Sailing the Highway

| October 03, 2001

Lee Jester’s ship, the Adagio, came in early. Not on the morning tide, but strapped and supported on the back of a drop-deck trailer. It was a typical July morning in the San Francisco Bay area when Bruce Smith climbed out of his Freightliner at Nelson’s Marine boatyard on the Alameda waterfront – overcast and cold but with a promise of sunshine later in the day. Smith had started his trip in Bellingham, Wash., two days earlier. He had driven into the boatyard in the wee hours of the morning, well before his appointed time of 8 a.m.

Anxious for Smith’s arrival, Jester arrived at the boatyard before 7 a.m. Smith’s load today means a great deal to Jester. It’s a 1929 Blanchard Lake Union Dreamboat. Even strapped to a trailer, the 30-foot wooden beauty evokes a sense of nostalgia with her understated elegance and classic line. But while the boat sported a recent coat of paint and varnish, she was showing her age below the waterline. “There’s leaking in the bilge area we have to take care of, and we plan to do some engine work,” Jester says of the newly purchased yacht he plans to dock nearby. Fortunately, he does woodworking for a living and his furniture shop is close by.

Located on a former Navy base, the boatyard’s neighbors include a small fleet of ships operated by the U.S. General Services Administration. A reminder of the area’s military past, the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Hornet, veteran of World War II and the Korean and Vietnam conflicts, lies docked nearby.

Inside the boatyard a flotilla of pleasure craft of all sizes and shapes rests on keel blocks and hull stands. The fleet includes sailboats, houseboats, power yachts and even a Chinese-style junk. The vessel sank a few years ago, according to its elderly owner, and is now being renovated.

By a little after 7 a.m. on this Friday, the boatyard comes alive as crews move boats about with a travel lift. “Fridays are always busy,” a yard worker says. “Everybody wants their boat in the water.” Smith and Jester are told they will have to wait an hour or more to unload, since there are four boats ahead. As they wait, the travel lift puts a 35-foot sailboat in the water, moves another inside the boat shop and then relocates a massive houseboat.

Smith removes and stores the tie-down straps and hull pads that had secured the 30-foot cargo to the drop-deck trailer. Smith says he always rolls and stores his straps right after taking them off a boat. “That way, I know where they are the next time I need them.” He likes to run with the same trailer for the same reason. “I know where everything is and I know I’ve got everything I need.”

Jester surveys his boat inside and out. It appears to have made the journey from the Pacific Northwest no worse for wear, except for a front window track.

As they wait, both men field a constant stream of questions from admiring yard workers and boat owners asking about the new delivery. Wooden boats draw a crowd, Smith notes. He should know; he’s been hauling boats for the better part of 16 years. Smith, who lives in Port Townsend, Wash., is also a boatman, having left the road for a time to run a boat restoration and services company. He also sold boats and held a skipper’s license. “I’m a boater,” Smith says, and on this day he certainly looks the part, clad in boat shoes and shorts with sunglasses hanging around his neck.

Smith likes dealing with boat owners and marina or boatyard personnel because for the most part, the “people are real nice. Have you ever had to deal with union warehouses? That’s why I like hauling to these places.” Besides, he says, “I’d much rather sleep at a marina than on some side street.”

Hauling boats is a special kind of business for a number of reasons, Smith says. There are the permits, strange routes, low bridges, loading and unloading. “I’m not really a truck driver,” he laughingly says. “I’m a nautical relocation engineer. Anyone can drive a truck, not anyone can haul boats.” He runs about 85,000 miles a year. “The pay is good enough we don’t have to worry about miles too much,” he adds. The pay goes up as the load gets wider and higher, according to Smith.

“It’s a niche business,” says Smith’s boss, Gerald Parker, owner of Dudley Boat Transportation. Speaking in the company’s office in Tacoma, Wash., Parker says the business involves unique pressures. “Hauling these things is just like hauling a time bomb or nitroglycerin. This is a guy’s boat and his ego is involved here. Plus, for the driver it’s highly labor-intensive, it’s not like loading groceries.”

Preparing the trailer for loading can be “like a geometry nightmare,” Parker says. Plus, many of the loads are over-dimensional. “This is a different animal,” he says. “Everything is 10-wide plus.”

