A nightmare road trip turned into a fond memory

I was caught a little off-guard when my 1996 Stratos 268 Dual Console bass boat sold so quickly.  I knew I was looking to upgrade to a larger rig, but assumed it wouldn’t sell until Spring. I hadn’t done much research for a replacement, but I had my eyes on a few. I really wanted to target a boat I could get for cheap but needed a little elbow grease to increase the value.

I came upon a few potential candidates – one was a Triton TR-20 owned by a former college competitive angler, running well within my budget. It was left uncovered and the carpet was filled with mold. The gelcoat was fairly well oxidized, but again after some sanding and polishing, it should clean up and shine bright.

The real gem with this boat was that the engine is a 2005 Yamaha VMAX HDPI – a motor, when cleaned up and functioning is worth between $8,000 and $11,500, but realistically it’s closer to the former rather than the latter.

So, I got ahold of the owner and we agreed to a price and that he would hold it for me until I got there. I immediately left and drug my 13 year old son. We needed some alone time to have “the talk” and we got into it as soon as we left on our 9 hour drive. Eventually he worked his way to the back seat (we took my wife’s Yukon XL) and played Halo until we got to our destination around 10pm local time.

The next morning, we got up early and met the seller. He had just obtained a new shroud for the motor, and everything was looking in shape. We hooked up the boat and away we went, unaware of the challenges we were about to face.
We were cruising right along, about two hours into the drive, when I looked in my sideview mirror and noticed the trailer fender wobboling like crazy. I pulled over and noted that not one, but both, passenger side trailer tires were blown – not a big deal but, mind you, most states close down on Sunday’s, which I generally respect unless, of course, I need something to be open. After driving around with a trailer with two blown tires, we finally found a Tractor Supply that was super helpful – lending us a 3-ton jack and cross wrench to change the tires in their lot.
We purchased two tires and moved the remaining used tires to the front axel of the dual-axel trailer. I over inflated the new rear tires so the sidewall wouldn’t flex as much and heat up and we were on our way in about two hours, feeling proud that my son helped me change tires and did the second one on his own!

Hot and hungry, we continued on our journey (did I forget to mention the truck didn’t have A/C). Things were going great until I had to pull off in Fort Wayne, IN to fill up. It was when I pulled in that I noticed the front passenger side trailer tire was sitting at a crazy angle. My heart sank but there wasn’t much I could do. I filled up the gas tank and went across the street to a Wal-Mart that looked to have the tire center open still.

The tire center guys were hesitant to help when I asked them to help me remove the tire. It was the end of their day and they weren’t allowed to let anyone touch their tools. I understand regulations but it seems that they are so strict that they prohibit workers from being friendly humans. We got the tire off and, as I figured, the bearing had completely blown up and the hub was locked up. NO BUENO.
I found an O’Reillys about 2 miles away, so I disconnected the trailer, and ended up making about 4 runs back and fourth. By the time 9pm rolled around, I was beyond frustrated. I found a chain in the bottom of the boat and wrapped it around the axel and boat frame. Then I went inside, bought a pad lock and two heavy duty ratchet straps. Essentially, I did the same thing with those, trying to straighten the axel as much as possible so I could limp home on three wheels. It was sketchy as heck because the opposite wheel was riding with some crazy camber+toe – like draft car style.
We were on the road, which is what mattered. My son had to be at school in the morning and my pregnant wife needed some backup. At that point, I didn’t care if I laid frame all the way home – we were finishing this trip that night.
It was scary and I would never recommend anyone be that stupid. It took us 8 1/2 hours to get from Fort Wayne, IN to Grand Rapids, MI. I said the FULL rosary and listened to 12 Dave Ramsey pod cast episodes, but we got home at 3am. My son crashed in the backseat around 10pm and woke up on time for school. My wife was happy I was home.

After I dropped the kids off at school, I limped the trailer to the marina – about 6 miles away. The good news is the repairs will fall within my budget (new high and low-pressure fuel pumps, and lower unit serviced). I really trust the guys at Murray Lake Marina to do a good job at a fair price.

Fast-forward 3 weeks…

I brought the boat home this weekend, and the world’s greatest father-in-law helped me fix/rebuild the bearings and hubs on Saturday.  We also got new tires on the original rims, so it’s a lot safer! Today (Sunday), rather than watching a pathetic Detroit Lions football team trip over itself, I power washed about 100 pounds of mold out of the carpet so it will be safer for me to work on. I will take it back to the Marina in the morning so they can finish up work on the motor, hopefully it will be this week so I can take her for a rip around the lake!

All in all, the trip was difficult, but I really got to bond with my son – I learned about the Halo franchise and he learned about basic automotive hackery as well as some new four letter words. It’s definitely a memory we will both hold dear, and I would do it again with him in a heartbeat.