[Editors Note: I imagine most reading this story has their own trailer incident story as well. Please add yours to the comment section below this article or send directly to us (email@example.com) and we’ll add it ourselves!]
If only trailers and cars would be as seemingly indestructible as those on Mad Max: Fury Road. In our pre-apocalyptic world, however, things aren’t so stout.
It was all going so well, and in retrospect, maybe too well. Of 125 boats, we were the very first boat in at Brant Beach YC at the end of the NJ Optimist State Championship, and as many know, it can be competitive and time-consuming hauling your boat and RIB after a youth one-design sailing event. Flying solo and without any shore support, I actually wore sneakers that day, knowing I’d have to run to the truck, drive 3-4 blocks to get the trailer, return, and hope to get in the queue as quickly as possible. A friend graciously sat on our RIB waiting, and despite overstepping the trailer line protocol (had no idea there was one), the gentleman managing hauling let me in since we were so sorted out and ready, saying “you’re the last one”.
Out like a flash, down the street, parked around the corner in a spot away from the fray, and ready to lob the Opti up on top for the ride home to Annapolis. The homeowner whose house we parked in front of even came out and offered his hose; what a wonderful gesture from a very nice person. I was incredibly thankful to get all that salt of the boat and trailer, and again thought to myself, wow, how awesome is this?
This 2017 model year single-axle trailer has made its trips delivering a 4.8 meter sailing RIB; not infrequently with an Optimist and even once a 420 on top. From home base in Maryland, it’s been to CT, FL twice, NC, VA several times, Maine twice, etc. At some point early on, I changed to radial highway tires (this is a huge upgrade by the way) as the “trailer-rated” tires are not really meant for long high-speed highway tows. The bearings on this trailer were religiously greased, and all the lights worked. The trailer had been nothing but perfect. What could go wrong?
After the awards ceremony, the drive started out great. Not too much traffic, and Waze routed us on the Garden State Parkway. All good. Cruising along at around 70 mph, smooth as butter, not much traffic at all, flush with thinking about all the great sailing that had just happened, I noticed a guy in a pickup truck speed up next to me and from the fast lane, gave me a hand gesture. Assuming he was commenting in sign language about our nice rig we were towing, I smiled and gave him a thankful thumbs-up. He shook his head somewhat violently, and I then was able to read just one word from his lips: SMOKING.
Exactly 1/2 mile before exit 58 on the southbound side of the GS Parkway (I have that spot memorized including GPS coordinates given how many times I was asked by various people), I pulled over slowly, got out, and immediately smelled a burning smell, and sure enough, smoke pouring out from under the right tire/wheel. Uh-oh.
It seems every sailor who has done any amount of trailering has a story. Some are funny, some not so funny, and all involve unwanted breakdowns that cause delays. Trailering is a tricky lot, for sure, and up to this point in my 30+ year career trailering, this was the very first time I had any type of bearing/tire problem. (I did lose a J/24 in the Harbor Tunnel in Baltimore, but we’ll save that for another day.) I guess it was my time.
As frustrating and deflating as this was, sitting with my daughter on the side of the highway completely paralyzed, we, in fact, were lucky. This bearing had so badly disintegrated that the entire wheel/tire was migrating right off the axle. In fact, the only thing that kept it on was our fender; if you can see in the photo the scarring on the tire from the fender, that actually kept us whole. Spare tire in this case does absolutely no good.
Much later, after our whole rig was flatbed-towed to a marina, the gentleman working on it confirmed that we were extremely close to disaster. He was able to take the wheel off without loosening the lug nuts! Had the whole wheel come off, which it essentially was trying to do, he thought that we most likely would have lost the whole thing; RIB and Optimist, and I don’t even want to think about the potential of our rig harming any other cars/people.
There is a great deal more to this story, but to wrap up, I called my insurance company, they said no problem, tow truck on way, and after several unsuccessful tries I found a wonderful Marina that took the time to help; eventually we got the trailer towed on a flat bed to safety, and we made the rest of the trip home without incident. I cannot say enough about the Maritime Marina in Tuckerton, NJ; they are incredibly thoughtful and helpful! Finally, I must say that I was incredibly thankful for the three cars, coming home from the very same regatta, that stopped on the highway to offer help; The Baker family, Brady Stagg (coach at St. Mary’s College), and Bobby Lippincott (Annapolis YC Coach) who stopped despite the fact that he was towing an enormous multi-boat/RIB trailer. Help from friends makes things like this a lot easier to handle and it’s always a great reflection on our community.
- NEVER leave anything on a New Jersey Highway! Unfortunately I learned the hard way that in the state of New Jersey, on the GS Parkway, one cannot hire a company to come and tow your disabled vehicle. Anything and everything MUST be contracted through the Parkway Authority/State Police. Anything left for any time at all is subject to impound, and that means a fine, and a return in-person trip to release it.
- RADIAL TIRES. Radial/highway-rated tires do the job infinitely better than trailer/local rated tires for long hauls at high speeds. In fact this radial tire may have helped save us in this situation as it took the abuse and scarring from the fender and did not blow up.
- BEARINGS. Greasing the bearings may not be enough for higher-mileage bearings. The gentleman who repaired our trailer said that no matter what, a little water always gets in, and over time it does its thing. Salt water is especially insidious. Now, all of our trailers are on a strict bearing-replacement schedule.
- SPARES/ROAD GEAR. I didn’t know this, but bearing-changing is fairly easy, and with minimal tools one can do the job on the road. What’s more, it is possible to have a replacement bearing all set and with your spare tire. This may be obvious to some, but not to me, and our trailers will now be equipped with replacement bearings.
- Learning to read lips is never a bad skill to have in the arsenal. Thanks for the heads-up, fellow motorist, you may have saved our boats!