Errors trip up experienced boaters


By Earl Gillespie, Ernst Hofmann and Ken Poole

It seemed simple enough: Three members of Banana River Sail & Power Squadron/23 would meet at Lake Washington boat ramp and motor across the lake to the St. Johns River, up to Sawgrass Lake, and through the canals to Lake Hell n’ Blazes. Not terribly difficult, right? But they forgot about Murphy’s Law, which says if anything can go wrong, it will. Maybe if they hadn’t ignored the warning signs, what followed might not have played out like a Three Stooges movie.

Bad omen number 1

As Earl Gillespie pulled his trailer aside to load before backing up to the boat ramp, he realized the left trailer tire’s bearings were gone. He touched the hot hub and promptly lost the skin on his index finger.

Ernst Hofmann helped Earl unload Anzuelo with much squealing from the missing bearings. Then Ken Poole joined them, and across Lake Washington they went.

Bad omen numbers 2 and 3

Earl’s GPS wouldn’t pick up satellites. Not to worry—Ernst’s handheld GPS worked just fine. By the time they got to the St. Johns at the south end of the lake, Earl’s GPS began working, but he’d erased the track from when he and Ernst had scouted the trip the week before. That time, they’d gotten lost three or four times.

Bad omen number 4

They entered Sawgrass Lake and discovered Ernst’s GPS had waypoint errors when they missed the St. Johns entrance. After stopping, checking the Google Maps printout and circling the lake twice, they finally found the entrance.

Bad omen number 5

Along the lakes and river, they saw abundant flowering plants in blue, violet, red, pink and white; healthy green islands; grasses that came up to the water’s edge; and scores of floating plants and vines—too many to avoid. Both Ken and Earl had to stop and clean their props a couple of times.

Undaunted, the boaters left the St. Johns and turned to find the canals. Hardly wider than the boats, the entrance was at a 120-degree angle to the main river. They slowed to a crawl to make the turn, and then faced sharp turns to the right and left as well as blind, narrow corners. Ken’s boat, No Name, developed a problem. Speeds over 4 knots caused the prop to slip and the engine to race.

They pulled up to an airboat jump on the main canal and tied up at the canoe ramp. After setting up a stove to heat pulled pork for lunch, they thought better of it and moved everything away from the airboat jump and its prop wash.

The pork took a long time to heat up. Everyone thought it smelled great, but Earl smelled burning plastic. Sure enough, the gas stove had gotten hot enough to melt the table.

After eating and unsuccessfully trying to catch the fish that appeared to be everywhere, they headed home. Prop slip kept Ken’s boat from going faster than 5 knots. Anzuelo moved a bit faster, and Earl stopped often to see if Ken could still make way.

Every time Earl’s boat stopped, it had trouble getting back up to speed. By the time they got back to the river, Anzuelo was flooding, running rough and overheating. They stopped and raised the prop but saw nothing blocking the inlets. Any attempt to go faster than 12 rpm caused the engine to die. After this happened about five times, hitting the starter caused an explosion that blew the top off the engine and snapped off both hold-downs. Anzuelo could only putter along at 2.4 knots.

Earl tried to call his wife to bring him a new hub and tools to fix his trailer and ended up proving a point we make in class: Carry a VHF on your boat; don’t depend on a cell phone! He and his wife finally connected but for only a sentence or two at a time, and by then, the store had closed.

Ken suggested they stop at Camp Holly. Earl’s wife met them there and took them back to Lake Washington, where they saw that the entire hub needed replacing. Earl found a store with the needed parts and returned 90 minutes later.

Kent sent Ernst home and went back to Camp Holly. After tying down the boat, he went to pull it out, only to find he had locked his keys in the truck and had to call a locksmith.

Meanwhile, back at Lake Washington, the new hub would not fit on the spindle because the inner bearing seal was too small. A larger seal was provided, but the smaller one had to be removed and replaced. As Earl attempted to do so, a young man approached to help and succeeded in placing the seal correctly and driving the hub onto the spindle.

Earl drove the newly repaired trailer from Lake Washington to Camp Holly and backed the trailer to the ramp just as a terrific lightning storm rolled in. With 1½ inches of rainwater in the boat, a 3 mph current and a top boat speed of 2.8 mph, Earl had an awful time getting the boat on the trailer.

With everything thoroughly soaked, Earl and his wife finally headed home.

United States Power Squadrons, America's Boating Club logo

The Ensign magazine is an official channel of United States Power Squadrons, America’s Boating Club, a volunteer organization whose members teach boating skills and best practices to help improve the safety of our nation’s waterways. Learn more.