Dinghy and small boat anglers seem to fall into two categories. Those who purchase a boat and just like to stay in the one spot. To that end they obviously have the boat on a trailer to a)-either get it into the water from a slip, and reload it at the end of a session, and b)-those that only use the trailer once a year to get the boat into the water as they keep it in a marina. Either way the trailing doesn’t involve great distances as many live near the sea anyway, and invariably the only time a marina-bound boat is brought onto a trailer again is to get it up at the end of the season for anti fouling ,repainting, or general maintenance. Then we have the other type of boat angler. Those with itchy feet, a sort of wanderlust whereby they want to drag the boat to that new fishing spot, which they think is going to be far better than the place they tried previously. Invariably its not, but that excitement of the new area keeps them bubbling up for the next trip. I’m afraid I fall into the Nomad category. Constantly on the search for somewhere new, different species, different tactics, same boat.
Now you would think that the guy who just drags his boat up the slip and parks it in the local storage would have the trailer that never gets wear. It should be shiny new, glistening with every nut and bolt fully maintained to perfection, as the unit basically does no work at all. It’s basically just a carrying system for launching the boat. Yet on my travels I have now got to see inside a few marinas, and have been totally surprised at the state of some of the trailers. The truth is, the owners must just pull them out, park them, a quick spray up and then home. Sounds like heaven, and it is, if you are a piece of saltwater, a few grains that have been missed and which gradually fester over months and years to turn into something nasty, just at the wrong moment. Ever had a wheel fall off a trailer and boat while driving? I have. Dragging a 13-footer up a hill on one wheel and four crushed stubs while the wheel careens into oncoming traffic is definitely not for the faint hearted. Luckily when the men in blue arrived they thought I was just mending a puncture, and failed to notice I only had four mullered wheel stubs. Now if you look at the guys who drag their boats on long distances, their trailers have been checked a lot more. They realise that trailer “downtime” on a slip is one thing, losing the lot at 50mph on a busy motorway is the stuff of nightmares. Having dragged my 17-foot Wilson “Hi Sea Drifter” over 2,500 miles in a little over a year, and regularly pulling her 250 miles to the Porbeagle sharks in North Cornwall, there may be a few basic items you should check. The most expensive item I had go was the clutch in the car. At £950 it was a snip…..FOR THE GARAGE!! All the hills in Boscastle and Southern Ireland had finally taken a toll. So let’s assume you have got the small boater’s wanderlust, and that you just have to get to the sea….except its 100 miles away. That would be a good long tow, so you need to get things right. Here we go…
Check the wheel bearings for any sign of corrosion or wear. Strip out the hub grease, yes its a crappy job, but wash the bearings in petrol (don’t smoke, please),if still good refit,regrease,but still go and buy a new, spare hub. The reason is obvious. You can change a wheel from a puncture at the side of the road, but if the studs are buckled the lot comes off and you can fit a new one. £25 well spent in insurance I feel. A new tub of waterproof grease (if you can still get it).A couple of hand towels for cleaning your mitts. Check the holding nut that clamps the jockey wheel into the upright position. You would be surprised how many times the jockey clamp has slipped and people have smashed it to pieces on a roadway without even knowing it.Grease,or WD40 to make sure it grips in the “up “ position. You need to fit a good running board. If you have an old one, don’t bother repairing it, a 6-foot wide one with red triangles, lighting, and cable to the car is only about £29.The light board should be no more than 1.5 metres off the ground. I start at the stern, mount the running board on polyprop ropes to stern cleats, but tie off the board lower down to prevent it blowing about. I also fold up the transducer, wrap a strip of carpet round it using tape, and then run the lighting cable up towards the bow. Using electrical tape I band it to the vertical stalk of the control lever, and again on the bow rail support post. Plug it in to the car, making sure there is enough slack not to tear the wires out the back of the plug on a tight turn(yes, I’ve done that too),but not so loose you have a coil dragging on the road to wear through.
While you are at the bow end, bend down and double check the keel is centred on the rollers, or the cavity tunnels on the bunks in the case of Wilson (and cathedral) hulls. Crank the bow tight to the “y” notch on the trailer, but I also never trust this in case the small spring holding the winch ratchet breaks and the boat disappears off the back. I use the painter line tied to the bow cleat, take it round the trailer spine, back up and tie off. Then if the winch strap or winch spring goes, the boat is stopped by the painter rope from sliding back. Remember you’ll be in the car for hours, and cannot get out to keep checking on a long motorway section.
