I love a launching. Whether the boat’s brand new or just freshly painted, I can’t help noticing how pure and unsullied the thing looks. As Madonna would say, “Like a virgin.”
And yet, lot’s of things can go wrong at a launching. For example, I heard this story about a big, wooden dragger. . . . The builders never put weights on the cradle, so after the boat slid into the water, stuck was the baby, cradle and all. Kind of embarrassing.
There’s also the story about the multi-million dollar sloop that slid off the ways and kept on going. It turned out that the sloop’s transmission failed, and the yard skiff the builders had standing-by to tend the boat didn’t have the power to control it.
And how could I forget one of the most famous launching disasters of all time, that of the poorly designed and extremely top-heavy, Vasa?
On August 10, 1628, the flagship of the King of Sweden left her launch site in Stockholm with all her flags flying. She sailed less than a half mile, ran into a sudden squall, and tipped over. The 1300-ton warship took water through her open gun ports and sank. Very embarrassing, yes, but also fatal. A good number of the King’s best fighting men, as well as a few members of the aristocracy went to their graves amidst the wreckage.
In comparison, my launching experiences are kind of anticlimactic, although they didn’t seem that way at the time. At one yard, my lobsterboat got thumped on the bottom when an overanxious hoist operator lowered it too quickly in too little water. I was a bit miffed but . . . no serious harm done. Another time, at the same yard, while backing out of the slipway, my prop sucked an old canvas dodger off the bottom. It stopped the engine cold and set the boat adrift toward a grout pile.
My favorite was this one guy who told me I had plenty of tide. Famous last words. I came down the ways -- in a 50’ wooden deadrise-style party boat this time -- only to get stuck in the mud. He assured me I had lots of water and could back her out. When I tried, the bow came off the cradle and dropped a foot through open air. Thanks to his great advice, my stopwater leaked all season.