By Barney Harris 6701 & 8011
Several years ago I designed and built a three boat trailer. You might be tempted to ask why? I’ll remind you of that guy in Los Angeles who attached a bunch of helium balloons to his lawn chair, figuring he would just float around in his back yard. Instead he ascended to an altitude of 10,000 feet and drifted into the LAX airport pattern. He was eventually rescued and while being hauled off by the police was asked by a reporter why he did this. His answer: “a man can’t just sit around.”
In my case, building and using a three boat trailer has turned out to be something of an obsession, although it dovetails perfectly with my preoccupation with Albacore racing. Let me state the obvious: Multiple boat trailers are good for the Albacore class. They allow teams to split expenses and share driving responsibility, which makes a long trek to a distant regatta more palatable. It also enables time strapped sailors to attend regattas in far off locations by paying to have their boat transported and flying to the event site. This worked particularly well at this years Midwinter Championships in Sarasota.
I started thinking about the triple about five years ago. I was motivated in part by the limits of what was on the market. Something about the Rapide double trailers, for example, seemed to miss the mark. The rig seemed way too tall for the load. From a structural standpoint, the rig just didn’t flow. I thought I could build something better, so I went to work. I wanted to carry three Albacores. I also wanted the trailer to be easy to load and unload .
I began looking for a suitable platform. I believed a wide trailer would be better since it would resist roll over and have more room. I found that most wide trailers are typically designed for heavy loads; they have capacities in the thousands of pounds. Too much capacity is bad, since the stiffer springs will jolt the relatively light weight boats on every bump. After some research, I selected a tandem personal water craft trailer for the undercarriage. This is a trailer which is designed to carry two PWC’s, such as Jet Ski’s, side by side. It is maximum width (8 ft 6 in), not very long, and at 1500 lbs has about the right capacity. I figured each packed Albacore would weigh in at around 350 to 400 lbs with covers, spares, etc. Before picking it up at a local dealer, I got it customized, nixing the bunks for PWCs and getting larger wheels for smoother ride. A footnote: I thought it ironic that a trailer originally designed for something so obnoxious as Jet Skis was being used for something so neat.
The superstructure is formed from 2 inch square, 1/8 inch wall aluminum tubing. I used 2x2x1/4 inch angle and 2×1/4 inch flat bar and 5/16ths inch galvanized steel bolts with lock washers. I used 2×2 angle for diagonal braces to resist racking. All are of 6061 alloy with a T6 temper. While crude, the structure was relatively easy to construct using hand powered tools.
The side-to-side clearance is a little over 79 inches; the vertical clearance is set at 32 inches on the middle rack and a bit over 35 inches on the bottom. The 32 inch height turns out to be only marginally adequate for boats which do not have a compass or other hardware installed that extends above the foredeck. The distance between the forward and aft supports measures in at about 118 inches, and works well. Three Albacores are carried upside down supported at three points: on the bow about 18 inches aft of the stem and on the side decks about three or four feet forward of the transom. The diagonal braces are set to just cradle the side decks, and prevent sideways motion. The two forward vertical members constrain the bow. I wrap carpet around all areas which could chafe.
The trailer has strength which is more than adequate to withstand normal loads The real issue was what would happen in an accident. I took data from highway safety crash tests, and designed the trailer to survive a crash scenario that I was also likely to survive. I figured that if I lived, I would want the boats to get through it as well so I would not be lynched by an angry group of Albacore owners. I have made up my mind that if I croak in an accident – I’m taking them all with me!
I measured the tare weight of the trailer using a bathroom scale under each wheel and tongue. I keyed the undercarriage, structure, and payload weights into a simple spreadsheet to estimate the trailer longitudinal and vertical centre of gravities and tongue weight. The analysis indicated that the axle should be moved as far aft in the trailer as possible – which is where it is today. The results of this analysis predicts that the loaded triple trailer is stable, i.e. will skid before it tips over
The triple trailer has racked up (no pun intended) an estimated 20,000 miles while carrying more than one boat and has enabled many persons to attend away events by flying in while their boat is transported. It has also served as a good basic platform to carry spare trailers, masts, and other things like plywood.
I have an eye towards building a 6 boat rig. The best undercarriage option appears to be a pontoon boat trailer. A typical 30 foot trailer will have a capacity far in excess of what 6 Albacores would weigh, and so could damage boats due to the inadequate suspension compliance. However a pontoon boat is very wide and relatively light, and trailers designed for them appear to match well with a load composed of six Albacores. A six boat rig would be more difficult to store [hide] in a yacht club boat yard, and might end up being only partially loaded most of the time. We’ll see – if the need arises consistently I would like to do it. In the meantime I’ll just keep filling these balloons with helium…
Last year alone TEAM SPOT drove 12,000 miles, most with three or more boats in tow – and all without a single incident of any damage to any boat. Here are some trailering tips from the mind of SPOT.
I believe it is imperative to secure everything to the trailer to force it all to move as one. This increases the ratio of sprung to unsprung weight, a critical determinant of how well the trailer’s suspension will isolate the boats from road bumps.
