opportunity left before I have to concede defeat to my wife once again.  But this year, things look a little more promising.  Art had finished up the work on the engine, put in new carpet, and put the front seats back in, and even put on his registration numbers and sticker, and was pretty much ready to test run the boat.  We made plans to splash the boat and after postponing our initial trial day due to rain (what else?) we finally met on a warm and, according to the weather forecasters, a "warmer than normal" temperature day.  That sounded funny as it felt like a typical normal summer day to me, but after thinking about it a bit, I realized that it is, after all, the end of September and that fall is right on our doorstep.  So I guess I should be getting ready for the arrival of much cooler weather just around the corner, and with it comes the end of boating season, and the start of the depressing winter season.

I set about getting ready for this momentous boating event.  I packed myself a lunch and some drinks, and brought along both my digital still camera and the video camera.  I wanted to record this event for posterity and to prove to my wife that the boat actually did hit the water.  Art was a bit nervous about pulling the trailer, as there was still the issue of the broken shackle.  He had fashioned a clamp to hold the shackle (somewhat) in place.  It was a definite jury-rig, and we both hoped that it would hold.

Here's the "Driveway Yacht"  right before we headed out.  Notice the "bigger brother" Wellcraft in the background, still doing little more than collecting tree crud, and serving as the Hilton Hotel for wasps:

After first stopping to put 20 gallons of gas into the bone dry tank, the trip down to our destination, the Schuylkill River, was pretty much uneventful.  The trailer handled fairly well, and Art started to lose some of his earlier trepidation, and gained some confidence.  I hadn't been in this area for over a year, and I was curious to see if anything had changed over time.  While making the turn from Main Street onto Haws Ave in Norristown, I noticed a woman standing on the corner acting like an obvious mental patient.   So it would appear that some things evidently hadn't changed all that much.  We then pulled into the parking lot to undo the tie-downs and get ready to put in.  Since this was a weekday, and after the end of the "official" summer season, the parking lot was practically deserted, which suited us just fine.  So at this point, phase 1 of our plan had been completed.  We actually managed to tow the boat to within eyesight of a body of navigable water. It doesn't sound like a big deal, but after the last 10 years of ribbing, this was actually a major accomplishment.

Launching the boat went smoothly and while I stood there holding on to the now floating boat, Art parked the truck.  I kept a sharp eye out for flooding torrents of water pouring in from some unseen dark place, but none were forthcoming.  In fact, my BRAND NEW boat leaks more than this one (Grrrr!). Phase 2 was now met as the boat was now actually IN the water (Who would've guessed?).  Two down and two more to go.  Recent rains had left the river about a foot or so above normal, which was good for us, in avoiding the pitfalls of shallow water.  But the dock was also a bit of a muddy mess from even earlier flooding rains.

When Art returned, he cranked the engine over.  It took a bit of cranking at first, and I was beginning to wonder if it would start at all or whether we would run the battery down in the process.  I was reminded of a memory where the "evil" jet boat had run down its battery out here, and I had to tow the boat back in with mine.  This happened 17 years ago almost to the week.  I hoped that history would not repeat itself today.  Just as I was contemplating this thought however, the engine must have sensed my doubts and then promptly roared to life.  It took a little throttle pumping to keep it running as it warmed up, but after a few minutes it settled into a smooth idle.  Anxious to get underway, I untied the boat,  jumped in and we slowly headed out.  Until he was able to test the boat out and be reasonably satisfied that the engine was working properly, Art chose not to install the back seat and the engine cover, so we got to share the cockpit with the exposed engine chugging merrily along, hoping that neither one of us would stumble backwards, or that it would decide to self-destruct in a shower of burning gasoline and potentially lethal flying parts.


We headed out cautiously at first while we tested the engine to see if it would run smoothly, and barely making headway against the current.


Eventually, Art got up enough nerve to jump the boat up on plane to see how well it would cruise.  I was surprised at how powerful that little 4 banger was.  It climbed up on plane with little trouble, and the boat seemed to run on a solid plane around 25 MPH at about 3100 RPM.  As I silently checked off phase 3 of the our plan, Art had decided to start fiddling with his electronics.  He had fired up the depthfinder, and the GPS.  The depthfinder was either not working or we were currently running on dry land, which is a condition I think we would've noticed, especially considering Art's well earned reputation for running aground.  So I'll go out on a limb here and guess that there's a problem with the transducer.  The GPS didn't fare much better as it took this opportunity to run low on battery power and shutdown (What, no hard wiring?).  So we were left without any electronic navigational assistance (or toys to play with), and having to rely solely on my knowledge of the river to avoid potentially skinny water spots.  Having been coming down here for over 25 years, I do know all the usual problem areas.  But I was ever watchful for those temporary hazards, like half sunken logs, which come with flooding rains and which could punch a hole in the bottom of a boat if hit just right.  But I eased my mind a bit by acknowledging that even a working depthfinder would not be able to avoid such a hazard.

