Trailering a Traditionally Built Boat
The first issue that comes up under the above heading is always leaking. Most are convinced there’s no way around it making the whole concept impossible. I advocate copious raw linseed oil application during construction to maximize plank stability. Carvel built boats benefit from wetting down prior to launch with application a day or two before usually plenty. Lapstrake might want wetting too but will usually do much better. I have put newspaper from keel up the planks and poured water on the paper getting the paper down onto the planks between timbers. At first the water drains out through the seams but the paper stays damp. Soon swelling has closed enough leaks for some water to pool in the bilge. With water in the bilge the paper wicks it up and stays damp to keep working. Well caulked and oiled this may not be necessary. Once tightened up planks will keep their moisture for some days. On to trailers, especially trailers that don’t need to submerge. Here I’m talking about straight keel and flat bottom boats, fins and built down keels need other solutions, generally.
Sam and Susan Manning have a 19’ Maine Dory of Sam’s design and build that they trail on a flat bed trailer with a pipe roller across the back edge of the trailer bed. Using wooden rollers to move the boat out of the water at a ramp or other launch site it is not hard for a small group of people to work the dory bottom onto the roller and then onto the trailer. Other rollers will help adjust the load if needed. With a winch pulling, the dory stem would roll up with the rest of the boat to follow as long as you are secured to your boats strength, you don’t want to pull the stem off the boat. This works in reverse for launching. With a steep enough ramp and deep enough water you might well just roll off the trailer at water’s edge.
My other lesson in trailers and launching came from Lee Van Gemert, former Snipe and Indian class champion sailor. When Lee was about 75 he got an old Indian, a 21’ racing dory. He still had the trailer he had put together for an Indian long since sold. The trailer was (again) a flat bed type almost as long as the boat. Using a couple of 12’ long pieces of 3” aluminum tube and a long bolt he made sheer legs from which to hang a block and tackle. He also bolted a two speed winch to one leg for extra lifting power and a cleat below the winch to belay. A light but strong line between the feet of the legs ensured against spread. I have made the same structure with stiff wood legs (red cedar trunks) rope lashed at the top.
With this rig Lee was now ready to load or launch his Indian as they had done in his younger days. They would have a strong box higher than the skeg or counter overhanging the trailer. Lee had boxes, milk crates in fact. With sheerlegs straddling the boats stern, block lanyard belayed to the stern cleat, the boat’s stern would be hoisted up to be set down on the box. Unhitched, the sheer legs were moved to the bow. With legs spread wide enough for the trailer to roll past, belay was set to the mooring cleat on deck and the bow lifted until the trailer was free to be pulled out from under the suspended boat. With trailer gone and bow lowered to ground, the stern could be lifted from it’s box and lowered to leave the whole boat grounded. With tide enough and rising the boat would float soon enough. Otherwise, rollers work. At the Squantum Yacht Club, a simple building on piles over the beach where Lee was a lifelong member, they still launch their dry sailed boats this way. Retrieval again reversed the procedure. One end lifted from deck or rail level, gravity keeps the vessel upright. The other end on trailer, box or ground, gravity anchors the swinging legs from tipping.
The Alden designed Massachusetts Bay Indian was a development from Charles Drown Mower’s 1898 and 1911 21‘ racing dory designs which raced as the X-class. When I built Mower’s 21‘ racing dory using the 1898 plans I needed a workable trailering arrangement. I had a flat bed trailer with wheel wells too high for the boat with it’s wide bottom to sit on the bed but long enough to put the center of gravity near the wheels. It wasn’t hard to build up the bed to account for the wheel wells. I had inherited Lee’s sheer legs, so I was ready to go after making a folding saw horse type support for the stern. Works beautifully. I don’t get the trailer wet. To secure the boat on the trailer I lash down each side fore and aft, and because it is an open boat I also tie the rails together so bumping on the road doesn’t pull the rails apart. I also cross lines under the bow and stern to keep the boat centered as we ride along. I have the rig in a bag lashed along the boat’s center line from bow to stern. Here are pictures of the boat hanging for illustration: