Shipshape and Bristol Fashion

On the last bank holiday weekend I was fortunate enough to have a friend who allowed me to use his 15ft Boston Whaler with 60hp outboard. If this is double dutch to you then it looks a bit like this.


My friend and I had spent an evening with the owner going through some of the finer details of looking after boat. Using, starting, safety, fuel, radio / coastguard info, launch, recovery, emergencies, towing and securing to the trailer. I’m not a total novice when it comes to boats. I have been sailing dinghies for several years now and whilst this was a very different vessel I had a good understanding of what we needed to do. We also spent some time on the internet researching local facilities and the water we were to use.

As I was working all weekend my family and the friends went ahead of me. I followed on the Monday after finishing night shifts.

I towed the boat to the campsite and met up with my family and friends. We then moved on to the village where we were to launch from the beach. What followed was a wonderful sunny afternoon where we all enjoyed the boat, went seal spotting (and found some) and were very grateful to have been allowed to borrow it.

In amongst all of that enjoyment though were some lessons that are worth sharing.

We arrived at the village. The road to the beach is downhill and only wide enough for one car at a time so we parked the boat and my car at the top of the hill and drove down in the other car to assess the situation. We had been told that there was always a local on the beach with a tractor who would offer a launch and recovery service for a small fee. There were some tractors on the beach and it was relatively quiet. The tide was well out. We decided it was ok to drive down. My friend drove back up the hill and whilst he went to park his car, I drove mine and the boat down to the bottom of the hill.

At the bottom of the hill the road widened slightly. The tarmac gave way to a small section of concrete ramp and then simply stopped. There was a section of soft dry sand about 10-12ft in width and then a wide area of sand that was firm. I went to look for a tractor driver. The tractors were there… but no drivers. I returned to the car and waited at the top of the ramp for my friend to join me. He took a little longer than expected and during this time another two, rather smart 4×4’s appeared behind me with RIB’s in tow. I was holding them up. I couldn’t turn around, they couldn’t get past. There was only one thing to do.. drive onto the beach.

I did exactly this. The downhill angle onto the beach made the manoeuvre a simple one. The car handled it with aplomb and I towed the boat about 300m along the beach adjacent to a suitable launch spot and came to a stop. My friend had by now joined me. (1)

The tractor drivers we were still AWOL. Considering the risks of getting the car stuck if we tried to reverse the trailer into the water, we took the decision to detach the trailer and push it to the waters edge. It was at this point we realised a) just how heavy the boat/trailer together are and b) how hard it is to push a trailer on a jockey wheel on sand. We pushed, shoved and manhandled the boat and were swiftly joined by a couple of chaps who offered to help. We would have got there but their assistance made it much easier. (2).

Before trying to launch the boat we had to get changed. Once done we returned to the boat and began to push the trailer out into the water. This was harder than just on the sand and again we were assisted by a couple of willing volunteers. It quickly became apparent that their was little to no shelving at this location. We had pushed out some distance and although in about 70cm of water (more than enough to float the boat) it was not enough to float it off the trailer. The conclusion was to tip the trailer and allow the boat to slide off carefully. This was successful, albeit rather undignified. We then anchored the boat and  removed the trailer from the water. We dragged it up to the top of the beach where we would be based. (3)

There were still no tractor drivers in sight. We also knew that the tractor drivers would charge £30 to launch and recover your boat but a car was penalised with a £100 charge. There were other people with 4×4’s on the beach but the provision of boat recovery later on was still an issue. We knew that there was no way my car would get the trailer and the boat off the beach. There was still a question mark over whether my car would get off the beach at all! After much deliberation we decided that come what may, we had to get my car off.. or at least try. The number of people on the beach had increased. We drove to the ramp then got out and had a look at our options. To be honest it didn’t look good. The wet sand/shale was ok to drive on but I knew if I tried to gain any speed it would slip. The soft dry sand just before the concreate ramp was another problem. It was about 10ft wide and had the potential for the car to just bury itself. We discussed, pondered and finally decided, with lots of people watching (and embarrassment factors running high) that we simply had to give it a go. I ran the car up to about 10mph and pointed at the narrowest bit of the dry sand I could see. The car bumped once, bounced across the sand, hit the concrete, gripped and dragged itself off the beach in one move. Relief all around and much face saved. (4)

My friend then offered to park my car. He told me to return to the boat and get it ready for use with his son. His son, incidentally, had disappeared back to the boat as we were driving off the beach. We thought it was to avoid being next to his Dad and I as we made idiots of ourselves. As we had got the car off we were both rather pleased with ourselves. I walked across the beach to the boat and my feel good moment was soon deflated. His son had realised that during the time we had taken deliberating about the car, the tide had gone out further. The boat was now beached in about 20cm of water. It was stuck fast and couldn’t be moved. (5)

There was nothing to do but wait. One of the fancy 4×4 boat owners kept whizzing up to the shore, changing his passengers and whizzing off again. You could see the smug smile on his face knowing we were beached. We felt like complete amateurs. Fortunately the tide was almost in ebb and after 40 minutes had turned. Within an hour, after a bit of shoving, we were afloat. (6)

We got the kids aboard, suited them up with life jackets and set off. We zoomed down the coastline in wonderful sunshine and found a small colony of seals to watch for a while. The boat was brilliant. Very quick, perfect sea conditions and great fun. (7)

During this time however there was still the nagging worry about how to get the boat off the beach. Whilst my friend took his wife and kids for a blast I had a ponder. A couple of old guys on a tractor drove past along the beach. I flagged them down. They were very pleased to shoot me down and tell me “No. We don’t do the recovery service”. I felt like a fool. I could almost hear their thoughts “another idiot stuck on the beach”. However, when pressed a little further they did know who did and provided me with his number. Of course, there was no mobile signal but it was a start! About 20 mins later a large tractor appeared on the beach. I tentatively approached the driver. I didn’t want another rejection experience. I was saved. He was the launch/recovery man and would be glad to bring us out of the water in about an hour. (8)

We enjoyed the rest of our time on the water and had some great fun. We eventually returned to the shore and our new found friend appeared, put the trailer in the water and pulled us out. We brought my car down to the ramp, secured the boat, hooked it up and headed off. Huge sighs of relief all round.

Planning and preparation in any task is essential. Conducting a fact finding mission is always useful but never make assumptions about service delivery from other suppliers. Thoroughly explore your options before getting past the point of no return.

The scale of a problem is not always apparent until you are left on your own. All is not lost though. If you get stuck into a task and show determination it will often engender the support of others.

Even when everything is close to completion there can be an unexpected complication. Be prepared to think outside normal procedures to still safely attain your objective.

One poor decision very early in a process can come back to bite you much later and could allow costs to spiral. Actions need to be carefully considered. A work around may be more expensive if the service is available but sometimes, with a bit of gumption, a calculated risk can pay off.

Inexperience of one factor can cause unnecessary delays in your whole operation. Never take your eye off the ball. All sort of things can go wrong if you are focussing too hard on one particular aspect of your challenge.

Don’t allow others to undermine the value of what you are doing. Patience and time can resolve most issues.

Once you have all your factors lined up in a row the achievement of your objective is close at hand.

Even when all is going well there can still be doubts about the final aspect of your plan. Be prepared to step out of your comfort zone. Never be afraid of asking for help. It can be the difference between a satisfactory conclusion and utter disaster.

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