Recovering AQUILA

How to convert a 30 foot sailing sloop into a trailer hulk

Our vessel AQUILA is an S-2, 9.2C (center-cockpit), 10,000 pound sailing sloop with a 40 foot mast. We recover her (haul her out of the water and onto a trailer) each year. Trailering boats is nothing new to many inland sailors. This is the 5th trailerable boat that I’ve owned. The difference here is that AQUILA wasn’t designed as a trailerable vessel. While her ¾ keel is considered ‘shoal’ at 4’11” draft AQUILA is more, what I call “transportable”. Generally with a trailerable sailboat the launch or recovery timeline is about an hour, give or take. With AQUILA recovery to the trailer and securing the vessel is a four hour minimum. If we are lowering the mast a boom-truck is required adding another two plus hours to the process. Add in take-down or erecting the dodger, radar mast and boom, well there’s another two hours. What’s that old saying, “time passes quickly when your having fun”… In this ‘recovery case’ we do not have to de-step the mast as our winter dry-storage is only two blocks away with clear air space for a tall stick.

In this first image the vessel AQUILA is seen on a broad reach with Catherine at the helm. Which brings up another good point pertaining to recovery. The time-lines I gave above are contingent on having a solid sailing partner. Catherine is there through thick-and-thin when it comes to boat work, recovery, launch, and every other aspect of managing, sailing and transporting our vessel. Anyway, wanted to start with a good ‘underway’ shot to give a clear idea with what kind of vessel were talking about here.

The recovery process were about to undergo is what we use in the fresh waters of our home port on Franklin D. Roosevelt Lake in eastern Washington. If we are launching or recovering in salt waters we use a yard and hire a travel lift. Generally I’ll drive the truck and trailer from our base at Rickey Point Sail Club buoy field to the Kettle Falls Marina while Catherine pilots AQUILA to the National Park Service launch ramp adjacent to the marina, in this case she has our sailing friend Connie Copeland (photog for most of these images) with her. In the 2nd image fellow sailor Larry Silva and I are sizing up the available ramps while awaiting the vessel’s arrival. The size up is important as we respect our fellow boaters and knowing we will be tying up one ramp for a few hours we do our best to leave ample room for fishermen and power-boaters to launch or recover in the other ramps. Generally we take an outside ramp.

Once we have the truck and trailer in the correct alignment with the dock and ramp we chock the truck and uncouple the trailer. The 10,000 pound rated winch, pre-mounted on a stinger to couple with the trailer hitch is put in place and a set of heavy duty cables are rigged to one of the vehicles double, H.D. batteries to power the winch. Using the unwind feature on the remote control we slowly lower the trailer down the ramp. During this phase of the operation the truck need not be idling as the amperage draw in low. But when engaging the winch to haul the boat and trailer back up the ramp the truck needs to be running to keep peak power to the winch and someone in the truck working the breaks. While we do use heavy duty cable clamps on the battery end of the cables the other end has both clamps and bolt-on receivers for positive coupling to the winch cables.

While it is a slow process lowering the trailer down the ramp in this manner it also provided total control in the trailer placement given the use of a pry bar against the taut cable can provide minor change to the alignment of the trailer, even while under water. The key here is minor (get it all lined up before submerging the trailer. Fortunate for us Lake Roosevelt is clean and we can see the trailer even when it is totally submerged. With AQUILA tied on the deep end of the dock, we guide the trailer down the ramp and submerge it to the point where the boat can be piloted in place over the trailer – that’s Catherine’s job (photo #4). With Larry’s nautical eye and ready hand they get the alignment near perfect after we do one minor haul-back of the trailer to adjust an errant bunk. A visual inspection of the trailer in the water under AQUILA shows us that we have all-systems-go. Its time to haul-out the boat.

As mentioned earlier, having the truck running and someone staffing the breaks are important aspects to successful and safe recovery. Believe me when I say, “we’ve learned from our mistakes”. Remember too – all four tires of the truck chocked. As I engage the return wind of the winch Catherine is at the helm of the boat with the motor idling forward, holding AQUILA in place against the keel guides we’ve built into the trailer. As the trailer is pulled up-ramp the boat settles onto the trailer and the inboard diesel is disengaged. In image #7 we are all giving one final inspection before continuing the process. Again all-systems-go. Catherine debarks the boat and I continue using the winch to recover the cable haul up trailer and boat with it. Again the nice part about the winch is the control factor. A slow, steady pace that can be easily stopped at any time is quite a contrast to using an extended hitch tongue and lunching the truck, trailer and boat (see above “learned from our mistakes”).

With a critical eye by all experienced parties throughout the entire process there is no real excitement here. I frequently check the winch motor and cable connections for excessive heat but no problem develops. Soon we have AQUILA sitting atop her trailer on the hard at water’s edge (image #8). Time for a transition. We use heavy duty, thick rubber chocks for all four wheels of the trailer. These chocks have a very positive grip on the wet concrete of the ramp. Also note in the image the use of a safety chain when slacking the winch and removing it so the trailer hitch can be re-established. Remember the mistakes and learning comments above? Yes, we once did have the boat break away from the truck before we had fully secured it. It was more excitement than I ever dreamed of having a 10,000 vessel re-launch itself. What a mess!

In the recovery here there was no unplanned event, no excitement. Simply a well thought out process self-recovering a rather larger than normal trailer sailboat. In image #9 we see AQUILA on the shoreline on the trailer awaiting rear bunk adjustments (these are slacked and lowered so the bunks are not in the way when the boat is drove onto the submerged trailer).

We will board the boat again to work with strapping placement. Image ten show us a boat and trailer secured for the short hop to the dry-storage yard. A walk around inspections is always in order before moving the vehicle and vessel from the water’s edge.
And as a final shot Connie captured this one of first mate Catherine walking along side truck, trailer and boat keeping a critical eye on all systems as we relocate to our on-the-hard winter’s berth. Can’t hardly wait until the 2012 boating season…

There are a lot more technical details that go into self launch and recovery of a vessel this size. If your interested in specifics please send an e-mail and we’ll get back to you…