Two schools of thought here. You must definitely have a “belly strap” to tie the boat down to the trailer. Some swear by rope only, others by ratchet straps. A rope will have some give in it, the ratchet straps not so. I use double ratchet straps, the 3-inch wide version, one set goes from the trailer rings by the wheel mudguard, over the boat and down to the opposite ring. Then I run another right over the stern using a short extension of rope thus preventing any “waggle” at the back end. To prevent the tight belt chafing the Gelcoat through on a long run (had that too!) I cut squares of carpet and jam them under the straps where they grip the hull.Overkill.Probably, but better than the ropes working loose. Make sure you check the ratchet straps and WD40 them regularly. Check your tyre pressures, generally 40psi, and don’t forget to check the spare. Buy a 12volt tyre pump that works from the cigarette lighter, and get a cheap tyre gauge for pressure checking. I do this as sometimes you can’t get a boat and trailer to a busy forecourt airline in a petrol station. Now you can check and pump anywhere. Think self-sufficiency. Flat tyres cause heat, and heat causes problems. If the tread is good and the tyres pretty new you will get more mpg from pumped up tyres than flat.
Loading the boat is important. Quite frankly, try not to. For small, unbraked trailers the weight is 750kg, or 50% of the kerb weight of the car, whichever is less. If the trailer is braked, even though it may not be required (under750kg) then those brakes must be in working order. With a bigger boat you need a braked trailer and a general rule of thumb for this is the rig must not exceed 85% of the kerb weight of the towing vehicle. While towing you should have third part cover for the trailer plus car, with the boat having its own insurance. So if you start adding leads and tanks of fuel you may be running into problems. You need to keep about 25kg nose weight up near the bow for better towing practise, but make sure it is in the anchor compartment and will not slide back down the stern as you pull away. Sounds daft, but fold down aerial and lights as you must also be aware of tree branches down narrow lanes. I even clipped the flybridge canopy on my own tree pulling into my house after the first trip. Splintered some grp and tore loose a couple of bolts. Brand new. First trip out. I could have cried. You are also going to have to watch the gross towing weight, and that will be in your vehicle handbook, and is the total (gross) weight allowed for the car, passengers, boat, trailer and “stuff”. Now what you load, and what you are supposed to carry legally is up to you. I’m saying nothing except you may find it hard to cut down on anchors (plus spares) chain, ropes, leads, tackle etc. One way you can cut weight back is not to fill your fuel tanks, just put them in the car empty. A couple of 25 litre tanks might weight 40kgs ,or more.Plus,with the fuel tanks filled and stored in the car the fumes will be unbearable, and on a long journey you will doubtless get a headache. Two other tips and these are important. Of course I’ve taken loaded fuel tanks, but ferry lines have every right to refuse to take them when filled and loose. If they confiscate the fuel you’ve got maybe £80 loss, plus when you are asked by Customs for a fuel test you cannot deny you have petrol in the loose tanks. Customs are looking for illegal agricultural (pink) diesel in general, but if asked, better to admit what you have. Secondly, I once took a tank in the boat and left a full tank in the car. I had fumes so I screwed down the breather valve. Yes, I forgot to unscrew it when I locked the car, and a hot day in June saw me return to an enormous red balloon, full of high octane fuel, looking ready to blow. My hands were shaking as I unscrewed the breather valve, and air whistled out. Never, ever, leave a tank of fuel in a car on a sunny day, even with a breather valve open. Just lug it to the boat. Better than seeing the car explode in a fireball.
The outboard rules of towing say you must have the prop covered up, but either tape towelling around it or I just sew up a sleeve of tarpaulin and cover the entire engine and prop together. Don’t forget to rope the tarp down otherwise it’s away down the motorway. I have the 4-stroke Yamaha 60 and it has the tilt locking levers to keep it in position. You might want to crank the engine over to one side, as it will inevitably end up in that position after a few bouncy roads. I have been told you must bring the engine up on tilt and pinch a block of wood as you lower it instead of using the manufacturer’s lock. I don’t bother, and just use the locking lever it comes with, but I just nip it gently so it pinches, don’t overpressure it. Everything in the boat should either be removed or tied down. Ropes can be left aboard, but sack them and tie the top. If you decided to stop for a break, always check the heat of the hubs. Regrease if necessary, and make sure the hub caps are secure. One problem I had was that I was so paranoid about having enough grease, I overpacked it until it came out like a tiny worm in the cap centre, but didn’t realise heat from a long run expands the grease. This then popped the cap off, and I lost most of the grease splattered all over the wheel. That was on a 260 mile run, so I was lucky not to have a bearing seize. Now I grease, but bind the hub cap on using electrical stretch tape.
If you are new to towing, and I’m not as I’ve driven lorries and caravans etc, you must allow for driving totally different with a boat. Everything is slower. I don’t have a problem as I was driving 15 tonners in the yards of our family’s haulage business at the age of 12.You will need a bigger gap in the traffic when pulling out, as you are slower, and never forget you have an extra twenty feet and 750kgs(or more) behind you. Don’t brake late, just gentle pumping in between gear reduction changes, with everything smooth. Watch out for roundabouts. I’m no different to anyone, once I’ve got the rig going I want to keep the momentum and sail round the roundabout. Speed limits unless otherwise designated are 50mph on dual carriageways, and 60mph on motorways. You cannot use the outside lane on a motorway unless instructed by the Police. Two points. The car coming round towards you will be going faster than you think, and second its really easy to misjudge the angle at haste and smash your trailer wheels up the nearside kerb by turning too tight, possibly pitching the boat off the trailer. Get yourself a couple of extension wing mirrors that clip over your own, from a caravan shop. It will allow you to see vehicles about to overtake you, and also how far your trailer wheels are to the nearside kerb.
On a motorway in holiday time you are going to meet…….old fogies out for a Sunday stroll in the slow lane……caravans in an apparent convoy…..and very big lorries the size of a train. If you have to overtake make sure you have plenty of time with vehicles running up behind you. If you overtake a convoy of caravans be aware it is easy and almost unnoticeable how you can suddenly look down at 70mph.Don’t be in a rush to jump a whole bunch in one go. If a lorry overtakes you the pressure wave from the square cab will cause your rig to “rock” slightly. DON’T PANIC. Overreaction will cause the accident. Let the air wave pass and it will be fine. If you overtake a commercial vehicle (Empty car carriers are worst for turbulence) you should see it flash its headlights in your nearside wing mirror which tell you your own rear end is clear to pull in. Don’t expect that courtesy from Joe Public, and certainly never think that the flash from a private car means you are clear to pull in. Judge for yourself.
If you are going on a long run, to a foreign area, either get multimap and print off the section you want, or better still, get one of the modern Garmin Satnavs that literally talk you through the route. Don’t believe all Satnavs, as if you set it to shortest route you may find yourself jammed down a country lane with nowhere top turn round. Set them to use the major roads, as even though it might take a bit longer and burn a bit more fuel you will arrive far less stressed than getting stuck down a country lane. Which brings me pretty much to reversing.Oh what fun it can be. I’ve pulled trailers behind my cars for years so I’m not too bad, but YOU MUST get someone to watch you reverse. The reason I say this is that your rig has no engine noise. You can hear your car engine but the boat and trailer roll back silently. Anyone standing in its path may not hear it, and a flattened member of the public generally marks the start of a poor day!
Finally having reached your destination after a long drive you will be aching to slide your beloved boat in the water. There is always something so satisfying as you see the boat float free from the constraints of the trailer. It is doing what it was built to do. Float. So how about the people that in their rush forget to undo the tie straps and then find the boat is floating with the trailer suspended as well? It has happened (not to me). Or the boat that suddenly fills with water as someone forgot to put in the drain plug? Or the new trailer board setup you buy for the return journey as you left the first one on and sunk it in the launch? Better still there are incidents where people have done the reverse. Unclipped the rig, released the winch and backing down a slip with a steep incline seen the WHOLE BOAT SLIDE OFF AND SMASH ON THE GROUND! If you think that was fun, try to work out how you are going to get the boat back on the trailer??? It has happened; so many times you would probably find it on YouTube. A common danger area is a winch in free spool as a boat slides off uncontrollably. Don’t even think of going near that whirring handle as it will almost definitely chop off a finger or break your arm. Remember you will be tired after a long haul. Why not leave the rig on the trailer and launch it after you’ve had a break and time to think.
Long distance towing, when successful, does actually give you a sense of satisfaction, and when it doubles up with great fishing you know you’ve done the right thing. I remember just one fish made my first 1000 mile round trip haul worthwhile. 150lb of Common Skate sliding over the gunnle to flop on our deck, four miles off the Seven Heads in an iffy swell. It was suddenly worth it. I can’t tell you the trouble I had with my son and me trying to get it back out and returned, but it was a lot harder than bringing it in. If you run through some of the tips here it might just let you see some of the often basic checks that make the whole operation go smoother. Who knows, one day you might be having a beer with a pal and someone says.”Well what about that Cornish coast where Pullen gets those 300lb Porbeagles.Do you reckon we should tow ours down?”. AAaaahhh, now that’s another story altogether……….
COPYRIGHT. Graeme Pullen. All rights reserved.