Sailing the Highway

| October 03, 2001

Lee Jester’s ship, the Adagio, came in early. Not on the morning tide, but strapped and supported on the back of a drop-deck trailer. It was a typical July morning in the San Francisco Bay area when Bruce Smith climbed out of his Freightliner at Nelson’s Marine boatyard on the Alameda waterfront – overcast and cold but with a promise of sunshine later in the day. Smith had started his trip in Bellingham, Wash., two days earlier. He had driven into the boatyard in the wee hours of the morning, well before his appointed time of 8 a.m.

Anxious for Smith’s arrival, Jester arrived at the boatyard before 7 a.m. Smith’s load today means a great deal to Jester. It’s a 1929 Blanchard Lake Union Dreamboat. Even strapped to a trailer, the 30-foot wooden beauty evokes a sense of nostalgia with her understated elegance and classic line. But while the boat sported a recent coat of paint and varnish, she was showing her age below the waterline. “There’s leaking in the bilge area we have to take care of, and we plan to do some engine work,” Jester says of the newly purchased yacht he plans to dock nearby. Fortunately, he does woodworking for a living and his furniture shop is close by.

Located on a former Navy base, the boatyard’s neighbors include a small fleet of ships operated by the U.S. General Services Administration. A reminder of the area’s military past, the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Hornet, veteran of World War II and the Korean and Vietnam conflicts, lies docked nearby.

Inside the boatyard a flotilla of pleasure craft of all sizes and shapes rests on keel blocks and hull stands. The fleet includes sailboats, houseboats, power yachts and even a Chinese-style junk. The vessel sank a few years ago, according to its elderly owner, and is now being renovated.

By a little after 7 a.m. on this Friday, the boatyard comes alive as crews move boats about with a travel lift. “Fridays are always busy,” a yard worker says. “Everybody wants their boat in the water.” Smith and Jester are told they will have to wait an hour or more to unload, since there are four boats ahead. As they wait, the travel lift puts a 35-foot sailboat in the water, moves another inside the boat shop and then relocates a massive houseboat.

Smith removes and stores the tie-down straps and hull pads that had secured the 30-foot cargo to the drop-deck trailer. Smith says he always rolls and stores his straps right after taking them off a boat. “That way, I know where they are the next time I need them.” He likes to run with the same trailer for the same reason. “I know where everything is and I know I’ve got everything I need.”

Jester surveys his boat inside and out. It appears to have made the journey from the Pacific Northwest no worse for wear, except for a front window track.

As they wait, both men field a constant stream of questions from admiring yard workers and boat owners asking about the new delivery. Wooden boats draw a crowd, Smith notes. He should know; he’s been hauling boats for the better part of 16 years. Smith, who lives in Port Townsend, Wash., is also a boatman, having left the road for a time to run a boat restoration and services company. He also sold boats and held a skipper’s license. “I’m a boater,” Smith says, and on this day he certainly looks the part, clad in boat shoes and shorts with sunglasses hanging around his neck.

Smith likes dealing with boat owners and marina or boatyard personnel because for the most part, the “people are real nice. Have you ever had to deal with union warehouses? That’s why I like hauling to these places.” Besides, he says, “I’d much rather sleep at a marina than on some side street.”

Hauling boats is a special kind of business for a number of reasons, Smith says. There are the permits, strange routes, low bridges, loading and unloading. “I’m not really a truck driver,” he laughingly says. “I’m a nautical relocation engineer. Anyone can drive a truck, not anyone can haul boats.” He runs about 85,000 miles a year. “The pay is good enough we don’t have to worry about miles too much,” he adds. The pay goes up as the load gets wider and higher, according to Smith.

“It’s a niche business,” says Smith’s boss, Gerald Parker, owner of Dudley Boat Transportation. Speaking in the company’s office in Tacoma, Wash., Parker says the business involves unique pressures. “Hauling these things is just like hauling a time bomb or nitroglycerin. This is a guy’s boat and his ego is involved here. Plus, for the driver it’s highly labor-intensive, it’s not like loading groceries.”

Preparing the trailer for loading can be “like a geometry nightmare,” Parker says. Plus, many of the loads are over-dimensional. “This is a different animal,” he says. “Everything is 10-wide plus.”

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