It had been late on Friday evening, whilst I was fairly merry at the Helensburgh Real Ale festival, when Crazy Uncle John called to ask for my assistance in launching his boat the following morning. I’d been told of the comedy events that punctuated their early attempts at launching the boat when it first became sea-worthy in August last year. And, as recently as that afternoon, Aunty Helen had said that most everything involved with launching or venturing out on The Living Spark was a barrel of laughs.
Which is why I’d said yes, of course I’d drag myself out of bed on a Saturday morning to help. Crazy Uncle John said that the boat must – must be in the water by 10:15 or else the tide would be too low. I understood the issue and said I’d be there at 09:15 so we had a good hour.
“No, no – just be at Brian’s at about quarter to ten.” He said, “We’ve got it down to a fine art now and we can get it in the water in no time.”
I didn’t think that 30 minutes was much margin for error, but I could hardly have anticipated just how much error lay in store for me.
To be fair, the next morning I was running late, John was running late, and Brian, his life-long friend and co-owner of The Living Spark, wasn’t exactly sitting there poised for action when I arrived (Crazy Uncle John had taken a detour to collect his hat from his car) at Brian’s house, where the boat is kept on its trailer on the street. Every television show you’ve ever watched where a seemingly avoidable, yet inevitable disaster awaits those involved should be enough to tell you that we were already heading for trouble.
We arrived atop the slipway by Helensburgh Pier to see Fliss waiting for us and to find that the tide was indeed much lower than ideal. Crazy Uncle John said it was worth giving it a go, anyway, as we could always tow it over to Loch Lomond if the boat didn’t have enough water to float off the trailer. Brian agreed and I defered to their better judgement.
I had, one time many years ago, seen some folk get into serious difficulty trying to launch their boat from the same slipway. The worst had happened before I arrived on the scene, but as far as I could tell the boat had slid backwards and come off the trailer as they attempted to launch it. I can still remember the look of helplessness on those trying retrieve their damaged boat. They were in deep shit and they knew it, and none of the bystanders could do much to help them.
The memory of that was somewhere in my mind as we started the process of rolling the boat down the slipway, its trailer connected to the car by a tow rope to keep the car as far away from the water as possible. That was the plan, anyway. While Brian reversed the car, myself and Crazy Uncle John did our best to guide the trailer, although with the slime and seaweed covering the final few metres I merely slid down the slope until I was shin deep in water.
As the boat lifted off the trailer, I turned to see Brian stopping the car and stepping out onto the slipway, only for the car begin sliding towards me. The car in question is a front wheel drive Chrysler Neon 2.0 LX in Patriot Blue with a full leather interior, air conditioning and cruise control. It’s big, heavy, car with typically wallowy American handling, but is a dream to drive on the motorway. I know this because I bought it for myself as a 30th birthday treat back in 2002 before selling it to Crazy Uncle John in early 2004, who would later sell it to Brian.
My old car’s current owner was now desperately trying in vain to arrest its slide down the slipway into the river Clyde, shrieking at John (as he calls him) to help us. Crazy Uncle John had turned his attention to getting the boat off the trailer and was completely unaware of what was happening.
I glanced up at the onlookers on the pier above and said “This is going to be bad!”, before moving up the slippery slope to try and stop the car, which by the time I met it had gained quite a bit of momentum. As expected I didn’t do much to stop it – with my right hand grabbing the top of the right rear wheel arch and the other on the trunk (it’s an American car, remember?), the car just took me down with it.
As myself, Brian and the car slid toward the water with an assured inevitability, Crazy Uncle John made a valiant attempt at, I dunno, scientifically demonstrating the old immovable/unstoppable object scenario.
Putting both his hands up to collect the rear of the car resulted in our hero being knocked backwards into the Clyde with some considerable force. I watched him go head over heels, under the water, with my initial concern being that he’d be trapped between the trailer and the car as we slid further in. However, as luck would have it the car came to a stop at this point, pivoting to the left slightly as it did so, but I think the locked rear wheels catching on the crustacea (yes, I looked that up) at the foot of the slipway saved the day.
Crazy Uncle John emerged from the river, with that classic arms raised, palms down body language that indicates someone has been unexpectedly drenched in something unpleasant, and said something to the effect of Jings!
Which, I think, is old people speak for either “Fuck me” or “We’re in deep shit.”
And he was right on both counts.
The water was over my knees and lapping around the rear bumper of the car, which I was leaning into with all my weight. The onlookers wore expressions of shock and disbelief – Brian and Crazy Uncle John even more so.
Brian immediately began taking control of the situation, first checking that John was okay and then saying that he’d get a rope and we could pull the car back up. I knew that this wasn’t going to be possible and said we needed a tow, and fortunately an onlooker had witnessed our plight and offered us that tow with his own car, whilst myself and Fliss got together drift wood to use as chocks.
With those in place, the next issue was that I had a vague recollection of the towing eyelet on the Neon being kept in the trunk. As far as I could recall you had to take this and screw it in at a slight angle at the front of the car. I remembered trying this on a dry sunny day on my own driveway and it had taken a good ten minutes to get in place. Looking in the pouch by the rear wheel I could find no trace of the eyelet, so either it’s my current car that has this system or the eyelet has been misplaced over the years.
In the event we secured a rope around a strut on the bottom of the Neon and the helpful onlooker’s Toyota Corrola managed to tow it up to a point where it could crest the slipway under its own power. Seeing the car back on even ground at the top of the slipway was a huge relief, for sure.
With that done the three of us attached a rope to the trailer and hoisted that back up the slipway, and with potential disaster averted, we secured the boat to the pier as the tide began to fall below the level at which we could have launched it. Mission accomplished, albeit with a bit more drama than we would have liked.
By the time myself and Crazy Uncle John had been home to get changed and back, the tide was so low that it made boarding quite tricky. It really does go out at quite a startling rate, but once myself, Elisha, Fliss, Brian and Crazy Uncle John were safely onboard The Living Spark, and un-snagged from the fishing line we caught leaving the pier, we enjoyed a pleasant cruise out to the wreck of the Captayannis.
I hadn’t been up close to the wreck since the early 90’s and it was clear that the years of weathering and salt water were taking their toll. The deck now has holes that I don’t remember being there before, giving the impression that the Captyannis won’t be seeing out another 36 years lying on that sand bank in the Clyde.
After circling the wreck and taking lots of pictures, we headed back to the pier. It was a short and sweet trip, but it more than made up for the launch shenanigans and Elisha seemed to love the experience.
Hopefully we’ll get to go out a few more times over the summer – with smoother launches, I hope.