Securing boats and gear to the trailer
I am glad I do not have a neat story about how my boat flew off the trailer.. In over 50,000 miles of trailering boats over the past 5 years TEAM SPOT has never lost a boat. This is no accident. The key is to perform the simple thought experiment: if the entire load can be lost as a result of the failure of a single tie down, then it is not adequately secured. A unfortunately common example is the boat’s bow tie down. Take a look at how your boat is secured to its trailer and ask yourself what would happen if the single line securing the bow became untied, chafed through, or failed for some other reason. The answer is not pleasant. SPOT always uses redundant means to secure boats to their trailer. You secure your trailer to your car with both a ball and socket AND chains, why would you do any less for your boat? Boats falling off trailers are 100% avoidable. Rule of thumb: keep adding tie down lines until you could deliberately cut any one line and not have a catastrophic failure.
This is rocket science: use knots which will not come undone. Good knots include bowline, trucker’s hitch, and multiple half hitches. Bad knots include slip knots, midshipman stopper, clove hitch (unless used with half hitches), and anything resembling a shoe lace knot.
Mast Preparation for Towing
Pull all halyards to the top of their travel. Coil the ends at the base. Remove the shrouds and forestay, coil them, and stow them in the boat. Preparing the mast in this way will reduce damage to the anodized outer surface from chafing.
Mast base protection
Spot uses an old jib bag slipped over the mast base. It keeps the sun off the halyards, reduces road grime, and chaffing. No need to tie it on, simply point the mast base end forward and it will stay on just fine, based on the last 50,000 miles of towing anyway.
Tying down masts
Here is a Neat trick: first loosely wrap line around the mast to the supporting structure and then seize around it, locking the two together while forming a rope insulator between the mast and trailer. There are no cut bits of carpet to come loose; the tie down line itself serves to isolate and secure the mast to the trailer.
Tying two masts together
Tie one end to one mast with a bowline. Then make several figure 8’s around both masts. Finish by seizing the lines between the masts. This serves to isolate the masts from each other, and lock them together, but leaves the way for a little scrubbing action which tends to dampening whipping and the fatigue it produces.
Mast warning flag
SPOT uses a single foam “noodle” from a toy store with reflective tape wrapped around it suspended from a short length of line. When driving down the road the reflective tape covered foam noodle floats several feet behind the trailer roughly at mast level. Truckers approaching from behind will first see a bright object oscillating vertically, and so reduces the probability of getting masts damaged from a rear ending incident. When parked, the reflective noodle hangs from the mast and serves to alert parking cars that there is something which they must go around. This reduces the probability that a person parking a car with a roof racked boat will collide with and possibly damage the masts.
Team spot uses a short length of shock cord in series with the cover tie down with. By preloading the shock cord, the cover is held taught despite changes in humidity and temperature, and thus will shed rain. While trailering, the shock cord prevents flapping, since the breeze can not work the cover loose gradually while driving
Trailering upside down
Place the bottom cover outside the top cover to prevent rain water from filling the top cover. Amusing lesson, I was car topping a boat upside down from Florida after midwinters one year, and dropped the whole thing off at the airport while I went on a business trip. When I returned a week later, it looked like I had a beached whale on top of my truck – the top cover, which was fit over the bottom cover, was completely full, rainwater having drained into it for over a week.
Team spot always travels with a spare hub and wheel with tire mounted. The hub has all bearings pressed in, seals, and is greased and ready to go, just remove the existing retaining nut, slam it on, and you are back on the road in under one hour.
It is incredible to me that trailer manufacturers actually use wire nuts in exposed trailer electrical systems. Wire nuts are not sealed, rely on the strength of stripped copper strands to remain intact, and are exposed to every bit of road salt through which the trailer is driven. I prefer to use the marine rated crimp on fittings with integral heat shrink tubing. Crimp them on and apply heat to shrink the plastic tube around the wire and seal the thermally activated adhesive. This forms a good fatigue resistant electrical and watertight mechanical connection.
Strain Relief and Chafing
Look in your car at how wiring is lead and supported. This is no accident – its supported almost over its entire length and there are no areas where the insulation chafes on a sharp corner or surface. Car manufacturers have learned that a wire bent around a sharp corner will eventually chafe through and go to ground with consequences which range from inconvenience to catastrophe. Trailer manufacturers as a group are not as far along the learning curve: their products are rife with chafe points and potential wear areas. Fix this by wrapping tape at all potential chafe points – and keep an eye on them.
I heard a very telling comment by a naval ship deck machinery designer – “.winches are destroyed through neglect and improper maintenance long before they wear out.” The same applies to trailer wheel bearings. If you were to analyze the load supported by a trailer wheel bearing set and calculate its life it would be infinite for all practical purposes. Trailer wheel bearings are lightly loaded as bearings go. So why do they fail? improper maintenance and abuse. Placing them under water is a prime example. Using bearing buddies or other similar products does help – but does not always prevent the water intrusion instrumental to their ultimate failure. This is simple stuff. Check the inner seals for leaks – if you see grease getting flung all over the wheel, get them repacked and the seal replaced. Keep wheel bearings the heck out of the water, period. Open and repack every couple years and you won’t have any problems. Keep an eye on them when on a long trip. Ideally they should be only a little above ambient air temperature – a little warmth is ok, but if the wheel bearings get so hot you can not hold your hand on them that means something is very wrong, stop and adjust / replace them.