Monday, October 9, 2017

why a broken trailer axle made me smile all the way home

The story of how an unfinished ocean crossing,
a museum, a few friends, a businessman, 
a father and son, and a landscaper can make a bad situation
seem to be not all that bad.

Hauled out and on my way home I was leaving St. Michaels when I took the right turn on to southbound 322 in Easton, Maryland.  I heard a noise, the kind you would hear if your ran over an aluminum can.  I thought nothing of it but a minute later looking in my rear view mirror I saw bluish smoke streaming out behind SPARTINA's trailer.  Uh oh.  

I pulled over to see the starboard side wheel tilted at an awkward angle.  I did not need to look to know that the trailer axle had broken.  And only 200 miles from home.

Before checking on towing I knew I would need a place to store the trailer and boat.  I texted Kristen at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum about 15 miles away.  She responded instantly with the location on campus to store the boat, said she was alerting her staff of the boat's arrival and promised to keep on eye on SPARTINA herself.  How kind.

Next contact was with Boat US where I have both boat insurance and roadside assistance for the trailer.  And then I waited.  It is not easy to find a tow truck in Easton on a Sunday morning.

So while I was waiting I started thinking, something I don't do all that often, and it occurred to me that cruising friends Michael and Sheila had their boat Kantala at a marina in Easton.  Yes, these are the folks I met in Portsmouth last summer and later had a wonderfully timed chance meeting near St. Michaels last year.  And yes, these are the same folks I saw off from Hampton last July as they set off across the Atlantic for England.  I won't go into detail other than to say they had some steering issues that caused them to put into Nova Scotia and while waiting for parts it became too late to complete the crossing.  So it had happened that a little over a week into my sail I was on Queenstown Creek and received a text from Kantala saying the were back on the Chesapeake Bay  - I was still thinking they were in England - and would I like to have hotcakes for breakfast?  Leaving the creek just after dawn the next morning I looked out to see Kantala rounding up to drop anchor.  During our enjoyable breakfast they mentioned they were heading for Easton and would be tying up in a yard there for most of October.  The boat yard, I came to realize while standing on the side of the road, was almost within walking distance from my trailer with a broken axle.

So I text Michael and Sheila, who were in Annapolis at the boat show, about the boat/trailer and Michael calls to say just get the boat/trailer to the yard and he take care of the arrangements there.  I texted Kristen to tell her I had found closer accommodations and also called Boat US to change the trailer destination.  Boat US told me they were having an extremely difficult time finding a tow service.  I said thanks for trying, please keep trying.  Then I waited some more.

That's when Paul and Dawn, long time friends who were at the Mid-Atlantic Small Craft Festival, saw me on the roadside and stopped to check on me.  And I waited some more.

Steve and Scott, good friends who were also at the festival, also stopped by.  And I waited.

Then a third participant from the festival, one I did not know, pulled over.  And I waited.

Next it was a gentleman from Easton, on his way to the festival, who pulled over.  I explained the situation.  He gave me his business card - one from a large Washington-based real estate firm that listed his position as "Senior Director" - and said to call him if I needed help, he would be glad to keep an eye on SPARTINA for me.

Then it was a dad with his son, with a big four wheel drive truck, who stopped, saying he had driven by an hour earlier and was concerned that I was still there.  By this time I had gotten word that a tow truck was on the way, and I thanked them for stopping.

Finally it was a man driving a truck with a trailer loaded down with freshly cut tree branches.  Maybe a landscaper, he spoke with an accent that told me that English was not his first language.  He appeared to have been working all morning, with more work to do, but stopped on the shoulder anyway.  By this time I could point to the tow truck coming down the road.  He was still concerned.  Once the trailer was towed, how was I going to get it fixed?  I assured him I had it all worked out.  I could not thank him enough for his kindness, shook his hand and thanked him again.

Trailer and boat are now at the yard in Easton, two more measurements to confirm and Portsmouth Trailer will make a new axle for me.  So it is all working out.

Not the easy drive home that I had pictured but still if my axle is going to break why not have it happen near a boat yard where friends can watch over it.  And if I've got to wait for a couple hours for a tow, why not enjoy the kindness of many friends and strangers.  I hardly thought of the trailer on the drive home, smiling instead and thinking about how good people can be.

I got home in the evening and while pouring a glass of well-deserved red wine Pandora was playing a live version of  a classic Bob Marley song......

don't worry about a thing
every little thing gonna be alright

And it is.


Rich D. said...

Great story Steve, at a time when we need to hear more stories about the good in people. Glad you and Spartina are ok! Best Wishes! Rich

Steve said...

Thanks, Rich. It really was a positive experience. And the new axle will be bigger, stronger and galvanized. Good for long road trips.

MaryLou said...

Wow. What a story! The only tine we ever had to use Boat US trailer assist, we burned up some bearings on I95 taking Fretless from PA to MD. Took about 5 hours to get underway again but the guy the sent out assessed the situation, determine he needed parts, found them on a Saturday and did the repair right on the side of the road with traffic roaring by. I was impressed. Only one person stopped. Your experience is a clear case of being in the right place. It boggles the mind. When we saw Michael Saturday, he said you might be coming up their way before they leave. Prophetic.

Rik said...

With the heavier axle you could drive to miami, sail to key west... the world opens up!

Steve said...

You are exactly right, Rik. The trailer shop could have ordered an axle from the original manufacturer, which would have been identical. But instead they are making one out of heavier gauge material and I think they are even adding a spindle to the very ends of the axle which helps stir and circulate the axle grease as the tires go around. And I thought that heavier axle bodes will for future trips to Maine or Florida. Yes, we think the same. Hope all is well on Aruba.


Rik said...

Will you still have the same springs? These should not be too stiff for our "light" boats... This are good here. Am in Bonaire a lot and they are working on getting old traditional wooden sailboats back in sailing order and competing in the Regatta. Awesome stuff. I suggested to them to take off the dimensions of these boats for permanence. You should see about that on my blog.

Steve said...

Got brand new OEM springs. The old ones, which were the second set on the trailer, were corroded and losing their shape. The axle is hung from the springs, so while we are under there might as well replace them all. steve

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