The Adventures of a Yacht Broker; Circa 1990
Over the Falls in a 33' Motoryacht?
a short story by Don Robertson
I worked for one of the largest yacht broker companies in Canada, based in Port Credit, Ontario. In addition to selling brokered boats, the owner of the company, George Clift and one of the brokers, Bob Valley, used to buy used boats in the USA and bring them to Canada, fix them up and resell them. At that time this was a viable proposition as exchange rates and boat values were favourable to such an effort. They would find them, bring them in and I would often sell them. You could move a lot of boats in those days as long as you didn't get too greedy.
One time in the fall of the year they were buying a 33' Algass flybridge sedan from an estate in upper New York state. I had recently sold my own boat and made a deal with them to buy the boat and re-list it. We had to move quickly because winter was nearly upon us, and the boat was in a private boathouse on the Niagara river. The boat had already been lifted out of the water in the boathouse and winterized when the owner suddenly passed away. The property had been sold and was due to close in a matter of weeks.
We made arrangements to get the boat right away. The New York broker we were dealing with had the boat de-winterized and lowered back into the water, and we made arrangements for a trucker to pick up the boat at a marina very close to the boathouse. On the appointed day we drove to the marina where we met the US broker, left our car there and he drove us to the boat. It was a good boat, in nice condition. It fired right up and we were shortly on our way. The broker told us it was a five minute ride to the marina and would meet us there.
I was driving so I backed out of the boathouse, spun the boat around and headed out to the middle of the river (it wasn't really all that wide). No sooner had we got up on plane at about 14 or 15 knots than out of nowhere a bloody snow squall appeared and quickly surrounded us. I had been able to see just enough to know roughly what heading would take us up the middle of the river, but we couldn't see a damn thing. It was like heavy fog except the snow quickly covered the boat and the forward windows. Fortunately the wipers worked okay so we had two little holes to peer forward through. I had immediately pulled the throttles back to just above idle, to maybe six knots or so.
Bob said "You watch both shores to see if you can see anything, I will go up to the bow to look ahead". Well he was wearing leather dress shoes (We were only supposed to be on the boat for five minutes). Have you ever tried to walk on fiberglass covered in fresh snow with leather shoes? Well it can't be done. He soon came clamoring back on his hands and knees cussing a blue streak and took off his shoes and socks, and gamely headed back out in his bare feet! My "Don't fall in!" advice wasn't particularly appreciated.
In the meantime the US broker also found himself in whiteout conditions in his car, and knew we would be in serious trouble as he was aware that neither of us had ever been in the area before, by road or boat! He knew there was a pier not far ahead that went out a considerable distance into the river and drove his car like a madman to get to it, thinking he might be able to shout to us. Well a cop saw him driving like a fool and headed after him. He caught up just in time to see him sprinting down the dock as best he could (he was wearing leather shoes too!) It seems this pier had been used by a number of people to commit suicide, and the cop figured "Jesus, here we go again!". However he had rubber soled shoes on and soon caught up with the broker and took him down with a flying tackle! You can imagine the exchange: Cop: "Why do you want to kill yourself?" Broker: "What? No. There is a boat out there!" Cop, looking at the blizzard induced whiteout, "Sure there is buddy, come with me!".
Well he finally convinced the cop he had no interest in jumping in the river, so they both went to the end of the pier to listen, and shouted to us. If you have even been in a heavy whiteout, you know how far sound travels in it. About three inches.
Meanwhile we had been motoring along at 6 knots for some time, and although I kept getting glimpses of both shorelines, I had not seen any sign of a marina, and started to wonder if we had passed it. I shouted to bob and asked him if he knew where Niagara falls was in relation to us. There was an unsettling silence, then he answered that he had no clue. We may make the front pages I thought grimly.
Both Bob and I had a lot of boating experience, but none in a river, we had always navigated in a lake. Big lakes, but never with much current. The Niagara river had about a four knot current where we were, unknown to us, and we were headed into the current. Again unknowingly. If we had known that we would have realized we were in no danger of going over any falls, and that our headway was actually only two knots over the bottom. But we didn't realize this so were getting a little antsy to say the least.
Just when our imaginations had us fearing all might be lost, there was a wind shift and we could see ahead a bit to the left. There was the marina about two miles away. Bob saw it too and I hollered at him to hang on, dumped the throttles wide open and roared toward the haulout slip where I could see the travel lift waiting for us. We quickly hit 19 knots wide open because I wanted to get as close as possible before the snow closed in again! The broker and the cop had just decided to shoot the cop's gun into the water to try to give us direction when they heard our motors come to life and saw us rocketing out of the snow towards shore. They had a good laugh on the way back to their cars.
Of course the weather cleared right up as is usually the case with those quick forming snow squalls, they either don't last long, or quickly move away as they are seldom really very large. By the time I pulled into the haulout slip the sun was shining and it looked like summer again, except for an inch or so of snow everywhere. The cop and the broker showed up and everyone had a good laugh at the suicide story, and everyone laughed at us for our going over the falls story.
All is well that ends well, but it wasn't so funny a half hour earlier.
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