Art had finally begun to settle down and was enjoying the task of piloting his boat.  Or was he?  Could it be that he's really scowling at the inoperative GPS and depthfinder?

At this point, I was actually a little bit disappointed that there wasn't a particularly funny or bizarre incident to report so far.  Things were actually going amazingly smoothly, which I never expected, and it had caught me completely by surprise.  We had managed to drag the boat all the way down here, launch it, start it, and were now cruising in fine style, at least in as much "style"  as we could experience considering the cacophonous sound of the exposed engine less than 5 feet away.  A lack of a few Murphy-isms, or some other incident of humorous misfortune, usually makes for a dull story.  But I wouldn't be disappointed for too long as we did have one small incident.  While coming to a stop to check things out, I reached for the ignition key to turn off the engine, and imagine my surprise when it kept running. Yep, the key appeared to have no affect as the engine seemed to be saying that now that it was finally running, it didn't want to stop, and wasn't going to let us stop it.  Facing the possibility that we might actually have to pull the coil wire off the distributor to stop this thing, and contemplating the electrical jolt that would happen if there was any insulation breakdown, I was fortunate that I remembered that there was the safety stop switch.  Luckily, when I pulled that, it finally caused the engine to stop with an accompanied sputter and a resigning groan.  Later investigation would reveal that Art had crossed some wires in the rats nest of connections behind the dash panel, and accidently applied the "always hot" battery wire to the switched side of the ignition switch, which was easy to correct.  But at the time, we were at least temporarily concerned.  We hoped that we could get the engine running again.  We stopped to eat lunch and survey the river front, while we slowly drifted with the river current back toward the dock.  It was somewhat comforting to know that if, for whatever reason, the engine didn't start again, we'd eventually make it back to the dock, although that would probably take a couple of hours.  Considering the fact the the river was all but deserted, meaning prospects for a tow were slim, and that neither one of us would want to dive overboard to swim ashore, that's probably what we would have to do.  While we drifted, we surveyed the river bank, and the homes along the way, and it would seem that earlier floods had left their mark as some of the docks appeared twisted and mangled.  But the Norristown boat club looked no worse for the wear.

Drifting down the river made me wish that Art had brought his guitar along, but instead we had to settle for the boat's stereo, which was suffering from a bad case of the intermittents, which made listening a bit tricky.  As another tribute to those wild and crazy days gone by, Art did his patented "Only In America" urinary relief act, only this time it was much more subdued and low profile.  After a while, the "unseasonably high" late summer temperatures had started baking us to the point where I was starting to sweat profusely.  I was glad when the ignition key was turned, the motor roared to life again, and we were able to move once more.  I was a little concerned that the idle oil pressure was running down around 10 PSI.  Many people tell me that oil pressure can be that low at idle and it's usually not a problem.  But I still get nervous anytime it drops below 25 PSI.  Combine the low oil pressure with the considerable amount of blow-by erupting from the valve cover, and it became pretty evident that this engine has had a lot of hours under its belt.  Hopefully it still has a few more left.

After another round trip circuit down the backside of Barbados Island and back,  we headed back to the dock.  I dropped Art off at the dock, and floated off back into the middle of the river with the boat.  I waited while Art replaced some cracked rollers on the trailer, and then backed the trailer into the water. I then drove the boat up on the trailer.  After all of our running the engine idle had risen to close to 1000 RPM, which was a little fast for a trailer approach. I certainly didn't want to hit the trailer at "ramming speed", so I had to kick the drive out of gear occasionally.  The boat hit the trailer fairly squarely, but it was cocked a bit to one side as a result of my weight.  Art had to climb out on the trailer's tongue to avoid a close encounter with the river water, to attach the winch cable.  As Art played an unsteady tightrope balancing act on the tongue of the trailer, while cranking the winch up the remaining few feet, I sensed the possibility that he might actually slip and fall into the water, so I had the video camera at the ready to capture the event (and the $10,000 prize from America's Funniest Home Video).  But our surprisingly good luck continued, so not even a little comic relief was forthcoming.  A little reverse dunking and some jumping up and down on the opposite side of the boat, and the boat settled back into its proper place on the trailer.  When we pulled the boat out, and checked things out, nothing was really any worse for the wear.  Not a drop of water came out when the plug was pulled, and the only real casualty was the loss of a half quart of oil, and some peeling to Art's paint job on the prop and outdrive:

Well, I don't think the earth shook, the seas parted, or the sun was eclipsed.  But this event was certainly up there with any them.  When we made it home unscathed, the last phase of the plan had been completed, and the day was a complete success all things considered.  For once, I won the bet with my wife, although I doubt if I'll actually get anything for it.  My wife's pretty smart.  She knew (And I knew it as well) that her constant pessimism would act as a driving force to motivate Art into making this event possible.

Next stop, The Chesapeake Bay. I hope the boat's up for it.......