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At Sea: October 2010

Wheeeeeeee!!!!!!

How Betty Jane became Florida's fastest trawler.

After the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico, it soon became obvious that vast quantities of toxic dispersants were being used to emulsify the errant crude whooshing up from the ocean’s floor. Moreover, the stuff bypassing the dispersants was sprawling across the water’s surface at an alarming rate, immediately threatening sea life, coastal economies and shorelines, the livelihoods of thousands of commercial fishermen, human health, the marine industry at large, and, last but not least, a whole slew of recreational vessels like my beloved trawler Betty Jane.

The pressure on boat owners mounted. From Louisiana to Florida, we were not only forced to grapple with social, economic, and emotional issues that, when taken together, rivaled the realm of scary science fiction, we were also receiving some pretty frightening letters and e-mails from insurance companies, boat manufacturers, and other business entities: Your policy has been cancelled! Your coverage does not include oil-related accidents! Your gelcoat may be permanently discolored by waterborne oil! Your engine may be seriously damaged! Your bottom paint may have to be removed and replaced!

Tough times call for tough decisions. So with oil plumes, slicks, sheen, and tarballs bearing down, I determined to move Betty from her marina in the Florida Panhandle to another one on the Atlantic side of the state where, for the foreseeable future at least, neither man-made nor natural disasters threatened. And since a trip across the Gulf on Betty’s own bottom seemed unwise at the time given her sedate speed compared to the spill’s, I opted to put her aboard a low-boy trailer and have her trucked to her new home.

The adventure taught me one thing for sure: not all boat haulers are created equal, a point perfectly illustrated by a grim experience a friend had recently. His tale of woe began with his decision to have his 36-footer hauled from the Florida Panhandle to Georgia. Shortly thereafter, he hurriedly hired a big Internet-advertised company with a whopping fleet of trucks and some highly attractive, low-ball prices.

What ensued was a financially catastrophic horror show entailing a driver who spoke very little English; the levy of hefty fines for exceeding one of Florida’s height-of-load requirements; a highly stressful, two-hour power outage in a small Florida town (caused when the boat’s flying bridge snagged a power line); having the load stalled in a state impound lot for an entire week while the flying bridge was removed; and finally, paying way more for the job than the initial asking price.

My experience went decidedly more smoothly. I hired a small, independent outfit: Atlantic Marine Transport, owned by Bob Paquette of Navarre, Florida. Paquette had one truck (driven by him), a long list of references (three of whom I telephoned), an excellent working reputation with boatyards in the area (I checked), a lengthy resume that revealed decades of nationwide boat hauling, and, based on a few hours of comparative shopping, what seemed like middle-of-the-pack pricing. In the flesh, he turned out to be thorough, friendly, and once he was headed east with Betty on I-10 (with me following along behind in my Prius), a rousingly speedy driver.

I swear—I heard Betty go: “Wheeeeee!!!” the first time Paquette edged ‘er up to 70 mph, an outrageous velocity really, although one that arguably made the old girl the fastest trawler in the Sunshine State, at least on that particular afternoon.

But then Betty’s always been an adventuress. And even a catastrophic oil spill can have its lighter moments!

This article originally appeared in the October 2010 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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